We had the good fortune of connecting with Gleana Albritton and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gleana, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I left my position as Head of Media & Entertainment Marketing at Twitter in November of 2016. I spent a few months (like 9 or 10) soul searching and interviewing. There were a few paths I considered, first and foremost was trying to land another senior marketing role in entertainment, another was potentially finding a way into politics by trying to work at organizations like the ACLU or MoveOn, and the third option was finding a way to leverage my passion for TV into some sort of workable career for myself. In one of the many informational interviews I had was with a woman who was kind enough to share her time and expertise with me, explained that being a producer is really just being a great project manager. After receiving a bit of feedback from a CMO for one of the VP entertainment marketing jobs that they “weren’t sure I was creative enough for the job” inspired me to launch my own production company in June 2017 — Sisu Media Group.
The first project under my Sisu Media Group banner was a short film that I directed, produced and co-wrote called, “Walking The Dog While Black” (#WTDWB). The film is a dramatization of an incident that happened to me when I lived in West LA and the police followed me around as I walked my dog. I was inspired to share my story after attending a screening of the season 2 premiere of the Ava DuVernay television series, “Queen Sugar” where they dramatized the police terrorizing one of the young, Black teenage characters on the show and watching the audience react so viscerally made me realize that in pop culture we really hadn’t talked about how often it happens to Black women. My production company, Sisu Media Group, is focused on telling compelling stories for and about women that give voice to unique perspectives, explore mental health challenges, and complex relationships. What I’ve discovered over the past few years is that a lot of my previous work as a marketer prepared me for being a producer – managing (large & small) budgets, evaluating creative, writing, launching campaigns, and project management.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’m most excited about the projects I have been working on. Currently I’m in re-writes on a Gullah rom-com feature (currently titled “Love At The Root”) for a producer, Yevette Richardson, based out of LA. I’m also in re-writes a dramatic short that I plan to use as a proof of concept for an episodic series called “The Chaplain.” I’d like to produce and direct the short either before the end of this year or early 2022 at the latest.
As a producer I recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for a short film about caregivers and mental health called “Wise Love” by writer/director, Tomeka M. Winborne, which we plan to take into production by mid-October. I’m also producing an episodic queer family drama about the challenges of co-parenting, “Blended,” by a non-binary creator based in Chicago, Jazz Williams.
For most of my projects I’m working on a wide array of tasks, but not limited to — giving constructive feedback on scripts, casting, format, working on pitches, and hiring the right team of collaborators to bring the stories we’re telling to life. Sometimes that means taking on handling some of the logistics for the smaller productions. What I’ve learned is that working in physical production is a lot like producing events, which is something I did in my previous life as an entertainment marketer. The time I spent working at companies like AMC Networks International, Twitter, fuse TV and A+E also gives me an advantage that I’m proud of — I have lots of institutional knowledge about how distribution, marketing and sales works.
I’m also incredibly grateful for the time I spent as an Associate Programmer for Bentonville Film Festival (three seasons) because it truly gave me a better understanding of the independent film marketplace. There are so many storytellers out there – only a small percentage truly standout from the crowd. Being a part of that team taught me not to take the rejections from film festivals so personally with my own projects.
The most challenging part of being an independent filmmaker is that it takes a lot more work and preparation to get people to respond to you/your work/whatever you’re working on than if you were working on studio/network projects. Remember that your relationships matter and you must nurture them. In order to succeed in this business you have to be consistent, have a lot of perseverance and have a strong work ethic. Part of my company’s name “sisu” is a Finnish word meaning strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. I think the word sisu truly sums up the hustle you need to succeed as an independent filmmaker.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’d suggest a quick weekend/day trip:
-Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism In Costume Design Exhibit at SCAD FASH: Museum of Fashion and Film.
-People watching at BeltLine and end up down to the West End Trail for some people watching.
-The Fox Theatre to see Hamilton
-Take in a movie at the Plaza Theatre
-Krog Street Market (lots to choose from here)
-9 Mile Station @ Ponce City Market
-Insomnia Cookies (after the movie)
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are quite a few people that deserve a little credit and recognition in my story:
A great friend and supporter of mine – Angela Natividad – has been an early cheerleader, often when I’ve felt like giving up. She was one of the first to share a write-up about my work as a filmmaker.
My friends, Jef and Sara-Lynn Holbrook helped me to get my first job as an Art Director on a feature film and have recommended me for several resume building jobs that have led to even better jobs.
An organization that definitely deserves my shoutout is Alliance of Women Directors – this is an amazing community of women directors that I’m proud to be a part of and they’ve offered so many resources in helping me to further develop my skills as a director/filmmaker.
There are countless others, but I also have to mention my family who have supported me in the lean times – most especially my parents Eileen and Doug Albritton and my cousin, Jennifer Bryant, who always allows me to stay at her place when I’m working in Atlanta.
Sam Monique Hunter Brandon Calrissian Gleana R. Albritton