Why Jorge Teaches: Twinkie Byrd Edition

Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd is the famed and well-respected casting director behind such Hollywood projects such as “Fruitvale Station” and “Being Mary Jane”. Her complete work can be found at: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1359173

I first met Twinkie a few years ago when she came to speak to students at the Richard Lawson Studios. Since she was the guest speaker, we wanted to screen a reel of her casting work before she spoke to the students. Richard put me in charge of finding examples of her casting work and cutting it together to form the reel.

When we played the reel, Twinkie was thrilled and overjoyed. I even remember her turning to me at one point and saying, “Oh my God, where did you find that? I’ve been trying to find that movie!” My detective work, and the fact that we were both from Brooklyn, began a journey of mutual admiration and respect for one another. I’ve also had the honor of auditioning a couple of times for Twinkie and she has praised my acting abilities.

So when I discovered that Twinkie wanted to take the Professional Development Program 1.0 class at the Richard Lawson Studios, I was thrilled! I interviewed her and I asked her why she wanted to take the course. She told me that she wanted to take her career to the next level by incorporating directing and producing into the mix. I knew that PDP 1.0 would be perfect for her because she would have to write, film and edit 10 short films over the course of 16 weeks.

It was also great to see Twinkie, a casting director, have to do auditions in the PDP 1.0 class. She got to be an actor and audition in front of the camera. And because she had been casting for years, she instinctively understood acting. She made wonderful choices as an actress and knew how to work in front of a camera.

Richard and I both taught this class and it was great to see her growth and wins, as well as the growth and wins of other students. For the Final Film project, Twinkie and fellow classmate, Ashley Jackson, collaborated to create a project called “The Counter: 1960”. Their short film looked at the segregation that existed in America during that time. It was a powerful film that utilized a number of Richard Lawson Studios students in front of the camera and behind the camera. It was cast well (of course, Twinkie’s a casting director!) And Twinkie directed it.

The first cut of “The Counter: 1960” was really well done. The story was incredibly impinging. It was ambitious in concept. Richard gave his notes in terms of how they could elevate their film to the next level. They took their notes like pros and their excitement grew.

Twinkie and Ashley decided to reshoot the film from scratch and gave themselves more time to carve out the film (In PDP 1.0, you only have one week to conceive, shoot and edit these 10 short films)

They reshot the film, with Twinkie staying on as director, and ever since they released it to the world, it has been killing the film festival circuit! “The Counter: 1960” has won awards in Cannes and Hollywood and has also screened in Martha’s Vineyard, New York City, Atlanta, India etc.

Twinkie recently posted a message on Instagram that thanked and acknowledged her PDP 1.0 teachers. I was moved because it’s these moments that remind me why I love teaching. As a teacher, I love seeing the numerous and diverse wins that my students have. Whether it’s a student booking a job or finishing a passion project or having a positive shift in their personal lives, it brings me immense joy.

As much as I love acting and writing, I also love giving back as a teacher and knowing that I had a meaningful impact and contribution on my students’ lives. That I had a hand in bringing out their full potential and talents.

And I love that Twinkie acknowledged the people who played a part in her current success! It’s so important to acknowledge the people who contributed to your journey and success. Your acknowledgement will come back to you a hundredfold. I taught the Audition Bootcamp class this past Friday and I said that more often than not, people only acknowledge the new friends who conveniently show up at their new level of success. I told my class to acknowledge the people who were there from the start. The people who were there when you weren’t a household name. The people who were there when you didn’t have money. Or when you didn’t have a meal to eat. Or when you didn’t have a place to live in. Or when you wanted to quit and they convinced you not to. The list goes on and on.

So thank you Twinkie for your acknowledgement. I am so proud of your success. You postulated at your interview that you wanted to be a director and now you are experiencing déjà vu! You saw it in your mind as a foregone conclusion and now you are experiencing it again in a realized, tangible way. You are such an example of what we teach at the Richard Lawson Studios!

Below is Twinkie’s Instagram post:

Twinkie Byrd

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You ARE An Artist!

Hello everyone! Hope you’re all well!

I was teaching a class recently called the Professional Development Program 1.0. This class is designed to look at the whole of your career. In addition to helping students create a business plan for themselves and teaching them how to audition on camera and having them read industry books, we also require the students to film 10 short films (3 minutes or less) that are each designed to make them stronger artists and individuals.

Recently, my students shot, edited and turned in their first short film. We screened them in class and their first films blew me away. At the end of the screening, I told them: “Give yourselves a round of applause. You are now filmmakers! Congratulations!”

The class applauded, and immediately, I caught one student in the front row do air quotes with his fingers, “Filmmakers”. He said “Filmmakers” and did air quotes with his fingers. And I got all his subtext behind that: “Yeah right”; “sure”; “sure we are”; “if that’s what you say”; etc.) And I was like, “No, you ARE a filmmaker. Claim that. You just turned in a short film. You didn’t have a film to your name last week. And here you are, a week later, with a film that you originated, conceived, wrote, acted in, shot and edited.”

I continued that just because it’s a short film for class, just because it’s a three minute film, doesn’t mean that you’re not a filmmaker. You ARE a filmmaker. You MADE a film. The first step to believing that you are a filmmaker is to believe that you are. Point. Blank. Period. Fuck it, the first step to believing that you are anything is to believe that you are.

I continued by saying that people like Steven Spielberg and James Cameron believed from jump street that they were filmmakers. I added that if you looked at their first films, it probably wasn’t the greatest in terms of production value and what they are able to create now, but I bet you anything that they stood by their films with pride and confidence. You couldn’t tell them anything that they weren’t filmmakers.

When I look back at the films I did when I took the PDP 1.0 class, I claimed that I was a filmmaker. You couldn’t tell me shit. I stood by each film project I did with confidence and pride. Each film came out exactly how I envisioned it in my head. Now, when I look back at these films, I chuckle and cringe sometimes because the sound was off or the lighting was off or some production value was off. However, that being said, I could also see each film getting better and better.

I look at the films I am able to produce today and it is night and day. But the only reason why I am able to produce better films today was because I fucking claimed that I was a filmmaker from the moment I shot my first film project in PDP 1.0 and because I kept getting better and better. I failed forward.

I’m sure Steven Spielberg and James Cameron got better and better with each film they did. I’m sure many artists have gotten better and better with their craft (actors, writers, dancers, painters, authors, photographers, musicians, etc.)

So, claim that you ARE a filmmaker. Or an actor. Or a writer. There’s this fucked up notion in the entertainment business that you aren’t anything unless you get paid for it. Or unless you’ve “made it”. “I’m not an actor unless I’m on a series.” Fuck that. You ARE an actor because you’ve decided that you are one and you’re building a career around that passion and love you have for it. Don’t wait until you’ve “made it” to declare or believe that you are an actor.

The belief starts now. The enjoyment starts now. Because if you don’t believe it now, claim it now, own it now, then you’ll never be happy. You’ll never be satisfied–even when you book the fucking series. You’ll qualify your series booking with some unfounded nonsense.

The student got my point of view and his attitude towards being a filmmaker changed from air quotes “Filmmaker” to “Yes, I am a filmmaker.”

Cause truth be told, if I had let that moment slide by, then 1) His ability to create future projects would suffer and plateau/crash immediately. He would not be able to soar to his greatest potential. 2) His attitude would have infected others to go into agreement with him. Other students–who just one minute ago had a tremendous win and a tremendous sense of pride with their own film projects–would have started questioning themselves and gone into agreement with him: “Yeah, he’s right. We’re ‘filmmakers'”. They would have been air quoting as well.

And the tragedy is that we then lose the future Steven Spielbergs, James Camerons, Ava DuVernays, Patty Jenkins, Ryan Cooglers, Guillermo del Toros, Alejandro G. Iñárritus, Kathryn Bigelows, etc.

And I won’t let that happen.