Take the leap, sink or swim, tomorrow isn’t promised. Writer, producer, and director Dafina Roberts knows first-hand what it’s like to hop off of the corporate ladder and start from the ground up in entrepreneurship. Dafina has worked in development and production for Nickelodeon along with the Oscar-nominated youth performance company IMPACT Repertory Theater. She co-produced the feature film, “Punching at the Sun” which was the winner for Best Narrative at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.
Despite her credible resume, Dafina decided to quit her job and create her own series, Giving Me Life (In the Land of Deadass). In this interview with BAUCE, Dafina explains why she decided to go for storytelling on her own terms.
What is your favorite part about producing the show?
Dafina: Honestly, I love that moment when I’m on set and we capture that perfect moment. It’s great to see everyone’s hard work come together, and I can tell exactly what moments we’ll be using in the edit. I really love working with other artists and witnessing their creativity. It’s inspirational and gives me fuel — even when the production process can be gruelling.
Could you tell us what we can expect from the GML series?
Dafina: Shenanigans. LOL! You should expect to see nontraditional characters and stories that reflect real life. You will see a panorama of Black and Latinx identities because there isn’t one narrative that defines us. You’ll see different sexualities — straight, gay, bi, — and non-conforming gender identities. The show is fun, sexy and at times a little crazy because ultimately being in your 20s means being a bit of a hot mess. But with a good group of friends, you can survive the insanity of life with flair — even if you hit a few bumps along the way.
Are there any characters in the show you can personally relate to?
Dafina: Yes, all of them. Many of the characters are based on my friends and family or different aspects of my own personality.
Why do you think it is important for these specific stories to be told?
Dafina: With all the racist, sexist, homophobic and classist dogma in media, I feel like people are looking for content that is fun, inclusive and relatable. We need these types of stories for our collective psychological and emotional health — we need to be reminded that there are friendships and relationships that can help us get through all the incredibly difficult challenges that life throws at us.
The title of the show is hilarious and brilliant. How did it come about?
Dafina: We were brainstorming a bunch of title names, and my friend and Associate Producer, Hassan El-Gendi, threw the title out there. We all laughed and it became my favorite. It’s so New York. The title instantly let’s you know that the show’s tone is humorous. For people not from NYC or who don’t know our slang (i.e., “deadass”), they might not get it right away, but that’s what I like about it. The title lets you know that you’re about to experience something that you’ve never seen on TV before.
You specialize in coming-of-age stories. What draws you to this area of storytelling?
Dafina: For me, life is about exploring new experiences and finding out who you really are and what you really value. Coming-of-age stories are all about that self-exploration. So often the things that we think will bring us happiness actually don’t, and the things that we don’t put value in actually have more value than we can fathom. Life is the great teacher, and I want to create coming-of-age stories that capture the bittersweet and hopefully meaningful journey of life.
What were the leading-up-to events that occurred before deciding to leave your job?
Dafina: I’d been working crazy hours at my job while developing and shooting the first half of the season at night and on weekends. I was exhausted and felt like I was at a breaking point. I asked God to show me a sign — to tell me if I should continue or if I should stay put at my job. Then one week in August, I received three pieces of news. First, I found out that my cousin had gone missing in the woods of Alabama for weeks and we thought the worst could have happened. This reminded me that tomorrow is not promised to us. Then two days later I found out that my pilot had gotten into the New York Television Festival and that Kickstarter had selected me to be a Creator-In-Residence. I was completely overwhelmed and obviously too distraught to take in any good news. The next weekend, my cousin was found barely alive — it was truly a miracle that she managed to survive. That’s when I decided to quit my job and take the Kickstarter residency. I committed myself to crowdfunding the rest of the money that I needed to finish the season.
What was the transition like from corporate world to pursuing entrepreneurship?
Dafina: Honestly, it’s all been a blur. I left my job at the top of September and I’ve been crowdfunding, shooting and promoting the series ever since. I basically hit the ground running. I’ve always worked crazy hours since I’ve always worked in the entertainment industry. However, I like having the option to work from home or at Kickstarter’s HQ. I also love being on set and seeing the work of talented artists come together. The transition has been hectic but amazing!
What core values from the corporate world have you used in your approach in entrepreneurship?
Dafina: While working as a development and production executive, I learned best practices for developing, producing and promoting a series. I try to apply those lessons and incorporate those processes every day for my web series. Also, I’ve learned that even with strong policies and procedures sometimes life happens. At those times, I try to make space for the people who are doing the work — I’ll get out of their way and let them go through their process so that they can get the work done. In my last corporate job, I had some very strong managers — who also happen to be women — and they taught me how to manage both the process and people. After all, you are only as good as your team. 80% of my job is done if I pick the right squad and then create an environment that allows them to showcase their brilliance.
You can check out Dafina’s new series ‘Giving me Life (In the Land of Deadass) NOW on YouTube.
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