Scholar Spotlight: Tonia Tyler

The Corvias community is filled with amazing individuals who are constantly doing fantastic work to better themselves and their community, and each Alumni Summit we are dazzled by the stories of some of our outstanding Scholars and Alumni. One Corvias Alum, 2007 scholarship winner Tonia Tyler, is currently in the midst of a project to take her own story to the big screen through the creation of a short film. In addition to owning and running the video production company Mal Compris, Tonia is also finishing her studies to receive a Master’s Degree in Film from the Savannah College of Art and Design.  She is currently working on a short film titled “Cautious”, which depicts an encounter between a happy family heading out on a Christmas trip and a rookie police officer on a first patrol. Tonia agreed to take some time away from her production and fundraising schedule to answer some questions for the Corvias Connects blog, and we’re thrilled to share this update from this exciting member of our community!

 

What was your motivation for creating this specific story?

My husband and I were pulled over one night. An officer told us we made a right on red where a sign was clearly posted. Long story short, there was no sign and we got a ticket. That wasn’t the biggest takeaway for me that night. We were pulled over shortly after the most recent in-the-news traffic stop that ended in a victim’s fatality. The fear of that moment, I can’t describe but I knew I could piece together with visual imagery. I was afraid, confused and even angry that I felt we were wrongfully pulled over and now had a ticket to pay, had to make a court appearance – and there was no sign. I sat in the passenger seat fighting the urge to tell the officer, “There’s no sign back there, we live over here.” In the midst of my emotional rollercoaster, I looked up and made eye contact with the officer. I saw fear, I saw anticipation of what would happen next, and I saw a man that felt he was doing just doing his job. That tore me even more. The situation was so complex! I started writing that night.

We’ve heard that this will be your ‘thesis film’ for grad school. Could you explain what a ‘thesis film’ is?

A thesis is a document created to support consideration for an academic or professional qualification. In film school, you have to do a written thesis research paper in addition to spearheading a creative from conception to post-production. That creative can be done in the form of a music video, short film, documentary etc. Both are submitted to several departments and reviewed for a candidate’s graduation.

What does it mean to you to make this film?

It means a lot. It’s a challenge because there are supporters of various movements that don’t necessarily agree with what I’m doing. I honestly don’t think they fully understand it. I don’t really get the chance to explain it sometimes before it’s shut down. Even in those moments, it reminds me how much more understanding the entire world needs when dealing with and communicating with one another. Creating this film, examining another perspective is not my way of diminishing any other perspective. I have no doubt that some people have personal biases and reflect those in their decision making on the job. I’m not denying that, I’m just not creating from that perspective. I feel like we’ve seen that already. This is an already ignited topic, but with a conversation that has hit a wall. My goal has always been to create things that become bigger than the original idea in terms of the positive impact it has on our world.

Where are you in the filmmaking process right now?

The production team just called our selected actors to thank them for being a part of the audition process and invite them to join the cast. We’re having our first rehearsal Thursday night and I’m so excited to get started with performance aspect of it all. Up until now it’s been grind work, trying to network, setting up the campaign, meeting with crew, etc.

What’s been the most exciting part of this project so far?

It’s exciting for me when I get to share about the film with someone and they’re on board, immediately. They understand it’s importance and support everything it stands for. At the callbacks the other day, I released the script to the then potential actors we were considering. At that point, they’d only seen a few lines of the character’s they were auditioning for. I gave them a few moments to read the entire script. The wave of energy that went through the room as each person finished it, it swept over me in waves.

What’s been the hardest part of this project so far?

I would say the hardest part has been finding funding, honestly. A lot of the people I know and have worked with  are struggling artists. As much as they want to help, most of them can’t. I’ve really been reaching out and trying to expand my network to get the project in front of the right people. Funding is so important because as a student filmmaker, you don’t have money and you fill whatever roles with whoever you can. For this film, there’s certain positions that so vital to its success. For example, the sound mixer, the colorist they have to be great, not even just good at what they do. People that are great at what they do and have the required experience, cost money.

We know that many Scholars have taken on projects that involve a fundraising component. Could you explain a bit of how you started an IndieGogo campaign, and what that process has been like?

I started the campaign by making a video explaining the project and the inspiration behind it. That involved facing my fears of being on camera! It’s been interesting. I’m doing so much research, writing so many letters. Just trying to be concise but informative about the goals and purpose of this film. All while trying to attract an audience to the film.

We know you’re an incredibly busy person: how do you balance this project, grad school, and everything else you’ve got going on in your life?

I actually don’t feel like I’m busier than the average person pushing for their dreams. I’ve always been around people that are moving and shaking the world. So when I’m not, and it’s not a time of intentionally focused rest, I feel weird. I want to do things. I have to move and shake things up to feel “normal.” We live in a world where there’s so much potential for growth and change, that alone motivates me to push. I remind myself of a quote often, “Your dreams don’t care if you’re tired.” When it’s hard to get out of the bed, I’m playing  inspirational/motivational videos. They help a lot. I have a super supportive husband, who is also in the industry. So it’s not something I have to explain and try to get him on the same page about. We both get it, in terms of how busy things can be sometimes.

Who are your biggest influences at a filmmaker?

My biggest influencers are all the brave filmmakers, newly well-known and those underground that are telling stories we haven’t seen before. The ones that are giving voices to those who haven’t had a chance to be heard or seen in film. They’re trailblazers and I admire all of them.

What comes next for you–both in the process of making this particular film, and after this film is complete?

After making this film, I’ll be making sure it has a successful run in the film festival circuit. In the larger scheme of things, I’ll be finishing up the other requirements to officially attain my masters in June. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing and creating.

Cautious: The short film is conducting a fundraising campaign on IndieGogo for the next 15 days. If you’d like to contribute, you can find out more or make a donation here.