We had the good fortune of connecting with JESSICA MARCELA TORRES and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi JESSICA MARCELA, have you ever found yourself in a spot where you had to decide whether to give up or keep going? How did you make the choice?
If you’re really wondering whether you should give up or not, my advice is; don’t. I’m sorry to disappoint if you were actually reading this to fish for something to validate your reason for giving up on whatever it may be. What I can tell you is, there are scenarios where you may think you’re giving up, but in reality, you’re just moving on to something better for yourself. I’ve had a couple of those moments that I’ll share with you. There’s also the case that you may be running into dead ends where you feel like it’s a sign for you to give up, but no! In my opinion, it’s a sign that you need to change your methods because your current ones aren’t working. Everyone has their downs and slow periods, but sometimes you just need to wait for it to go in your favor.
As I mentioned before, there are scenarios where you feel like you may be giving up, but really you’re moving on to something better for yourself. One of those moments for me was right after grad school. It was my first job in LA two weeks after graduating and I was ecstatic. Things were going well at my job and I saw potential to grow quickly. Suddenly, things started to go south and I was dreading going to work every day and I wanted to quit. I was in a situation where I felt uncomfortable and anxious because of the way I was being treated by the boss, but I was afraid that if I quit the job only a few weeks in that that will be it for me. Luckily, I had someone I trusted that gave me the advice I needed. She told me I was in a toxic work environment, to look for another job immediately, and to give my two-week notice when I felt comfortable enough that a couple of weeks unemployed wouldn’t hurt me. Although I was nervous, I felt comforted by the thought that I wasn’t going to just be throwing my career out the window right out the gate. Leaving that place was for the best because what came next was what I realized to be my actual industry-going salary, a better work environment, and actual potential for growth. The more gigs I got, the more I loved my career and I realized that you need to be focused, driven and strong to get what you want.
The reason I went to grad school was to figure out exactly what path I wanted to take in the TV or film industry. By the end, I realized I loved assistant editing and assistant directing, so I continued to refine my skills in those two jobs. Before my last job, I had an even balance of assistant directing and temp assistant editing jobs. I landed an amazing assistant editing job that was like a dream for me, which led me to push back my plans to apply for the DGA assistant directors training program. This is where I’m at in life now, with the pandemic happening and the TV and film industry jobs being scarce. I was lucky to still have a somewhat steady job as an assistant editor, but with the potential of getting laid off, I felt like it was the perfect opportunity to apply for the DGA’s assistant directors training program before I got older and regretted not doing it sooner. I’m still awaiting an answer, but even if I don’t get in this time around, I know I still have more chances to apply, and hopefully, they’ll notice my persistence. The point of me saying all this is because if you feel like you’re giving up on your original dream, just know that if you wanted it badly enough, you’d keep pushing for it. There are lots of successful people that I’ve met who’ve changed their career path and have taken big risks because they wanted to continue pursuing something that made them happy. You’re allowed to change what your dream is, it’s yours after all.
Although I’m young at age, I haven’t changed much of how I go about life. I’ve pretty much stuck to my plans and found that I’ve accomplished what I’ve set my mind to pretty quickly. Even when I felt behind in my undergrad by seeing all my peers push on in their career interest in school with the projects they’d make and clubs they were in, I still believed I could succeed in the real world if I just kept working towards what I really wanted to do. I’ve never really accepted giving up as an option.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I believe what sets me apart from others is the focus and drive I have when aiming to accomplish my goals and once I accomplish those goals, I set myself more. I also think there might be this lucky aura around me, but that’s just an inside joke I have with myself. I’m proud of how far I’ve gotten in my career goals and life goals at the age that I’m at now. I’m completely comfortable with getting uncomfortable, which is what made my move from the east coast to the west coast on my own effortlessly. I’m proud of how many places I’ve been to because it gives me an open-mindedness that you can’t really achieve until you’ve lived amongst different cultures. I’m excited to eventually be able to combine the two things I love doing most, which are traveling and pursuing my career in TV and film.
If you read my last article, you’d know some of my challenges that I went through before getting to where I am today in the industry. The main ones being depression and anxiety because sometimes it’ll just hit you when you least expect it and it makes it hard to think straight or to face people and go about your day. At times, I’d use it to focus on tasks and keep busy as a determination to push those feelings away. At times successful, other times I just had to ride it out. Being the only girl in a Hispanic family also didn’t help because you were placed under certain standards which made leaving home a lot harder. If you know a little bit about the culture, then you know how strict parents can be. Getting to where I am today at the age that I’m at also wasn’t easy. Tuition only gets more and more expensive. Some entry jobs require you to have several years of experience that makes you wonder how that’s even possible. No experience sometimes even means working for free when you can’t even afford it. I went to college knowing that all expenses from there on out were solely on my shoulders, which occasionally caused me some worries. That pushed me to graduate from undergrad in 3 years instead of 4. This also led me to choose the cheaper grad school option over the prestigious one. I don’t regret a thing, and in all honesty, things happened as they should have. I still have a ton of student debt, but it’s not as bad as it could’ve been. I’ve also come across projects that I wasn’t proud of, one being my thesis project. I almost gave up on that project, but after some time away from it I decided that I needed to give it a chance and fix it to the best of my ability. Surprisingly, it got far thanks to the help of my sound designer and re-recording mixer Frank Ruiz, and my composer Ian Brown.
Once I hit the actual industry, the challenge I faced was how I was treated at jobs. Mainly the first one I mentioned earlier. I was underestimated by one co-worker and wasn’t trusted with being left to do certain tasks on my own even though I was capable. In turn, I’d finish work early or not have anything to start with and be sitting around with nothing to do and then be called out for not doing work. The other issue I encountered was how the boss treated me. He started questioning my choice of clothing and seemingly accused me of things that made me feel like he was targeting me for being a woman and then he’d deny it. I overcame this, as I mentioned before, by putting my foot down and leaving the company.
So far in my experiences, I’ve learned my worth and to trust my intuition. For me, giving up is not an option, only aiming for better things down the road. Right now I’m continuing to pursue my career in assistant directing and assistant editing. I also continue to write and edit my own stuff all under the production name of Solage Strange. I want people to know that I’m not in it for the money, I’m in it for the passion and helping those in need.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
It’s funny how not that long ago I was saying how LA wasn’t really my cup of tea. I was missing the vibe of the east coast and the people, but eventually, I managed to find some great friends and some meaningful places.
One of my best friends from the east coast is planning to visit me in LA soon and I made a list of places to take her so she can get the best experience possible. I’d show her when it’s convenient to take the car somewhere versus taking public transportation. I’ll walk her around Burbank, where I’ve come to love living in. I’ll take her to Lou, The French On The Block, or Le French Rooster in Burbank to reminisce on our France travel experience. I’ll take her to get Korean BBQ, Bubble Tea, and then have karaoke night in Korea town in that exact order. I’ll also take her to the Glendale Gallery to show her one of my favorite malls. I’ll take her on a walk down Santa Monica Blvd and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills to show her the difference in culture from one part of LA to the other. I’ll take her to Santa Monica Beach close to sunset so she can see the pier in the daytime and then see the beauty of the beach at night. If we’re lucky, we might see the glowing bug-like creatures when stepping on the sand. If we’re lucky and quarantine ends by the time she comes to visit, I’ll take her to West Hollywood and show her the great nightlife there. It’s all the little things that I’ve come to love about LA and I hope my friend finds as much joy in these things as I have. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
At every stage of my life, I’ve had a mentor or two, so I can’t just give a shout out to one person or group of people, I have to give a shout out to everyone that helped me propel forward in life.
Starting with my high school years, there was my broadcasting teacher, Michael Butler, who was the director for Court TV right before deciding to teach at Morristown High School. I was one of the few girls during my time starting out in his program to be dedicated to the television station and work on the school’s TV show, Colonial Corner. He also started the annual Morristown High School film festival that only fueled my passion for TV and film production. Mr. Butler taught me the importance of being honest and humble in the industry. There was also Ted Baldanzi, who is the most modest man I have ever met in my life. He’d possibly cringe inside right now at the praise I’m giving him, hahaha! He would take pictures of school events and sports for nothing in return and he’d do everything in his power to make things for students special. He got me into photography and he helped me get everything I needed to shoot and edit. Although I wasn’t the most wealthy, I was definitely the most fortunate with being able to have everything I needed to be as successful as I could be in both high school and college. I never lacked in what I needed to pursue my career thanks to him. Lastly, there was also Girls Surviving, now known as Her Words. Back when I was in high school, it was run by Paula Davidoff and Carolyn Hunt, two amazing teaching artists. They taught me all I needed to know about storytelling, writing, acting, and directing actors. I’m grateful for the strong start I was given.
College is a place to find yourself for a lot of us. With all the requirements that we were forced to fulfill before graduating, I didn’t feel like I was too focused or even ready to enter the world with the career I had chosen. I, however, did know that I wanted to continue in the path of field production thanks to my professor Jerry Gambell. He was a hard professor, but that’s what I appreciated the most because I knew when he critiqued or complimented my work that I either needed to work on a certain skill or that I was heading in the right direction with my work. I was lucky to have his class twice in addition to working as his teaching assistant for the three years that I was at Ithaca College. He helped me refine my skills and have good intuition on what works and doesn’t work when making a project come to life.
Going to grad school at New York Film Academy in LA was the best decision I made after graduating from Ithaca College. I can say almost all the instructors I had were great. They challenged us and made sure we understood how everything we learned was connected to our careers. There were three specific instructors we had throughout the entirety of our program that made the biggest difference for me. David Newman: he reminded me a little bit of Jerry with how tough and honest he was. He was our directing instructor and he was the main reason I came to learn and love assistant directing. Then there was Shawn Sullivan, our editing instructor. First of all, I had never touched Avid before meeting him, but he made learning it so easy, it felt like I’d been editing on Avid for years. He noticed very quickly my proficiency and interest in editing that he didn’t hesitate in giving me extra tips and encouragement to get my Avid User certification. This helped me get the jobs I was able to get right after graduating, especially because Avid is the standard in most of the big companies. There was also Neil Casey and let’s just say he made it feel like I learned three years’ worth of cinematography classes in just one semester. He seemed to know everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and didn’t hesitate to push us. These three instructors combined gave me the most fulfilling grad school experience that I could have ever asked for because they made me feel ready for the real world… and I was. Lastly, Barbara, the career counselor who was the one who reassured me when I encountered a rough patch in the work industry and she told me that I shouldn’t subject myself to a toxic work environment, which helped me see my worth.
Mentors don’t just stop coming to you once you’re done with the school portion of life. I feel like you keep on learning for the rest of your life. That’s how I felt the whole while I was working with my last job, Karga Seven Pictures. Not only did I learn more than I could have imagined in my profession, but I also learned about different personalities I could work with. The dos and don’ts. Everyone was willing to give me advice and was genuinely happy to see me grow and succeed beyond Karga, and that taught me what a healthy professional work environment should be like. Everyone I encountered was a blessing, they’re too many to mention, but they know who they are. I’m grateful to them and the opportunity I was given. I hope everyone I work with is like them, but obviously, that’s not how life works and I consider myself extremely lucky so far.
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