We had the good fortune of connecting with Portlynn Tagavi and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Portlynn, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Risk is the secret sauce to the ultimate reward… growth. I find myself in a constant balance between two states of being, comfort, and discomfort. It’s something I struggle with. The desire to grow and progress in my work is always at odds with my desire to continue with things the way they are. When I graduated from cartoon college in 2014 I was presented with opportunity after opportunity in the animation industry. I was making money and working my way up slowly, but something was missing. I really wanted to work in live-action as a director but I was scared. I was scared I wouldn’t be good at it. I was scared it would be a waste of money. I was scared people would judge me if I failed. I would have judged me if I failed. I had put off pursuing this goal for a few years until the level of stagnation I had felt with my path had become too much. I pushed through my fear of taking the leap and applied to AFI’s directing program a month before the due date. To my surprise, I got in, and after getting in I made the hard decision to leave the best job in the world to go back to school and back into debt. Doing things that are uncomfortable is risky but I can say with certainty that every time I took a risk it ended up being worth it. Even when I faced challenges and failures, I came out in the end a stronger, wiser, and better me. Today I am an award-winning director with more confidence in myself and my goals than I thought was possible and it was all because I took that risk and just took the first step.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m a Creole Black/Persian comedy writer/director. I am most proud of my ability to take serious subject matter and make them funny. It’s the thing that gives my life a sense of purpose. With everything I do, I try to make the pain of life palpable by reframing it in a comedic light without denying the weight of things. This is my biggest strength as a storyteller. I got to where I am now in my career in a pretty roundabout way. I originally worked in animation as a character designer and story artist but I knew I always wanted to end up working as a director. When I saw that it would take me years to possibly direct professionally in animation, I felt a gripping urge to try my hand at live-action. While working for the Jim Henson Company I took the first step and decided to apply to AFI and a few months later I got in. After two years of starting from scratch with a new set of skills, I graduated and received my masters in directing. Since then my graduating short film ‘They Won’t Last’ won my team and I a Student Emmy for best comedy as well as the privilege of being featured in festivals such as Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival and Hollyshorts. I feel that as a mixed woman of color from the South, I have a very specific perspective on the world and I am excited to use my experience to tell grounded yet funny stories about people of color with an emphasis on the female experience.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I actually did have a friend visit me once and after spending the week with me they decided to move to LA the following month… so I think I showed them to some nice places. So here’s where we went, which looking back now isn’t even that fancy, but I guess it did the trick. I would first take my friend to the Grand Central Market where we would walk around and check out all the food shops until I convinced them to eat a Slut at Egg Slut. From there we would cross the street to see the Bradbury Building. After checking out the building’s historical architecture I would take them down the street to the Last Book Store where we could take selfies in front of all the fun book tunnels and hopefully leave with a good used book or two. Another place I love taking friends who visit is UCB. I don’t care what show is happening that night, I’d just pick one last minute and we’d go, but probably not before dinner. For dinner, I always like to take friends to the places I was introduced to when I moved here. Restaurants like Osteria La Buca and Spoon and Pork are always amazing places to get quality dinner. Later in the night, if I’m spending it with a friend who happens to be a night owl, I’d take them to any option of clubs where we could dance. I have my usual spots near to where I live in Silverlake like, Tenent of the Trees, The Friend, The Virgil, or The Shortstop. But if we want to do something more exciting I’d take them to Mickey’s in West Hollywood. Afterward, I’d take them to Fred 62 where we can sober up with burgers and pancakes. There’s my list.
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?
I think everyone in my life gets credit for my “success”. My family, who supports me unconditionally even when they think what I’m making is a little weird. My friends who put up with me reading and rereading my ideas to them. The kids in grade school who bullied me until the only friends I had were the friends I made on the page. The teachers who encouraged me and made me think critically about my work and my work ethic. I owe so much to everyone around me for influencing me as a person and an artist. It’s like all of them worked together to become this force of inspiration and motivation. I’m happy to have had all of them in my life, but if I had to narrow it down, the person who has helped me be the person I am today is my Aunt Norma. She is my second chance at having a mom and my favorite person in the world. I would be lost without her. We don’t agree on most things but what we do agree on is that we love each other and we will always be there for each other. What I’ve gone through with her has influenced the way I see the world and the way I craft characters and tell stories.
Photographer: Heather Gordon