We had the good fortune of connecting with Tina Vaden and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tina, how do you think about risk?
I think of risk as inevitable, at least it has been to achieve anything worth having in my life. Risk is the gateway to surpassing my own limits, to surprising myself, to taking myself and my career to new levels. Risk can lead to disappointment and thus can be terrifying, but from a shifted perspective it can also be exhilarating because what is failure but an opportunity to learn and adjust? Earlier in my career risk sometimes meant taking a “less glamorous” gig that would help me survive financially for one more month, over a job that might offer more exposure but leave me unable to feed myself. Three years ago, I took a huge risk leaving a dream job with the video department of a major publication to return to freelancing. The call to expand both my client base and my skill set as a director and artist was enticing, but so was the team I was a part of and the stability of a traditional pay period and salary. Moving back to LA after 13 years of building and creating in NYC was a huge risk as well, but one I feel was necessary to continue growing. Risk is defined as “a situation involving exposure to danger,” and while every step I’ve taken towards the new or unknown has been full of challenges and immensely humbling, I think the more dangerous version of both my life and career is one in which I never step beyond the illusion of comfort and stability to see what’s really possible.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I was taught growing up to try to leave a space better than it was when you arrived. Clean up after yourself, be respectful, add a little joy if you can. I bring this same energy into my projects and onto my sets. I strive to ensure that those I have the opportunity to collaborate with feel respected, appreciated, and heard; there is also almost always a moment on set where I can be seen dancing, because the love and appreciation for what I get to do and who I get to do it with has to get out somehow. Getting to where I’m at professionally has felt like pushing a boulder up a mountain more often than not, and some days the boulder feels too heavy to continue trying. It takes a lot of self talk and an absurd amount of belief that I have as much a right to my dreams as the next person. That there is enough room in the film industry and that I have a talent for story telling, namely in the moving picture medium. When I have especially tough days I also think about how I’m creating possibility for the next person. I don’t come from wealth, a family “of note”, or resources that may have made my journey a bit less stressful at times. The path I’m carving out and resources I’m creating are ones that I get to share with others; and I hope someday to be someone for the next queer black AFAB non-binary person coming into themselves in the industry to see as proof that it’s all possible, and know that they have someone to reach out to for support if they need it. I’m of the believe that one of the most beautiful things we can do for each other is ask questions, listen, let someone tell their own story instead of pre-determining who they are, and that’s something I carry into my unscripted work. It has been my honor to create platforms for voices and experiences throughout my career and open up dialogue among people who often times go unheard. Representation matters. I treat scripted work very similarly; if I’m working with another artist or brand I strive to make sure the work I’m creating reflects their vision and voice and do the work on my end to ensure that I’m bringing on a diverse group of creatives both in front of and behind the camera. I’m hoping that the work I leave behind will have a positive impact on viewers, introducing them to stories and insights that they might not generally have access to. That this access might push people to question the beliefs they hold, have some empathy for their fellows, and maybe just maybe be kinder to each other. I’m currently in the first stage of post production for a documentary film I was brought on to direct, with the most phenomenal team, at the end of 2020 that I feel does just that. I’m immensely proud of what we made and cannot wait for it to be available for viewing. I’m also just proud of making it through the last year, which has been one of the most confusing and frustrating years I’ve had professionally in a while. I still managed to work on a few projects that I think added a bit of light to the darkness and that’s honestly a big deal to me. I’ve got a few things coming out this year as well that I am excited for people to see.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
In a land before Covid-19, a week of fun with a friend would include a Monday full of whatever’s up at Art + Practice and Lethal Amounts, lunch at Stuff I Eat in Inglewood, followed by a stop at Vidéothèque in South Pas for something to watch that night. Tuesday afternoon would be spent enjoying the programming at Navel and an evening at the Philosophical Research Center in Los Feliz for one of their lecture series. A Wednesday of snacks, shopping, and playing our way through Little Tokyo, with a hearty pause at Kinokuniya bookstore before getting lost in the installations at The Geffen Contemporary is a ticket to some joy. A cup of delicious from Magpies before a night of dancing at Paradiso is perfect for Thursday. Friday might start with a class at Indigo Fitness in Silverlake with a cool down amidst the titles at Secret Headquarters down the street. A hike in the morning to the waterfall at Chantry Flats, and a night at the determined location for Soft Leather on Saturday. A great way to say goodbye on Sunday and to cheers all the great memories would be with sopes from the taco truck outside of Gelson’s and trip to Santa Monica to wave to the sea. I hope beyond hope that these spaces and so many others will survive the destruction of this past year and be available to return to in the years ahead.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Would I have found my way to filmmaking eventually? I’d like to think so. Thanks to the mentorship and care of Mr. Tom Reale and the love he poured into his video and technology class at Clifton Junior High and Monrovia High School, all I’ll ever know is the encouragement and support he offered me as a student with a glint in their eye and proclivity for every corner of the film & video production and post production process. Having him as both mentor and supporter gave me the confidence and determination to declare my dreams of creating worlds on film as a gangly junior high student, begin honing my craft through high school, and make the wackiest weirdest little films along the way. He stayed long hours to help me perfect my portfolio and applications that led to my acceptance to my first choice film program, and continued to offer advice and insight over the years. He recently passed away, and I’m incredibly grateful that I was able to thank him throughout the years, check in with achievements and exciting news, and let him know how much his caring meant.
Photo of me courtesy of Maddy Talias Jasmine Cephas Jones/Little Bird Screenshots courtesy of Our Secret Handshake IDK/No Cable/Colbert Show screenshots courtesy of Warner Music Kim Anh/Gimme the Taste Screenshots courtesy of artist (Kim Anh) Compton Cowboys, Love Harder, Willie Jones, Rynn/Yeehaw courtesy of Compton Cowboys and Ultra Music