We had the good fortune of connecting with Tracy Kleeman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tracy, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
When we’re kids, saying “I want to be an artist when I grow up” is often met with polite skepticism. It seems an unrealistic goal and a lot of people look down on such aspirations. To me, it is a badge of honor to get to call myself an artist. It means I am a dreamer, an innovator and a warrior.
I always knew that I needed to do something creative with my life. I was the kid who would find any way to incorporate some kind of craft into school projects. At the age of 12 I made a haunted maze in my basement out of cardboard boxes and charged the neighborhood kids admission. Creating taps open something in me that I can’t access any other way. It is the thing in this world that makes me feel the most alive. I knew that if I didn’t at least TRY to parlay that into a career of some kind, I would forever live with the regret of wondering “what if?” I am a person who thrives on the happiness found through the journey of life and so the challenge of turning my creative brain into an artistic career is a big part of the thrill that keeps life interesting. It’s a tough road and the pressure to turn your thoughts, ideas, and dreams into something tangible that can provide financial stability is not an easy thing, especially in an industry that often demands you prove yourself on your own terms before you are compensated for your talents. It’s an unfortunate reality that scares many people away from even trying. We live in a society that tells us certain goals need to be met at specific points in your life, particularly if you’re a woman. The artistic path comes with no certainty, no timeline, and no guarantees. Knowing that reality and embracing it is the key to not allowing bitterness to bleed into the pursuit of your dreams. It is that plunge into the unknown and whatever successes and failures lie in the path ahead that makes life terrifying and exciting all at once. It is the ultimate battlefield to prove oneself and what your are capable of. It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done, putting everything on the line to become a film director, a goal so many pursue and yet so few achieve. But, the truth is, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Although the thrill of the pursuit is an intoxicating element of a life in artistry, one of the most rewarding aspects is the engagement experienced through the subjective consumption of your art. Becoming an artist has helped me achieve a much stronger awareness toward perspective and perception in the human experience. Though the filmmaker may have a specific theme or question or challenge in mind when they create a piece, it is through the audience that we can find deeper meaning in our own subconscious and the world at large. Art allows us this incredible gateway to both relate to and challenge one another as well as ourselves. When I bring something personal of myself into my work and find a receptive, understanding, refreshed audience on the other end, it’s like magic. When I find a challenge or resistance on the receiving end, it’s a teaching moment. We all live in our own heads, each the center of our own universe. Opening up a piece of yourself to a wider spectrum of scrutiny is a rare and beautiful way to engage with humanity and something I look forward to doing for the rest of my life.
The element of an artistic career that has made it the most worthwhile for me is the incredible community that comes with this path. There is a common understanding amongst the artistically inclined that enables far deeper connections than many I have had in my life. Artistry is fueled by passion and the friends I have found with that same fire in their belly are some of the most incredible people I have ever known. The support, motivation, collaboration, critique and understanding I have received from my filmmaker community is a big part of what makes this career path such a fulfilling adventure through life. It’s been a wild ride so far and best is yet to come.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
It’s definitely been a strange path to get where I am today, but that’s pretty common for artists, isn’t it? There’s no one way to get here for sure. I took a roundabout path to becoming a filmmaker. I took whatever jobs in production I could find early on through connections, reached a certain level of success as a Production Manager in live-streaming, and then decided to say “screw it,” drop everything, and move to Los Angeles. I realized transitioning over at a high level from a medium of production that wasn’t film-related wasn’t realistic, so the only option was to start over. It was a very scary decision, but felt like the only one to make. I knew I’d never be satisfied if I didn’t try to fulfill my dream of making movies. Here I am, six years later, working my butt off to be a filmmaker and getting pretty darn close.
It’s been difficult breaking in. What a lot of people don’t understand about directing is you’ve got to do A LOT of unpaid work early on, so side hustles are essential. Finding ways to make a living that still allow you enough free time to develop projects as a filmmaker is no easy task. Luckily, I’ve been fortunate to have my Production Management experience, which allows me to pickup short term freelance gigs to pay the bills and create gaps in between to give more attention to my directing career. Everyone has a different way of navigating this, and it’s a pain no matter what not being able to give your whole self to your art when your career is riding on it, but it’s a dance we all have to perform. Keeps you on your toes, that’s for sure!
Additionally, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work as an Assistant to James Wan on Aquaman for 2 years. Living in Australia for a large portion of that allowed me to save a good chunk of money to invest in my Directing career. This meant forgoing several opportunities for adventure in Australia, including scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, which I still haven’t really gotten over, but it was worth it to be so frugal. I have since used this money to fund my own short films and proof of concepts, which have launched me as a horror Director and gotten me attached to several feature films in development, as well as supplement my income at times when I needed to dedicate myself to a project without pay.
I’ve learned that endurance is the name of the game when it comes to pursuing a career in filmmaking. There’s no real “entry-level” version of Directing that you can step into at the ground level and work your way up. It’s one of those weird jobs where you can go from being an assistant one day to the boss the next. Creative problem solving and survival instincts are key when you’re trying to get through to that first big opportunity that could launch your career. It’s all about continuously putting your best foot forward, creating constantly, staying optimistic and throwing dart after dart at that target until one hits the mark.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Well, coming out of a pandemic makes this question a little tricky, but let’s pretend it’s the “before times” shall we?
One of my favorite things to do around Los Angeles is hiking. I’m an East Coast gal from a VERY active and outdoorsy family, so any opportunity to get outside is my kind of a good time. There’s tons of gorgeous spots to observe the rare combination of nature and urban living that this city has to offer. My favorite hike is Sandstone Peak, which is the highest point in the Malibu mountains. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the ocean, and the rock scrambling boulders at the top make you feel like you’re sitting on the edge of the world.
I usually love to hit up Malibu Seafood for lunch after, a great spot right by the beach. I take my very East Coast meal of fried clam strips, clam chowder, coleslaw and a diet coke across the street to the beach to enjoy a very West Coast view. Have to fight off the occasional a-hole, emboldened seagull, but it’s worth the effort.
While I have been known to enjoy the nightlife on the Westside from my early days in Los Angeles, these days, it’s gotta be the Arts District of North Hollywood, where I now call home. Can’t go wrong with a wood-fired pizza and a beer on the outdoor patio of Pitfire in the Summer or a steaming bowl of Spicy Miso Ramen and hot sake from Tamashii Ramen House on a colder night. Definitely would have to hit up Player One around the corner for a couple rounds of Cruisin’ USA and Time Crisis. Wrap it up with darts or pool at Brickyard, a game of cornhole at El Tejano (I like to play games, canya tell?!), or maybe even a tropical cocktail from the Kahuna Tiki Bar to cap things off. It’s all right there in a 2 block-radius of Magnolia Blvd and walking distance from my house (perk!) Can’t recommend my hood highly enough.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Shoutout to my incredibly supportive family! Although I’m the black sheep in a family of mostly medical professionals, their undying support and belief in me to turn this crazy life-choice into some sort of career is a big part of what gives me the confidence to try.
Also big shoutout to my chosen LA Family for keeping me sane and focused as I navigate the ins and outs of the film industry.