Girls Perspective caught up with Danielle Dash this week chatting about experiences in creating her web series Dear Jesus, the ups and down of her journey and finding her voice in writing, plus more.
When did your love for writing start?
I was born in London and raised in Zimbabwe by my Jamaican grandparents. My grandfather was a published author and also ran a newspaper called The New Generation. He was the one who started telling me stories and used to make stories up about things like, why a Giraffes neck is so long and why lions only have hair around their face. So that’s when my love for it started, and just the way you can impact somebody’s day, based on how you told a story was very exciting for me.
What inspired you to start Dear Jesus?
I was seeing all of my peers in terms of Issa Rae and Awkward Black Girl in the states and here the Brothers With No Game and Venus Vs Mars,and I knew I had a story to tell. I was a working at my aunt’s Jamaican takeaway shop after I graduated University and wasn’t able to get a job in my industry, and there was so much storytelling there, so I knew that I wanted to make something around that.
What were some of the initial issues you faced when starting?
I was very fearless when I first started and the issues for me didn’t come until a lot later. The first season of Dear Jesus I wrote, produced, filmed and did everything myself. My degree is in broadcasting, so I knew how to film and I edited with a software I had and YouTube was free so the beginning was seamless for me. The problems arose later, while I was good in the storytelling aspect of the show, I wasn’t good at online marketing and I had no experience in that, so I was forced to learn that. Especially because it was an online show and the whole marketing experience was about promoting the show online.
What was your creative process in terms of thinking of storylines for the show?
For me creating story lines is something that that has always come naturally for me. Like I mentioned, I grew up with a storyteller and my grandmother was also a writer. So I didn’t necessarily have any trouble with that,I could give you a story about anything. Where I struggled is that I found it difficult to collaborate, so in the third season when another member of the team got involved in the storytelling process that was challenging, just because it was my idea for so long and I had been doing it myself and so it was just working on that side of things with another person.
The first season it was just me, the second and third seasons it was just my friend Seye and I and then the fourth season I had team that was myself, my production manager, assistant director, cameraman, editor and I also had a lot of help from the cast who all wanted to be involved in making Dear Jesus a success. In the beginning, the actors just wanted to come and act, but because of the nature of a web series, you need people to propel the show to the next level and to reach as many people as possible. For the third season, I put in the writer’s contracts that they would also be heavily involved in the social media and by the fourth season they realised that if they all put in their part together, the results for the show would be great.
How did you manage to stay true to your vision as more people got involved with the project?
I was in charge, I was the person that was funding it, so I didn’t have to answer to anyone in that respect. Due to the fact I was financially responsible for the show it was my way or the highway, so I didn’t have any problems. When it comes to the story that’s where I was more protective, but other things like camera work and editing I wasn’t as protective with because those weren’t necessarily my forte or my area of expertise, I was a lot more willing to take advice on those things.
In terms of raising money for the production of the show. How were you able to tackle this each season?
The first season didn’t have that many costs because I had everything. I had my camera and my equipment. The second season a writer called Tula Write from New York was impressed with the first season and she wanted to do a product placement on one of her books for the second season,which she paid so that helped me. The third season we had an associate producer named Dean Russell who is based in LA and invested in the show, it was through his help that a lot of doors opened for me. The fourth season of the show was the most ambitious. We were running two shows, including the Alexis Show which was the spin off and Dear Jesus. For our fourth season premier we went to Atlanta, which at the time probably was not the best idea,as the cost of taking the premier over there, renting the cinema added up. So in the end, the all miscellaneous cost of the show, paying for everybody’s travel, feeding them every day, filming for 6 months of weekends from March till August, buying props etc. The costs added up and by the end of it I was in debt. In hindsight, I was not financially responsible, I recognised the part that I played and at the time, I was always thinking that in the next year we would get the money back and I saw it as an investment.
You have previously talked about how you went through a time when you were depressed, unmotivated and uninspired when it came to your writing. How did you cope with those challenges?
I didn’t cope. I fell apart in a way that my friends were frustrated because they could see the person that I am today. However, I couldn’t see past the failure, I couldn’t even remember the success we had achieved or the Screen Nation Awards that we had received at that point. All I was thinking was where is channel 4, I don’t have anything, I don’t have any money, I don’t have an agent and so that’s all I was thinking at that point. It was my best friend Florie who really actually helped me get myself together, she was angry at me because after a while she saw me as being ungrateful, unfaithful and I just remember that she was that person who kind of just slapped some sense into me and told me to fix up and get it together and I am so appreciative of that, because I personally didn’t do it by myself, my friends really did help me.
What did you learn about yourself once you got out of that place?
I learned that I’m not very kind to myself. I’m very hard on myself because I know what I can achieve and I know the dream that is in me is not impossible, I can achieve it. So I’m learning to be kinder to myself. Now when I’m not able to do something, I’m very honest about it. I’ve realised that it’s about balance and it’s not to say that I don’t still have my moments, but I’m definitely a lot better than I was.
What sort of things do you now do to take care of your well-being?
For me now I take care of myself more. I love my sleep and for me, sleep is part of my self-care, where I can recharge and just rejuvenate and I also do things like getting my nails down. In terms of my mental well-being, I pray more now, I read my bible, I set my intentions for the week on a spiritual level. I reach out more to my friends, because when you are in your own head you tend to think that your problems are the biggest things in the world. So I speak to people and find out what is going on with them because that helps me get perspective in my own life and things that I am going through. I cook, I listen to podcasts hearing other people’s voices, I listen to religious podcasts like Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer and also just inspirational people and hearing other peoples stories, I love Melanin Millennials, Another Round and 2 Black Queens.
So now you work full time as a development executive at a drama and comedy production company. How have you managed to have a career alongside doing the things that you do?
During the depression, my production manager Jeanine left the company and it was just after Michaela Coel won her BAFTA, so there was big demand for black female writers, so Jeanine took me to meet her bosses and they introduced me to my current bosses and they took me on as a development assistant and over time the role grew and recently I was promoted. In terms of my career I work from 9:30 to 6:00 and after that it’s my time. So in terms of managing my time, from the time I finish work and when I go to bed I like to do things that are productive. For me that’s how I have been able to manage to do the things alongside my career and without the support of my workplace and my colleagues then I wouldn’t be able to do the things that I do. They are very encouraging of my writing and they want me to succeed because they understand that a success for me, is a success for them and I don’t take it for granted. I think that without the support of my family, my friends and my colleagues I would be able to pursue both my careers.
You have your own blog Danielle Dash which is a particularly well known and you have written for some well-known publications including Teen Vogue. How did you come about starting your blog and your various writing experiences?
Post-Dear Jesus, aside from being in my depression I was also asking myself what is next. I came across this blogging school and I used to run a blog back in the day, but I didn’t know how to monetise it and all of that sort of stuff, I didn’t really understand it. So with the last money I had from Dear Jesus before I maxed out my credit card, I bought a space at the blogging school and I went and I learned the basics. So I started the blog and it was supposed to be me critiquing film and then it grew into something else because I wrote a review of the Hateful Eight and my review was very critical of Quentin Tarantino’s handling of black masculinity. So moving forward every time I wrote a post a lot of what was coming out was about the socio-political aspect of whatever I was talking about. I wrote a piece about the representation of black women in reality TV and from there it kind of spiralled and people started noticing.
You tend to write in response to a lot of social issues that are happening in the Black community. What compelled you to start being a voice for this?
For me I think it’s a joy that I’m proud to black women and I’m proud that I can articulate that in words and people like that. The response I’ve gotten to my blog, I never got for Dear Jesus, so when people tell me I’ve done a good job, I want to do a better job. When I realised I’m able to get into a small space of the writing world and talk about things that are happening, it makes me want to keep on going. That ability to speak to black women on certain pieces is something that has made me want to write about the topics that I write about.
What sparks your creativity and Inspiration?
I’m inspired by other black women. I want to be like black women I see and black women I am around. My family and my friends and just other black women I see in everyday life. Even the big stars like Oprah Winfrey, Ava DuVernay, Michelle Obama I would like to be like them. I want to be free, to be able to tap into your heart’s desire so that is what sparks my creativity is other black women.
What can we expect next from you?
I’m just going to continue to use my platform and my voice to bring joy to people. I find joy in serving people and I think what I do is to provide a service and I just want to continue doing so. I am currently working on a short film called ‘Big Breasts Matter,’ which I’m also in the process of raising money for. I’m excited to work on this project and just continue to do what I do.
To find out how you can support Danielle and her new short film ‘Big Breast Matter’ and keep up with her projects, check out her website and social media