Meeting new people is enjoyable. It’s particularly gratifying when they’re of shared heritage.
Nigeria, a nation as synonymous with human capital as it is oil reserves, continues to make waves in fashion, technology, and entertainment.
I met Okwy Anyanwu at an event for Nigerian professionals in New York City in March. She works in television production and, if you live in the NY Metro area, you’ve probably seen her work.
I’ve invited Okwy to tell us more about herself.
Tell us a little about yourself, Okwy. (Where are you from, your background, anything we might find interesting about you etc.).
Hello. First, I want to thank you for the privilege of being interviewed on your blog. I am from The Bronx, NY. I was born and raised in The Bronx and still reside there today. My parents are originally from Nigeria and immigrated to the U.S. in the 70’s. They met here, got married, and had 7 children, of which I am the 4th…so I come from a big family.
When did you realize you wanted to work in tv and film production? Since childhood?
I realized that I wanted to work in television and film at the age of 13. I was always a creative child and a fan of the arts world in some sense…writing and directing plays, writing cheesy kid scripts, and anything else that helped me express myself creatively. It was in my high school freshman English class when I actually put my aspirations on paper, declaring that my calling in life was to be involved in the Television and/or Film Industry.
America is overrun with people looking for work in entertainment. In New York and Los Angeles, the competition is particularly fierce. How did you land a position in the field?
It’s a funny story.
One would think I went to college and studied in the field of TV/Film, but I actually didn’t. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in English. When I graduated college, I had very little experience in the industry. I knew there were many college grads out there with more knowledge and experience than me, so all I really had to sell myself with was my passion for the creative industry and the art of it. Right after graduation, I made it my mission to apply for every single entry level position possible in the TV and film world.
Eventually, a small production company in SOHO (NYC) called me in for an interview for the position of “Office manager”. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but I didn’t care–if my role was to get coffee and do payroll, I’d do it. I just wanted to find my way into the industry. I knew that once I got in, I could take it where I wanted it to go.
I just needed to get in.
So I blow them away in the interview…but I don’t get the job. However, since they were so taken by my energy for the creative industry, they offered me a part time PA (production assistant) position. I was doing practically nothing once every two weeks working on a 1-hour web video production. But, because of my dedication and hard work, I would stay extra hours (unpaid) to learn how to work a camera, edit a promo, or work a sound board, etc. With that knowledge I was able to move up the ladder from PA to Camera Operator to Grip and/or Gaffer (industry term, lol) to Producer, to Production Manager, to Assistant Editor, to Editor, and everything in between.
Basically, I got a paid education, :).
You’re a Nigerian-American woman in an industry dominated by caucasian males. Has your heritage presented any unique privileges or obstacles?
The biggest obstacle is being a woman. People are judged in this industry by what they can do and how much they know. In production, it’s hard to hide the inability to lift something ridiculously heavy. Also, when managing situations, men have different mental processes than women. Neither is better than the other…it’s just different. In those instances I’ve had to prove myself, showing my ability to manage situations and handle strenuous activity. I learned that the goal is always to attain a certain level of respect from the men. Once that’s met, the gender difference isn’t so stark. However, I have been known to try and come off as “one of the boys” from time to time…I think the guys always appreciate that.
My heritage has always been a privilege. Nigerians (Igbo people, in particular) are proud, hardworking individuals. Having that sense of self let me know that I could do anything I set my mind to, a mentality has allowed me to achieve the amazing accomplishments I have so far.
You spent a few years in Boston while attending Boston University. You currently reside in The Bronx. Do you prefer one city over the other?
My heart will always, always, always, belong to New York City. There’s no other city like it and it’s very much a fabric of who I am as a person.
Besides entertainment production, what else do you like to do? Do you have any unique or unusual talents or interests?
I actually am very interested in enriching the lives of our minority youth. I worked as an after-school counselor while in high school for a junior high located in the Throggs Neck section of the The Bronx. During my summers while in college, I worked there as a day-camp counselor. I find this work very fulfilling and hope to return to it in some capacity.
What is the best advice you could give aspiring filmmakers and producers looking to make headway in the business?
Remain humble and kind to everyone you meet because you never know how they can help you in the future. Work hard because diligence is a quality that’s always well-regarded.
Most people can point to certain ‘moments of clarity’ that had a significant impact on their lives moving forward. Any life lessons or advice you wish to impart?
I can’t think of any moments, but a life lesson I would say is, “don’t doubt yourself”. Once you get drowned in doubt you limit yourself. Believe in your ideas and your passion—that will always keep you grounded and give you clarity when life gets a little cloudy.
Do you have any new projects in development? What’s next for you, Okwy?
I do have some projects.
I’m working with a good friend of mine, a screenwriter out in LA. We’re working on a pretty fun and interesting project, which is under wraps for now. I’m also producing a spoken word book/CD with a local spoken word artist from Washington Heights.
Where can we find more of your work? (website etc.)
I have a Vimeo website where you can check out my work. Hope you enjoy it!