How Cydney Griffin Is Helping To Make the Entertainment Industry More Diverse and Representative

Posted on

You have survival work and developmental work to do. I have seen many people upset that they work hard and never grow or develop. About ten years ago, I realized the difference between the two. Survival work is what you do in order to keep and maintain your standard of living. But developmental work is what you do to get to the next level, and reach goals.

As a part of my series about leaders helping to make the entertainment industry more diverse and representative, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Cydney Griffin.

Los Angeles-based screenwriter and movie director, Cydney Griffin shares some of his personal stories that have influenced his journey into the film industry. His directorial debut What Ever Happened To Dinner?, not only explores themes of breast-cancer, dealing with lost, and the effect technology has on the nuclear family; but he also wrote and funded the movie with his own money, which took a total of seven years to save. Cydney’s journey is one showcasing his discipline, dedication, and determination to establish his place in the movie industry, and he is only getting started.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Even before movies, I have always enjoyed listening to and telling stories. In middle school, my teachers told me I was a good writer for my age, although I did not really care about being a good writer. At thirteen, I got a job working as a projectionist at the Gardena Cinema near my house. I never worked on my career in my youth, but many tools were provided to me, and I took them in subconsciously — mainly the ability to watch unlimited movies from thirteen to nineteen. I out grew the Gardena Cinema job when I started college. Believing I was not good enough to be a movie director, I wanted to be an editor when I got to college. Shortly after taking a few creative writing classes, seeing the work directing students were putting out on a college level, and realizing I could never sit all day in an editing room, I knew I was being very hard on myself and decided to give directing a shot. That was only the beginning. Once I solidified my directing career, the work of putting in my ten-thousand hours began. It really is a one-step-at-a-time journey. It has its ups and downs, but such is life. If I did not want this, I would have quit a long time ago. And that is proof to me that I was meant to do this.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I had the opportunity of meeting Boyz N the Hood director, John Singleton. MTVu set up a one-on-one meet and greet and we talked for about thirty minutes. Being the novice I was at the time, I asked him, ‘How do I become a movie director?’ Like many great directors, his reply was simple and to the point, “write and direct something, if I can do it so can you.” This was something I heard before, but was not ready to receive until this meeting. I believe my perspective and experience, at that moment, allowed me to properly reciprocate his message. I recalled the famous scene from The Sandlot, when Babe Ruth tells Benny, “Most people never take the chance, either because they are too scared or don’t recognize it when it spits on their shoes.” This was the pivotal turning point in my own hero’s journey story that started me down the career direction I was to go.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?

It was not funny at all really, I was working on a short film as a grip. It was lunch time, and I was talking to another co-worker. I told them, ‘I wanted to be a movie director but I didn’t know how.’ At that moment the cinematographer walked by, in passing, he said, “If you show up to the set with gloves on, they’re going to put you to work.” At this next pivotal time I learned, if I want to be a movie director, I have to start acting like one. I have to start training my mentality into a movie director’s state-of-mind in order to manifest that goal into existence.

Ok, thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?

I make popular culture more representative by simply being a creative. I have a certain upbringing and culture that only I can tap in to. It is not about preaching woke propaganda to the public in order to hide some passive-aggressive contempt one may harbor toward the system. But rather showcasing a style, culture, and perspective that most may not understand. Quite similar to the evolution of hip-hop. What Dr.Dre was doing on the west coast, as well as others, in the late 80s and 90s, introduced America to a culture and style that represented the underbelly of our societies, which is still impactful today. Great art is relevant long after its release, and standing up to the test of time is the proof. I aspire to that standard and beyond, my representative perspective is simply a by-product of the experiences that have condition me to become who I am.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?

Everyone who ask about my movie, What Ever Happened To Dinner? immediately connects with the theme of the movie, and the movies ideas on how technology is affecting the nuclear family. During the shoot, many people, both cast and crew, told me how certain shots touched them emotionally, or how specific scenes were written beautifully in the script. It is not really about a particular individual being impacted, I am seeing how the movie is changing those around me when they come in contact with the project. Often times, great ideas are the ones no one sees that were right in front of us. And I think many more people will feel the movies impact once I get it out to the world.

As an insider, this might be obvious to you, but I think it’s instructive to articulate this for the public who might not have the same inside knowledge. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in Entertainment and its potential effects on our culture?

It is important to have ‘proper’ diversity representation so that people are not misrepresented.

Stories through different cultures shed new light and insight on the classic tales of morality we have come to explore through the United States contemporary western culture.

Diversity representation is not to be confused with being ‘woke’ but it offers a difference in perspective, very much like viewing a prism as a whole instead of taking in one facet and claiming to understand the whole base off of that one side. Western culture misrepresents many cultures in a one-sided opinion.

Diversity representation, if done correctly, diffuses those perpetuating stereotypes and archetypes.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

Embrace more creative stories from diverse filmmakers. (Creative stories, not to be confused with woke-propaganda)

In the movie business, filmmakers that tackle movies with strong cultural ties to groups of people should have strong cultural understandings to the movies they make. Otherwise they should leave the material alone.

We need more diversity consulting to allow certain perpetuating stereotypes, archetypes and treatments of people to stop going unnoticed in movies, (ex: stop making servants people of color in movies where they don’t need to be.)

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

A leader is a person who has walked in the shoes of the ones they lead, one that has elevated to the level of teacher. Experience and the ability to guide makes a good leader. At the very lest, you need those two qualities. Never ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do. A leader is in charge of the bigger picture, and they make sure all the divisions under them are looked after, allowing the trickle-down sub-division leaders handle the details of their craft.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. You have survival work and developmental work to do. I have seen many people upset that they work hard and never grow or develop. About ten years ago, I realized the difference between the two. Survival work is what you do in order to keep and maintain your standard of living. But developmental work is what you do to get to the next level, and reach goals.
  2. Focus on the things in your control. This one is pretty straight forward. I see many people making excuses to not work on themselves due to what they can not control. Since my brith, every republican president is the reason why my mother is not where she wants to be. Change this mentality, or separate yourself from these people
  3. No one is coming to save you. Harry Potter, and the Prisoner of Azkaban taught me this lesson when Harry learned it is he who must save himself. It is not that people do not want to help you. Simply put, we all have our own lives to live just as much as you have yours. When someone helps you, no matter how small, be thankful for them because they’re literally placing their life on hold to help you out with yours, and that means something.
  4. Every person you come in contact with, smile and say, ‘hello’ to them. Whenever I feel down, I walk around in the world, smiling and greeting those that will except me — you will be amazed at how fast this can change ones negative mentality.
  5. Make moves based on logic not emotion. Emotions come and go. Once again, those in my life that move with logic and direction are in better shape then those that allow emotions to control them. Coincidentally, those that move based off of emotional whims are considered out of control.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

A movement of learning people skills. Because of social-media, many people are uncomfortable with human interaction, and a lot less social. Learning how to communicate is one of the biggest parts of success, marketing, building your brand, and learning how to help people.

Learn how to hustle. Learn people skills, how to read the room, the vibe, learn how to reflect what people need. Conversation is not about your talking, it is about listening.

Stop falling in line and learn to think for yourself. School teaches us to memorize randomness for a test and a grade. Focus your learning on critical thinking skills, people skills, and creativity. Those subjects can never be outsourced.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

”This industry’ll never-ever see me ass-kissing. I work hard, no play; handle mine everyday — anyway — cause I gotta stay paid, Forty.” Too Short

This quote is a stylized way of reminding me, ‘never take your eyes off the prize.’ The further along I get in my journey, the more this quote stands strong. Never sell out (Success is getting paid to do what you love / Selling out is doing what you do not love for money.) Allow passion to motivate your art, and payment will come in the form of the lives you affect because of your strong passions.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

-Dave Chapelle, I mean, who doesn’t want to meet Dave Chapelle.

-Paul Thomas Anderson, PTA is a real one. I heard him speak at the Aero Theater. I don’t really know what I would say, maybe we could just talk about movies.

-Darin Scott, I have a movie script I wrote and the subject deals with a project he produced in the past. I would love to have him on broad with producing this passion project I was motivated to write because of an artist he worked with in the past.

-Sydney Poitier, I never got a chance to meet this legend in real life. But given the opportunity, I’d thank him for paving the way for people like me, and I’m happy to share the same name — although the spelling is different. Although his work is done, his legend lives on. Rest easy in paradise and don’t worry, I got it from here. There’s a new Cydney in town. And they call me Mister Griffin.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

How Cydney Griffin Is Helping To Make the Entertainment Industry More Diverse and Representative was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.