Interview with Jana Thomas-Reid, Square One’s writer, director, and producer
Film and television are one of America’s favorite pastimes, and that is more apparent than ever with the countless streaming services, new terms like “binge-watching.” As this entertainment medium expands, so do the opportunities. One person who has accepted this charge is the voice of the up-and-coming, Jana Thomas-Reid.
Jana is a Houston native and a recent Cinema and Media Arts graduate from Biola University. She was born to an NBA Basketballer father and modeling mother. Taking after her father, Jana gravitated toward basketball in middle school, although initially rebelling against the idea. She contemplated quitting the sport when one of her coaches explained the financial benefits of playing collegiate. “I was like, ‘why would I want to do that? How much is college?’ And then I saw how much college was, and I was like ‘we gon’ do this! Yeah, we're going to go for this.’” But what led to this transition from sports to the arts? Jana began writing poetry in elementary school, which quickly turned into short stories. Her older siblings were involved in visual arts as well. One day, her sister was rehearsing for a “10 years from now” class project in which her sister won best actress for a movie called Beats of the Unhearted. Jana found that to be an exciting title. So interesting that she decided to write a story for the title.
Jana also delved into theatre, acting, and journalism. During her sophomore year of high school, Jana’s journalism teacher encouraged her to compete in the school district's film competition. After deferring the opportunity the first year, Jana competed the next year and won. With her eyes set on the film industry, “Directing, screenwriting, just being in the film industry…even as a showrunner, I would love to do those things.” You can hear the passion in her voice as she talks about living her dream.
As for the people who have impacted her artistic career, Jana named two of her previous college professors, Dean Yamada and John Schmidt. Jana discusses the challenges faced with being a Black woman and not fitting into a PWI (predominately white institution), one of them not being able to relate to her peers' films and not feeling understood when showcasing her movies either. “ I just felt like the oddball out a lot.” But Dean Yamada reassured her, “You have a voice. Your stories are just amazing.” He taught her that “there are only tools but no rules” about how a film should look. As for John Schmidt, he gave her the guidance she needed to make it happen. She would work on projects by herself, “ I was the director, the cinematographer, the editor, all of that, and I would be like ‘John, I don’t know how to do this,’ but he would take a look at her work and give her feedback and insight on how to improve on her craft.”
Jana ran down her list of inspirations currently in the industry; Insecure by Issa Rae, Donald Glover’s Atlanta, and I May Destroy you Michaela Coel for television. As for the film, Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins and many works from Ava DuVernay. It means a lot to Jana to see representation not only on the screen but also behind the scenes.
What keeps you motivated throughout the process?
“Just seeing the end goal come to life… Just thinking we’re going to make something and put it out there. And people may hate it; [it] might be the worst thing some people have ever seen, but just that one person that's like ‘This is awesome, I want to get into filmmaking,’ that is what I do it for.”
But how does she get to that end goal? Jana explains that once she gets an idea for a project, she begins to daydream as she goes about her day. As she runs errands and works as a waitress, she develops the plot, the character, their struggles, and all the possibilities of the different directions the story can go in. The stories ripen in her mind for about a month before committing it to paper. Her writing process is not in chronological order of the story; Jana will jump to different points in the timeline as she writes. “How are we going to get to these points? I don’t know, but we’re going to figure it out. They’re there now!” Once enough of the script is developed, she begins assembling the cast, crew, and equipment.
Then comes the challenging part of the up-and-coming artist pursuit; “These locations that I am writing in, I have to be realistic because people will charge oh-so high [to shoot in] locations.” She creates a list of places that she may have access to already or can access through connections like bedrooms, dorms, a kitchen, her school, etc. “I want to expand and be as creative as possible, but I have to put a cap on that because I am a recent college grad that has no money.” She says as she giggles. After shooting, Jana takes it to post-production and edits the project into its final cut. While big-budget movies have dozens of people to create a product, artists like Jana may only have up to a dozen. What motivates her to persevere is to utilize this platform to amplify her voice.
Jana’s advice to young filmmakers is, “Find your voice… and know what [story] you want to tell… in all of my films; it’s somebody trying to discover themselves or trying to discover who they want to be and who they feel like they should be.”
Currently, Jana is working on her web series Square One, a recent college grad who has just ended her three-year relationship and is starting from square one. The story follows her as she is starting over and navigating her life while comparing herself to her peers that seem to have their life figured out. For artists like Jana, funding is minimal; to support Jana, you can go to www.gofundme.com/f/9xhj7-square-1?member=14310661&sharetype=teams&utm_campaign=p_na+share-sheet&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=customer.
For updates on the web series, you can follow Jana on Instagram @j.treid3 or the series’ Instagram page @Square1series.