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  • Writer's pictureKayla Grant

Lifetime's Clark Sisters' movie Director Christine Swanson advises the next generation of filmmakers

Building up a network and understanding the strength in rejection are two necessary steps to becoming a successful media professional, according to Christine Swanson, who is an award-winning director and screenwriter.

The Detroit native attended the University of Notre Dame, where she was originally a finance major before she met Spike Lee, who became a mentor for her. Upon meeting Lee, she realized that there were people who were making films for a living and decided to change her major to communications.

After graduating with a double degree in Communications and Japanese, she enrolled in New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and earned her Master of Fine Arts in film. Swanson was selected by faculty to be the Willard T.C. Johnson fellow, which is one of the most prestigious fellowships given to a student.

With her master's degree, Swanson "hit the ground running" and made her first feature film with independent funding called "All About You."

During her tenure in the media industry, she has worked on an assortment of different programs, such as “Chicago P.D.” and “Love Under New Management: The Miki Howard Story,” with her most recent project being Lifetime’s “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel.” In addition, Swanson is one of the founders of Faith Filmworks, which has developed and produced stories for the screen since 1997.

Besides being a director, she is a professor in Screenwriting at the University of Georgia, a devoted mother and wife.

Recently, Swanson connected with Clark Atlanta University students during the Lunch and Learn series hosted by the Mass Media Arts Department to share advice entering the media field.

Build your network.

It is really about building relationships because this industry is not a meritocracy. I don’t care how talented you are. I don’t care what grades you get. It really doesn’t matter because [the industry is] relationship-based.

Handling rejection.

Kicking and screaming is how I handle it — if I may be honest — initially, but then when the dust settles, I come to that understanding. Then, I go into what Stephanie [Eugene] expressed, which is ‘What is for you is for you.’

Instead of looking at [it] as rejection, you have to look at it as a promotion for you to go higher and to work with other people who may get your vision. … Failure is a stepping stone for success.

Build lifelong relationships.

Don’t forget to work on building long-lasting relationships that are going to sustain you through the challenges of your life. If you are singularly focused and all you want to do is have a career and be a hit of a success, then you are doing yourself a disservice because [people] are wired for community and [people] are wired for family.

Be yourself unapologetically

To me, even in getting fired, there is immense satisfaction in being you with no apologies. … Push boundaries. Care about you work. Aim for excellence. Don’t work within the confines of the limitations of the reputation of this, that or the other. Go for it. … The pursuit is always excellence, despite the noise.

Figure out what works best for you

Given all the information and variables about how things operate, you have got to figure out what works best for you boo and live with the consequences whether they are good or bad or both.

Live your life

My advice is to live your life, but take it easy on yourself, so that you have more of yourself to give to others — in service of others. If you only care about servicing yourself, I just believe that you will miss out on all life has to offer. … In terms of reciprocity of life, it will come back to you. You don’t give to get. Do it and be sincere. Know that in serving others, you are building a reservoir for yourself.

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