Writer Of The Week: Donovan Beck
By Briana Biswas & Zainab Raza
Interviewers of NovelMinority
This week, we selected Donovan Beck, a director & filmmaker. We sat down with Beck to talk movie recs, radical optimism, and what the freelance world looks like.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Briana Biswas (BB): What is the meaning behind your name: “The Mind Of Sol”?
Donovan Beck (DB): So the 'Mind of Sol' comes from two places in my life. First: my childhood friends called me Sol, because of my personality. Second: the sun never really sets around the world, right? When it sets for us here, it's actually just rising somewhere else. So the sun's constantly working to make a positive impact on the world. The 'Mind of Sol' is the concept of doing just that.
(BB): You use TikTok to create a comfortable, uplifting space for others. What makes you put out that specific sort of content?
(DB): I love the quiet. I love sitting in solace, or going up to the mountains and just exploring, so I try to create that environment around me when it comes to the design of everything. I honestly laugh at the fact that over 14 million people have seen my floor [laughs]. I wanted it to be a place where I felt comfortable [above anything else]. I want my videos to feel as if you're just talking to a friend.
Zainab Raza (ZR): The film industry is so competitive; I’m sure not everything gets recognized. What helps you stay motivated to keep doing what you do?
(DB): Intention. I’m a photographer, filmmaker and writer. People know me for what I do. But the thing that I tell the students and those that I work with is that the “why” of what they're doing is going to make their lives incredibly easier on the days it's hard to be a creative. The “why” behind everything that I do is to advocate for the next generation of artists, the next generation of creatives and people trying to share their stories in this world. Whenever I struggle, I remember that I'm not just doing this because I want to be considered a filmmaker or a writer. I'm doing this because I want this to mean more than myself.
(BB): Wow that was a beautiful answer. What opportunity-related challenges have you faced as a BIPOC?
(DB): Yeah. So you don't see a lot of creators who are a person of color. Even today, people of color make up less than 25%. It’s very common that I see myself as the only person of color in directing meetings in planning, production meetings and things like that. I am there to start changing that statistic. I started in the industry when I was 16, and now I'm 21. I've done a lot of productions, I've worked on a lot of sets, and I've earned my stripes as a director. So even when people will try to talk down to me, I know who I am and what I have to offer. And you have to. You are going to have to represent yourself 1000x more than somebody who isn't a person of color. [To me] the goal shouldn't just be to be the first black person to do X, or the first person of color to do Y. [The goal is to work] until having people of color accomplish these things is no longer a surprise. So to the young artists out there: be proud of what you’re doing. Be loud about it. Even--and especially when!--they start to doubt you.
(ZR): You’ve been in the industry for a while--since 16. Have you seen progress in representation since you started?
(DB): One hundred percent. I feel like we as people of color often view representation very critically. It’s hard not to...we have this huge mountain to fight: generational stigma, generational discrimination, etc. But we have to step back and acknowledge how much has been done. The internet has allowed so many creators of color to share their work. Organizations like Netflix, [for] which there are arguments to be made on both sides, have shared international films directed by people of color. Even now, we’re seeing the first black directors winning awards for their work. First black organized films being truly awarded and crowned for what they did. The voice is getting louder.
(BB): Absolutely, yeah. I mean, in any type of creative industry BIPOC are going to have to represent themselves so much harder, just to get to the same place that white people might already be in. And I think especially in a competitive film industry, people must want BIPOC to talk about their trauma. Have you ever been pressured to speak about your trauma?
(DB): I'm not someone who's often in front of a camera. I'm more often a director, or a cinematographer, or a filmmaker. With that being said...have I been [tokenized]? Have people pointed to me when they say, “Oh, we're a diverse group of people working here.”? Yeah, absolutely. But above anything else: I am a student of intercultural communications with a focus in media. And so I get to ask: hey, are we creating this film or this commercial without taking into account cultural history, not taking into account people's understanding of certain topics or ideas? Mostly, I am not [asked about my trauma], but the industry often uses trauma (cultural, generational, something else) as a scapegoat. My responsibility is then to address it.
(ZR): As a film expert: do you have any movie recommendations by BIPOC?
(DB): Yeah, Black Messiah is an incredible movie. You both seem very young, so I will preface that with: be careful [laughs]. But it is a very good movie. The Cave, a documentary that won an award a couple years ago, is about a group of women who helped run an underground hospital in wartorn Syria. Now They See Us is an incredible historical movie, and a revelation. Anything by Jordan Peele.
(ZR): Thank you! Okay...so I was gonna ask about your short film Escapism? I watched it, and I loved it. What was your idea behind creating that?
(DB): Escapism was awesome. The whole film had to be self shot, which was [an adjustment] for a director like me. Right out of my comfort zone. It was about shutting everything off, and remembering that [feeling].
(BB): That's really cool! When did you realize that you wanted a management role in the film industry?
(DB): I work as a freelance creative. So my job involves asking: “How do we tell your story better?”, “How do we tell what you do in a way that is prevalent towards you?” Creating within the freelance world means that you have to wear a lot of hats, you have to do a lot of things, you have to be not only a great writer, or a great editor, a great planner or producer, like you could in the traditional industry. As a freelance worker, I have to wear a lot of hats. Often, when I'm working with organizations, they'll ask me if something's possible. And my reply is, “It's possible because we're going to make it possible”. You just have to figure out a way to make things happen.
(ZR): I think that take is awesome. How do you prevent yourself from experiencing burnout?
(DB): I don’t say yes to everything. A lot of young creators feel like they need to get their name out there, and that they need to say yes to everything. It will serve you tremendously to [set boundaries]. As I've gotten older, I've learned what to say yes to. Additionally, you should find hobbies that have nothing to do with your work. I carry a slackline in my car, wherever I go, it's kind of like a tightrope basically. You have to make time for the things you love, and for yourself.
(BB): What’s the biggest mistake you've seen people wanting to get into that industry make?
(DB): Don't believe that film, school, art school, writing school or anything like that is what you need in the 21st century to be an artist. That is not true. Do I believe that film school or art school or anything like that has a place? Yes, absolutely. I have a firm belief that film school and art school are amazing networking opportunities and a way to learn the fundamental ideas of things. But they aren't your only answer. You don't need to do those to be considered a filmmaker. For one reason: there's a thing called YouTube. Second: make boldly, and make mistakes. The filmmaker who makes a movie a day is going to learn a lot more than the filmmaker who takes a year to make one movie. You have to make mistakes. You have to fall. You have to get back up. You have to fall, you have to get back up, you have to learn. I've made a lot of mistakes as a filmmaker and as an artist, but it's allowed me to never make those mistakes again.
(ZR): That was really sweet. How do you balance your mental health with your craft?
(DB): I have suffered with anxiety and depression my entire life. I now go to therapy, and journal every day. [People who suffer from mental illness]...we don’t hate life. We love life; we just struggle with it sometimes. I love life; I truly do. I just struggle with it, and because of that I wanted to find ways to appreciate everything. I work with many students who, if they got out of bed, would be so proud of themselves. I would be proud of them too; I would say: “Hey, I am so happy you are here. You did what, at times, feels impossible.” So if you are able to look at life with that sort of metric, life becomes so much more beautiful.
(ZR): I am a junior in highschool, and I found what you just said to be really validating. So you mentioned writing a book, A Fool’s Guide To The Universe. Could you elaborate a little more on that?
(DB): Yeah, absolutely. That book has been written over the past 3 years. A Fool’s Guide Into the Universe is a collection of reminders that I needed [at certain points in] my life. It is a book of love, and lots of triumph and joy, and happiness and sadness, and depression and anxiety. It is a guide to help you figure out what it’s like to code through this thing that we call life. This universe that we just fumble our way through [laughs] and figure out. So yeah, A Fool’s Guide Into the Universe is my guide to dealing with the rough parts of our life.
(ZR): Congratulations! That's really exciting!
(BB): Yes, very! What do you hope to achieve in the future?
(DB): Advocating for the next generation of artists. My goal has always been to be the person I needed for myself, back in high school.