I’ve always believed that through education, hard work and dedication that anything is possible. This is the story of how I arrived at Amusement Park, a place that also truly believes in this creed: anything is possible. My earliest memories of writing date back to the 6th grade. I remember winning a writing contest at Woodward Academy, the school that later became my high school alma mater. It was there that I explored the things we all explore in school … science, math and other disciplines, but I found I had a knack for writing. I wrote a short story about my grandfather, about his home in Jackson, Georgia, and his wife, one of the sweetest women on the planet. I don’t remember much about the story, but I do recall how I described the food on the stove. I remember feeling like the words were alive … that I somehow found a way to communicate the smells and tastes of the food in a way that my senses felt delighted. That was my earliest memory of writing. Fast forward many years later and I am thrilled to be working in a capacity I enjoy so much … in fact, working here at AP is the best job I’ve ever had. I am driven by the process of collaborating with fellow creatives, art directors, creative directors, account execs, strategic planners, and officers of the company to deliver the best creative content, concepts, and stories possible for a wide variety of clients. This is a dream job for me, but it surely did not happen overnight. In fact, it has been a long time in the making …
Many years ago, I was introduced to a special and gifted man named Jimmy Smith, who is now the CCO of Amusement Park. I was just beginning my matriculation at USC’s Graduate School of Cinematic Arts and had recently directed a black and white short film called Crown Heights, a film set in Crown Heights, New York in the early 1990s. The film was a project that meant a lot to me as I had relocated from Atlanta to Los Angeles and was fascinated with how to tell stories using my undergraduate degree in English, and my newfound passion in cinema. This film was one film I was very happy with at the time as a writer and director; I was eager to show it to people and Jimmy was kind enough to watch it. It had gotten into the Hollywood Film Festival and also gained recognition at USC. The film was only 5 minutes long, but was a display of my storytelling ability at that time. It earned me a scholarship at USC and also earned me the ability to direct a longer thesis film in a class called 546, where the top 4 directing students are selected to direct a film the school fully pays for based on creative merits. Having never picked up a camera prior to USC, I just knew I was on my way.
Some time passed and I graduated and got an opportunity to direct a music video starring two of my favorite artists, Grammy nominated and Award-winning artists, Kanye West and André 3000 of Outkast, and my older brother Derek Watkins who had been working in the music industry for several years. The song was called “Everybody” and the concept was simply to have these entertainers perform a modern-day song in a 1960’s inspired Temptations stage environment. I grew up on Motown with my parents, both of whom were business and corporate people with no connection to the film or music industry, but they were heavily inspired by the music of Motown and this video was pure joy. The video was released independently without a record label and quickly was picked up by Apple iTunes as their first ever music video of the week. Apple sent the video out via email and it quickly spread to other lifestyle and fashion magazines and blogs. It was a surreal experience and that video led to me getting signed to a production company, Anonymous Content, based in L.A., as a director, where I was to direct music videos. However, shortly after I was signed, Anonymous disbanded their music video division as the budgets were severely cut and I found myself out of a job.
This was around the time Tyler Perry began flooding the market with his films. Being from Atlanta, where there previously was no strong film presence, I knew I wanted to get back home to work for Tyler Perry. A strong believer in God and faith, I found a scripture in the Bible that talks about vision and the importance of writing it down. I then wrote in a personal journal that by August of that year, which was 2010, I wanted to work for Tyler Perry. Having forgotten about my journal, time went by and I began to study filmmakers who also were writers and I realized it was time for me to write a movie. I wanted to tell a story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but through the eyes of those around him and I wanted to call the project “King’s Men.” I tried for about a year to get a job at Mr. Perry’s studio, but to no avail. August of 2010, I flew to Atlanta to begin working on “King’s Men” and the day I landed, I got a call from Tyler Perry Studios, from one of his producers, saying there was a job opening in production design and I was asked if I was interested. I said, “Yes! I just landed in Atlanta and I can come in to interview.” I interviewed and got the job! I forgot I had written in my journal I wanted to be at TPS, but indeed my vision was coming to pass. I was thankful. I began working at Tyler Perry Studios in 2010 on For Colored Girls, which was my first introduction to the world of feature films. We also worked in television and would film 3 episodes of TV a week, when normal television production typically works at a much slower pace. The stress of the workload was intense, but I knew I needed to grow and I wanted to work. I worked on For Colored Girls, Madea’s Big Happy Family and various TV shows before being asked to work directly for Tyler Perry’s producer, who was starting his own company. I was now learning from and working with one of the most successful African-American producers and I was thrilled. I also assisted other filmmakers, writers, and directors, such as the director of MTV’s Teen Wolf. During this time, I was asked to direct other music video projects, including one for Faith Evans entitled, “Gone Already,” which became one of MTV’s Top 100 Greatest Women in Music Videos, an incredible honor. It is my favorite project to date because it’s truly based on the elements of silent film I learned at USC.
While in Atlanta, I continued to remain in touch with Jimmy Smith, a man I admired tremendously, and began sharing my journey with him and my work. He began to share his thoughts with me on my work; he was very honest and I knew I wanted to join forces with him someday. That day came sooner than I imagined. When Jimmy joined Amusement Park, I recall being overjoyed and I knew I needed to remain in touch with him. This was now probably 7-8 years or so after I initially met him while in school at USC. I have always been persistent, but as I said, it took that and much more to finally get where I longed to go.
After I moved back to L.A. to expand my horizons, I had my sights set on advertising. I loved the potential to use my skills in short film, writing, directing, and producing all in one place. I traveled to New York to showcase my work at a One Club advertising event where Jimmy was a judge, and I was selected as a finalist. I was ecstatic to have made it in NY! Still, the victory led to no direct opportunity. Fast forward and I didn’t realize it at the time, but I believe Jimmy was impressed enough with my work, attitude, and follow through that he eventually hired me on a contract basis to work on a new campaign for a client at Amusement Park. The experience was incredible and several months later I was offered a full-time position at AP.
I am here now and my journey has had many highs and lows, but more ups than downs, and I am overjoyed to be a part of this stellar team and to bring my unique experience and vision every day to the best place I have ever worked. It is still surreal to now be working with a wide variety of clients, creative directors, art directors, visionaries, and leaders. I thrive in this environment where I can use all of my creativity, writing, vision, and passion; it is unlike anything I have ever experienced. This is a place that is built on values, fearlessness, and imagination amongst other things. I know I am one of many people here giving my all each and every day. Amusement Park is truly a one-of-a-kind place and I believe I am one of many who can say that this is a place where truly anything is possible.