Keenen Ivory Wayans: The creatives proving it’s not too late to follow your dreams
Leaving a 9 to 5 in pursuit of one’s passion is often just a pipe dream that’s pushed to the back of the mind, overshadowed by feelings of insecurity, self-doubt, and worry. It’s kept buried there until one day you tell yourself that you’re far too old to launch into the world of writing, filmmaking, or acting. It’s an excuse you hear time and again when in actual fact the overriding issue is a fear of failure.
However, the truth of the matter is there is never a right or wrong time to follow your dreams and it doesn’t matter if you’re 30, 50, or even 90 – you’re never too old to do what you’ve always wanted to do. Don’t believe us? Just check out these stories of entertainment industry success and then decide whether we’re wrong. Get ready to feel inspired!
Ava DuVernay is one of the most influential and important filmmakers in the industry today, but her path to success has not been straightforward. DuVerney graduated with a double BA major in English literature and African-American studies at the University of California and launched a career in journalism before moving into public relations.
In 1999, she started her own publicity firm called The DuVernay Agency and worked with films like Collateral, Dream Girls, and Invictus. However, it wasn’t until 2010 when she was in her late 30s that she made her first feature film I Will Follow – which took 11 days to shoot and cost $50,000 to make – that DuVernay decided she had stories to tell.
“I kept my publicity job while making my first three films,” she said. “I knew that as a black woman in this industry, I wouldn’t have people knocking down my door to give me money for my projects, so I was happy to make them on the side while working my day job.”
Fast forward eight years and DuVernay’s the first African-American woman to win the Best Director Prize at Sundance Film Festival (Middle of Nowhere), the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award (Selma), and first woman of color to direct a live-action film with a budget of over $100 million (A Wrinkle in Time).
In other words, DuVernay is one of the most important figures in the filmmaking industry and as you can see from her story, she didn’t start making films from a young age. She built a career for herself within an industry and decided to change directions after finding something she was more interested in. That takes courage, bravery, and determination and is a story we can all learn from when seeking to follow our own passions in life.
The late, great Kathryn Joosten is best known for her roles as Dolores Landingham on NBC‘s The West Wing and Karen McCluskey on ABC‘s Desperate Housewives. However, the talented actress didn’t always shine on the small screen and actually started out her career as a psychiatric nurse.
Following a divorce, Joosten began acting in community theater in 1982 at age 42 and in 1995 moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of her dreams at the age of 56. She essentially started from scratch having no contacts within the industry and after years of struggle, worked her way up to star in the aforementioned roles and bagging herself two Emmys in the process.
The Brit actor, writer, director, and comedian is a household name, but he didn’t start out his career in this sector. In 1983, Ricky Gervais and college friend Bill Macrae formed the new wave pop duo Seona Dancing, before working as an assistant events manager for the University of London Union and then moving to a job as head of speech at the radio station XFM.
It’s here that he met co-writer Stephen Merchant and after Gervais was made redundant by XFM in 1998, the pair went on to create the now critically-acclaimed The Office. He’s since gone on to create a number of British comedies including Extras, Life’s Too Short, Derek, and The Ricky Gervais Show and made his big break in the US with films such as The Invention of Lying and Ghost Town.
Keenen Ivory Wayans
Actor, comedian, and filmmaker Keenen Ivory Wayans started out his academic life at the Tuskegee University on an engineering scholarship. During this time he discovered his love for comedy, which he practiced by keeping his friends entertained with amusing stories about life in New York.
Just one semester before graduating, he dropped out of the course to focus on comedy and during his first set performing at The Improv in New York, Wayans met Robert Townsend (The Meteor Man) who helped him learn about the business and thus a filmmaking star was born. Since then, Wayans has gone on to helm such comedic delights as the Scary Movie series, White Chicks, and In Living Color, proving that if you’ve got a gut feeling about something, sometimes the right choice is to follow your heart.
Ya boy Terry Crews is an absolute comedy powerhouse, but as many of you’ll already know his career didn’t start out that way. Crews played as a defensive end and linebacker in the (NFL) for the Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Washington Redskins, as well as in the World League of American Football with Rhein Fire, and college football at Western Michigan University.
In 1997, he retired as an athlete and made the bold move of pursuing a career in acting as he’d held an ambition for many years to do so. His first acting gig was as a character athlete in the game show Battle Dome, although he didn’t work for two years after the show was cancelled in 2001. But Crews didn’t give up and eventually landed his breakout role in Friday After Next.
Since then, he’s gone on to star in White Chicks, Everybody Hates Chris, and our personal fave as the NYPD Sergeant Terry Jeffords in Fox’s sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Oh yeah, and Terry’s a public advocate for women’s rights and activist against sexism and was named one of Time Magazine’s People of the Year in 2017 for going public with his stories of sexual assault. Basically, he’s an all-rounder – a shining gem who shows what is possible when you pursue your passions in life.
One of the biggest names in mainstream cinema, James Cameron has directed such blockbuster mega-hits as Titanic, Avatar, and The Terminator. Which is what makes it all the more surprising that he skipped the higher education route and started out his career as a truck driver. Deciding he wanted to pursue a career in filmmaking, he taught himself about production design and special effects before taking the leap into the film industry.
Speaking about his experiences, Cameron explained how he used to go down to the USC library to read everything he could and Xerox the pages. “I made my own reference library of doctoral dissertations on optical printing and all that . . . The most important thing is to pick up a camera and make a film. Even if you don’t have money, get your friends, even if it is the worst piece of crap, it still will have your name saying ‘Directed by’ . . . and for everything after that you are a director.”
Sometimes to break into a tricky industry you’ve got to make sacrifices, put the graft in, and make it happen.
Cinematic innovator Michael Haneke always worked with film, but he didn’t break into directing until he was 47 years old. Before then he was a movie critic and from 1967 to 1970 he worked as editor and dramaturg at the southwestern German television station Südwestfunk before making his debut as a TV director in 1974.
His debut was The Seventh Continent, which served as a starter to his cinematic main. Haneke’s name was really pushed forward with the controversial Benny’s Video, leading to such acclaimed hits as Amour, The White Ribbon, Caché, and of course Funny Games.