Director at The Corner Store in Toronto on dealing with societal taboos, ‘risking it for the biscuit’, and opening up her work to more technological ways of filmmaking
Teaunna Gray is an Afro-Indigenous director and film photographer based in Toronto. She started her career as a curator in her home city which gained traction following each successful exhibit. The group art shows Teaunna produces are held as a way to not only give under-represented artists platforms, but includes give-back to community organizations globally.
Through visual storytelling, she will continue developing unique stories that are made even stronger coming from her genuine and multi-cultural point of view. The inclusion of womxn, people of colour and the Deaf community impact the work she creates and collaborators she chooses to work with.
In her free time, you can find Teaunna bidding for vintage on eBay and working freelance as an interior designer and stylist through her small business sunday afternoon.
Name: Teaunna Gray
Repped by/in: The Corner Store
LBB> What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
Teaunna> I’m drawn to scripts that provide an opportunity to work with real people and tell real stories. As a lover of documentaries and interest in people’s backgrounds, I love when I can take a script and capture the creative in an intimate way.
LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?
Teaunna> I like to really iron out a strong and consistent visual aesthetic. Once I have that down, I think about ways that the project can really stand out and deviate from the obvious choice.
LBB> If the script is for a brand that you’re not familiar with/ don’t have a big affinity with or a market you’re new to, how important is it for you to do research and understand that strategic and contextual side of the ad? If it’s important to you, how do you do it?
Teaunna> It is super important to research and be strategic about a project I’m up for that I may not be familiar with. I like to ask myself why I’m not sure about or connected to it and then challenge myself to completely change that. I think about how to approach the treatment in a way that would get someone like me who may have the same lack of experience with the brand and creatively pull them in.
LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?
Teaunna> For me, the most important working relationship for myself to have when making an ad is my DP and producer. It truly makes for the ultimate trifecta. The DP has knowledge and skill that is sometimes beyond what I can think of and they have the terminology and experience to take what is in my head and explain it into execution for me. The producer is the know-all who can either reel us in if we get overboard or really be that person to find the ways in which to support us creatively on a job.
LBB> What type of work are you most passionate about? Is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?
Teaunna> I love dealing with subjects that are often taboo in society. I love when I’m able to make an impact or positive difference In the work I create.
LBB> What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?
Teaunna> As an Afro-Indigenous/ BIPOC director and a woman, I find that we can often be put in a box. And when we are represented either in front of or behind the camera, it’s done so in a tokenistic way - or to check the box. We have so many diverse stories to tell and at all levels of production, we need to have a seat at the table. It’s frustrating to see BIPOC folks being type-cast and expected to show the negative perceptions society has often placed on us.
LBB> How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?
Teaunna> I believe trust goes a long way - you have to be open and at times will need to risk it for the biscuit. That being said, I was working on a treatment with a friend of mine who is also a DP and he mentioned keeping some important details to yourself until chosen. That’s since been a nice challenge to write scripts and treatments that pull a client in while also leaving some element of surprise when I get the job.
LBB> What are your thoughts on opening up the production world to a more diverse pool of talent? Are you open to mentoring and apprenticeships on set?
Teaunna> I’m a Black and Indigenous womxn so it goes without saying that representation, particularly in this industry, is lacking but of the utmost importance. Something I’ve loved to see in the past year are opportunities being given to upcoming BIPOC creatives. I’ve always had the goal to be able to use my platform to give to others and hope to be an inspiration and support to those who may need it.
LBB> How do you feel the pandemic is going to influence the way you work into the longer term? Have you picked up new habits that you feel will stick around for a long time?
Teaunna> I think the pandemic will definitely push me to learn the many different technical elements and platforms available for creators. Before the pandemic, remote work and live entertainment was not something anyone could have imagined would take off. It’s definitely opened up a new world of possibilities in terms of how I’ll create and work moving forward.
LBB> Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you’re working (and, equally, to what degree is it possible to do so)?
Teaunna> The world and technology are moving at such rapid speeds. I think it’s important to keep up to date to ensure success and growth but instead of assuming you’ll be able to take it all in, it more so (for me) provides an opportunity to collaborate. I understand where my strengths are and love meeting people who I may be able to work with in the future who have more experience and knowledge in areas I lack in.
LBB> What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work?
Teaunna> I always joke that I’ve got a grandma brain of all the millennials. I love everything the old fashion way and technology has always been something I felt far away from. I’ve slowly begun to come around and have gained such an intrigue with how much I could accomplish if I push myself towards it. I’ve been talking to a bunch of digital artists and have some cool ideas in the works for future projects and planning them has been super exciting. I love learning while doing what I love.
LBB> Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why?
All My Life
I love sharing human stories and use each opportunity to do so in intimate and relatable ways. Each of these pieces take the time to focus on each human subject when they appear on screen. My goal is to have every project feel as though you’re watching a cinematic feature. I hope that reads through when you watch these selects.