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By Valerie Kalfrin · April 10, 2020
SAGindie Executive Director Darrien Michele Gipson decided at age twelve that success meant being a movie producer.
“I never felt happier or more at home than when I was watching movies,” Gipson said on a TSL360 video. “I knew that I wanted to be the person who would read something amazing and then touch all the puzzle pieces and create this great movie.”
At SAGindie, Gipson leads a team that specializes in teaching independent filmmakers low-budget production and how to hire professional actors via SAG-AFTRA’s low-budget contracts. But before this outreach, she was the vice president of production for DEF Pictures. Then a health scare involving undiagnosed appendicitis spurred her to reevaluate the path of her career and her life.
“The good thing about thinking that you’re going to die is, you really do reassess what you’re doing,” she said. “I loved movies. I loved scripts. I loved putting things together. But there were things that I did not love.”
It’s a story that Gipson loves to share, to help others think about what being successful truly means to them.
Learn from Gipson and other industry experts with a TSL 360 membership, which grants you access to dozens of masterclasses, interviews, and lectures from Academy Award-winning screenwriters, Emmy-winning TV writers, producers, agents, and major studio executives.
As a film company executive, Gipson said her job required her to find ways to decline projects. “My job in a weird way was kind of to say no. If there’s a reason why you shouldn’t make this project, don’t make the project. You live in a certain level of fear of making the wrong choice. So you’re always looking for, ‘I don’t know about that one. Maybe not that one’ and … you spend a lot of time dashing people’s hopes. It just didn’t feel good to me.” she said.
She also noticed that fear among others. “I found that people kind of enjoyed other people’s failures. Somebody’s film would like, crash and burn, and everybody would kind of go, ‘Hm. Wasn’t me. I’m gonna have my job tomorrow; that person won’t.’” She also felt tired of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners that were all business, not about socializing with people whose company she enjoyed.
“I just thought, I don’t want to be that person anymore. I don’t want to be the person who says no.” Gipson said. “I don’t want to be a person who’s taking away. I want to be the person who’s giving.”
Soon after this realization, Gipson answered an ad on a website for SAGindie. After four years of working for the company, her boss offered her the chance to buy it. She’s delighted with how her life changed.
“You cannot let ambition blind you to opportunity,” she said. If you’re focused narrowly on one outcome, “you will miss the doors and the windows that are around you that are offering you something that might be better than you ever imagined.”
Gipson originally imagined living the high life, but helping other filmmakers achieve their dreams is a fulfilling reward.
“Don’t let people’s perception of what success is dictate what success is to you.” she said. “I was supposed to be a studio head. I was supposed to have a mansion. I’m supposed to have my picture taken on red carpets, the whole thing. It was, I felt, my destiny. But I kept my eyes open, and I looked and I saw something different, and yeah, it took me a little bit of a left turn … and that is okay.”
“Along the way, I got married. I have two lovely yet kind of crazy kids. I have a company with people who I really enjoy. I have constantly surrounded myself with people I adore, and I say yes to people every day—not yes to everything, but yes.” she said with a laugh. “My job is to say, ‘Yes, how can I help you? How can we get there?’
“My sensibility of what success is changed drastically, but it’s made me a happier person.” she said. “That makes me one of the most successful people I know.”
Valerie Kalfrin is an award-winning crime journalist who now dives into fictional mayhem as an author (Quicklet on The Closer: Season 1), essayist, film critic, screenwriter, and emerging script consultant. She also writes for The Guardian, Bright Wall Dark Room, ScreenCraft, Hazlitt, Signature, and the blog for Final Draft, the top-rated screenwriting software used by the filmmaking industry. A member of Screenwriters of Tomorrow, she’s collaborated on short films and features, and she’s affiliated with the Tampa Bay Film Society. She lives in Florida. Find her online at valeriekalfrin.com.