Many people know Tina Chism from interning in the writing department for “The Cosby Show”, she also penned the acclaimed hit ‘Drumline’ and ‘ATL’ for Warner Bros. Currently she is gearing up for her directorial debut with ‘PEEPLES’ which stars Craig Robinson and Kerry Washington. She recently sat down with a group of journalists to discuss the ins and outs to her start in this industry, the journey, and what’s to come.
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Sargent: How was it like working as a writer with The Cosby Show?! Bill Cosby is such an inspiration to many, and has this 'mentor-like' feel, did working directly with him influence any of your views in this industry, improve your work, and help you in your career?
Chism: I was a freshman in college and the Cosby show came on TV and I knew this was exactly the comedy I wanted to be involved with. So with no experience, I wrote a TV script and mailed it to the Cosby show unsolicited. They called me and said you can’t send scripts unsolicited, but asked me to be an intern in the writing department during my spring break. I came and saw a day of taping and stayed throughout the season.
I learned from Bill, as a black writer, the importance of nailing a joke. I also learned the importance of trying to enhance the world with cultural references to art as well as the profession of the characters; these were all major influences from Cosby himself.
I was very young when I got that experience on the Cosby Show, and I quickly realized I needed actual LIFE experiences to be able to write something. So I went traveling, covered different cities, etc. I needed to learn more about the world before I became a writer.
Sargent: Was directing something you always wanted to pursue?
Chism: I thought I would be content to be a screenwriter, but I quickly learned that a film is a director’s medium if you wanted to control the material. With Peeples, as I was writing it, I wanted the setting to be a specific way, the cast and so on. As a writer, you have strong opinions and couldn’t lend it to another director, so I knew I had to be the director.
Sargent: What were the steps/process to you achieving this goal?!
Chism: The first thing I did was talk to other writer/directors. Writers who took the leap to directing because our thought process and our reference to the script are very specific. I would talk to them about the movie that played in their head and how it would later translate to different elements of the film. I spent a lot of time just trying to understand that process…In addition to studying visual storytelling.
Sargent: How's it like working with Tyler Perry?!
Chism: Tyler was very supportive; he insisted on supporting my vision and my story to come through and if I needed him he would be there. The cast for Peeples is amazing! Could not imagine a better cast! How did you know who you wanted to cast for the film? Above being funny, I knew I wanted the cast to be very smart. I looked for a cast who were well studied and witty. Kerry is Type A and a perfectionist, David is a Yale teacher, Craig has a dead pan dry wit, and I was always a fan of Tyler Williams in Everybody Hates Chris and how he brought heart to his nerd roles. I knew they all would play very well against one another.
Sargent: What inspires you/your writing style?
Chism: Character dictates what the story will be. Character comes first then, the setting and the world of where they are from and that’s how the language appears. My writing style varies.
Sargent: More specifically for Peeples, is this based on personal experiences?
Chism: Yes it is! I was dating a really perfect guy and he also came from the perfect family (I would call them the “Chocolate Kennedy’s”) and I just never knew how to fit in with his family. I am very much like Wade Walker—our family talks about everything which always makes my friends very uncomfortable. And so, it was a comical week where I had the chance to spend time with his family and I saw firsthand secrets within his family that he would not own up to. It was a family that had CONDITIONAL love.
Sargent: What's next for you?
Chism: Oddly enough, while I was in the screening of PEEPLES, I had a thought of scaring my audience. So I wrote a thriller called Inheritance and we are making it in New Orleans in the Summer.
Be sure to check out this hilarious film, in theaters today and be sure to view the below clip to get a sneak peak of the movie ‘Peeples’.