I am a director, photographer, and musician—among other things. While I’m getting a sustainable amount of gigs by directing commercials, I get the most work through directing music videos, which requires me to be a well of fresh ideas. My endgame is to direct TV and film and I’m in the thrilling early phases of transitioning into that arena.

There are wins and losses, doubt and confidence, excess and lack always at play. To avoid it is impossible, so the success in life is working out how to sail the seas. To stay balanced, I made a promise to myself to delegate my energy towards projects that are genuinely inspiring because sometimes doing a job for money costs more energy than you have to spare.

Here is a snapshot of my journey fulfilling that new promise. There’s no such thing as a “typical week” for a director since there are so many aspects to our job, but this week showcased the ups and downs of an upward climb.

Blue Lips Short Film for Tove Lo Director - Malia James Production Company - FREENJOY 19

MONDAY

Another Monday. I kick off the week in meetings with TV/film producers I dream of collaborating with and they love me right back. They ask if I have any scripts. The thing is, I have ideas. Some ideas I’ve been sitting on for years. But in this moment, no, I don’t have any scripts. The harsh reality creeps in. I leave the meetings feeling inspired, but I chastise myself for not having finished any work to share.

TUESDAY

I wake up undeniably inspired. I make plans to set aside time to work on film pitches. I spend most of the day jotting down every idea I have towards two personal projects. Later in the day, I find out a video I pitched on last week went to another director. Another meeting with a production company for TV/film. I’m tired and distracted, knowing I have a treatment due in a few hours. They wrap the meeting up early and I drive away worried maybe I’d said something wrong. That evening, I have a dinner meeting with people I love and respect. We share war stories of working in the business and I leave floating with inspiration.

"While it’s unpredictable and takes incredible creative stamina, I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. This is what I signed up for."

Hymn by Veilhymn Music Video Director - Malia James Production Company - Strangelove 16

WEDNESDAY

I immediately start working on my scripts—ideas are flowing, life is great. Midway through the day, I get the email that sets me off: my bank account has overdrafted. I have some savings—barely, as it’s all allotted for the taxes I need to pay in a few months—and my account reads: -$5 dollars. I lay my head on my desk and cry. Like really, really cry. The wind is ripped from my sails; I feel defeated. I work hard all the time. Most of the time, I feel an upward progression, but sometimes there’s an ebb and it’s hard to stay optimistic. Today was one of those days.

THURSDAY

But I don’t stay down. Like a bloody boxer in the ring about to K.O. her opponent, I leap from bed with renewed will for the fight. I have a routine call with a music video commissioner who has no idea what they want for the artist. I hang up frustrated that music videos are often just throwing darts at a wall. I feel like they didn’t have any respect for the time I’d be putting into the idea. It just makes me more aware of how I could be using that energy for films.

Hymn by Veilhymn Music Video Director - Malia James Production Company - Strangelove 10

FRIDAY

It continues: I submit one of three music video treatments I’d been working on, disappointed that my heart wasn’t really in any of them. Things start looking up when my friend calls me up and asks me to direct the Levi’s Pride Week campaign. I’m elated! Energy, back.

Later in the day, I have a meeting at my book publisher’s office to approve the proofs on my photo book, Girl In a Girl Band. I flip through the pages and my eyes well up with tears. Standing there with the book in my hands, I experience the benefits of getting out of my own way. The book is a double win because it captures two dreams I brought to life: my dream to be in a rock band and my goal to publish a book of my photography.

While I wanted to be a director since I was a little girl, playing in a band was the ultimate fantasy. Music was EVERYTHING to me, but I gave up on trying to be a musician early on. At 26, I decided to just do it and joined my first band the day I started playing bass. A few years later, I was traveling the world, playing festivals and on TV in Dum Dum Girls. Publishing a visual diary from that time is an honor, but my perfectionism delayed the edit process.

Flipping through the pages, I feel uplifted, and as if all the visions I have for my future can become reality.

I drive home, take a yoga class, and sit down at my desk with takeout dinner. I work until bedtime.

MaliaJames OnStage

SATURDAY

Back to the routine: I do my morning pages, clear my head, drink my coffee. Then I brainstorm ideas for another music video. I sit at my desk for five to six hours, sometimes getting distracted by going down rabbit holes on YouTube. I can’t commit to anything that feels good. At 7 p.m. I take a break and exercise. Then I eat dinner at my desk and keep working until I’m too tired to continue.

Hymn by Veilhymn Music Video Director - Malia James Production Company - Strangelove 5

"As a director, you’re vulnerable by default; you constantly put yourself and your ideas on the line. With that comes incredible reward, but a lot of rejection, too."

SUNDAY

I wake up early, write in my journal, and work on a treatment for a while. I search for images that look enough like my idea to include, but none of them feel right. I switch gears and work on my script. Suddenly, I feel inspired again.

Finally, I have a long chat with a friend who holds space for my worries. We share some much-needed laughs. Having a good support system is so crucial to this work. As a director, you’re vulnerable by default; you constantly put yourself and your ideas on the line. With that comes incredible reward, but a lot of rejection, too. The close friends who text and call me everyday are my anchor through the storm, the mirror when I cannot see clearly, and the lighthouse when I am off course. They’re my cheerleaders and collaborators. The best ones forgive me for having very little free time to share with them.

I tell my friend how much I love her and go to bed feeling prepared for another Monday.

Blue Lips Short Film for Tove Lo Director - Malia James Production Company - FREENJOY 6

To reiterate, not every week looks like this. This week has been the exact opposite—ideas are flowing and jobs are moving forward. While it’s unpredictable and takes incredible creative stamina, I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. This is what I signed up for. I’ll be a director until the end of my days—it’s a life and a love, not a job. For my contemporaries or those starting out, my advice is : Dream big and stay the course. Nobody said it was going to be easy, but goddamn it’s rewarding.

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