Entertainment

Commit to the Dream & The Dream Will Commit to You: Writer, Director, Producer Tonja Renée Stidhum

Everyone has the ability to dream, but not everyone is willing to do what it takes to chase the dream. Dream chasing is for those who dare to take the chance to believe that their dream is more than a thought or possibility.

Writer, director, producer, and staff entertainment writer at The Root Tonja Renée Stidhum was a dreamer until she decided her dreams were going to be something more.

The dream started when she was a kid, eager to be in movies and on television after spending the bulk of her time watching and reenacting Disney films and cartoons. She wanted to be Cree Summer, the original voice of Penny in the 1983 cartoon Inspector Gadget and Winifred “Freddie” Brooks on the NBC sitcom A Different World. The Disney enthusiast thought “it would be so cool to voice my favorite characters”. When she saw movies she thought it was magic. She says that “cartoons, movies and entertainment raised me.” At a young age she realized that was a career in the film and entertainment industries. From that moment on, she never looked back.

No longer California dreaming, this South Side of Chicago native currently resides in the city of Los Angeles after taking a leap of faith and purchasing a one-way ticket 5 years ago. What gave her the inkling that it was time to bet on herself? After 8 years of working at a law firm, she felt the emotional weight of dreams unrealized. At the time, her now deceased friend sent her a one way ticket to L.A. Her gut was telling her “this is it, I should do it”. The idea of moving to L.A. was already a constant consideration.  She didn’t have a job or any family in the area. It was her “leap of faith moment”. When she arrived to the City of Angels she started a job with another law firm to get settled. She worked there for about a year before landing her first major byline with Ebony.com.

From there, she took a “fling of faith” by quitting her job at the firm and taking up freelance journalism full time. “I was trembling when I moved to L.A. I was trembling when I quit my job and decided I was going to live off freelancing, and possibly risk bills not getting paid on time. Faith kept me going,” says Stidhum. Although having to endure living in a “box” and taking a financial hit at first, she made it!

After contributing to major publications like GQ, Shadow & Act, Hello Giggles and more, Stidhum can proudly say that she’s a full time writer after landing a staff position with complete benefits at The Root. And we all know them benefits are game changers!

Your faith has to be strong to make it in this industry. You have to have tenacity and grit. Comparing faith to bravery, the entertainment writer says that “bravery is not being without fear. It’s being scared as sh*t and doing it anyway! It’s holding on to hope”. Acknowledging her mom as another source that helped her keep the dream alive, Stidhum also attributes her success to having a solid support system.

When it comes to her undeniable writing ability, I wanted to know how she was able to freely bring her full, authentic self to text. “That’s actually how I always work,” says the Zumba fanatic. “I’m a very observant person, so I take people in; I love to people watch. That’s probably why when people read my scripts they’re like “your dialog is great”. That’s one of my strengths in screenwriting because I watch people, I listen to how they talk, how they move and the little eccentric aspects about them. I’m a sponge. Everything is material to me”.

She’s written under a variety of genres, but Stidhum feels most at home when she’s creating comedic content. Comedy can be an intimidating undertaking, but she’s released her fear around it.

“Comedy is hard to write. People will say “oh, you’re funny!” but it’s a whole other thing to execute comedy in written form and be effective. Because I was intimidated by it I would write more darker pieces or drama, thrillers, and maybe even sometimes some animation, which can tie back into comedy in a way”. When she began to believe in herself she was empowered to go for it, noting that “laughing is the strongest emotion that means the most to me. If I’m laughing really hard until I cry, that’s joy to me”. Now she embraces the title comedy writer.

Outside of being a writer, Stidhum is a director and producer, currently in distribution talks for her upcoming comedy digital series, WingChick. After watching the trailer I wanted more! In my opinion, it’s two of our favorite black female lead TV series, Insecure and Girlfriends, colliding in all the best ways. “WingChick came about from a group of my closest friends that I call the wolfpack. I mirrored all the friends of the show from them. The lead character, Raven, is me. As I was growing up I was a tomboy and I became the wing girl to all the guys. When I started blossoming into a woman things started to get complicated. I’ve always had these really close guy friends and then it turned into this situationship, and therein lies the conflict. But it’s also funny, right? There’s tragedy in comedy”.

“To get WingChick started I actually did crowdfunding to raise funds for the first 2 episodes and that went very well, ” Stidhum tells BeenWorthy.

This project has been in the making for a couple of years. After filming the first two episodes, she went to the film festival circuit. The episodes got accepted to some festivals in LA, Altana and The Chicago South Side Film Festival. This was her proudest moment. Being able to go back home to watch the screening on the big screen with family and friends meant the world to her.

“A lot of bad things have happened over this past year with the pandemic and global uprisings. It’s been stressful and challenging in a lot of ways. My goal is always to bring joy to people because joy is so important to me. I hope this digital series will help me do that”. The rising producer and director says WingChick may premier later this year. We’ll be watching!

Concluding this interview, we asked Stidhum to give 3 tips for aspiring writers. Here’s what she had to share:

  1. Be yourself. What’s true is that no one is you. No one is youer than you – Dr. Seuss
  2. Engage with other writers across your level. Having that network is important and you never know who’s gonna come up or who you can help come up
  3. Take risks. You’re worth it!

Connect with Tonja Renée Stidhum:

Instagram @TonjaStidhum

Instagram @WingChickSeries

Facebook

Bylines at The Root

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