Jasmine Williams is a creative producer based in Jackson. She started in the industry working as a production assistant and most recently served as an associate producer for an upcoming Netflix documentary. A native of Columbus, she also recently produced and directed her first short film, “Getting Down to the Root,” for the Southern Foodways Alliance.
Where did you grow up and go to school?
I grew up in Columbus and I went to New Hope High School. And then I went to Ole Miss to study marketing and corporate relations.
How did you get interested in working in the film industry?
Growing up here in Mississippi, I didn’t see it as an option. I just didn’t know that it was something that I could do. So, I did the whole runaround trying to figure it all out in college. I thought I would be a lawyer, maybe a nutritionist–so many wild things. But while I was in college, I was taking classes for marketing and corporate relations. I was doing work for my organization, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. I was the marketing chair. I was in charge of making promo videos and basically directing and producing those. So, I was kind of in that lane, and I knew I wanted to work with people versus product.
But after I graduated, I moved to Austin, Texas, to have a fresh start. And I started learning a lot about Mississippi history and more about the creative legacy in Mississippi. And from there, I knew I wanted to be a storyteller and to tell Mississippi stories. But I had no idea what that meant. But I felt like to do that work I needed to come back to Mississippi.
My very first gig was I applied to be an extra for a music video for one of my favorite artists, Big K.R.I.T., who is from here. But my goal was to really get on set and try to figure out how to do the behind-the-scenes work I really knew I wanted to do. So, I walked on set, and I asked, “Do you need help?” And they were like, “Do you want to be a P.A.?” I didn’t even know what a P.A. was. I was just like, “Sure, sure.” So, really it all started from just saying what I wanted to do, and then trying to find the opportunity to do it.
When did you realize you could pursue your dream while living in Mississippi?
Initially I was afraid, because when you move back home to Mississippi from a place like Austin, it kind of feels like, “OK, what am I going to do? Am I going to be given the opportunities?” But the more chances came for me to learn, I knew that I didn’t have to go anywhere.
Have you had any formal training?
It’s all been on-set experience. You know, you watch TV and you don’t think about the people who make it happen. It’s all been about finding new places to learn by taking even the smallest positions seriously. Because when people see that you’re taking it seriously, they give you more and more responsibility.
Was the music video your first film or TV job?
I’d say that was my first unofficial job, because I just walked on and did it. I’d say my first official job–and I’m actually still working on it–I started as a P.A. for this documentary and now, I’m an associate producer and production coordinator, which is really cool. This documentary will come out this year and it’ll be on a major streaming platform. It’s kind of been wild how fast everything is happening.
Do you have any other current or recent projects?
I produced and directed my first short film that was commissioned by the Southern Foodways Alliance. And it was for their John Egerton Prize winner for last year, Dara Cooper, and that was a surreal experience. Because again, I was going from not even knowing this was possible to directing and producing something in my first two years.
What has been the most surprising thing about working in the film industry?
Realizing that there is literally a job for everything. I always talk about this: my very first time seeing a focus puller on a set, I was like, “There’s literally someone here to make sure that the camera stays in focus.” You really don’t know the work that goes into it until you see how many people do a specific job title on a big set. Seeing that there’s something for everyone in the industry has blown my mind. The opportunities are limitless in this industry.
Has there any been anyone who has been an influence on your career and why?
Tracy Jarrett is a producer, and she was one of the very first producers that I worked with in the field on this current documentary project. And she was just so hands on. She explained so much to me and she made me realize what part of producing I wanted to do, and that I don’t want to do line producing. I care more about the creative side and about the cast and making sure people are comfortable. Seeing her in the field and seeing how empathetic she was, and how conscious she was of all the people in the room, and how she cared about more than just getting the film right, but also the integrity of the people and making sure they feel safe, influenced me a lot. She’s really shown me how important it is to reach back and pay it forward.
How do you think being from Mississippi helps you stand out in the industry?
I think it helps me stand out because most people don’t know what Mississippi is or who we are. They’re pretty much going off of the mainstream media. I think being from Mississippi, there’s a different work ethic. Knowing the other upcoming producers and directors out of Mississippi that I’ve worked with, I think people see there is a different level of grit and grind to us. I think we stand out, because there’s an opportunity to show people that they really don’t know who we are, and it’s an opportunity for them to get a peek into who Mississippians are and get a better understanding of the full scope of what Mississippi is.
If you could make a movie in Mississippi, is there a location that you would want to use?
I think it would be Jackson. Or maybe, and this might be cliché, but the Natchez Trace. It’s so beautiful. But I say Jackson, because I think initially I wouldn’t have looked at Jackson as a potential place to film. But after being a part of the upcoming film, “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt,” and seeing how the director was very intentional about using the people of the community to help tell the story she was trying to tell, it really, really impacted me.
Do you have a favorite moment on set or working on a project?
One of my favorite moments was on the documentary. There was this moment when we were at one of the cast members’ homes and they were having a crawfish boil. There was a massive magnolia at her house, and the second cameraperson was there, shooting B-roll. And I was very, very nervous about saying, “You know, I think you should capture this tree because it’s our state tree, it means so much and I think it will be beautiful.” I was afraid to be that voice because I was just a P.A. But it was accepted, and I was given the opportunity to go with the second cam and capture B-roll. That moment showed me my value as a Mississippian being on set. Yeah, I’m a P.A., but I’m also from here, so it really affirmed me to speak up and say what I think is a good idea, because I was rewarded with more opportunities to help.
What would you say to encourage someone to bring a film project to Mississippi?
They won’t find a more beautiful place than here. And I would be honest and upfront that it might be difficult to get certain resources because we are still building the foundation for film in Mississippi. But I would also tell them when you come to Mississippi, you come to a land of people who are very resourceful and who are who are open to helping. So, what we might lack in infrastructure, we make up for in people and aesthetic.
What do you do when you’re not working on film?
I am working on my platform, Sipp Talk. It’s a platform that seeks to shift the narrative about Mississippi by sharing more and fuller stories, and by giving a deeper perspective of more people in Mississippi. I’m always looking for content to share. I’m always looking for original stories that we can expand upon.
What are your hopes for the film industry in Mississippi?
I think the film office does a really good job of making sure that Mississippians are involved in things that are made in Mississippi and about Mississippi. But I would like to see more Mississippians considered in the pre-production work, in the brainstorming and talking about what people expect or want to see from a film. And I want to see more black Mississippians and other Mississippians of color above the line. I would love to see crews be more diverse. And to see more people to be exposed to the opportunities available in film, because there’s so much to do and there’s a lot of opportunity, and I think if we do that, we’ll see an influx in and an increase in the creative community here.
What advice would you give to someone looking to break into film?
Make sure that you have a profile on filmmississippi.org because a lot of my opportunities have come from there in addition to just word of mouth and doing a good job on set. And always show up and be your best regardless of the position. I think production assistance is the best position to be in when you first start out, because you literally get a bird’s eye view of so many departments. And people are much more open with you because they already assume you don’t know anything. You can go in explore which department you would like to be in and you just work your way up from there. It’s all about relationships. Just get in with both feet and know that even the small things matter because people are watching.