Taiwo Gaynor, Producer

Taiwo Gaynor

Where did you grow up and go to school?

I grew up in Brooklyn and moved to Mississippi after high school to work with The Young Peoples Project. I went to Hinds Community College and Jackson State for about a semester each but left to start a graphic design/music production business.

At what moment did you discover an interest in working in Film/ TV?

It wasn’t until I began working at Mississippi Public Broadcasting in 2008 that I developed an interest in film and TV. My passion was always music and audio engineering, which led me to my entry position at MPB as an Audio Technician Senior. It was working on TV and film sets here that I began to discover this new lane for myself as a producer/director.

At what point did you realize you could take steps to pursue your dream from Mississippi?

It took about a year for me to realize that everything that I thought about Mississippi was completely wrong. Mississippi has a surplus of talented, creative, intellectually intuitive, and passionate individuals. The resources and personal connections are a lot closer to reach in Mississippi than a lot of larger cities. The cost of living is relatively cheap, and it is just a short trip to many great destinations.

What type of training have you had and where?

A majority of my training has been self-taught, more so out of necessity. I do not have any formal training in any of the technical and creative areas that I work in. I have had the good fortune of being raised by parents that encouraged me to dream big, to work hard, and be intentional with everything. I have been exposed to many highly skilled individuals that were willing to share what they knew with me.

What was your first Film/TV job?

My first job in Film/TV was as an amateur actor in a video that my grandmother produced. My real career began at Mississippi Public Broadcasting. I had been on film and TV sets before more as a spectator. I came from the music production world which is very different from the broadcast audio world. Many of the fundamentals are the same, but a lot of the techniques, workflows, and necessary skillsets are very different.

Are you working on any current/recent projects?

I have several documentaries in pre-production and I am beginning the planning for a new season of MPB’s beloved rapping puppet, Ed Said. In my official role at MPB as the assistant director of television, I am working on re-tooling our production department to be able to adequately scale resources as well, adapting our content for a rapidly transforming digital media landscape.

What has been the most surprising thing about working in the film industry?

The most surprising thing for me is the level of talent that exists in Mississippi. We always hear that you need to leave Mississippi in order to get anywhere in life. To a large degree, perhaps I am an outsider because I came here in my later years; but to me, Mississippi is America’s best kept secret. I have been able to work on many incredible productions right here in Mississippi.

Who has been an influence on your career and why?

I don’t think that I can name a single person that has been an influence on my career, what I can do is describe what those people had in common. The only reason I am where I am today is because of the grace of others. Individuals that gave of themselves, not seeking anything in return except the satisfaction of helping someone else to see their own potential. Many of these individuals were extremely gifted and talented and displayed incredible levels of humility. This industry can be filled with egos and narcissism, and that energy has the potential to crush the creative spirit. But when a person can humble themselves and flip a light switch on in another human being and turn them on, the ripple effect to that is limitless.

How does being a Mississippian help you stand out in our industry?

I think it is underestimation that helps me to stand out. I think when people see Mississippi next to my name, they may have a preconceived notion of what my potential may be. In all of the years that I ran my own company, my professional unspoken motto was to under-promise and over-deliver. That has taken me far in life, and I continue with that motto today.

If you could create a scene built around one location in Mississippi, where would that be and why?

That’s a tough question, Mississippi is filled with so many lush landscapes, beautiful waterways and vast delta lands. I bet after this is published a million things will come to me.

Favorite moment on set or with a project?

One of my most favorite moments was during the filming of a documentary I co-produced for MPB, “Meet Carl Jackson.” We were in Nashville interviewing country music legend Tom T. Hall at his home, and I remember connecting with him on such a personal level as we spoke. He didn’t want us to leave right away either, he urged us to have lunch with him. He ordered up some veggie pizzas, read us poetry and gave all of us some of his personal shirts. As a kid that grew up in Brooklyn listening to hip hop and reggae, I couldn’t have imagined having this kind of connection with an 84-year-old country music singer from Kentucky. By the way, Tom T. Hall is one of the greatest songwriters ever. I had a fast-tracked education into country music working on this documentary. This experience proved to me that as different as we may think we are, we are connected in more ways than we realize.

What would you say to convince/encourage a producer to bring their project to Mississippi?

Mississippi is a special place that is filled with unique places and characters that just cannot be replicated or reimagined. This place has many destinations that are just one of a kind.

What do you do when you’re not working on a film set (other jobs, hobbies, etc.)?

I enjoy creating music and spending time with my family. My kids are still young enough to think it’s cool to hang out with dad so I’m going to take full advantage of that while I still can.

What are your hopes for the film industry in MS?

I hope to see more young people begin to take more active roles in creating content in the Mississippi film industry. I believe their voices and stories are important to be heard. I would also like to see more diversity on sets in every way. I can say that most of the sets that I have been on in Mississippi have always been filled with very talented, professional, and friendly people, but I would like to see this industry overall diversify even more.

What’s your advice for someone looking to break into the film business?

The Mississippi film industry is a pretty small community, although it is growing. I would advise that individuals seeking to enter this industry allow themselves to be open to growing small, from a grassroots level. Opportunities continue to open up in production, but you have to remain diligent and connect to the creative communities throughout the state. There are many people doing all kinds of creative projects that would welcome some positive, creative energy. Mississippi is filled with talented people, so I think it’s also important to have your ego in check. Egos are healthy, but for a place that isn’t as large as New York or L.A., a great attitude and hard work can take you a lot further than raw talent.

How can people find/reach you?

The best way to reach me is via email dwcom2@gmail.com.