Stella BIDA, in conversation with Crystle C. ROBERSON (CCR), Award-Winning Professional, Film & Television Director & Writer
Summarized conversation transcript
This is a summary version of the conversation. More details, stories, and amazing insights are mentioned in the video!
STELLA BIDA: Hi everyone and welcome to the Conversations of Excellence! I am delighted for the next minutes that we will be spending together. We are with Crystle C. Roberson. She's a Professional Film and Television Director & Writer. She's been in the industry for more than 15 years. She has won numerous awards for her work and impact. She has written and directed multiple award-winning films, and she's also directed television series - including the hit series Greenleaf on the Oprah Winfrey Network, as well as Diary of a Future President on Disney+.
What I love about her is that when I met her, she had this warmth, despite everything she's done, and the power and the leader that she is. Welcome to the Conversations of Excellence Crystle!
CRYSTLE C. ROBERSON: Thank you Stella for having me. It is truly a pleasure.
STELLA BIDA: Is there anything that you would like us to know about you before we go further?
CRYSTLE C. ROBERSON: I'm very happy to be here. I was born in Germany on a U.S Air Force Base, and then my parents moved back to the United States, Georgia. That's where I was raised. I'm a southern girl. I think the warmth that you felt when we met is something that I owe to the people who raised me in Georgia, and being able to just be down to earth and grounded. Really happy that we met and to be here!
STELLA BIDA: From the very few things that I know about you, it seems that there's a lot of going back to the source, like for example going back to your grandmother's is what I've seen that you did lately. It seems to be important for you to go back to the source. Why is this so important for you, and how does it impact you?
CRYSTLE C. ROBERSON: It's very therapeutic because as I grow older and mature, I realize that to know where you're going, you have to know where you've been. And to know what you want, you have to know who you are.
Sometimes your desires are what drives. When you get up in the morning, you have to do what you have to do for whatever it is that you want - whether you want your rent paid, whether you want to have a great time, whether you want to relax, whether you want a loving relationship - whatever the case it is, your desires are what drive you.
What is it that you want in life is a question to ask ourselves. I think that when people sit with that and have to get really specific about it, they may say I want to be happy, or I want to be wealthy, with really big broad statements of what it is that they want.
When I ask myself that question, I feel as though I have to go back to the source of who I am, go back to understanding why certain things are important to me and what's really driving my desires.
For instance, I'm a person who cares about the environment a lot. But my lifestyle choices don't always reflect someone who cares so much about the environment. I had to go back to see where did I get that from, who in my family probably instilled that in me at a young age. It was my great-great-grandmother.
Going back to that source, I realized why this is so important, this is why I need to make sure that I'm instilling those lifestyle choices. This is why I need to make sure that I'm caring for the earth, caring for the environment, because deep down I know that's something that she did. She did for a reason.
I feel as if knowing who you are, you can better tell what it is that you want. Knowing what you want drives your life. In order to really steer your life in the right direction, you have to know what you want, and to know what you want you have to know who you are.
STELLA BIDA: Have you ever had a challenge in creating the story that you want for yourself, despite how the society or people already define you? What do you think about that?
CRYSTLE C. ROBERSON: I think that stories are a lot of times about conflict. It's that gap between what you expect to happen and what actually happens.
And YES, I have had challenges! Many challenges, many challenges…
But studying storytelling, I came across this old philosophy called the Hero's Journey.
The Hero's Journey is about the hero, which is me, you, anyone in their own life. You go through this cycle of events, into this conflict, you have to learn something you've never learned before, you have to become something you've never been before, you have to leave behind all the things that don't serve you, that you can't take with you and that aren't helping you along the way.
There are all these things that you have to do, in order to get through to that victory that's also a part of the story.
When I found out about the Hero's Journey, I found out that it dates back to the beginning of time. Stories have literally been around since anything existed, because as soon as anything existed, there's a story about it.
As a storyteller learning about the Hero's Journey, understanding that the challenges and the conflicts are all a part of it, and understanding that it all leads to victory - it helps. I’ve had very challenging and really hard and dark times. But looking back on it now, and realizing that that was a part of my hero's journey was very empowering.
We're all the hero.
I'm in the process of teaching storytelling in that way, because what I realize is that lots of great storytellers exist, but we go through so many challenges sometimes that we don't make it to the forefront to tell our story.
My heart goes out to the people who give up at that conflict of their story. Because they are the Hero who is supposed to make it through and tell us all about how they made it happen, how they kept going.
STELLA BIDA: You came several times back on the fact of telling our story. That's not easy, and is like going back and reopening the book. It's about daring to be visible to tell the story, daring to transcend the barriers there might be in ourselves. What can people hold on to, to have the courage to tell their story, whatever it may be?
CRYSTLE C. ROBERSON: I think that we're not on earth all by ourselves, we're here together, for a reason.
There are people out there who need your story, they need it. They need to hear it, they need to feel it. There's someone out there who was waiting to hear your story to move forward in life, to have a breakthrough, to finally laugh. Maybe someone needed that smile to finally laugh.
I think that storytelling is that selfless part of understanding that I have to tell this to someone else, and not just hold it for myself.
You would be surprised at how many people really will watch or listen to something that you're saying or something that you've done, and gain something from it.
I think that's our duty as storytellers, to pass along information and emotion. People need to see that there's somebody else out there who understands what it's like to be them.
There's a part at the end of the Hero's Journey that says, “Return with the elixir”. The elixir is all the wisdom, all the experience, all the emotion that you've gained. We benefit so much of the challenges and the things that people who we don't even know have gone through.
That is a tough part of the storytelling process, because you can have the story, you can feel it and even write it. But it's that part about bringing it out to the world which is a lot of times intimidating. Especially when it's our own story.
We worry about being judged, we worry about what others are going to say. But you really can't worry about it, you have to just get it out, because there's someone else out there looking at you. It's a very necessary part of the storytelling process.
STELLA BIDA: I saw that you created something called “CCR Storyhouse”. Can you tell us more about it?
CRYSTLE C. ROBERSON: CCR Storyhouse is where I teach the Hero's Journey in a way that not only is just about teaching storytelling, but it's teaching us that we are the hero. It actually started as a mentorship program, because I had many younger aspiring filmmakers asking me to be their mentor.
It represents that return with the elixir, sharing what I’ve been through in the film industry. You just come to a point in your journey where it's time to do that.
STELLA BIDA: When you look back at your whole career as a Film & Television Director, what is the greatest lesson that you have learned through directing, about being a leader?
CRYSTLE C. ROBERSON: I'm directing artists - the actors, my director of photography, my camera operators, the costume designer, all the way down to the production assistant - everyone's an artist in their own right. They all have visions, arts, they have creative instincts, ideas.
As a director, I'm not there to tell everyone what to do and how to be. I'm there to find and guide all of these artists to the truth of what the story really is. I'm there to guide them to the right emotion that the scene needs to have. I need to stand in for the audience - how do I want the audience to feel, how is the audience going to feel after they watch this scene, … I understand what the audience is feeling, what they're looking for, what's going to keep them in the story versus what's going to take them out of it.
So I guide and direct all of these artists to that goal.
Everyone of the team has to understand what they're doing, why they're doing it. They have to believe it for themselves. It's my job to come in and give the story meaning, inject it with feeling, bring it alive. The difference between real life and a random scene is that real life has meaning, it has presence.
When I'm directing and when I'm a leader, I like to empower all the artists around me to be able to trust their creative instincts. If they have ideas they can speak up and say it, and I'm not going to put down everyone's ideas. I'm going to listen. Every idea isn't going to make it, but I still like to empower the people around me to understand that their creative instincts are important. Because if you don't, you will just be working with robots, and everything will start to feel robotic.
When they feel it for themselves and they believe it, you get excellent performances! You get everyone involved!
That’s how you get authentic performances and really good work out of everyone.
STELLA BIDA: If you had Crystle of 10 years old by your side, what would you tell her?
CRYSTLE C. ROBERSON: I would tell 10-year-old Crystle not to worry. For some reason, I was worried and concerned about the future, what I was going to be when I grew up.
I would tell her to trust her instincts, to follow her passion, not to try to be what everyone else wants her to be or expects her to be, but to just hold on tight to what it is that she truly loves.
You do have a certain moment in life where what your parents think really matters a lot. The older people in your family, your teachers, whoever it is that you look up to - their expectations of you matter so much and you don't want to let them down, you want to make them proud - but there's a balance between that and making sure that you're doing what it is that you know that you love, what's going to make you happy, what's going to fulfill you and drive your life.
I probably would have saved myself a lot of angst, worry and concern about things that turned out to be just fine.
STELLA BIDA: When I hear you, it seems that throughout your journey, it has been important to find that balance between what you love as Crystle, and the expectations of the people that you respect and love?
CRYSTLE C. ROBERSON: Yes, 100%. Your parents, they care about you. They just want you to have the best life possible. They don't want you to struggle. But sometimes that's just what has to happen. You have got to struggle a little bit, or you’ll be miserable... Everything has a risk involved. Either way you're going to have to get back up. You might as well just grab hold of what it is that you love and go for it!
STELLA BIDA: Is there anything that you want to bring forward which is important for you?
CRYSTLE C. ROBERSON: As a last thought, I would like to leave people with this: don't underestimate yourself, any of the things that you've been through, nor your experiences. All of your stories and experiences really matter.
To you they may not be as big of a deal, because you lived them and went through them. But if you just go back to your own personal “story bank”, you'll be surprised at who really needed to hear it, and who it really helps.
I would encourage people to think back on their own personal experiences in life, anything that may have touched them personally or the people around them, anything that was really tough to get through, the best times, the worst times, the most interesting times… Go back through your life and write down those little instances. You would be surprised in seeing the stories that you want to tell.
Don't underestimate the importance of your experiences and the stories that you have just by being alive!
I want to make sure that every person knows that they're important. You are your own hero in your Hero’s Journey. The only person who can take that away from you is you.
STELLA BIDA: Thank you for being part of the conversation Crystle!
CRYSTLE C. ROBERSON: Thank you Stella for your amazing questions, and for this! Continue helping people get their stories out, it's very important.
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