Cinematographer Ayana Baraka on Diversity in Film and Entrepreneurship

Posted on October 27, 2021
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Ayana Baraka, founder of Edamame Films, is a cinematographer, entrepreneur and part of The Venture Center’s Spark! 2021 cohort! 

Spark! is a small business accelerator in Arkansas that aims to jumpstart small businesses and entrepreneurs across the state with access to free, quality resources, training and mentorship. 

On this deep dive with Ayana Baraka, she spoke to us about her production company, the triumphs and challenges of being an artist and businesswoman, the day-to-day of her job and what owning a business in Arkansas is like.

Read below for a shortened transcription of our conversation, and watch or listen to the video above to hear the whole thing!

The Venture Center: So being a cinematographer sounds glamorous! What is a typical workday like for you? 

Ayana Baraka: I think it’s pretty similar to what you might experience going to your job. I actually am a mom of two, so my day starts off getting them up and ready for school and getting them fed and out the door. So my mornings always start off in a rush. 

And then I get back home and really it’s all about making phone calls, planning, there’s a lot of prep work that goes into cinematography. The majority of my weeks are spent in prep and then, a very small amount is actually spent shooting, like actually on set. 

So to give you an example, I shoot commercials a lot. So for commercials, the turnaround is really quick. The directors, the agency, and the production company generally have images that they’re going for, then I can contribute to that.

Really the prep is figuring out the lighting, figuring out crew, figuring out the logistics and that takes about a week. And then we prep the camera, which will take one to three days depending on the shoot. Then we go into production. A commercial shoot could be between one and three days. So it’s a really small amount of time spent on set. 

On days that I’m on set, that for me is just figuring out the logistics of both the set and home, because at home I have to make sure my family is taken care of – food, clothing, all that. My husband, of course, is very supportive and great. On set days, I generally don’t know what time we finish. Generally, a day is 10 to 12 hours, but sometimes you can go over. So, it’s just about being really flexible. 

The Venture Center: When did you know that you wanted to be a cinematographer?

Baraka: I used to tell my teachers that I was going to be a writer/ director. I think most people look at the film industry and they see the director. But the moment for me was when I made a speculative commercial and showed it to a professor. He shared it with his friends, and I received validation. I already loved the visual aspect of it, but I received validation from a professional commercial cinematographer who said, if you study this, then I think that you could be really good at it. It was the drive that I needed or the validation that I needed to really pursue it. 

You know, I’m not from Los Angeles or a major area where film was a big thing. I didn’t know that filmmaking could be a viable career. So I think that was a very pivotal moment, getting the validation and then also meeting folks who were in the industry, and making money, and saying, you could be doing this, too. 

I think that folks should know that this is a career that they can go into, you can make money, you can be creative. It’s just like every other career that’s being promoted. There is a way to do it, and I just want to encourage, 

The Venture Center: When did you know that you wanted to open Edamame Films and become an entrepreneur?

Baraka: I realized quickly that, although I’m an artist, it’s really important to also have this business savvy. As an artist, you need to be fluent in business in order to have a sustainable life doing this thing that you love. 

I created Edamame Films out of necessity. I needed a production company – I needed to organize my life in that way if I wanted to take this seriously. 

So it’s just like any other business, whether it be like, you know, starting a restaurant or starting, anything else. You need an umbrella. And it also helps me organize my life. Because I organize it this way, then I also function that way. I don’t know if that makes sense, but because you have that umbrella, it’s like, okay, I’m going to work now.

As a freelancer, as an artist, I think that kind of structure really helps. You’re your only drive, right? There’s no boss there to motivate you. You’re your boss, you’re your motivation. So I think just having that structure definitely helps. 

The Venture Center: So, you’re from New Jersey and you’ve lived in LA and other places, and in Arkansas. What is it like building a business in Arkansas?

Baraka: It’s really a great place to build a business. And I didn’t realize this prior. I moved to Arkansas so that I could be closer to Tulsa. Then, my husband also worked in business. So this was just a great place for us to build our lives. I quickly realized that there’s so much support here for businesses. Even in the pandemic, I was finding different programs and accelerators like Spark! to really help us get a good understanding of what direction we need to go in – because I am a creative, and I’m not that business-minded. 

I think of things that I need when I need them. But here in Arkansas, there are a lot of programs that help you plan for the future. These are the things you need to be organized. I’ve lived in a lot of states and I mean, there’s just so much help here. Even the community of entrepreneurs just helping each other. I think the culture here is very inclusive. 

The Venture Center: What are some of the goals you have for being part of the Spark! program?

Baraka: So one of my goals is to figure out how to create a sustainable business that can run without me being physically in the mix every single day. I think that this is a problem for many small business owners, like in order for the business to run, you have to physically be there every single day and make sure that it’s running properly. 

So I definitely want to figure out a way for the business to run, just like on automatic, without me actually physically having to be on set or having to actually physically be there to do the training. 

I don’t know what that would look like, but that’s really kind of the guidance I’m looking for in Spark!

The Venture Center: What’s next for Edamame Films, and then what’s next for Ayana?

Baraka: I’m hoping to shoot a feature film here in Arkansas. I’m hoping that I can bring folks on and train them. I have a ton of projects that are ongoing like there’s another virtual reality educational tool that I’m creating with partners, there are also documentaries that are in the works. So, just a whole bunch of things that are happening simultaneously. Hopefully being in Spark! we can kind of figure out how to jumpstart this educational piece – besides the on-set training, something more tangible.

Huge thanks to Ayana Baraka for sitting down for an in-depth conversation with us and being part of Spark! If you’re interested in more about Spark! Or The Venture Center’s other programs, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to stay in the loop!