Interview with Dorothy A. Atabong

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Dorothy Atabong remembers always wanting to be chosen for a part in the Christmas play at her elementary school in Cameroon, but she had no luck whatsoever at the time. Later in high School, which an all-girls boarding school, for 5 years she hoped to be able to perform in the Christmas play. Well, she still wasn’t chosen. In both of these situations, there were no auditions held, one was simply chosen to play a part. Anyways, a few friends and Dorothy staged a musical featuring the hottest Hip-hop songs and that got the entire school out of their seats, cheering. That was her first experience being on a stage with an audience in attendance. Something Dorothy longed to do but somehow never had the opportunity.

Later when she moved to Michigan, she remembers her very appearance on stage in a dramatic role. It was a British play titled ‘Love All’ produced by a local community theatre. There is nothing like the stage; that presence, standing in someone else’s shoes and living truthfully. Dorothy A. Atabong could be someone else every night, live someone else’s reality. She was complete.

indieactivity: Did you study what you do?
Dorothy: After my Bachelors of Science in Biochemistry, I worked at a pharmaceutical company full time and took acting classes on the weekends. My acting coach asked me one day if I was interested in applying to The Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre in NYC. I procrastinated for a while. I had never been to NY before, I would be living my family behind, away on my own. Something I had never done before.

Anyways, eventually I submitted an application and thought I would never get in because I applied so late and it being a prestigious school with students flocking in from around the world hoping to get in. I was put on the waiting list. I remember vividly in the middle of some experiment in the chemistry lab, the call came that I had been accepted and had to be in NYC in 2 days. Bizarre as it was, I quit my job, packed my bags and moved to NYC to attend one of the most prestigious theatre schools in the US. In the second year only about 25 students are invited back out of the 95 or so from the first year. I was lucky and thrilled to be invited into second year program.

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indieactivity: What is your filmmaking process?
Dorothy: As time goes by, one formulates their own acting technique that works for them however my fundamentals remain the same. The Meisner technique – living truthfully under imaginary circumstances. With this technique, you can’t go wrong on film or stage, as your performance remains refreshing with a sense of truth that amazingly grows deeper and more real as you delve into your character.

Regarding the filmmaking process, as a creative producer you drive the ship and everyone looks to you when everything goes wrong so one has to be on top of their game and know their story like the back of their hand. This way when things go wrong, you know what scenes you cannot do without and ones you can cut and be able to live with.

indieactivity: Tell us about the work you have produced?
Dorothy: As an actor I have been on stage and screen and it is hard work. If you are one of those like me that want to be proud to have your name on a project then you have to do the work. You have to break down the script, work on your character and know your objective in every scene and how you are going to achieve it.

Then come on stage or set, not to die but to live and do not leave until you get your objective – this is the fundamentals of all acting…all good acting. There are so many ways you can go about getting what you want, and with every line, you use the tools you’ve prepped with to get your partner to give you what you want. Do not settle. Do not make things easy for yourself. Do not make things easy for your partner. Make strong choices.

indieactivity: Do you take courses to improve your craft?
Dorothy: To keep abreast and on top of your game. Yes. You have to continuously hone your skills and challenge yourself. An actor does not stop learning.

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indieactivity: How do you combine acting, writing and producing?
Dorothy: First and foremost, you have to love what you do and the story you are wanting to tell. If you are not passionate about your story, your cast and crew won’t be either. In Sound of Tears, I wrote, directed, produced, and starred in it. With over 10 locations and 15 actors this was quite a challenge. I listened to my cast and crew and embraced their ideas while staying true to my story. After a second reading with my actors I rewrote an entire major scene the day before we went on set.

As a Director, I also made sure I had enough time to prep production before going onset. Prep with the actors, DoP, my first AD and the rest of my crew. This made the process more streamlined. Something is always bound to go wrong no matter how much you prep especially when you are on a low budget, so there is no such thing as over preparation. I followed my shot list, but at the same time knew what scenes I had to shoot and which ones I had to forgo when we ran out of time.

indieactivity: How did you get into the film business?
Dorothy: I love theatre. I have for as long as I can remember and always wanted to perform on stage or screen. I had my very first professional opportunity in a British play in a small theatre in Michigan. Being the only one I knew in my family as well as my community who wanted to pursue the entertainment industry, I had to learn quickly and on my own. I had no one to hold my hand. One thing remained steadfast. I loved performing. If you love and are passionate about something, you will always find a way.

indieactivity: How do you turn an idea into a screenplay?
Dorothy: When I have an idea, I write it down and as time goes by I brainstorm if that idea could be a full-fledged story. I always know the ending of my scripts and the beginning, before I figure out what the second act is. Not all ideas make great stories but sometimes you can combine two random ideas and make them into a story.

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indieactivity: Explain your writing process?
Dorothy: An idea in my head becomes a concept then materializes into a single scene. Sometimes this scene might fall in the middle of the story, the beginning or the end. I think up random scenes, some that I am later able to link into the screenplay. If I like where it is going I now brainstorm act one, two and three of the storyline, figure out who my characters are and what they want. The overall theme of my story and why I want to share it with the world- what makes it unique? Then I get into researching to write that initial treatment of the story.

What writing tip or idea can you give young writers
Dorothy: Be passionate about your story and ideas will flow.

What is it like working in the Hollywood system
Dorothy: In this industry you are as good as your last project. So, I only throw myself into a project that I absolutely fall in love with so that I can give it my all and enjoy the process.

What do you want to change about the film business
Dorothy: The lack of diversity. Although we are beginning to see a climate change, it is still in the early stages.

What do you want to be remembered for
Dorothy: I work hard and I love to work hard. I do not want my name on a project that I did not give my all, the reason I pick and choose what I work on carefully. I love romance and I love historical pieces. Africa is one of the richest countries in the world in culture and diversity. Even our climate and landscape are vastly diverse. One cannot run out of stories to tell about Africa and the silver screen is a magnet to all.

There are so many stories that have to be told. Stories of our African Kings and Queens, Emperors, the Moors, The golden city of Timbuktu…the list is endless. The best way to tell our stories is through film where they can be preserved to revisit over and over again for generations to come. I want to bring African historical pieces to the big screen so that our children can remember our history, and the world can remember the richness of the African continent that spanned way before colonization.

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