By. Angel Neal
A true testament to turning dreams into reality, Tressa Azarel Smallwood is only getting started when it comes to filmmaking. Smallwood is an award-winning Producer, and Founder of MegaMind Media, a production company specializing in creating compelling original content for female audiences. A true trailblazer, Tressa turned her debut bestselling novel into a multi-million-dollar publishing company that amassed thousands of fans worldwide with over 162+ titles to date. An advocate for mental health, Tressa recently partnered with BET Networks to produce series designed to bring awareness to women’s health. Now, as she gears up to kick off production on with Co-Executive Producer Morris Chestnut and Director Bill Duke, the fashion-forward filmmaker is excited to continue expanding on her creations.
The "Founder of MegaMind Media," Has BET's Stamp of Approval!
" With MegaMind Media every time someone comes to my set they never want to leave. Thats because my staff and I have a way of making people feel at home, its a different type of hospitality then probably what their accustomed to."
Disrupshion Magazine caught up with the film fashionista in this exclusive interview below.
Photo Credits L.C. Legacy PR
Next Film Releases
Wicked City : December 1, 2022 on ALLBLK
Sound of Christmas : Thanksgiving Day BET+
Everybody’s has a unique origin story, huge people in the industry have put their trust in faith in you. Tell us about your background, how did you get started in the film industry?
I have a very untraditional journey, I use to be a school teacher. I can remember when I first started people would tell me, you’ve never been to film school or on a movie set how are you able to do these things. My teaching experience in having that experience being in a classroom has helped me with everything that I do today. As a teacher you have to exercise patience and treat everyone differently and meet them where they are. So a lot of times with my actors I don’t care if you come in and you are a C-lister or an A-lister everybody needs something different from me. I'm a firm believer that my educational background experience and being a natural nurturer helps me grow my company. With MegaMind Media every time someone comes to my set they never want to leave. Thats because my staff and I have a way of making people feel at home, its a different type of hospitality then what the talent and artists maybe accustomed to.
So from education to book publishing. How did you pivot into putting your book storytelling into producing films? Was there a turning point for the leap of faith?
It was a natural pivot. In 2001 I went on bed rest for six months due to complications with my pregnancy. Over the course of those months I wrote a book which was the start of my company; Life Changing Books. Between 2001 and 2014 I had those years to cultivate content and create all of these books that people fell in love with. So if you think about it, most movies that come from books they go to the publishing house and they buy the rights. For me I owned my publishing company so it was just natural for me to want to produce. The challenging part was that I did not know how too produce movies. But Jesus does not play about me, he taught me everything I needed to know and put me with the right people. My team and I just started putting these movies out and right now we have eighteen movies out. When people ask me how I just say Jesus, because I don’t know how else to explain it. Its not something thats typical. I recognize it and I don’t try to pretend that its just me. I make movies with my family which is another unique situation. My entire family is involved in the process and not because their family but they actually have a skill set to contribute.
How do you jungle being a mother, a wife and a Boss?
I just put my family to work. When I’m exhausted and tired from working on a set for thirteen hours their tired to so its not really something I have to balance. My husband also owns his own business so he gets it as well, he has a company and I have a company to run. We don’t have those issues that most marriages may have because we both work too much, but we're a team at the end of the day.
MegaMind has been doing impressive things. The amount of projects you’re doing is of interest to a lot of people. Let’s talk changing the narrative in film. How important has it been for you to use your company to empower female voices in front and behind the camera?
I’ve always been an advocate of the youth and female of all the ages. No offense to the males is just my heart has always been with these. I do a lot of first time female directors with my partnership with BETHer, where we’ve had everybody from Kim Fields to Sheryl Lee Ralph to Meagan Good and LisaRaye McCoy you know a long list of talent. Its been really important for me to watch those journeys because people gave me a chance. I remember Mona Scott-Young saying to me I can’t direct and I was telling her yes you can, I’m going to help you. I didn’t know what I was doing when I first started, so I think because I was really the underdog and was able to reach a level of success I love being able to help other women do the same.
How did you both initially get involved with BET Her?
BET Her was looking for a producer to jump in and do Season 2 of The Waiting Room. I gladly took the position because I knew that it was purposeful. It was about breast cancer awareness, and I have a lot of family members who have been battling breast cancer. Thankfully, all of them are in remission, but I know their stories. I watched the pain. I know the journey. I like to inspire and touch females in the youth and black women in particular we develop breast cancer at higher rates than any other race. We’re usually hospitalized more and the death rates are higher because we don’t have the preventative information so that was a goal that we present these stories to provide awareness. Every season we tell different stories but the goal is always the same. Get tested and make sure you are paying attention to your body if you’re over 40 go get a mammogram. For me, it was an absolute yes, very quickly. Then they shared that I would get the opportunity to work with some amazing directors and cast members. They mentioned that a lot of the directors had never had the opportunity to direct before. For me, that was another yes, yes, yes because people had given me a chance when I first started producing and I’d never done any of this before. Everything for me was a yes!
That’s impressive doing it yourself from scratch. What kept you going on the journey with being a newbie in the producing industry?
I think its just my gift to teach, inspire and uplift. I don’t like to fail. I’m one of those people if its not working Imma get back in there and figure it out however many times it takes because I want to succeed. I’m also OK when things don’t go right the first time. I’m definitely a fan of if at first you don’t succeed dust yourself back off and try again. Most people don’t win the first time around you have to figure out the mistakes you made and recalibrate and lift your head up and put your crown back on and do it again. I recognize that in this industry and I’m here for it.
What do you currently look for in a project when you’re considering signing on to produce? Is it the material, the attachments, the logistics or a combination of elements? Is it a tedious process for filmmakers and writers and directors to come to you with their ideas they want produced?
I would say its a collaboration between the content and if there are any attachments. I go for the underdogs. I have a writers program where a lot of first time writers get mentored by me and a lot of them have gotten deals because I allow them a shot to perfect their craft. On the other hand sometimes its the simplest project and it may not have any attachments, sometimes its also who has already agreed to sign on to the script, those are the easy slam dunks. I really like to work on projects that are meaningful. Everything that I do is all about paving the way for the next person.
Wicked City, Sci-Fi-- what makes this project unique and important to be produced now?
It's coming this fall on ALLBLK network. This series is important to me because it was created by two black females and we don’t have any supernatural dramas out there that are created by us and for us. When people see the cast, these black witches are bad. I also feel like when its a project that we can be proud of we have to have our hands on it in the very beginning. So being able to executive produce the project and the one to take it to the network it was really important for me. I can’t wait for people to see it.
From a producers perspective what gives you the confidence to tackle the hard subjects like breast cancer, domestic violence, ect..?
Whenever you do something in arts and entertainment you can get people ears and eyes. I just think its something we have to do, its working and people are sharing the visuals and the resources.
You spoke an interview saying Greenwood Avenue a film to be released at a later time with Morris Chestnut will be your Oscar winning film. What so far in your personal opinion is your best film to date and why?
All of the films I’ve done are all my babies. I don’t necessarily have a favorite because their all different genres. I like luxurious things so I would say The Available Wife and Trophy Wife are two of my favorites in terms of aesthetics. But some of the others in terms of the stories, like I said I’m in love with Wicked City because of what it represents.
Sound of Christmas, the holiday musical film featuring Ne-Yo and Serayah. What can we expect from this film?
It's a musical so I’m excited for people to see it. What people won’t suspect is Tichina Arnold’s daughter, Alijah Kai will also be singing in the film and her voice is phenomenal, she can sang, sang. I love when we have new talent. The overall story of the film is just a really good feel. Relatable, a lot of young people are having the issues of do I stay with my boyfriend if I’m a christian or do I go. It comes on Thanksgiving day on BET+.
Running an independent film company what has been biggest challenges you faced?
Money is always a big one. We know that finances can be a challenge when you’re independent. For our movies we raise the money in house from our families and sometimes we do a lot of begging. People understand now that you know we make good movies and we’re in position to license those movies to networks. The other piece is still Covid, we still have to deal with that in terms of hiring talent.
Find out more Bout Tressa Azarel via: Social Media @ceoazarel and find out more about her film resumer here: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm7652716/ !