BRANDMAKERS| From Teacher to Stunt Woman: Jazzy Ellis On Why You Should Pursue Your Passions

pursue your passions jazzy ellis

December 1, 2014 • Brandmakers

Pursue Your Passion. It’s Worth It.

Many people often find themselves working in fields that they have no interest in. They’ve found their current situations are “comfortable” and going out there and pursuing their dreams is too “risky.”

However, in the long run, not living your life the way you want to live it can turn out to be something you end up regretting.

I decided to sit and chat with actor, stunt performer, and filmmaker Jazzy Ellis.  Jazzy is  a fellow Princeton alum who I met my freshman year (when Jazzy was a senior.) Over the years, we stayed in contact via social media and I’ve watched as her personal brand has grown. Guess what? Jazzy wasn’t always  working in film. She started life after college teaching elementary school and modeling on the side. (To learn how she made the transition, you’re going to have to continue reading)

Recently, I saw a post that Jazzy put on Facebook talking about the joys she’s experienced since deciding to pursue her “passion” full-time. I immediately knew I wanted to talk to her and share her story with you all.

I’m sure you’ll be inspired to start giving more thought to that idea you have had brewing in your head. Taking the risk and deciding to pursue your passion might just be the best decision you’ll ever make in your life. Even if you don’t have the means (or time) to do it FULL-TIME, making sure your passions are part of your life should be a MUST-DO.

In this week’s BRANDMAKERS  w/ Jazzy Ellis you’ll learn:

  1. What Jazzy originally THOUGHT she’d be doing post-college
  2. How Jazzy knew film was her passion
  3. How she learned the art and power of “hustling”
  4. One of her biggest film accomplishments to date
  5. Some of the struggles Jazzy faces being a woman in film
  6. Her future plans for her brand … PS- one of them is REALLY big! 🙂

Check out the interview below!

BRANDMAKERS is a series highlighting individuals who are SHINING (aka killing it and raising the bar) in their respective industries. Know someone who should be featured? Contact rana@ranacampbell.com

What did you think you were going to be doing once graduating from Princeton?

Jazzy Ellis (JE): I was a Religion major, Spanish minor, and doing pre-med courses in college. My original goal was to become a family doctor. When I graduated, I applied  to a lot of schools and I got in. Then I thought to myself, “Is this really what I want or is this what everyone else wants for me?” Instead of going to medical school, I declined and I moved to New Orleans and became a teacher  on a whim. had no job. I just needed to get away and think about what I really wanted.  It was fine at first. I felt like I was really doing the  work of the community and helping kids out. It didn’t become a problem until I realized what the public school system is like in Louisiana. The administration wouldn’t  give me the freedom to actually teach the kids.  I could either teach the curriculum or I could leave…so I left.

What happened next?

JE: When I was teaching, I was also modeling.  I’d get a few print  ads or a few runway shows at night and on weekends. That  would cover my spending needs. I had a lot of connections. I started acting. I was doing commercials. It was still a struggle so I eventually went back to teaching but then decided that it really wasn’t for me.I quit teaching for good. I needed to take a step back. I needed to lower my spending habits so that I could really work on the projects that I wanted. I’m now full-time acting and doing stunts. I also am writing and starting to direct films.

Jazzy Fire Safety Training

How important is it to find your passion and not be afraid to pursue it?

JE: It’s so important. If you find your passion, and you know what it is, but you don’t go for it, there’s that little thing inside you that will bother you every second of the day until you actually do it.

If you find your passion, and you know what it is, but you don’t go for it, there’s that little thing inside you that will bother you every second of the day until you actually do it.

JE: Once you are actually able to do it,  all the things that you sacrifice by doing it, is worth it because you are doing what you love. Even if you are not making so much money at first, you’ll eventually get there. Everyone will see your love for it and your passion. Your money will come eventually. It’s worth it. If you don’t know what you passion, try a little bit of everything until you find it.

How did you know that film was your “passion?”

JE: It was something that I thought, “I just have to go do it.” When I was teaching, I would set my alarm and I would wake up and press snooze so many times. With film, I wake up before my alarm clock goes off because I am  so excited to get to it. No matter what I was doing, all of my thoughts  would go to film in some way or another.

When you are ready to take that jump, you won’t regret it.

When you are ready to take that jump, you won’t regret it. It will be hard at first though.

What is it like being a young working woman in the film industry?

JE: Most days, I wake up and go to the gym because I need to stay in shape. I look up what projects are going on. If there is nothing going on in the area, I write my own stuff.  For film, it’s project to project. There is no salary work. You have to really go for it. Right now, it’s slow season. I’m currently making my own projects instead of going for different projects. Depending on what the project needs, that’s what I’ll do. You just have to get up every day and hustle like you do work a full-time job in order to make that full-time pay.

I guess I’m an entrepreneur, but I don’t like that word. I don’t like labels. I like saying I work in film.

How important is “hustling” in your business?

JE: The “hustler mentality” is definitely something that I had to learn. I was not born a “go-getter.” I followed the path to the Ivy League  and didn’t step outside of that ever until after I graduated and didn’t know where my life was leading.

I had to ask a lot of my mentors, “How do I go about doing this?” It’s funny that in this industry we call getting work “hustling.” It’s an actual business work. I’ll call my friend and say, “Hey, do you want to go hustle this set today?” What that means is sneaking on to the set to talk to the stunt coordinator, tell him your abilities and ask him if he has any work.  That’s how the movie  industry is. You have to literally hustle, sneak on sets, and get them to see you so that you are hired.

Did you anticipate having to deal with “struggle periods” in your film career?

JE: No matter where you are in your career there is always going to be a struggle period. That’s the nature of film. Because it’s project to project, you never have a stable job. Even successful people have really hard times.  In the beginning, it’s hard to get to that successful point where you really recognize that  your highs are highs and your lows are lows. It only took me a year. I’m doing pretty well. I realized from the beginning that I would have lows but didn’t realize how lows things could get until after I succeeded.

JazzyEllis  Cop - film photo

 

What are some moments that you are especially proud of?

JE: I did a Terminator movie which comes out next year (or the year after.) Most people have to have more than five years under their  belt to be on a movie like that. At the time, I was only in the industry for 8 months and [they wanted me.] That felt really good. I was like, “Wow, I’m working with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I was the lead in Moms, a film that I produced. It was my first lead and my first personal project. It’s currently in the film festival circuit so I’m really proud of it. It  touches on so many issues such as feminism, adoption, and interracial relationships.

What have been some of your biggest challenges you’ve experienced working in film?

JE: One of the biggest challenges in this industry is women’s rights.There’s less than 10% stunt women in most films. That’s a huge problem that I face. If you take a male stunt performer with the same exact skills that I have, he’s going to get more jobs than I do because there is not a lot of roles for me. To combat that, I do a lot of my own production so that I can make sure that there is a place for women (especially for Black women) in the industry. A lot of the stunts for women are  for White women and not women of color.

The  Louisiana Stunt Woman’s Initiative is working to combat that on a local level. They are trying to let productions know that there needs to be more stunt roles for women.

I’m starting to learn how to direct so I can make more of my own film. 14% of  directors in the industry are female, but  only 2% are women of color. Hopefully, I can help raise that number a little bit.

Do you see yourself  staying in the film industry?

JE: Film is my thing. It’s the  best way that I’ve found to express myself. I love it. This is it. There’s so many different jobs within film even  if I want a little change, I can do that, but I’ll still stay in the industry.

What are some of your personal strengths that have helped you SHINE?

JE: I am a good listener. When you are making a film, you need to know how to deal with the team and get your point across so that other people will listen to you. I know how to get other people to listen to me. That helps with pitching my ideas and [advocating] for change. I can get people to realize things [like] recasting the male prison guard as a female. I’ll tell them, “Let me show you how.”

What are your future plans?

JE: I am currently getting together a team of female filmmakers and we are going to have a local Louisiana film production  company. I’m writing a fictional feature for that company about human trafficking. I’m excited to get women’s issues to the forefront.

I’m  also getting married! It’s funny because my personal and professional life meld together. My fiance is in the industry as well and we work together a lot. He directed the film that I produced.  It’s so important to have personal goals. We have our goal of having a family and we’re eventually going  to get some farmland and have a farm and some horses and our own crops. That’s all separate from film but it’s how we want to live personally. It’s important to have professional and personal goals. For me, it all works together.

Best business advice you have ever received?

JE: I’ve learned the importance of marketing.  I had a lunch with a really good friend of mine who is one of my mentors. She told me to find different ways to get myself out there. If they don’t see you, they can’t hire you.

If they don’t see you, they can’t hire you. (CLICK TO TWEET)

Try everything. Try all of the different techniques to get yourself in front of casting directors or stunt coordinators. Everyone is different and you never know. I have a huge drawer full of all of my marketing tools. Some of the people I reach out to are receptive and some aren’t. I am able to switch it up when they are not as receptive. That was the best thing I did for my career.

Are you thinking about quitting your current job to pursue your passion full-time. Share your story in the COMMENTS section. 


Connect with Jazzy online:
Facebook: /MissJazzyEllis
Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/jazzyellis
Twitter: @jazzyellis
Instagram: @jazzyellis

 

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Rana Campbell is the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Ranacampbell.com, a site dedicated to personal branding and helping people learn how to SHINE in their personal and professional lives.

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  • Emilie Burke

    This reminds me a lot of a talk the Rachel Simmons gave on campus not too long ago about how social pressure may encourage us to proceed in the expected path, as opposed to really breaking away. I think you might like Andrew Yang’s book “Smart People Should Build Things” which is really about why we as a people need people to be willing to break out of the standard path to do what we’re passionate about. Glad to see a fellow Princeton alum is following her passion!

    • I’m going to check out that book now! Thanks for commenting and I totally agree with you – More of us need to break out from the standard paths and really start making a unique mark on this world.