ASU Alumna Produces New Comedy Film
By Hazel Scott/ASU
We all have our favorite movies during the Christmas holidays but Director Dionna McMillian, an Alabama State University alumna (’07), hopes this year you’ll add one more to your holiday watchlist, her latest short comedy film “Such a Deal."
McMillian, a Los Angeles director and editor, hopes her comedy brings viewers some cheer and provides them with some escapism from 2020.
"I’m excited to share my latest short film. It’s a whimsical comedy. We all can use some laughter in our lives during these uncertain times,” McMillian said.
Such A Deal” features ASU alumna Natalie Whittle and stars Ebony Obsidian of BET’s “Sistas,” “If Beale Street Could Talk,” and Netflix's “Master of None.” Damian Muziani co-stars. The film is licensed for distribution with an emerging streaming platform, A Space for Creators, which is a part of iOne Digital/TV One.
The story centers on the character Grace, played by Obsidian. On the first day of her new life in New York, Grace discovers that her living room ceiling has caved in. In a rush, she finds a temporary place to stay through a home-sharing website, only to find out that the “charming tiny room” is not at all what she expected it to be.
McMillian said this is the first time she has cast an ASU graduate in one of her films.
"Natalie and I met through the alumni chapter in Los Angeles; she lives here. I was in the process of finishing up my film and I wanted to add a narrator to it. We both were at an alumni meeting and I heard Natalie speaking and I thought her voice would fit the role. I asked if she did voiceover work and she said she did and I wound up hiring her,” she said.
McMillian has 12 years of experience in creating impactful work in film, television and digital media. Her work has received mentions in Madame Noire and Forbes.
McMillian is best known for her short comedy film, “Love, New York," which was featured on Issa Rae’s Color Creative TV platform in 2017 and screened at multiple film festivals. She also directed a digital series pilot titled “The Next Right Thing,” nominated for Best Pilot at the 2018 NYC Webfest and Best Dramedy at the 2019 Miami Webfest. McMillian directed the first season of the Lifestyle series "Plant-Based” by Nafsika on A&E's FYI network, and a soon-to-be-released series from Steve Harvey Productions. She also worked as an editor for Bravo, Facebook and a few other production companies, and she’s done numerous documentaries.
"My career highlight to date is the making of my short film ‘Love, New York.' It had a successful festival run and was featured on Issa Rae’s Short Film Sunday. That was the first film I created after finishing my graduate film program” she added.
Before the Success
After graduating from ASU with a Bachelor of Art in Sociology and a minor in political science, McMillian took a year away from education to work and do some soul searching.
"During my senior year of college, the idea of directing films began to nag at me. It was something that I had in the back of mind for some time, but never knew how to quite pursue,” McMillian said.
After some self-reflection, McMillian decided that she would regret it if she never pursued filmmaking and went forward with attending graduate school to pursue an M.F.A. in Film from American University in D.C.
After she earned the advanced degree, she moved to New York where she made films, including “Love, New York,” did freelance work and became a full-time professor and department chair at New York Film Academy.
After a few years in New York, she eventually moved to Los Angeles.
"I honed my skills on the East Coast, but my dream has always been to make it in L.A. I’ve grown tremendously since living here. I’m much sharper at pitching myself and my projects. I'm also here because of the major film studios. I want to learn from and compete with some of the best filmmakers in the world; where better to do that than L.A.,” McMillian stated.
Her passion for the industry and her love for making comedy films are evident in each of her movies.
"I love comedy. I think life is hard enough; so, I’m a big fan of watching entertainment to get rid of some stress in your daily life. That’s what attracted me to comedy. Comedy is my specialty, but I can work across genres,” she said.
McMillian said there have been some obstacles and struggles along the way.
"My biggest obstacle has been learning who are the right people to work with and that’s ongoing,” she said. “I’ve had numerous obstacles and struggles that I’ve overcome during my career, but I know I’m on the right track.”
In addition to directing, McMillian works as an adjunct professor in Los Angeles. She has taught domestically and as a guest lecturer abroad. She also conducts remote directing and editing workshops, and currently works as a freelance director and editor.
McMillian has several projects she’s developing. She’s in the midst of developing a feature film that she is writing, a family dramedy, and freelance editing for one of her major clients, Facebook.
"My major goal is to take the next step and get into commercial and television directing, and to direct feature films. I enjoy creating projects that explore identity through a comedic and sometimes dramatic lens,” McMillian said.
Love for ASU
The Ohio native credits ASU for where she is today.
"I really love ASU. I consider Alabama my second home. ASU gave me a great foundation for the success that I have experienced after leaving the University. ASU taught me the value of bringing my best to the table,” she exclaimed.
McMillian said she visited several HBCUs and “selected ASU only after 20 minutes on campus.”
"There is something special about ASU,” she said.
She immediately became a part of the campus community, including joining Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Links to Films
To watch McMillian’s films, visit the following sites:
"Love, New York” -- https://www.youtube.com/
"The Next Right Thing" --https://www.youtube.com/