With a decade of documentary, narrative, and corporate work to her credit, Danielle Melissovas Thompson is a writer/director with a diverse set of experiences. She is a published photographer whose visual style is bold, colorful, and detail-oriented. When she’s not leading a project as director or producer, she’s usually editing a project for a collaborator.
Danielle brings dedication and a well-rounded perspective to every project. Having a background in English, Theatre, and Film, she holds an MFA in Directing from Regent University, and a Masters in Film Aesthetics from Oxford University in the UK. With this academic pedigree, she knows that every project begins with research and a lot of thinking!
Originally from Georgia, she is based in the Southern U.S. and always enjoys the opportunity to travel for a project. She’s a coffee enthusiast, and has never met a cat she didn’t like.
Welcome to The Engrafted Word Danielle! I am so glad to be able to talk with you today. I hope you are doing well, and I know our readers are excited to hear about your latest adventures!
As authors, writers, film historians, and creative individuals, we tend to find inspiration from our own life experiences. Who or what would you say is your greatest inspiration?
When it comes to writing, I don’t always “write what I know.” However, the spark of inspiration will often come from a situation or a person I’ve met. I try not to write fictional characters that too closely resemble any real persons, but I do draw inspiration from observing people and coming to understand why we humans do what we do. In any work of fiction, characters who speak, think, and act authentically is crucial; whether the world of your story is grounded in reality or set a fantastical world, people are still people! (Sometimes I wish I had a degree in Psychology!)
My love of reading began when I was a young girl, and I participated in all the library book programs growing up. When did you first start finding a passion for literature and film?
As a kid, I loved reading or being read to by my parents. My Dad would make up stories and tell them to me before bedtime or on family camping trips. He’s a writer and has been writing short stories and novels since before I was born. Our homeschool curriculum included a variety of short stories and books, and though it’s cliché to say, reading was truly a window to the world for me.
A love for creative writing soon followed. I was around 8 when I wrote my first story on my parents’ old electric typewriter. (The story was a Western, and only a paragraph long…so, it’s not winning any Pulitzers any time soon! ) In middle/high school I had more chances to practice creative writing for school, and at the same time I was involved with community theatre, both on-stage and behind the scenes. I was hooked – not on phonics, but on fiction. I started writing short stories, scripts, and comedy sketches for fun. My Mom and Dad encouraged me to keep at it, and I began dreaming of doing this kind of stuff for a career. (I am so blessed to have a family who 100% support my creative ambitions and have always encouraged me to go for it!)
My parents both worked in television, so I grew up hearing their stories about tv production, live shoots, and breaking news. My love for photography started around this time as well. This is in the days of film cameras, and I don’t want to think about how much money my mom spent dutifully developing my “practice” rolls! So all of these interests culminated in a desire to become a filmmaker, telling important stories to a wide audience using written and visual arts. My top goal in that has always been to point people to Christ. Stories are one of the main ways Jesus taught, so it’s only natural for us to use stories to communicate His love and salvation to the world.
Writing and producing films is a God given talent. Have there been any film paths the Lord led you to that were surprising or changed your life in some way?
I would say my college career turned out to be even more of an adventure than I’d ever imagined, and I thank God for that!
My plan was to major in English and then afterwards go to film school. I wanted to first learn how to be a good writer, and then learn the craft of film, because any great movie starts with a great story. What I didn’t plan on was study abroad! It really did change my life, and I’m so grateful the Lord gave me this open door in college. For my whole senior year, I studied abroad at the University of Oxford. It. Was. Amazing. I fell in love with British culture, I traveled, and I also grew in my confidence as I was able to hold my own with Oxford dons discussing the finer points of literature.
While I was there, I learned Oxford offers a 1-year Masters degree in Film Aesthetics. Up until this point, the thought of going to grad school or film school outside the U.S. had never crossed my mind. I really didn’t think I would get in, but I applied anyway. I knew if I didn’t try, I would always wonder what if. Lo and behold, I got accepted.
The program, which emphasized film history and criticism, exposed me to a world of great cinema I never knew existed. And while a program like that doesn’t teach you how to run a camera, it did teach me how to think very deeply and purposefully about how to tell my stories on film.
After Oxford, I went on to earn my MFA in Directing at a film school in Virginia. That degree gave me the practical skills I needed to go out and start working in film and TV, and I’ve been working continuously in this field since 2014. So it’s been a circuitous educational path, all told! During it all, there were so many great learning opportunities that were totally from the Lord, that I never could have planned on or dreamt up myself.
And I can’t not share this…I met my husband in film school! We were in the same program, and our paths crossed at just the right time – a total God thing. We married the year after I graduated, and since then we’ve been building a crazy, creative life together!
What current projects are you working on? Please share if you can!
Like a lot of people, my husband Adam and I got a little bored during the quarantine this spring and were eager to flex our creative muscles. He’s a writer & producer, and he’d been sitting on this great idea for a TV sit-com for a while. So we decided to adapt it into a scripted podcast, which we could produce from home with voice actors and other writers from wherever. It’s called “Fine in Dandee,” and the synopsis is:
“Tracy Danvers has come home against her will to the small town she grew up in, after the death of her mother. Theirs was a complicated relationship. Having experienced the taste of life outside, it’s hard for Tracy to fit back into the smallness of her town. She becomes the new owner of The Beauty – the best
(and only) hair salon in town. Now she must make a new life for herself as she cares for her aging father, dodges the gossip mill, and deals with the peculiarities of small town life. The longer she stays, the more she realizes there was much about her mother that she never knew.”
We have 6 episodes out so far, with more on the way. You can listen and subscribe to “Fine in Dandee” at our website (http://fineindandee.podbean.com/) or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, and others. We also have a Facebook page with lots of BTS! https://www.facebook.com/fineindandee/
Besides our podcasting adventures, Adam and I also have our own media company, Fountain City Films. (https://fountaincityfilms.com/) We specialize in photography and video production and editing. This summer we moved from Virginia Beach to Savannah, Georgia, so a big project right now is re-establishing our business in a new location (amid an unprecedented disruption to the film/TV industry because of Covid-19). Georgia is the second largest production hub outside of LA, and yet so many people here are out of work. So it’s a very strange time, and everyone is waiting to see how Covid-19 impacts and shapes the future of film & TV work. We’re hopeful some good change will come out of all this, and most of all are praying that people stay safe.
What are some of your favorite films?
Oh dear… Ask a filmmaker her favorite movie, and prepare to get an earful! I can never narrow down my all-time faves, but I can boil them down to categories… Comedies like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (I’m Greek!), “Rat Race,” “Hot Fuzz,” “Oh Brother, Where Art Though,” and “Mouse Hunt.” Movies with amazing cinematography and editing like “1917,” “Blade Runner,” “Trois Couleurs: Bleu,” and “Baby Driver.” Quirky, outside-the-box movies like “Amelie,” “The Truman Show,” “High Fidelity,” “Pleasantville,” and “Brazil. Movies with thought-provoking stories like “Gran Torino,” “The Godfather,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Life is Beautiful,” and “Say Anything.” And nostalgic movies from my adolescence like “The Parent Trap” (1998 version – one of the few times I’ll argue that the remake was better than the original!), “Titanic,” (I know, I know…), and “Clueless” (did you know it’s an adaptation of Emma?!?).
As a filmmaker, what has been your most rewarding and memorable moment?
My most memorable moment on a film shoot has little to do with actually MAKING a film! My now-husband, Adam, asked me on our first date while we were working together on a shoot in grad school. We’d only met a couple months prior and had gotten to know each other during the pre-production work on the film, which was a short called “By the Water.” The shoot was at this pretty beach house in Virginia. On set, there’s always a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. So, towards the end of the 5-day shoot, while we were sitting around talking, he invited me to go see “Oz, the Great and Powerful” at the theatre that weekend. And the rest, as they say, is movie history.
I know attending Oxford University was an incredible time in your life! I so enjoyed rewatching your Oxford videos on YouTube! Traveling and meeting new people are a great basis for a wonderful story. What are your favorite places to travel, and how have these adventures changed you as a creator?
Thank you for watching my videos! While I was there, I had the opportunity to travel a bit in Europe, which was amazing. And of course I fell in love with the UK. But my favorite place would have to be Greece. I’m Greek through my Mom’s side of the family (my grandfather immigrated here in the 50s). Greece is incredibly beautiful, a glimpse of heaven on earth. And for me, the best part about these trips was getting to meet and spend time with my relatives. In a way, they were long-lost relatives because over the years the American side and the Greek side had lost touch, But a few family members found each other over the internet in the early 2000s.
I met many of them the first time I went in 2010 – people I’d only ever seen in photos. I got to visit the village my family is from, stay in the house where my grandfather was born, and tour the church he helped build. I got to hear stories about the old days in the village, discovering family history…I even learned that my great-grandmother was the village doctor! I better understood what it meant that my grandfather left this small village to travel the world and move to America. He was a man with big dreams who made them come true, and made the family proud.
These experiences of travel and family have given me an even greater appreciation for my heritage and a deep respect for the people I come from. They were strong, hard working, and God-fearing people, and it’s an honor to bear the family name.
Creativity comes with its share of ups and down–what advice would you give to other writers who are feeling discouraged?
In a creative field like writing or film, it’s really easy to get discouraged by feeling that your field is already saturated by other people doing what you want to do. That any new idea you come up with has already been done a thousand different ways. And honestly, sometimes I feel like giving up, thinking I have nothing original to offer the world.
But being a creator is about more than WHAT your idea is. It’s also the HOW – your unique perspective on it. My advice would be to get to know yourself as an artist. What do you have to say? How do you define your voice?
These are hard questions, and I think our answers will change as we grow. But they are questions I hadn’t really been asking myself until recently. I can easily tell you what kind of films I want to make, what kind of genres I want to work in, even what sorts of issues I want to tackle. However, the harder question is, what do I have to say about them? What will my unique contribution be? How will my take on topic XYZ be different from the next person’s?
Being able to articulate who you are as an artist distinguishes you from the crowd and from the noise. Only YOU possess your unique combination of life experiences, obstacles, family & cultural background, worldview, relationships, beliefs, and even pains. The sum total of what makes you you is what infuses your work with originality.
The tricky part is that we have to be willing to embrace those things – the good, the bad, and the ugly – sit with them, process them, and produce from them in an authentic way. That doesn’t necessarily
mean writing autobiographically, but rather drawing from your views and feelings to approach a topic. Often, the things we’d rather gloss over are the things that produce the greatest art. I’ve never been a fan of the advice to “write what you know.” I think better advice would be, write from who you are.
The literary journey holds so many memories! Are there any funny stories you would like to share with our readers?
These aren’t necessarily funny stories per se, but a few weird/fun/memorable things have happened to me during shoots, including…
– Working on a reality show at a small airport and getting to film planes taking off right on the tarmac
– Being a production assistant backstage at a WWE match while working on a hidden camera show
– Filming a fake car accident with a limo
– Working on an overnight shoot in a funeral home (creepy!)
– Shooting an interview with Marilu Henner (the most famous person I’ve met so far )
– Getting to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time because of a shoot I had in California!
What is the greatest lesson you have learned throughout your time in film?
Trusting your gut and your own instincts will be one of the most valuable skills you can cultivate as an artist. I say cultivate because many creatives (myself included) are chronic second-guessers, and we have to work at trusting our gut when it comes to our art. We question the quality of our work, the validity of our ideas, and the value of our contributions. We compare ourselves to others in our field, or we don’t speak up with an idea because maybe we’re the least experienced person in the room.
I’ve been there! Un-learning these habits is something we have to do. Having a long list of credits or publications on your resume doesn’t make you an artist. Your unique ideas and perspective are what make you an artist. Your commitment to making your vision a reality is what makes you an artist. Yes, sometimes compromise is necessary, but it’s also very easy to compromise your vision away if you aren’t careful.
I can think of several instances when directing, when I had an instinct that “this angle isn’t quite right,” or “we should change this detail on the costume,” or “we need one more take because this performance feels off.” But in many cases I didn’t say anything, because I wasn’t super-experienced, or because raising my concern would cost us time or complicate the process or make someone else’s job harder. I’ve literally reasoned myself out of saying something. That’s self-censorship, and it’s bad!
And in pretty much every one of those times, I’ve come to regret that I didn’t say something when I had the chance. Because when the footage gets to the edit room, in the cold light of day, you see all your mistakes – especially the ones you had the chance to correct but didn’t. So as a director I have learned that I can either speak up in defense of the vision, or pay the price later. You as the director (or novelist or artist) are the defender of that piece of art! The vision may change and improve with input from others – which is a good and positive thing – but it can also suffer if you don’t stick up for what you want and need.
Thanks for joining us, Danielle! Wishing you (and all you readers) a blessed day!
Danielle has graciously offered to give away an 8 x 10 Black and White framed York Minster print that was photographed by her! Enter below to win this beautiful piece.
Giveaway is open to U.S. readers only. Contest ends August 18, 2020. The winner will be notified by email. Thanks for entering and happy reading friends!