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D&AD Meets x Thomas J Cooksey

The rising Director on founding a film production company and learning how to pitch himself

Thomas J Cooksey and Tajh Lewis on set, Reel Deal Digital

D&AD Meets is a regular series where we elevate the work of need-to-know creatives. Each season of features is curated by a creative who can reach beyond our established networks to help us find new talent deserving of a spotlight, the ones to watch, and the ones to work with. Here, curator and interviewer Kortlynn Jenae’ Johnson meets Director and Cinematographer Thomas J Cooksey who tells us how he learned the ropes in the film industry. 

Kortlynn Jenae’ Johnson is a model, host, producer, and comedian currently based in New York City. She's signed to Dorothy Combs Models and freelances as an entertainment journalist, recently interviewing talent in collaboration with Hearst Black Culture. Johnson speaks to Cooksey about how he built his career.

Please explain what you do and how you got to this point in your career.

My name is Thomas Cooksey and I am a Film Director, Cinematographer, and Editor. I teach Media and Film in the Bronx, NY under the City of New York Parks and Recreation system. I also own an NYC-based production company, Reel Deal Digital, with three other members: Tajh Lewis, Kerry Jones, and Simon Taveras.

Can you tell us more about your production company, Reel Deal Digital, and why you started it?

Reel Deal Digital was formed in 2017 and we started the company because we wanted to produce films for us, by us. We wanted complete control of the narratives we present and starting a company allowed us to accomplish that. Also, having an official company allowed us through more doors and gave us more opportunities. A lot of companies will not work with you if they don’t feel you are an official entity. So having an LLC gives some companies the peace of mind that you won't just take their money.  We specialise in shooting short and long-form narratives. We currently have a film on Amazon Prime titled Swipe and a plethora of other short films on our Reel Deal Digital YouTube channel.

On the set of Vices, Reel Deal Digital

How did you get your experience and how did you enter the industry?

I gained my experience by producing my own films. I never really had the opportunity to PA on pro sets or work under someone,so my learning experience was YouTube, reading books, listening to interviews and podcasts. The same goes for the rest of the members in Reel Deal Digital.

What has been the biggest unexpected challenge starting your own production company? How have you overcome it?

The biggest challenge in starting a company is capital. You start a company to create your own projects but to produce those films the way you envision them that's capital. So raising those funds has been and is still an ongoing challenge for us.

How do you raise capital?

If I had the answer on how to raise capital, I would be rich already lol. The advice I can give, if it even is advice, is to either save up and self-fund, crowdfund on sites like GoFundMe, or try to connect and network with possible investors. The key with investors is that you have to remember they sometimes just want to make money. So come professional, with all your materials and proposals/treatments/pitch decks, and be ready to pitch yourself like a product that can make them more money back.

Did you go to college? If so, how was it helpful with your creative career?

I did attend college. I attended Buffalo State University and honestly the only thing I got from college was one of my RDD partners, Tajh Lewis. We both went to school to learn film and feel like that’s not what we left with. We learned more on our own after school than we did in college. So I would say without college, I would not have the great brother, friend, and partner that I have in Tajh.

On the set of Vices, Reel Deal Digital

You are also an educator. Can you talk more about the duality between having a 9-5 and also being a creative? How do you keep these two aspects of your life balanced?

It's very difficult keeping them separated, almost impossible. The interns I work with are normally students from my class or vice-versa. But it also allows me to continue to remember the fundamentals when being on set. They overlap a lot but I find a way to make it work whether that's by waking up early to work on the computer or going to bed late at night to finish a project.

What's next for you and Reel Deal Digital?

More projects; our goal is to produce as many high quality films as we can. We also have a podcast called “The RDD Podcast” and it can be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and every other platform podcasts are on. We talk mostly about current films and television shows but we occasionally like to mix it up with some urban news, if we feel inclined. It is a show with three friends speaking their minds on topics we know people talk about. We want to continue to keep our loyal fans occupied while we work on pre-production on our films.

We ask that all interviewees recommend at least one creative that they are inspired by. Who is that for you, where can we check out their work, and why should we follow them?

Lavarro Jones. You should check out his work because he is an absolutely dope writer/ director and he tells interesting and unique stories. He is truly one of a kind and has been a great mentor to me on my journey to being a director.

What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the creative industry?

The advice I would give to someone breaking into the creative industry is to learn as much as you can by yourself, try to find like-minded people, and build relationships with those people early. It gets harder to build true relationships as you get older. I would also tell them to do whatever it is they want to do, every day because even though practice doesn’t make perfect, it does make permanent.

Get in touch with Thomas Cooksey:

Reel Deal Digital

Meet more rising creative talent including photographers, motion designers, illustrators and visual artists. D&AD is committed to showcasing a diverse range of creatives in our D&AD Meets content. We acknowledge the obstacles to getting into the creative industries for some underrepresented groups and so behind the scenes we offer mentorship pairings with a creative from the professional D&AD community to help to develop the careers of some of the emerging creatives featured. If you want to lend your time to portfolio reviews or a networking meeting please contact us at newblood@dandad.org

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