• A Brighter Lens

SADE NDYA & The Red Futon

This week, we chat with Sade Ndya, an LA based Cinematographer, who also specializes in Fine Art Photography and Community Organizing. Through her creative work, Sade is actively dedicated to providing safe creative spaces for fellow BIPOC to carry out their personal visions and endeavors. At only 19, she started her own freelance production company called The Red Futon, where she cultivates space for BIPOC talent to freelance creating content for local brands and musicians. Additionally, she is also a Cinematography mentor at Made In Her Image, which is a non-profit that provides young brown and black girls education, resources and industry opportunities to learn the world of filmmaking.

Click here to listen to our interview with Sade Ndya on Apple Podcasts.

Episode transcription below.

SADE NDYA & The Red Futon

LB: Sade, thank you so much for joining us on our podcast today.

SN: Yeah. Thanks for having me stoked to be here.

LB: of course. Can you just start by just introducing yourself a little bit to our listeners?

SN: Yeah. Ooh, that's a, that's a big question.

LB: You do a lot of stuff. Yeah.

SN: The hardest question. Yes. Cinematographers are very like humble as you guys would probably notice. But my name is Sade Ndya. I'm a cinematographer based in Los Angeles, originally, uh, born in, born in San Diego, but raised in Palm Springs, which is like, Totally random.

I've been living in LA for like three years. Um, and in the past few years I've just been tapping into like freelance shooting commercials and music videos. And then I do a lot of organizing work with my nonprofit Made In Her Image, where we provide accessible resources to women of color to enter the world of filmmaking.

And then on the other side, I produce music video and commercial content under my production company, The Red Futon.

LB: Awesome.

JZ: Have lots of questions about all those different things, but I guess like, starting with cinematography, like how did you, how did you discover that passion and kind of find yourself into, find your way into music, video and commercial production?

SN: Yeah. Um, it's kind of like a crazy whirlwind of emotions and self-reflection and existentialism as most filmmakers are, but, like I said, I grew up in, uh, the randomness of Palm Springs, white suburbia. And, um, there was just like a lot of erasure of my personal identity as a black individual living in America.

And so a lot of what I would learn about myself would be through films, like through like Spike Lee joints and like Ava DuVernay joints and stuff like that. And that inspired me to start creating, um, more so documentary work on my own because I got inspired by, I don't know, just the idea of being able to one: speak upon social issues, but also inform folks of things they don't necessarily know. And so that began to like inform my own personal practice when I was just shooting random documentaries with my friends when I was in like high school and middle school, and then moved to like music videos that somehow became hella deep for no reason.

And then randomly had the idea to tell my family that I was going to film school and they're like, what does that even mean? And I was like, fuck it. I'm just going to do it. And, um, I just found myself in the narrative space, but then also randomly transitioning into the music video commercial space where I've been able to freelance.

But, um, all in all, I'm looking to fully transition into the shooting, like Black independent film within the next two, three years.

JZ: Cool.

LB: Super cool.

SN: Thank you.

LB: Can you tell us a little bit about your studio, The Red Futon, and what kind of projects you've created through that?

SN: So the red futon was started, uh, randomly a lot of my, a lot of the things that have happened to me have just been me having random ideas and I'm like, okay, I'm going to go with it. And then it turns out amazing, but it's just random. But it kinda, The Red Futon was kind of influenced by me personally, not feeling seen in film school.

I felt like a lot of my personal classes were very like male gazey, but also very Eurocentric.

And I couldn't really prosper in telling the specific stories that I wanted to tell centered around like Black identity and Black expression. And so. I created The Red Futon just to like, at first it was just me kind of fucking around.

Like, I was like, you know what, why don't we just start creating shit in my living room and like, see what happens and just like release it and see what happens. And so we started shooting more so like photo content, um, and I started off doing like these very personal, uh, fine art photo pieces. Uh, one of them was like a set that I built.

Um, and it was kind of like to critique on like the, like the modern, daily, like coon, uh, prototype where like black folks have to put on a face for white audiences to feel seen in their art. And so I, it's kind of like how I felt at film school. So it was like me kind of projecting of my own art piece, but, um, being able to pull together my friends who are also like people of color, uh, I had like a black makeup artist, a black model in it. My production designer was Hispanic and it just felt comfortable to create an art piece that was so vulnerable in that space. And that kind of gave me this high of like, I want all of them, all of my film sets to be like this, I want any space that I create in to feel comfortable and to feel safe, especially when I'm talking about specifically identity based work.

And so we kind of just wrote that and we started shooting more. So like music videos for like local artists who aligned with the same goals that we had personally. Because a lot of our clients have been folks of color in like the commercial space, but also in the music video space. Um, and then clients just started coming to us for that kind of experience where we're creating an atmosphere that feels safe to create personal identity based work.

JZ: Oh, I love the vision.

SN: Thank you.

LB: How have you kind of navigated it sort of sounds like there's just been a lot of growth. Like, you know, people are coming to you, like you're creating, like how have you kind of navigated that? Just, I don't know, maybe it was always that much at the beginning, but it seems like it's just sort of intensified and kind of exponentially grown into this thing, like how have you navigated that growth?

SN: Well, it's been very interesting because, uh, yeah, I'm kinda, I'm kinda have like a mother personality where I want to just like take care of everyone and help everyone put everyone on. But it does become overwhelming sometimes because like, there's always people asking me for like crew recommendations or to produce something or to like hop on something.

And so we're recently expanding our Red Futon team, which I'm so excited about. I have our manager, Areli, uh, slash assistant helps with like scheduling and coordinating and also making sure that folks get responded to, so we get like a lot of crew submissions that they hit us up and they're like, "Oh, like, I love y'all's work. I want to work with you guys. How can I get involved?" And so we're trying to like, kind of create an interactive space so that we have like an ecosystem kind of going on. So like, yeah. From project to project, we can just hop on and be like, Oh, I know X, Y, Z, or X, Y, Z can hop on and stuff like that. And then we finally got like an in-house producer that's handling all of the gigs coming in as well. And so, uh, I don't feel as stretched and stretched thin, but I also love that I have like a community and also like people on my side, like making sure that everything is being handled on the, on the other front-end.

JZ: Yeah, that sounds important. I'm curious. So when you're working on these projects, like in your, you're deep in a project, what's your favorite part of the creative process? Just to kind of get a little bit more to the creativity part of it.

SN: I think lighting, I'm definitely a lighting, heavy DP. I love building worlds. And like also I feel like my favorite part is just like the back and forth between crew members, but also like the director, like I love, like I feed off of collaboration and so like, I'm not the best with people who just show up and do the job.

I love people who challenge me or they're like, Oh, why don't we try this? Or also like, what if we try that and stuff like that, that usually inspires me to like, do better, but also like, have fun in the space. And then also like, the, I also really love like the finesse factor of filmmaking. I feel like shooting in my living room kind of helps me learn that the hard way.

Like we used to like tape seamless backdrops to the walls and like, shoot with just like a single ring light in my living room for a bit. And like just growing from that to like being on like big budget, like 100K sets, I'm like the growth has actually been hella inspiring, but also, like, I still take tidbits of like the finesse that I've learned through the process with me. And so, um, I guess like, yeah, the finesse of filmmaking is like what inspires me and gets me like flowing.

JZ: I love that phrase, finesse of filmmaking. exciting.

LB: Veering back from the creative stuff. Uh, we would love to hear a little bit more about your mentoring experience with We Are Made in Her Image.

SN: Yeah. Oh my God. Love these girls so much. Um, I actually missed them when the class ended. I was so sad. Cause I like, I don't know. I felt like I said, I have a mother spirit, so like I felt like so connected to them and then having to say bye was so sad, but, um, Made in Her Image is a nonprofit founded by Malakai.

Uh, she started it. She kind of, she's literally the same person as me. We feel like unseen in spaces. And then we're like, okay, we're going to change this. How are we going to change this? We're going to build spaces. Um, and so I really aligned with her in that sense. Like, we're just, uh, overthinkers, which really meshes when we're like creating projects, but also like organizing.

So I randomly met her like on a gig, like, I dunno, like two years, like when I first moved to LA, we met on the randomest, like freelance gig, and then we became like, so, so, so, so tight after that, because we're literally like the same person in different levels. And so she brought me on to, uh, to teach a few cinematography courses.

Our first event was at, uh, the Sundance building where we had like a little workshop we brought in. I think it was like 30. 30 plus, uh, girls, young girls of color. They were like ages eight to, I would say, like 16, um, to kind of learn about the process of filmmaking. So there was like a screenwriting workshop, there's a cinematography workshop. Um, and then there was like a panel with like some industry professionals so that they could like learn, um, about the industry, I guess, so to speak. And then after that, uh, when COVID hit, we couldn't really organize as much. And so we were all like stressed, like what are we going to do?

And like, we were just like, we were just picking up the pace of our organizing work and like, uh, everyone was bonding and it was like such a good time. But then like, we all couldn't see each other. And so we problem- solved to kind of create like a online workshop kind of, um, course, which was very interesting, cause I've never taught online and it was really hard teaching, like.

Lighting over, uh, lighting over the, um, the phone, because I was like trying to show them and like the big Mac and like, it's just so you guys probably know, like being on set is so much better to learn lighting. And so that was a challenge for sure, but it was so fun and like everyone was so like, uh, we had like weekly assignments that we paved out for the girls and some of the finesses that they had with their lighting zones.

I wish I had, like, someone lit their scene with like a TV and a lamp and like a window. And I was just like so smart and I like love, like I said, like, I love the finesses of filmmaking. So like being able to provide accessible ways for these filmmakers to light at home and like to create content from home was like super inspiring for me because I wish I had that resource when I first started. I didn't even know. I was just watching random YouTube videos, but like they all had the big flashy beer. So translating that into like a more access, accessible sense is like super helpful as well.

JZ: Oh, that's so cool.

SN: I love your responses.

LB: I love that. I love, I want to see that like TV, um, And

SN: Oh my God. Yes.

LB: And I'm glad that you were able to still, still teach during this time and, you know, pivot hard that, uh, it sounds really difficult to teach anything over like zoom, but especially like teach lighting, like, you know, that sounds like, what a feat that you did that, so, yeah.

SN: It was definitely interesting times like what's what's happening with this COVID nonsense. It's crazy.

JZ: Truly. Yeah. Speaking of COVID. So you've, you've been on set a little bit now that production has kind of started up. How has that whole experience been?

LB: Location wise, where are you as well?

SN: Yeah. Um, Well, yeah. When Corona first hit, I mean, I'm sure nobody was like, literally nobody was working. Um, and that was very stressful. But then like now I feel like brands are realizing that they still need capitalism to exist. And so we're all still shooting like commercials and stuff. Um, so a lot of the work that I've been doing recently have been more commercials like on like stages, because like that's more of a controlled environment. And it's like a larger area too. So it feels a little bit safer, safer, and they have like, uh, something called like a COVID specialist. And it's usually like the wholesome-est person onset and they're just like making sure that we're all like sanitized and happy and hydrated. Like I said, I had a headache on set on my last set and he was like freaking out.

And I was like, no, like I swear, I don't have it. Like, I'm just stressed. And it was like, he was so wholesome. He was like checking in like every hour, every other hour. Interesting. I definitely feel better about being on set because they make sure that folks are tested and everything as well. So it's not like too far over risk.

I think the only thing that's like kind of stressful is like, if people get sick, one for COVID or also for like, even just another illness, like it takes a while for production to turn around, like having replacements and stuff. That's really what I've just struggled with. But other than that, I felt very safe on set.

LB: What a time! Um, it's the weirdest, the weirdest times, um, And lastly, we would love to hear a bit about your Anti-Racist Classroom and how that all came about and where people can find that, support that.

SN: Yeah. Um, yeah, so Anti-Racist Classroom was started, uh, mainly at Art Center. It's, uh, the college, the film school that I went to, um, and we just experienced a lot of problematic-ness within the education system, but also from our fellow peers. And so a bunch of students came together and started organizing events to kind of critique, uh, what changing the curriculum looks like at like art schools, because a lot of them are very like your Eurocentric base and they don't really pay attention to Black and Brown artists.

And like a lot of us struggled with that because we all specifically, uh, became artists to make identity based work. And so we've planned like workshops where we have like, Uh, students come together and kind of speak upon their experiences with racism in the college education practice, but also like how we can counteract that and provide proper resources to counteract that.

Um, and then also last October, we threw a film festival, it was like my baby project. I don't know why I thought I could throw a film festival. It was crazy. It was dope that it happened, but it was just like such a big idea for like, I dunno, whatever I was doing. But we through a film festival called Represent Film Festival, uh, October of last year, I think. Um, and it was basically to highlight filmmakers, filmmakers of color, because I felt like a lot of these film festivals can be a little bit problematic with the selections that they have as y'all probably know. And so I wanted to create a space for us to kind of like flourish and just seeing art made by us, for us ,about us.

Um, and so that was a really dope experience. And I met a lot of like some of my closest collaborators from that event. Um, and just like getting everyone in the same room, I feel like it's so easy for us all to be online talking and stuff like that. But to get us all physically in the same room is like a whole other thing and that's a whole other kind of change.

And so, um, that was something that I was super passionate about. Um, yeah, Anti-Racist Classrooms still exist kind of in the Art Center world, but also we're starting to organize outreach towards the outside world so that other like art schools can kind of get the resources that they need to deconstruct racism in their practices, so it's kind of like a growing realm as well.

JZ: Wow. You have so much growing and going on. That's cool. Like in awe. Nice. Yeah.

Well, then we end every interview with our lightning round. You can answer in like a word or a phrase. We call it three, two, one action. So we'll start with three, your favorite or most influential film.

SN: Moonlight. A hundred percent changed my life from every aspect of production.

LB: Two: dream person you want to work with

SN: I think, uh, Lacey Duke, uh, she, her work is so beautiful. Like she in Black love and Black beauty, so perfectly and. Uh, from not only in the music video space, but she's also like working a lot in the narrative space too. So a lot of her work inspired every time I see her work on the TL, I'm like blown away. So I love, I love her visual language and like what she's creating right now.

JZ: One: best advice you've received.

SN: So my friend, she's a director, she has, this really is, it's very like a producer type quote, it's very self-reflective, but she says, uh, like kind of like when you fuck up in a situation, she says, uh, Be sorry, what is, I don't want to misquote it. It's like be sorry for yourself. Not, don't be sorry for this.

It's something like that, but it was like, she told me that one time when I really messed up on, uh, on something when I first started out. And it was a very self-reflective moment for me. Um, and it helped me kind of establish that like whole moment of growth, so to speak. Like I can't, I, you can only dwell on something for so long, it's about how you initiate change and action, move forward and growth from bad experiences on set or working and stuff like that. And so that really pushed me to kind of be a better filmmaker, like, uh, stop focusing so much on the outwards, but more on the internal.

LB: Love it. And action: where can people follow you on social media?

SN: Yeah. Uh, so all of my social handles are just @sadendya. Um, and then that's my website as well. So just send me on that.

LB: Awesome. And are The Red Futon and We Are Made In Her Image--I know that we are made in her image is definitely on social media. Can people follow The Red Futon as well?

SN: Yes. Oh yeah. Uh, the red futon is my production company and We Are Made in Her Image on Instagram for some of the organizing work and then Anti-Racist Classroom.

JZ: Awesome. Cool. Thanks so much for chatting with us. Sade, this was great.

SN: Thanks for having me. Y'all are dope.