The Rapid Rise From Production Assistant to Director’s Chair

 CIERRA GLAUDE IS REIMAGINING FILM

A multidimensional and inspired creative, Cierra “Shooter” Glaude is a writer and director focused on building “cinematic worlds where people of color, women and the queer community can see themselves represented.” Glaude’s portfolio boasts films such as Girls Trip, A Wrinkle in Time, and the Oscar-nominated Selma. She is also one of the 42 female directors selected by Ava DuVernay to direct the American television drama series Queen Sugar.

Glaude was “drafted” into the film world after meeting DuVernay in college at a film festival. The two kept in touch, and soon after DuVernay gave her a shot to work on set. Glaude took advantage of the moment and worked her way up the ranks, from production assistant to one of the directors of Queen Sugar, a major TV series executive produced by Oprah Winfrey and broadcast on OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network). 

Her calling as a filmmaker has been a long time in the making, but took a significant step after the death of her brother when Glaude enrolled in a video journalism class. “… That was the only thing that captured my attention that year,” she recalled. Today, Glaude is one of the most promising voices in the field, and is a living testament of the importance of giving new talent a pathway into the industry. Her love of play, country roots and novel life experience has made her a refreshing and welcome addition to the media landscape. “As a director, I’m still serving the story and these people that are making it. The magic is in the work that we do. I just try to be kind because you never know what somebody is going through,” said Glaude.  

LASM: At what age did you venture out of Alabama?

Cierra Glaude: I was mainly in Alabama between high school and going to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Then after I met Ava, that’s when I started going to New York and L.A. for the first time.

LASM: What does this breakthrough moment directing these shows in season 5 mean to you?

Cierra Glaude: This is honestly surreal. A lot of times I look around and see how my life has changed. I got my first apartment because I can afford it now. I’m a working director and I would sit around like, “Is this for real? Is somebody messing with me?” This is my eighth episode, and I’ve had the time of my life doing these. It just gets better and better. I am living the dream.

LASM: What does work ethic and doing it with excellence mean to you? 

Cierra Glaude: I’ve had to help my dad pour concrete and lay tile. I’ve worked in many restaurants, and I’ve worked with older individuals. Sometimes that’s really hard because you really have to care for them, clean them when they dirty themselves. Just really heartbreaking things. 

Being able to do this and be in this space, I think it’s the best job in the world. So for me, it doesn’t feel like work. I always say I get paid to play at camp and have fun with my friends all the time. Ava told me, make movies with your friends and if they’re not your friends, make them your friends, and I definitely take that to heart. 

I try to have gatherings beforehand. I feel you have to be willing to do all the hard work, and I did that. I’m like the first one and last one running around, being a servant to everyone. I just have a servant spirit. So as a director, I’m still serving the story and these people that are making it. The magic is in the work that we do. I just try to be kind because you never know what somebody is going through. 

LASM: How have you dealt with personalities that may be difficult and what advice would you give to others?  

Cierra Glaude: Sometimes you just have to accept it with a smile on your face. Going back to some of those tougher jobs I’ve had, I’ve had to deal with and communicate with people that maybe can’t communicate. They may be nonverbal or on different spectrums of functionality. I have a younger brother that has Down syndrome. If I can deal with him and communicate with these people and help them, I can stand the chance. 

I don’t know what it is about me, but I make people feel really comfortable with me. I can put myself in anybody’s shoes. I’ve dealt with people from different walks of life, and I just treat everybody like a human being. It doesn’t matter if you have all these walls, all these layers, I can just say, “Hey how are you doing?” That personal interaction will get you so far.

Someone might have an unpopular opinion, but let me come stand over here so that I can see your side of it so I can better articulate why we have to do it this way.

LASM: Did you always know that you wanted to be a director?

Cierra Glaude: It’s something that kind of just happened. As a young gay Black girl in the South, I was outside playing. I would see celebrities, and it would never click to me that there was a whole entire industry until later in high school. I took a video journalism class after my late brother passed because that was the only thing that captured my attention that year. 

My professor was like, “You should try to look into Full Sail, or when you go to school try film.” I took my first film class, and I saw how fun it was. I asked my professor, “Do people get paid to do this?” The answer was yes. 

After that, I was making movies with my friends and was just mad that I knew nothing about cameras and stuff until college. 

I met Ava in late college. Then I got to be what I call drafted to the league. I was able to get field experience, which was just incredibly valuable. 

LASM: When you first met Ava, was it on set or earlier on? 

Cierra Glaude: It was actually at a film festival, a month before she filmed Selma, at the University of Alabama. I was a part of this entity called Creative Campus and one of our projects for the year was to start our own film festival. My film professor, Raimist, had worked with Ava back in the day. So she just reached out to Ava and said, “Hey we got this Black Warrior Film Festival.” We got to pick her from the airport and she’s asking all these questions. Then she gave me a wristband off of her wrist that I still have to this day.  

Over the course of the weekend, I got to film her. She was just super sweet and kind to me. We were sitting at a picnic table on the last day talking with her and before I left, I stood up and I said, “Oh man, I have to go, but I’m going to work on your movie.” I just looked at her and she cocked her head. She looked at me and she said, “Send me your stuff.” Then I got to work with her on Selma. After that, she hasn’t been able to get rid of me since. 

Then I ended being a teaching assistant because I’ve dropped out now. The reason I dropped out was because I worked with Ava on a pilot in New York. I was her assistant. One night she offered to drive me home and she told me about Queen Sugar. Then she tells me to start shooting stuff for the first season. She’s like, “Now shoot a feature and you’ll get an episode.” So I go back for season 2. She’s noting all of my lines for the show, because I’m country.

I’m learning how to shoot. I’m learning how to make all my connections. I’m learning all this stuff because I’m not tied up with the actors. Now I’m in the story. 

She called me one day. I thought she was calling me to break my heart, because she said, “Yeah, we’re going to start back up but there’s going to only be three directors.” I lost my mind. I’m surprised the neighbors didn’t call the police because I was going out and I was crying.

LASM: What does your nickname “Shooter” mean or represent? 

Cierra Glaude: Shooter is actually a name I got from school. I was standing in the dining hall at the University of Alabama. I used to shoot a lot for the Greeks. I would shoot their probate videos and like these little skits that they want to do. This kid comes up to me and says, “Hey, you’re Shooter, aren’t you?” And I said, “Yes I am.” 

I went outside and I changed my name to Shooter on Instagram and then I had just always been Shooter. I also think it’s kind of funny because my dad’s name is Scooter. 

Interview by Tricia Love Vargas
Featured Image: Chris Pizzello
Read Next: Lisa France Walks Us Through Her Journey To Becoming A Director in the Film Industry

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