My experience writing & directing the short film For Angel | Danajha Davis

My name is Danajha Davis and during my four and a half years at  Eugene Lang College at The New School I majored in Theatre and minored in Culture & Media Studies on the film track. For my senior capstone project I decided to write and direct my very first short film titled For Angel. 

For Angel, is a coming of age story, a narrative based film which follows a fictional plotline. The film is set in present day Brooklyn and is about a young girl by the name of Naima who comes from a broken family. Naima’s father died when she was just a little girl from drug and alcohol abuse. Her mother, Cheryl has vices of her own as well; men and money. Cheryl often leaves Naima at the house to care for her younger sister Angel, while she is out doing God knows what as she likes to say “to make ends meet”. There’s an ambiguity around what Cheryl actually does for work. Naima has an idea from the amount of “dates” Cheryl goes on from week to week and how she often leaves the house looking one way and comes home looking another; but it’s never outright said. Struggling between her current unhealthy family dynamic and her senior year of high school, Naima goes out on a quest to find herself. Along the way she comes across new friends, gains self confidence and even begins to  break out of her shell. However, Naima quickly starts to see how one bad decision can affect you for the rest of your life. The question becomes, will Naima ever be able to break out of the vicious cycle that she’s in or will she fall short and be nothing but an extension of her mother and late father?

The process of creating For Angel has literally been a roller coaster; one where it seems exciting at first and about halfway up to the top you’re having second thoughts.  I have been pushed far beyond my own limits as a creative and as an artist to put it simply. Deciding to create an entire short film with little to no experience was something that I certainly didn’t think all the way through. What I mean is that I had no idea how challenging it can actually be to manage an entire group of people while producing your own content. Despite going through very sudden and drastic casting changes we were able to prevail as a production team and within a month’s worth of time shot about 50% of the film. 

Recently, production has unfortunately come to a wrap for now as some personal issues have arised surrounding our leading actress. It’s uncertain if we’ll ever get back to filming again as the original cast and crew and it was something that actually came as a surprise to all of us as we had initially been planning on having the entire film shot and wrapped by May of 2020. An emotional mess I was the day I found out that my leading actress would have to back down from the role; it hurt so much. And I think it hurt more knowing just how far we have gotten despite everything, I kept thinking “how the hell am I going to explain this to my cast and crew?!”. 

As of two weeks ago, the cat is finally out of the bag and everyone is up to date with our production status. My assistant director and myself, Rebecca Rodriguez (God bless her soul) decided to tell everyone via one on one FaceTime video chat meetings since meeting up in person was prohibited due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Delivering the news definitely wasn’t easy, but on the contrary, everyone took it quite well surprisingly. There was of course some disappointment in the air and even a level of concern for our leading actress; proving that we indeed were all super committed and had created a sort of family. I kept telling everyone what’s important to remember is that we’re all walking away with so much; some life long connections and most importantly a community of actors, writers, videographers, photographers, audio engineers, production assistants, editors, models, directors and everything in between. Film finished or not, that’s not something that can ever be taken away. The shared times on set, the laughs, the tears, the rehearsals, the what felt like constant adjustments needed after someone saying they needed to step down, the numerous hours spent in the editing room, the audition after audition after audition, the DP storyboard meetings; all of it was vital to our process and therefore shall be remembered. 

I remember speaking to my senior capstone professor and ELOA mentor, Joseph Diebes, about how the circumstances of shooting For Angel were actually rare and therefore challenging as we were working with actors who weren’t only committed to the film itself but also were committed to a number of other things as well. You also factor in that this is New York City where everyone is constantly doing a million and one things at once and so of course shooting every weekend rather than consecutively for x amount of days as a Hollywood film would for example and you can clearly see how things could get dicey. Hence production being pushed back several times throughout our journey. But then again what is a journey without obstacles or delays?

Although it took some time for me to get here, I can honestly now say that there is no grief or bitterness in my heart. I feel content and even proud knowing that every time faced with adversity (and trust me there was plenty) I rose to the occasion, put on my problem solving hat and pushed things forward with elegance and grace. And the best thing was that I didn’t need to do it alone. 

To everyone who signed on to work on For Angel and contributed something, I want to give a huge thank you to you; each and every one of you. No matter how big or small your role was it was beneficial to our process and we seriously couldn’t have done it without you. That’s the thing that I think will always stick with me, it takes a village to get things done. And no matter how hard things may have felt in the moment, I’m still extremely thankful for the process as it not only has taught me a lot about what it takes to manage an entire group of people but also it has taught me even more about myself. I definitely will continue to direct and take everything that I learned from my time working on For Angel and apply it towards my next project; the sky is the limit for me! 

Check out two super raw edited scenes from For Angel below:


Make sure to follow us on Instagram at @Forangelfilm to stay up to date with all things related to the film; we have a special teaser coming this Fall so stay tuned!

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