Client Spotlight: Radazaih Whittington Starts Production Company to Help Creatives Get Opportunities
Radazaih Whittington, M.A., J.M. has always been a woman with a plan. Ever since her days as an undergrad at Culver-Stockton College, she knew the entertainment industry was where she would be. With stars in her eyes and experience under her belt, that didn't stop her from remembering those who helped her along the way, and working to create opportunities so that all her people could win, too.
LET'S HEAR ABOUT YOUR FIRST JOB EVER. I worked at Six Flags in St. Louis as a ride operator. That was my first job. I used to help people get on the rides and I would test the rides in the morning to make sure they were working. Even though that was really dangerous, it was really fun because you kind of woke up in the morning with all the wind and stuff. That was my first job and I’ve since then succeeded beyond my beliefs in my career. I was 15. At that time I was more into marketing; that’s what I thought I was going to major in.
"NOW I REALIZE I WAS JUST MORE READY TO GIVE BACK TO PEOPLE AND HELP PEOPLE ASPIRE FOR THEIR DREAMS TO COME TRUE."
YOU GRADUATED WITH A BACHELOR OF ARTS IN MEDIA COMMUNICATION AND YOUR DEGREE HAS AN EMPHASIS IN RADIO, FILM AND TV PRODUCTION. WHEN DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU WANTED TO PURSUE THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY AND HOW DID IT FEEL TO BE ABLE TO GRADUATE WITH THIS DEGREE? I think I wanted to go into this industry with that degree. I went to Culver-Stockton College and I was really trying to find something that related to what I kind of wanted to do. I knew that I was really, really good at management and production. I didn’t necessarily want to be on-camera, even though I’m really, really good at it, and I look great, but I knew I wanted to be able to give people the opportunities to do what they want in media, entertainment and broadcast.
Culver had a media communications degree and I wanted to know a little bit more about that. So at my school, my grandparents both went there, so I’m a legacy of two which was really, really, really surprising at a PWI (predominantly white institute). I went there because I got a lot of scholarships and stuff like that, but actually taking on a lot of leadership roles is what kind of had me drive into what I wanted to do. I was the head producer at the radio station at the school, and I also did a lot of internships within the local radio and TV station within Quincy, Illinois and in Canton, Missouri. I also helped within the public relations and the marketing department at Culver-Stockton College. That was really where I kind of saw fit to where I wanted to go within my life.
I was also helping students along the way. Ever since I was a freshman I was doing it all four years. Now I realize I was just more ready to give back to people and help people aspire for their dreams to come true.
WHAT LED YOU TO MOVE TO ATL FROM STL AFTER COLLEGE? WHAT WAS THE TRANSITION LIKE?
Ya know, it wasn’t really that hard because I was ready to go! I knew that I wanted to go to Atlanta right after college because I was tired of the Midwest. I was tired of the snow. I was tired of the cold. It was not for me! What helped me transition is that I was always a planner and I was always looking ahead. So by my junior year when I was applying for colleges and stuff like that for my master’s program, I got accepted to SCAD, the Savannah College of Art and Design but I went to the campus in Atlanta. I went there for TV and film. At Culver in undergrad, I was actually like, always creating stuff in my room for stuff in my house for decorations. I was on Pinterest and it was motivating me to go. I said, “I got my apartment stuff all ready. I got the school stuff. I’m already packed at home!”
I was also in a lot of meetup groups within the industry to kind of see what they could try to help me with in response to what areas to live in within Atlanta, what to look for, what not to look for, etc.
AT WHAT POINT DID YOU FEEL ADJUSTED TO LIVING IN ATLANTA? WHAT WAS ONE OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU OVERCAME?
I had a lot of stuff. I moved my entire life down here; I was ready to go and I said, “I'm not coming back!” So with that, I had a lot of friends help me move into my apartment. I would have to say what made me know I was fully adjusted was when – my goal was to know the backstreets of Atlanta. I was not finna get on that highway [laughs] for nothing. But I realized the traffic wasn’t even that bad. It wasn’t even that bad like everybody was talking about. But, necessarily, I wanted to make sure I could get around Atlanta without taking the major highways and everything like that. So once I knew I was adjusted to the roads and trying to get where I needed to go – because in film production, sets are everywhere! You gotta travel all the time. So I wanted to be able to navigate the city, meet new people, see my friends, and find a quicker way to get to school without being late.
It wasn’t hard for me to make friends, because I had a couple of friends in Atlanta, but there was a time period where school didn’t start yet, and that was the time where Florida had a really, really big hurricane. Everybody had to go up to Atlanta to stay safe, so at that time it was kind of really, really hard because it was overpacked and it was very, very overwhelming. It was like, “Okay this is actually a lot!” And this was before the pandemic, but it was a lot. I just had to try to adjust myself. I had a job lined up later, but again, I had just moved there and I didn’t get my refund check from school until school started. So it was like a month, where I was like, really struggling. I was like, “Alright, Imma have to make this soup stretch.” I think that was the hardest thing. I had to find another job until my major job started, so I had to work at Target for a month. Working at Target in downtown Atlanta was a lot, but you saw a lot of famous people. But um, that life wasn’t for me.
YOU WORKED ON THE SET OF SESAME STREET! HOW DID YOU GET THAT POSITION AND WHAT WAS THAT EXPERIENCE LIKE?
My friend Danielle actually pitched an idea for Sesame Street. They came to SCAD, and they were like, “Hey! We need some new ideas.” My friend pitched an idea for ‘L for laundromat.’ We were doing ‘The Letter L’ and she made a catchy jingle for it. I helped brainstorm with the production and where everything needed to go. She was actually my best friend and I helped her with that and it was about a five to six month contract where we planned, executed, hired all the cast and the crew – it was a lot. But, we made it through and that kind of got us in the door for the film stuff that we had to do for our project.
I was a second assistant director for that segment within Sesame Street and it was a great experience. I realized that kids are not really, really hard to work with in TV; it’s the momagers. It was a lot, and it was a lot of gummy bears. Gummy bears are a thing on set for kids. You gotta have the organics, separate the colors – it was a lot.
My job was trying to find cast and crew, do all the assets for the production and pay the crew. I like being the person in charge of the money and making sure everything is good for the day to day.
WAS THIS YOUR FIRST MAJOR INDUSTRY SET EXPERIENCE?
No, but it was the one that got me the stepping stone into where I needed to go. It definitely looked good on my resume.
One of my professors was the producer for Jerry Springer. With that, he was still a really, really big producer in Hollywood. He took us on a lot of sets, and that was kind of where I got my first experience. He would put us in there with some of the cast members like, “Ya’ll going to a party today!” After that I worked on a lot of smaller short film sets and a lot of music videos for artists in Atlanta. So as a second assistant director [for Sesame Street] it was more of a stepping stone for where I needed to go, with a bigger name.
From other regions, Atlanta is definitely a hub. But people actually help you. They want to help you. They want other people to thrive. It’s not just like a grimy world like, “Oh I’m finna do this; nobody can know.” No, everybody is also willing to help because people need experience. That’s what I like, because my friend, she could have just been like, “Well I’m just gonna handle this on my own.” She could have gave the opportunity to someone else. But she gave it to me, because she knew I could handle it.
IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU WISH YOU'D HAVE RECEIVED WHEN YOU WERE FIRST STARTING OUT IN THE INDUSTRY POST-GRAD?
Ownership is a big thing within this industry. A lot of people like to create content, but they’re not owning their content. So people will create these films, put them in film festivals and everything else, but they have to realize that once you start putting things on the market and doing stuff for distribution, somebody else owns a little piece of that.
You also have to read all your contracts. When I went to school, they just gave us a contract for people to sign, but nobody really understood what we were giving to people, what came with that afterwards, and basically what deals people were signing. I felt like with that, people need to start their own business just to have ownership of their work, and also register their work. A lot of people didn’t know how to register their work under copyright within the eastern region for registering scripts and ideas.
That was the biggest thing I wish I would have learned. Still today people are not doing it and you can see that by the things that are going on now in the community with TikTok and Black creators not getting their fair share of the work they created.
WHAT LED YOU TO START ROYAL HORIZON PRODUCTIONS AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO BE A BLACK WOMAN IN THIS INDUSTRY? Ownership was the reason why I created my business. I also wanted to branch out in a lot of other things, like casting. I really did find a true passion for making sure that people have the opportunity to get into these roles. I was the one creating the roles, or I knew about the roles that were coming up and I wanted to be able to give people within the industry roles for crew, and even catering. That’s a big thing and it’s a stepping stone when you can give people these opportunities.
With copyright, trademarks and all types of intellectual property, there was a time where it was time for putting in the credits for a film, and I wanted my company to be at the bottom. The other people were like, “No.” And I was like, “Why not? I’m the producer.” And they were like, “Because it’s all equal.” And I said, “Well, y'all could put y’alls names down there, too.” They felt like it was a huge issue, and I was just like, we could all share. For example, in the beginning of a credit it goes, ‘Tyler Perry Studios, with help from ABCD Community Services.’ Ya know? Stuff like that. It doesn’t always have to be just one person working on one project, because it’s a community. You need help within this industry; you cannot do it by yourself. People know; they try to direct, produce, cast, and all that stuff and it’s too hard.
As a Black woman in this industry, it’s amazing. It’s great. You get so many benefits. Ya know, everybody wanna be us, but they can’t be us. But you know, that comes with a lot of stigma, too. I think that being a Black woman in the industry is innovation and motivation for other people. When you see someone on the screen or someone behind the screen that looks like you, it does something to you. You know? Like, “I can do that.” It just makes me happy. I don’t want to be the next Tyler Perry. I want to be the next me.
WAS THERE ANYTHING THAT INSPIRED THE WORD ROYAL IN YOUR BUSINESS?
My name is Radazaih, so I wanted the ‘r’ to be in there. I had to have my name in there somewhere. But I also wanted to give people luxury. It’s been in the media now and in society at a high level lately. I wanted to give nice, high quality, elegant pieces of media and content out to distributors and creators. So that’s why I wanted ‘royal.’ It had my name and it had a meaning. My full name means ‘the sun above the horizon.’ I just put it all together.
"IT'S ALWAYS GOOD TO KNOW HOW TO RUN YOUR BUSINESS FROM THE BOTTOM UP."
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST REWARDING PART OF BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR THUS FAR?
I think the best part of being an entrepreneur is that I can now allow my friends and the people that have helped me along the way – I can give them the opportunities. I’m at the point where now, I ain’t gotta do the work. I can now give other people the opportunities to do what they want.
One of my best friends Bernard, he’s a photographer. I opened up my studio here in Atlanta last year and now he is the head photographer. He’s always wanted to be a head photographer and do more within his vision and I let him do whatever he needs to do to create the client vision; I just provide the space. That’s why it’s so beneficial for people to be entrepreneurs, because yes, you’re also creating the employment opportunities for people that also still want to be entrepreneurs, but they just need a stepping stone.
I think that’s most beneficial – where I can provide my friends and the people close to me that have supported me all the way through, the opportunities to be in a film, or support their kids being in a film. A lot of my family members have been in films. I was the casting director for a feature film and I got my whole family and my friends and my cousins in this movie and now they’re on Amazon Prime!
DO YOU HAVE A GOOD MIX OF HANDS-ON WORK AND FACILITATING? WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF GOING WITH IT?
I actually do a lot of everything. I think the hardest thing when I did move here – I was trying to find my niche. I was so skilled in so many things from photography to digital marketing to film to producing to casting to instructing and I was like, “Radazaih, it’s too much!” Like, “Yeah, you can provide all these services, but you’re only one person.” So I was like, well I know some other people that wanna do this. So I was like, “Hey, you wanna hop on?” “Sure.” So now, that helped me also still create income, but now I can also provide new services.
I thought it’s always good to know how to run your business all the way from the bottom up. If you don’t know how to do the day to day duties… Like, if you’re working at McDonald’s and you don’t know how to start the fryer, but you own the McDonald’s, what is you doing? Make it make sense! That, for me personally, that’s my type of leadership style and my type of management style. I gotta know how to do everything. And I wouldn't say it’s like micromanaging or anything like that, because things happen. Let’s say somebody don’t come in, I gotta take over; I gotta do it. Most of the time, if one of my contractors or employees are not available, I’m doing it.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE INTERESTED IN WORKING IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY?
Networking is key in this business. You always gotta know somebody that knows somebody to put you on. I always didn’t like that, and that’s why trying to provide these opportunities is just easier for people. And with COVID, it’s even harder to try to network now. Networking is truly important.
YOU JUST GRADUATED FROM EMORY UNIVERSITY WITH A DEGREE IN MEDIA AND ENTERTAINMENT LAW! WHAT LED TO THAT?
Girl, that was hard. That was on a whole different level. I am so done with these degrees! Ownership was a big thing. Yes you have a business, but what are the proper steps to owning this? I was really tired of everybody creating this content, creating these films, and creating these contracts that were trash! I was like, this doesn’t even make sense! I was just really upset that my people were signing into contracts and deals, thinking it was good, but they weren’t. These sign-on bonuses, people don’t even understand when you do a bonus, you gotta stay there for a while! People don’t know that, they’re just like, “Oh, money!” But it’s all a way of wording, and that’s why I truly wanted to know the law behind all media, entertainment and marketing. It’s common knowledge to get these things, but nobody’s reading the fine print. I wanted to be able to do that for my people, and just for the industry in general. There’s not a lot of people that focus on all of entertainment, like film, media, clearances, and copyrighting. I really wanted to learn everything behind it.
Law school ain’t for the weak. Coming from a creative mindset and screenwriting, creative writing and then I had to go into legal writing?! I’m like, “This is ghetto.” I wouldn’t change it for the world because it definitely has helped me see a lot of different things within the industry. I’m like, “Dang, these people can get sued!” But I just keep pushing. They gon learn one day, but I’m here to help them. But I don’t necessarily want to be a lawyer. I want to do contracts, copyrights, rights and clearances.
Current favorite show?
Here’s a secret: I actually don’t watch a lot of TV. I be on sets all day. The current show I’m watching is Euphoria. I try to watch series all the way through. I cannot watch another series without finishing one.
All-time favorite show?
Big Mouth. I’m not really a sarcastic person. It just doesn’t click to me. But I think that type of humor is really funny because it’s just like, bam! It’s just right in your face. It makes people uncomfortable about topics that need to be talked about. It’s a Jordan Peele exclusive and that man does great work.
What are your favorite BIPOC-owned spots in Atlanta?
Toast, Social Cafe, The Gathering Spot, and Jeju Spa.
What’s the last book you read?
I love poetry. My favorite author is Pierre A. Jeanty. His poetry really has helped me through a lot of trauma and experiences I’ve been through. But I recently have been reading The Wait by Meagan Good and Devon Franklin. I’ve been trying to get inspired with everything within their book with their morals and stuff like that.
Who inspires you the most and why?
I surround myself around very, very like-minded people. My friends and my grandmother and my mom really, really do inspire me the most because they’ve always been the most driven people. I think that when you see someone struggle so hard that you really, really care about, you want to be able to help them. You want to be able to support them. But also, you want to make sure that you’re never in the same predicament. With that being said, I’ve seen my friends and the people that I've been close to have an impact on my life and I want to make sure that I'm able to contribute to their life.
What’s your Sunday routine?
Girl, that’s my reset day. On Sundays I wash all my clothes, I go for a walk with my dog, and I sometimes have meetings with clients. One thing I’ve done, which is an investment for myself – I have hired a cleaning lady. She comes once a month and that’s one thing that I wanted to make sure that I did for myself because that gives me more time to have time for self-care within that Sunday, too.