Filmmaker Feature: Meet Amber Iman
Amber is a NY-based actor, writer, and producer. Her short film Steve, which she wrote and stars in, has won Best Short, Best Comedy, and Best Actress at multiple festivals across the country. Her Broadway credits include Shuffle Along and Soul Doctor. Off-Broadway: A Civil War Christmas, RENT. National Tour: Hamilton (1st National, Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds). She is a proud founding member of the Broadway Advocacy Coalition & co-founder of Black Women On Broadway.
Amber! Tell us about how you got started in the industry and what you’re currently pursuing.
My mother is an actress, so I’ve been performing for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been in some form of acting troupe, choir, or dance class, and I’m grateful because it all paid off! I majored in Musical Theatre at Howard University (where I met Jason [Hightower – Director of Steve]) and did a lot of theatre in the DC area. I moved to New York in 2012 and made my Broadway debut in 2013, as the High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone, in a musical called Soul Doctor. While on the road doing Hamilton, I wrote my first one-woman show. It opened my eyes to the idea that I could actually be a writer…maybe lol. I performed it in NYC, LA, and Philadelphia which really built my confidence, knowing that my story and humor were well received by both friends and strangers, and that I was making people laugh and listen and think. I wrote Steve in April of 2018 and we shot it in November, which still blows my mind because I wasn’t convinced that I was a real filmmaker. There was so much I didn’t know, and so much I was afraid of, but I did it anyway. Steve has been accepted into about 20 festivals, won multiple awards, and has inspired me to dream way bigger and see more and greater for myself. The stillness that quarantine provided gave me the space and opportunity to write a pilot that I’m so proud of. We’ll see what happens…!
What sort of stories are you drawn to telling? If you had to summarize your style with 2 or 3 movies as an example, what would they be?
I’m drawn to tell my story, the stories of my sisters and brothers, stories that show Black women and men in all of their colors and layers and flaws and beauty and crazy and joy and fear and freedom and power. I’m interested in embracing and uplifting the whole of Blackness, not just the two dimensional roles that Hollywood has spoon-fed us for decades. I don’t have a genre of choice, I just write what I know, what makes sense, what challenges me, what feels like the most honest truth. Oddly enough, my 3 favorite movies are B.A.P.S., My Best Friend’s Wedding, and A Beautiful Mind, and come to think of it, those 3 summarize my style.
What steps are you taking to forge a path for yourself in this industry?
I’m allowing myself to dream big and just try – without fear, limitations, boundaries, judgment, all of it! If I keep showing up, doing great work, listening, learning, studying, and remembering my purpose, the path will forge itself.
Amber’s Writing Process
What’s the first thing you do when you set off to write a script?
I usually need to daydream the story for a couple of days. I don’t force it, I just allow myself to experience whatever pictures, images, colors, faces, sounds come to mind. Once I’ve seen it enough to have a slightly clearer view of what I want to create, I draft a sort of “stream of consciousness” outline. It’ll be a mixture of lines, plot points, background information on characters, songs that will set the mood or establish the atmosphere, things like that. Then I’ll go back and edit/streamline the outline. I don’t do well with scheduling time to write, I can only write when I have something to say. So, at some point, I’ll sit and write a scene or two. Then I’ll put it down for 3-4 days. Lately, a scene or idea will wake me up around 3 or 4am, and I’ll write a rough sketch of it so I can draft it properly when I’ve gotten some sleep! My brain reaches its limit after I’ve written 20 pages (it’s odd, but it does). After I get to 20, I send the draft to Jason [Hightower]. He’ll read it and take copious notes, then we meet and talk through the notes, which usually takes a couple hours. I’ll take what I need from that note session and then go back and complete the draft. Then I just keep re-reading, and editing, and tweaking, and rewriting, and obsessing, until I get to a point where I’m pleased.
Did you make any interesting discoveries as both the writer and lead actor in your film Steve?
I’m a badass, lol. It was interesting to be so extremely exhausted after a full day. It made me realize how often I am NOT challenged in my other work, and how I long for opportunities to work that hard and feel that exhausted, but rewarded.
What’s one lesson you learned working on your last script?
Your audience is smarter than you think. Say less.
Any other practical tips for screenwriting?
- Create an environment that is conducive for your creativity. If you need to be near light, air, water, trees in order to be at your best, get what you need.
- Let it breathe. Put the script down for 3 days and come back with fresh eyes. It always works.
- Sometimes if I’m having trouble building/creating a character, I’ll dream cast the role first. Often the actor will inform how the role should be written and the words just pour out of me.
- Write it all down, no matter how absurd or goofy or ridiculous it sounds. You may need it, or a small piece of it, or be inspired by some form of it later on.
Connect with Amber on: Instagram www.amberiman.com