Today we’d like to introduce you to Gina Parris.
Gina, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My name is Gina Parris. I am from Bonne Aventure Rd, Gasparillo, Trinidad and Tobago (two islands one country) specifically Trinidad. I have been in entertainment for over 12yrs and came to USA to try my luck in acting, producing and filmmaking. I founded Gina Parris Entertainment Ltd. over 9yrs ago, and I’m looking forward to the 10yr Anniversary, in August. My mother, Ruth Walters and best friend, Kristian Williams are partners in my company.
I am attached to The Brogan Agency. The head of the Agency, Shawn Brogan has worked with many famous industry professionals including, but not limited to Michael Jackson. I didn’t make millions, but I made progress. I come from a good, middle-class family. My mother, raised me as a single parent. She isn’t rich but she worked hard to make sure that I have the tools to be successful in life.
I feel very proud of my mother and the strong, independent, educated, intelligent woman that she is. She refused to take a mortgage and be in debt. Instead she preferred to work and pay people from her hard-earned cash, to build our home. Honestly, our home has been like a construction site for years, because work is done only as fast as mommy can get the money. Because of my mother’s independent nature, she decided that instead of depending on others for a roof over her head or paying rent, she would live in her home while it was being built, and of course, I lived with her.
I remembered the year I applied for the grant for my TV show (it was also the same year my father died from cancer), and did the media launch for it. I was interviewed for TV with my fancy hair do and nails. I asked myself, what would people think seeing me as creator of a show on television if they knew that I came from a home with no electricity or plumbing? I had a chargeable lamp. I would charge my laptop and my phone where I worked or at family. When I applied for the grant a second time, my friend and actress Samara Lallo, and my mother’s sister Myrtle Mc Eachrane, allowed me to work on my TV show proposal at their home; for obvious reasons they had electricity. When I applied to New York Film Academy, I applied for financial aid. They gave me the maximum amount of financial aid allowed by the school, along with a partial talent-based scholarship.
Currently, the building of my mother’s house in Trinidad is more advanced, but still no plumbing. I really hope I can excel, so that I can help my mother, who is my number one fan and motivator. I have been in entertainment for a lot of years. I was able to meet some great people in the industry and make some great connections, but having great connections doesn’t necessarily mean a fat bank account as people would think, that’s not how things work. I am grateful for all the people that I have met in the industry because they helped me to accomplish my goals in different ways.
So yes, I was involved in entertainment for years. I have acted in TV series, in films which showed in cinema. One even showed at IMAX. I acted on stage for huge audiences, but I didn’t make enough money to have me set for life. Also, in my country, the film industry is not developed enough, for people to make a living with it full time, therefore I could not quit my day job. The last job I had, before moving to LA, was teaching at the San Juan Boys RC School. The first time I applied for a grant for my show I got rejected, however, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I took out a small loan, gathered people that I knew, and shot several scenes to make a trailer, to help me get more sponsors. I did a media launch, to create hype, at a club which was also my sponsor, and then I reapplied for the grant and this time I got it. The grant wasn’t huge but it helped a lot and I am grateful that I got it since so many others had also competed to get one.
Accomplishments BEFORE USA:
I would say my journey is an interesting one. I am an actress, comedian, filmmaker, producer and screenplay writer. With the help of a government grant from Creative TT (previously Trinidad and Tobago Film Company), a grant from the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism and various sponsors, I created the first TV show under my company, Gina Parris Entertainment Ltd. The name of the TV show is “The Honest Honestest Truth”, which was called by one of the national newspapers, The Trinidad Guardian, ” T&T’s first detective drama.” (T and T is the abbreviation for Trinidad and Tobago).
I acted in the “The Honest Honestest Truth” and wrote the scripts. I also produced it along with another producer, Louris Martin Lee Sing. She is a very talented woman. I was able to get many talented Trinbagonians (that is the name for the nationals of Trinidad and Tobago) to be a part of the TV show. I was blessed and humbled that Trinbago celebrities such as Errol Fabien (actor, comedian), Allan Emmanuel (actor, comedian, aka Cyclops), and Jason Williams aka J.W. (radio personality and Soca artiste, Soca is music created in Trinidad) acted in the pilot, which aired as a TV movie, on one of the most popular television stations in Trinidad and Tobago, TV6 in 2016 and 2017. I was even more humbled when the first black Ms. Universe, Ms. Janelle Penny Commission (yes I am proud to say the first black Ms. Universe came from my country, she is the lady in the picture with both of us alone, she is to the left) showed her support for “The Honest Honestest Truth”.
David Rudder’s son and my friend Isaac Rudder aka Yung Rudd (David Rudder is one of the musical icons in my country), sang the song used as the theme song for “The Honest Honestest Truth”, along with Mark Hardy and Anokha. I feel really blessed that I was allowed to use the song, and that Isaac agreed to act in my show. The name of the song is “We Are Young Again”.
I have a Bachelors in Behavioural Science and a Masters of Arts in Counseling. I also have a Master’s degree in Acting for Film from the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles. I graduated with honors from New York Film Academy and it was the doorway which allowed me to pursue entertainment in USA. I received acting training from well known Trinbagonian acting icons such as Penelope Spencer and the late Raymond Choo Kong.
I also got further acting training from talented LA acting coaches and actors such as my friend Rafael Noble, my friend Angela Gibbs (daughter of the actress Mala Gibbs, Angela is still my acting coach today), my friend and dialect coach, Joy Ellison and Kirk Baltz. I had the opportunity to get coaching from American coaches while in Trinidad, because of my friend Simon Baptiste, CEO of Question Mark Entertainment (which is an artist management company). Simon created Talent Factory Film and it allowed those involved, to meet great teachers. I am grateful to Simon for all his help, as usual, and for allowing us to meet people from the USA. These same people, now that I am in LA, are the ones who look out for me and have my back. What was once teacher-student relationships have developed into nice friendships.
Some of the memorable experiences that stay with me from acting in Trinidad are: Acting in World Laugh Festival 2011, 2012 and 2013, Yangatang comedy tent amongst others, acting in the play Caribbean Woman directed by Hollywood actor and Trinidad born Sullivan Walker, (he was also an actor in the Cosby Show as Cliff Huxtable’s physician friend Dr. James Harmon), the musical Treasure Island, and as Gaga the Witch in the TV series Starvey’s Angels. I also enjoyed acting in the film A Story About Wendy 2 directed by Sean Hodgkinson.
My accomplishments while in USA:
I became a member of two prestigious organizations Women In Film (Los Angeles), Powerful Ladies of Trinidad and Tobago PLOTT (PLOTT is an organization made up of businesswomen that support each other). I was also mentored by Sara Scott VP of Production and Development of Universal Studios, and Randi Richmond SVP Production of NBCUniversal.
I won an Excellence Award from Metro Film and TV Awards, for my thesis film and first short that I ever produced named A Twist of Life. I was honored to have my friend, Gerry Bednob act in it. Gerry is a successful actor in USA who has acted in “40 Year Old Virgin” amongst others. The talented actresses, Natalie Whittle and Chloe Paige Flowers also made my film a success. Of course, where would we be without my awesome crew and director Shashank Varma. My major was acting, therefore one of the requirements for my thesis, was that I be the one in the lead acting role for my film. I also wrote the script and produced the film on a VERY low budget (The Honest Honestest Truth was also low budget). A Twist of Life was screened at the Indie Night Film Festival, of which Emmy award-winning casting director Robi Reed is a supporter. The film also screened at Equality International Film Festival and Metro Film and TV Awards.
I co-produced someone’s film for the first time in USA, in 2017. The name of the film is “Gangsters”. The creators of the film are talented Freddie Basnight and Tiffany Lewis. “Gangsters” won 12 awards in the following festivals: Mindfield Film Festival. Albuquerque, Queen Palm International Film Festival, Hollywood Guild Awards, Hollywood West Wing Film Competition, Pinnacle Film Awards, Indie Best Films Festival, LA Edge Film Awards, Hollywood Sun Awards, Hollywood Forever Film Festival, Alpha Film festival, and Dreamachine International film festival.
I screened 58 films for Diversity in Cannes from all over the globe. Some of the films, I screened on my phone while living in my car. Diversity in Cannes is supported by the actress Viola Davis and her husband.
I had the honor of working on Carl Weathers’ set. He is a famous American actor and is known for his role as Apollo Creed in the Rocky series, he is Al Dillon in Predator, Chubbs Peterson in Happy Gilmore amongst other roles. During a Q&A at New York Film Academy about his film, producer and also my friend Kim Ogletree mentioned that New York Film Academy students worked on Mr. Weathers’ set. She then proceeded to talk about me and Mr. Weathers nodded in agreement. He said the nicest thing about me, I will never forget it, especially since I admire him greatly as an actor. It meant a lot that he acknowledged how I behaved on his set. I didn’t think he really noticed me while I worked but he did notice and he said the following about me ON CAMERA and I quote: “and sweet, and really a sweet person, really sweet person cause that helps too.” For Carl Weathers to speak so favorably about me after I worked on his set made me realize that no matter what work you are doing, make sure to put your best foot forward, because you can never tell who is watching you. Mr. Weathers and I keep in touch.
I will be collaborating with Jamaican born actress, producer, director and friend Sherando Cupid. We are two proud Caribbean nationals and we plan on telling our own stories on an international stage.
I am currently in discussions with Ms. Lesley- Ann Nelson president of the Non-Profit Organization, Save Our Children Foundation, Trinidad and Tobago about doing projects together to benefit children around the world. Ms. Nelson is also a member of Powerful Ladies of Trinidad and Tobago (PLOTT).
I also do work with Gold Piece films Inc. production company which is headed by director, producer, writer and actor Andrew Lloyd Preston. I will be working with Gold Piece Films as a producer and actress for “Brand”, and a new digital series called “Choices” in which I will be a producer and actress.
While I lived in my car, I started filming, on my phone, what I was experiencing. I decided that even though me being homeless was a bad experience, I would try to get the good out of it and turn lemons into lemonade. I planned to use my experiences while living in the car to help others . I lived in a very old vintage Mercedes that I called Ms. M, and initially, the film was called “Living in the Mercedes”. When I moved out of the Mercedes, I changed the name of the film into “Like a dog with a Bone”. I decided to turn the film into a series, which is inspired by other people’s experiences, and my own while pursuing entertainment, in order for other people to use it as a survival guide in the entertainment industry. The series also highlights various young talented American and Caribbean people, their journeys and their homeless experiences. The other purpose of the series is to teach others how to cope while pursuing an entertainment career.
Like A Dog With A Bone features the following talented individuals: Ravyne Demyra Payne (actress, director from USA), Taromi Lourdes (actress, director, from T&T), Ayanna Cezanne (producer, host, actress from T&T), myself, Gina Parris (writer, producer, filmmaker, actress from T&T), Byron Knight (host, dancer, actor from USA), Louis Brown (producer, director, filmmaker from USA) and Aeriel Ventrano (writer, actor, singer song writer, producer and editor from USA). Feel free to follow them on social media, they are awesome.
I plan to continue The Honest Honestest Truth using American and Caribbean talent (still raising funds).
I also plan to turn A Twist of Life into my first feature (still raising funds for that as well) and I am raising funds for post-production for my series Like A Dog With A Bone.
I will also be working with Juhahn Jones as an actress on his projects, Juhahn is an American actor/director/producer and social media influencer. I was fortunate to act in the season finale of his series “Killer Bae”, I was the only one with a Trinidad accent lol.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The anxiety of not a having stable income affected me deeply. I remember I would get so nervous, I would keep wringing my hands. Honestly, I feel nervous and anxious while writing this because of that said reason. I left financial stability in Trinidad. I worked for the government as a teacher and other jobs before that, so I knew every week or every month there was a paycheck. The same year I moved to Los Angeles, back in my country I landed a high paying permanent government job, but I gave up that opportunity in order to devote my life to my entertainment career.
I knew sooner or later I would have had to choose between doing entertainment full time or pursuing another career full time. I did both and honestly, it was highly stressful and not a healthy way to live. So when I applied to New York Film Academy and got accepted to do my second Master’s degree, this time in acting, I took it. That difficult decision of transitioning to entertainment, full time, happened easier than I expected. Years ago when Gerry Bednob told me I needed to focus on entertainment full time to excel, I didn’t see myself doing it, because I was afraid, and because I knew I would be financially unstable. So to come to USA, and face constant financial instability, having bills and rent to pay and not being sure if I will make enough money to pay them is difficult.
I remembered when things got so bad, I called the loan company that gave me the international student loan for my Master’s of Fine Arts in acting for a Film, to let them know that I couldn’t make the payment. I also remembered that the service rep wanted me to pay a little over $200. He mentioned the word JUST, like it’s just $200, he said it so easily like if it was nothing, and to me it was a lot because I didn’t have the money.
The rep also asked if I did not save. The sad thing is, I do save when I get gigs, but then when the entertainment jobs are over, and time passes, and I am not getting enough work guess what, I go into survival mode and I have to use my savings and I am back at square one. I am not a US citizen so I don’t qualify for food stamps or unemployment so basically, I would live in limbo, sometimes literally praying for work and feeling more distressed as my funds are depleted and nothing coming in, or if anything comes in I am not able to save it because I have things to pay for.
Paying bills late and always using the maximum grace period available is like the norm for me, sometimes I pay on time sometimes I don’t. There was a time I couldn’t pay something as cheap and basic as my electric bill.
When I do get consistent work, I work very hard and a lot, sometimes I work long hours and still do. Various times I found myself crying in my car because I am so exhausted from working and then I had to dry my tears and continue working again. I mastered the art of the hustle in order to make enough money to survive. I don’t like depending on others unless I have no choice.
When I had recently graduated, because I am only limited to work in entertainment (and I still am), I would try to get background work with Central Casting. I signed up, and then to get work I would literally have to keep calling the line to see if I can book the role. It came to a point where I developed a technique so I can try to get through to someone on the phone quicker, sometimes I spent an hour redialing to get a background actor job, only for them to tell me they don’t want me for whatever reason and yes, you guessed it, no work that day which means no money.
I ended up homeless, briefly, while in USA, because I was not getting consistent work, therefore, my funds got very depleted and I ended up in a dark financial hole that I wasn’t able to get out of. In order to survive, I further dug myself deeper in that hole by taking payday loans thinking I was helping myself, which led to my credit getting deeply affected negatively. My rent lease was up and I needed a new place to live. The deposit on a place to live was too high for me, because of my bad credit, and I couldn’t afford to pay rent somewhere and save for a new place to live, so I moved into my car when my lease was up.
I did not focus a lot on self-pity while living in my car because I was focusing on survival and basically trying to make enough money to get out of my situation. I was too ashamed to let my family know I was homeless. The roommates in my car were my aquatic turtles Donatello and Michaelangelo, my closet was my trunk, I bought tins of food at the 99c store so it would last since I didn’t have a fridge. Sleeping was very uncomfortable. At some point I felt like such a failure and I cried because I looked at all I accomplished before and here I was living in my car, in the cold, in another person’s country.
Someone I did work for named Cynthia found out I was homeless. She lived alone with her animals and she invited me to live in her home, in exchange for walking her dogs. So walking her dogs was my rent, the dog’s names are Zoey and Fifi, and to this day Cynthia and I are still friends. While I lived in my car, I still focused on entertainment. I continued screening films for Diversity in Cannes and I filmed myself, even had business meetings. Life doesn’t stop because you are homeless.
I had to go back to Trinidad and when members of the Powerful Ladies of Trinidad and Tobago (PLOTT) heard I was homeless, the president back then, Gillian Wall, and one of the executives, who quickly became my friend tried to assist me. Greeba Rampaul-Essue (from PLOTT), helped me out big time. She even organized a fundraiser and was up and down with me going to radio interview and TV interview to make sure I get funds, so I will not become homeless again. I didn’t want the fact that I was homeless to be made public yet but I swallowed my pride because well I needed the money.
SUPPORT SYSTEM AND ANGELS.
In Los Angeles, sometimes more often than not, loneliness was my friend. I think any foreigner who comes to a country on his or her own will feel that way. I do have friends in LA, but I have a few very close friends that make up my support system and I am grateful for them. My closest friend in Los Angeles and neighbor is Aeriel Ventrano, and yes all friendships have their ups and downs but he has been a great support for me.
My mother is my number one supporter and I get support from my close friends in Trinidad and my family.
There are a group of people I think are worth mentioning. I call them my Angels. They are people, who aren’t family, yet, they have selflessly gone totally out of there way, and they done things that I think only my mother would do, to make sure that I am able to have food to eat and a roof over my head while in LA. This, without me having to do something major for them first. Most of them I don’t even know well, but when I was in need they appeared in my life.
I grew up Roman Catholic. My family is very religious and I believe that God sent those people into my life, at certain points in time, to help push me along on my journey while I am I LA. They are the following:
My mentor Lisa Wickham, is a media producer, director, TV personality in Trinidad and Tobago. Lisa allowed Greeba and I to be interviewed on her morning TV show “NOW”, as part of our promotion for the fundraiser.
Tourism specialist Ryan D’ Arcy, thanks to him I have a roof over my head and I was actually able to make it to USA, to pursue entertainment, in the first place, and I didn’t even know him well. Joy Ellison, my dear friend, she always comes to my rescue, friends Leander Sales (a very gifted editor) and Kim Ogletree (a talented, resourceful producer) look for ways to make sure I can afford to eat. Sherando Cupid provided an important tool I needed in order to keep working, so I can keep a roof over my head and survive. Cynthia Sands rescued me from being homeless and I didn’t know her well. Greeba Rampaul-Essue, I didn’t know her well, but she took me under her wing, and went all over with me on her campaign to save me from living in my car again. I also see Carla Ventrano, an IT executive and my friend as an angel because she saved me from being evicted once. Business woman Gillian Harding has also been supportive of me during my homeless experience.
Despite my struggles, I am grateful for my experiences and I hope to continue having more opportunities, which will help me advance in my entertainment career, and help others in the process. I am Gina Parris.