April 8, 2015

SCA Alumni Stories: Tracy Oliver

With her beginnings as a performer in her back pocket, Tracy Oliver ’10 has found her greatest passion in writing. Already boasting the success of her wildly popular web series, Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl, Oliver recently completed her first studio feature, Barbershop III, and continues to write for the Starz show, Survivor’s Remorse. Oliver recently discussed her transition from a performer to a writer and producer and also shared the lessons she has learned while maturing as a writer herself.

Tracy Oliver

What made you want to go into Cinematic Arts? I’ve always been passionate about the arts. I started out as a performer—singing, dancing, and acting throughout high school and college. It was in college that I started transitioning from performing to writing, producing, and directing. Initially, I started writing roles for myself, then I eventually transitioned to writing roles for other people. I realized I love the power and control of creating content as opposed to auditioning and hoping I’m right for the part, which I was accustomed to with acting. Once my play, Hope and Wait, received a lot of positive attention during my undergrad years, I decided I wanted to pursue a career as a writer/producer. I applied to SCA because the Peter Stark Producing Program had such a great track record with its alumni and I really wanted to learn the business side of entertainment, in addition to the creative.

What do you remember most fondly about your time at SCA? Bonding with other Starkies and other students in the production and writing programs, many of whom I’m still friends with today. It’s 100% true that the relationships you form there will have a long lasting impact on your life and career. All the time we spent in classes together, struggling through learning Avid and fighting while making our student shorts, really helped solidify strong relationships between us. I feel like many of the people I got to know at USC are like family now. We may not talk all the time, but we’re always there for each other.

How has being an SCA alum impacted your career? What I learned about the marketplace and the business of producing really helped me produce and co-write the hit web series, Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl. I wouldn’t have known how to assemble the crew or write episodes that tell a fully realized story in just a few minutes without my experiences of making short films in Stark. In many ways, Awkward Black Girl has served as a calling card for me in helping me get staffed on television shows and jumpstart my career as a professional writer.

If you could go back in time and give your early-twenties self a piece of advice, what would you say? I’d tell the younger Tracy how important it is to take risks and to not chase the money. Instead, write what you know, write what you’re excited about, and don’t be afraid to put it out there. Not everyone is going to like what you do, but you grow from getting feedback. Lastly, I’d say, be disciplined with writing. It’s a craft. The more you do it, the better you become and the easier it gets. It’s taken me years to learn how to force myself to write daily no matter what. Learning that discipline has helped me reach deadlines now as a writer.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of? I recently completed my first studio feature, Barbershop III, which I’m co-writing with Black-ish creator, Kenya Barris. I grew up watching the Barbershop franchise and it’s been incredibly exciting and humbling to be working on something that I saw with my family back when I was a freshman in high school in South Carolina. It makes me really think about how far I’ve come!

In working on Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl, what were some of the biggest challenges, both on and off set? The biggest challenge was producing something high quality without money. When you don’t have money, your crew has to take on seventeen jobs each and it’s very challenging because you’re all stretched thin. However, if there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that it doesn’t take much money to make something that attracts a wide audience. In fact, Awkward Black Girl has garnered more views than web series that had much higher budgets and celebrity talent in the cast.

Issa Ray and Tracy Oliver

What projects are you currently working on? I’m currently writing for a show, Survivor’s Remorse, on Starz. It’s my second season writing for the show. In addition, I have a drama pilot set in the dance world in development at Warner Brothers with ballerina Misty Copeland producing.

If you were to make your own Buzzfeed quiz, what would it be and why? What 90’s black movie describes your current love life?

A)   The Best Man
B)   Waiting to Exhale
C)   Love Jones
D)   How Stella Got Her Groove Back

Why? I’m obsessed with the 90’s and black love stories from that period. It’s been exciting to see a resurgence of black movies recently!