We had the good fortune of connecting with T.C. De Witt and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi T.C., what is the most important factor behind your success?
As an indie filmmaker who has moved from making movies simply on love to literally making a living doing so, the only way I’ve been able to achieve anything is by collaborating with truly wonderful friends. All the success I’ve seen has come from the people I’ve aligned with – people with the same love and passion for storytelling. Years back, one of my best friends had gotten a little further down the road as a professional movie maker, and he gave me my first shot writing on a film. That first outing on a short called Dangerous Summers led to four awards. Ten years later, that friend and I have now produced 58 films together, including three features and three series. He helped me get my footing in those early years, And that trust and mutual creative fervency is what we both looked (and still look) for in those we collaborate with. We’ve formed a team that has drive and joy to devise films and stories and shifts members in and out with the deftness of the Montreal Canadiens. If we were just a bunch of monopic craftsmen, I don’t believe we could have gotten where we are as professionals. I’m grateful everyday for the people I’ve worked with in all the projects I’ve been lucky enough to see come from a simple seed of an idea in my head to fruition in final forms we can all share.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am a professional writer and filmmaker. When people ask me what I do, I say “I tell stories.” And that’s what I do. Whether it’s through film, on stage, in the books I’ve written, through song or in a conversation. Whatever means I’m given to spin a yarn, I take it. I’ve been writing stories for as long as I’ve been able to hold a pencil. I got my degree in English for the University of Wisconsin, moved to LA after graduation to try my luck in the movie world, and for the past four years, I’ve made my living writing screenplays, television shows, stand-up comedy, novels, and plays. It’s not the most unique story in the world, but I’d like to think I have my own style and philosophy that sets me apart from others. Since 2010, I’ve written 483 screenplays. That may sound boastful, but I figure it’s worth advertising that I’ve written. A LOT. Quality is certainly a matter of taste, but I have seen the work I’ve written awarded dozens of times. Not that writing or making movies has ever been about collecting awards, but I do think it says a bit about my skill that my work has been recognized in this way. Regardless, I can say I am a professional writer. I got where I am by saying YES as often as possible until I had the power and courage to say NO. I got here by having a level head with realistic goals. I never said “I’m gonna move out to LA and win an Oscar.” I mean, yeah, I’ll take one if you’re offering, but no, I kept my ideals realistic. I kept an open mind and learned everything and anything I could like a sponge. Being open to educating oneself on new things is critical. Being a stubborn know-it-all is a recipe for failure, unless you actually do know it all, then I’ll just stay out of your way and watch with eager and absorbing eyes and let you rule your world. And getting here wasn’t easy. As the great Jimmy Dugan once said to Dottie Hinson after she said it just got too hard.: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.” And so, as hard as it was/is/and will be, I keep going. Because it’s what I want to do. And on everything I do, whether it’s writing, or directing, or acting, ANYTHING, I have FOUR EDICTS that I think could help anyone trying to make it in the creative world: Finish what you start. If you are going to do something, finish it. Even if it’s personal, like a journal, something you’ll never show anyone, if you start, finish. And if you TELL people you’re doing something–writing something–you HAVE to finish it. Don’t be a liar or a bullshitter. If you start something, take it all the way. Be proud of what you do. A script, a movie, a short, anything. Even if it sucks once it’s done, you finished it. That’s an accomplishment most people can’t claim. If it’s great, be proud of its greatness. Be proud of the people who helped make it happen. And if there are parts of it you aren’t proud of… Learn something for the next thing. Every script is a chance to get better. Every movie is a chance to improve on a skill. Learn from your DP. Learn from your actors. Learn from watching people bring your scripts to life. “Oh, they interpreted it THAT way? How can I make that clearer next time?” Don’t dwell on what didn’t work, and don’t dwell on what DID for too long. LEARN. And finally, most important: Have fun. Telling stories is supposed to be fulfilling. Even the sad ones or the dark ones, there is a catharsis in telling them. If you’re putting yourself through the emotional rigamarole on a script or a film, on a job or even a relationship, and it’s more painful than fun, why are you doing it? We are only here for so long. Why waste your time on something if you can’t find the joy in it. Yeah, it can be more trouble than it’s worth sometimes, but it’s what you want to do, right? If it’s not–if deep down, you wish you were doing something else–then stop. At the end of the day, you should get something out of it. Finish what you start. Be Proud of what you do. Learn from what you’ve done. And have fun.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Look, I’m not a local. I’m from Wisconsin. I like cheese and dairy, and I know what real pizza tastes like. I never even had sushi until I moved here (and it’s frickin’ delicious, and there’s a spot in La Habra Heights where I will spend the 25 bucks for the all-you-can-eat and pound down $200 of raw fish). Yeah, I’ve been out here for a decade, but I don’t care about the touristy stuff like the Walk of Fame or the Hollywood sign. If my best friend visited, I’d take him to Disneyland, because it really is the happiest place on Earth, and an adult can appreciate far more than a toddler. We have years of well-crafted imaginations, afterall. We can get far more out of getting lost in Tortuga or on Batuu (try the Blue Milk. It’s fantastic). I’d take him to In-N-Out and then Five Guys to prove one is better and the other is overrated. I’d take him up to Griffith and snap selfies while we talk about the movies that have been filmed there. But mostly, I’d get him to a game night with my friends out here. That’s the real fun to be had out here – spending an evening excitedly shouting out trivia while a movie plays in the background and eventual turns into backyard karaoke around a fire.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I suppose my previous answer shows I very much agree with you folks. Our place in the world, professionally and personally, comes from those we’ve given our time and hearts to. The team I’ve been a part of all these years has gotten me to where I am. But not just in my film life, there are plenty of people I have to give recognition to. My Dad and Mom encouraged the hell out of me growing up. They fanned my creative flame and also showed me what leadership is. My Dad has been a teacher for decades and an Olympic coach nearly as long. He’s guided hundreds — probably thousands with his wisdom, kindness, and fantastic sense of humor. My mom raised me and my three siblings while getting her Masters and eventually teaching full time. My sisters and brother are all unique and brilliant in their own ways. I’m incredibly blessed to have come from such a strong and loving family. And that includes my grandparents and cousins and aunts and brothers and sister in law. Hell, my best friends and their families are a part of this tree too, as far as I’m concerned. My two best friends from childhood to this day spent endless hours and days coming up with stories with me while we faced everything life could throw at us, My partner for a decade held my hand through every journey I’ve faced in my adult life. I don’t know where I’d be without any of them. There have also been some truly influential teachers in my life. My fifth grade teacher saw my storytelling spirit and guided me to embrace it. My elementary school librarian introduced me to books and characters that I still cherish to this day. I had an art teacher in high school who I butted heads with so often, I was certain she couldn’t stand me, only to find out when I graduated that she considered me one of the greatest students she ever had. And then there was my Art Appreciation professor who gave me the only A she gave any student the entire semester after my final essay. She encouraged me to consider switching my illustration major to an English degree, and that divergence in the path changed everything. There are so many more people who deserve credit for the weird and wonderful way I perceive the world.. That’s probably not exactly what you wanted, but that’s where my heart went. You ask me who deserves a little credit for my story? All of these and more.
Other: My YouTube movie review series The One Minute Rewatch: www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLGcroIuck6uBEPoRealUkbZBkaE96zMdd The censored episode of The One Minute Rewatch: www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMhyRCXnXGs&t=1s My first feature, Halo: The Fallen: www.youtube.com/watch?v=imGtNN5l_UY
Photos by: Jon Kline: www.instagram.com/cinematographer.jon Candace Lauren Ostler: instagram.com/candy_el_oh