‘Pitching is performing’: How filmmaker Thembi Banks goes after a new gig

A woman poses for a self-portrait in her hedged-in backyard.
Self-portrait of filmmaker Thembi Banks.
(Thembi Banks)
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As part of our yearlong series on Sundance filmmakers, The Independents, we asked participants to keep a diary of one day in their working life and submit an accompanying self-portrait. Today’s diary is from Thembi Banks (“Young. Wild. Free.”), who is in pursuit of several episodic and feature directing gigs.

6 a.m. I’m definitely still asleep. I’m not a morning person. In fact, I’m a proud, card-carrying, full-fledged night owl. That’s when I come alive. I conjure up some of my best ideas, get lost doing research and consume a sometimes unhealthy amount of television and film. My current obsession is the show “Billions.” I stayed up until about midnight, marveling at the levity, pace and measured assurance they’ve established on the show.

8 a.m. My 2-year-old son is my alarm clock. He is also a budding night owl who sometimes stays up way past his bedtime. I say a silent prayer — grateful for simply waking up and for having breath in my lungs. I also say a prayer, asking for peace, love and protection over my son and family. Then I meditate … or at least I try to. Like many creative people, I try hard to just focus on one thing, or nothing at all, and slowly but surely, my mind becomes crowded with thoughts, memories, fears, anxiety. Before you know it, I’m wondering where my blue shirt is … I haven’t seen it in a while.


9:30 a.m. I’m at the gym. Cardio and weightlifting have become a part of my routine once the writers’ strike began. So many of us tried to find things to take the edge off. This became my thing.

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Aug. 9, 2023

11 a.m. At home prepping for my meetings. I rewatch episodes of a television series that I have an interview for later. I’m meeting with the creator and producers for an opportunity to direct an episode. I study the camera language, the performances and brush up on the storylines. I jump to scenes and episodes that I remember I liked when first watching and make mental notes of things I’d like to talk about and questions I have.

Noon Smoothie and coffee. Still watching the show, I pull up the director’s look book I’m about to present to a very prolific producer. I’ll be walking him through my vision and getting his feedback and notes before we present it to the studio in the coming weeks. This look book is for a feature script I read about two months ago that I fell in love with. The producer watched “Young. Wild. Free.” and he loved it. Many of the meetings I’ve had as a director this year have come from people who saw my film at Sundance and wanted to get to know me. The feeling of pride as I talk about premiering at the festival never gets old. No matter who I’m speaking with, I get a sense that they are genuinely excited and happy that I’ve achieved such a meaningful milestone. Each time I get a rush of the feeling I had when I was in Park City. I suppose I’ll always have these moments when the conversation comes up and I hope, even if it’s just for a few seconds, I stop and take the time to feel that feeling all over again.

1 p.m. The meeting about the look book is essentially a practice pitch. I walk him through each slide and explain my visual approach to the film. Pitching is performing. Luckily for me, I studied theater and I’m a trained actor. It’s fun to show images and begin to imagine what the film could look and feel like, how it could affect people and what moments will stand out. It’s the part of prepping as a director that I actually love. Every time this producer and I get together, we have a great time. He shares some notes and edits that I love and I agree to make them by the following week.

2 p.m. Another Zoom call, this time with another producer for a feature film script I read and liked. These two films couldn’t be more different. The previous meeting was about a romantic drama; this one is an action thriller. When it comes to genres and types of stories, I’m so wide open. For me, the pillars of a great project are layered and nuanced characters, a unique and compelling story and a central theme I can connect with deeply. In the meeting we talk about the story, some changes the production company wants to make to the script and some casting ideas.

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July 27, 2023

3 p.m. A quick, homemade, healthy lunch — trying new recipes I find on YouTube also became a strike coping mechanism — and a check in on one of my group chats. Damn! Eighty-seven missed text messages. Now I’m frantically scrolling trying to catch up on a morning’s worth of gossip, funny videos and memes, thought-provoking philosophy and the obligatory vent session. This particular group chat feeds my soul. It’s a tiny circle of people I love, trust and value. We uplift each other in ways only those who are in our industry can. We understand the uniqueness of what we do and also understand it’s not all we do. We go in on food, relationships and embarrassing moments from our childhoods.


3:30 p.m. A brief call about a pilot I’m developing from a short that screened at … Sundance in 2020.

4:30 p.m. The interview for the episodic directing gig. It goes well … even though I later found out I didn’t get the job, which somehow still doesn’t change my perspective that the meeting went well. Weirdly, sometimes good meetings don’t lead to a job and sometimes not-so-good meetings do.

6 p.m. I kiss my baby boy and wait for my husband to get home. We go for a walk while I listen to how his day went. He’s a writer for a TV show. The great thing about being married to someone who is also a writer is, after a long day of telling my stories, I get to listen to someone else tell theirs.