Writer, producer and former AFRO employee Katrina Nelson. (Courtesy Photo)
By Jessica Dortch
National and Local News Editor
Baltimore’s own Katrina Nelson’s latest project “Lace” has been picked up by UMC and is set to begin production in March 2021. This legal drama series centers around a Black L.A. attorney named Lacey as she goes to great lengths to protect her rich and powerful clients. UMC has ordered six episodes of the series. The AFRO spoke with Nelson in an exclusive interview about her journey in the entertainment industry.
AFRO: At what point did you want to get into the television industry?
Katrina Nelson: It’s funny because I’ve been doing this all of my life, I just didn’t realize it. As a kid, I would put on talent shows and sell newspapers just to try and earn a living at age six or seven. I didn’t realize that all of the things I was doing would put me here. I’m an adventurous person and I love a challenge, and I’m always trying to challenge myself with different things that are outside the box. I worked in the music industry when I was living in San Diego back in the early 80s, working at the AFRO when I came back to Baltimore, at Maryland Public Television and working with the Black Media Association. One day I said, “you know what, I think I want to do this full-time.” Then I packed up and moved to L.A.
AFRO: Why did you move to California? What part did that play in launching your career in the industry?
KN: I’ve always wanted to live in California. I love television, film, the arts and media. When I was very young, I always knew I wanted to live in California with the ocean and the mountains. That was always in the back of my mind. In the 90s, when I moved back to Baltimore and started working for the government, I was still doing things on the side like interning at magazines and news stations. After moving to Baltimore, I always said that I am going to move back to California, I just didn’t know when. After the huge snowstorm that we had, I determined that I just wanted sun, so I drove across the country to L.A. and I’ve been there ever since.
AFRO: What did you do in the meantime?
KN: A lot of people move here and there is this fantasy that they are going to be a big star and everything is going to go their way. It’s a grind. It is a straight up hustle and grind. One of the things that kept me grounded was that I can think outside of the box and do other things while I’m pursuing what I want to do. It has been a wait. I was still working in entertainment at Disney, ABC, TNT and at OWN. So, I was still working in the environment and then I started to do my own productions and work on other people’s productions.
I thought my calling was just to be a writer, but then I started producing. I fell in love with it and started producing indie films. I also started producing web series before they became this huge thing back in 2010. I remember when the first web festival opened. A friend of mine, who recently passed away, started the L.A. Web Fest. I was just trying to maintain all of that: still trying to produce, write, I stumbled into doing standup comedy, but I always made sure to immerse myself into entertainment. I knew that when the timing was right, God was going to make it happen, and now we’re here.
AFRO: Tell us about your new project.
KN: I’m really excited! My producing partner Michelle Ebony Hardy and I came together and started our own production company called Kemy Time Productions. We met with UMC, a subsidiary of AMC, and we pitched a legal drama series to them, and they loved it. They ordered six episodes of the show and we will start production in March 2021. It was created by myself, Adam Starks (On My Block) and Tracy Grant (Lincoln Heights). We came together to create “Lace,” which is about this prolific LA attorney who kind of blurs the lines between right and wrong to protect her rich and powerful clients. The strong female lead was purposeful because this show has been around since 2012, and at the time we were trying to pitch it, and people liked it, but it wasn’t that many Black female leads on TV shows, especially in dramas. The timing wasn’t there, but it is now. We wanted to make sure that we had a strong Black female, and I know that some people don’t like the word strong, but I love that Black women can be strong and confident in her abilities. This character is also confident in her sexuality, so she can play in a boy’s world.
AFRO: Did COVID-19 impact your career?
KN: I’ve had a family member pass away from COVID and I know other people who have been infected. It’s been really devastating for everyone in terms of the job market and health wellness for everyone. For me, this has been a great year in terms of business, because I’ve gotten so many meetings with bigger companies and networks virtually. COVID really hasn’t affected my company, but we will see what happens when it is time to film in March. Everything could change because now we have to abide by COVID guidelines, and a lot of productions are being shut down or shooting elsewhere, like in Vancouver, where they have COVID under control. We will be shooting in L.A. in March, so I don’t know what that is going to look like. We’ve been interviewing mobile companies that do COVID testing and getting all of those things together so that we can be prepared.
AFRO: What is your message to people aspiring to follow their dreams?
KN: A lot of this business is in part about who you know, but also you’ve got to know your stuff. When you move out here you can’t stop your hustle or your grind. You have to be on it every single day. You have to continue to put yourself in those positions to be around people you are aspiring to be like, or that are in the niche that you’re in. If you’re a writer, be around writers, producers and directors so that you can start getting your stuff out. Don’t wait for anybody. Like I said, I’ve been doing a lot of independent stuff, and people think that it takes a lot of money to do certain things. Some things do take a lot of money when it comes to production, but there are small things that you can do. For people who want to act: if you aren’t getting those roles, then create those roles. You can find someone, wherever you are, with a camera and create your own film. Write a scene or two, pick one location and make your film around that location. You have to work at it every single day, and use tools like social media to have your work seen. There’s also film festivals that you can enter your short film into. The main thing is: if this is your dream, you can’t give up on your dream. The moment that you give up, the next day could have been the difference. Beyonce said it best: a winner doesn’t quit on themselves.