Back when times were harder than even today’s economy, when qualified Blacks had a very tough time getting the White-collar jobs they deserved — like being doctors, lawyers and such — the saying went, “There’s always work at the post office,” where you weren’t shining shoes, washing clothes or digging ditches. Alaina L. Lewis of Minneapolis is one of many over the years who’ve found something at the U.S. Postal Service that is highly valued these days. (“In a Hard Place,” Dwight Hobbes, 9/9/2010)
Alaina L. Lewis, reflecting on her career, laughs when Robert Townsend’s memorable movie-cum-social commentary Hollywood Shuffle comes up. ”I hear you.”
The story’s punch line: “There’s always work at the post office,” has Townsend as a struggling actor refusing to portray a negative image, shooting a public service announcement (PSA) honoring how delivering the mail meant both employment and social progress.
The humorous note: Lewis, today a screenwriter, director and owner of Electric Heart Media, LLC in Atlanta, once carried Twin Cities mail, doing her thing by night, weekends, whatever time she had to herself. “Working for U.S. Post Office was very valuable, obviously because it was a reliable income from steady employment. But that gave me the stability to pursue creative outlets.” As she told MSR in an interview in 2010, “It’s a tough job market, and whatever you’re doing, be grateful you’ve got it.”
At the time, she made her postal rounds by day and, in the aforementioned off-hours, set out as an entertainment journalist, determinedly accruing credits at, among other publications, Clutch Magazine, Lint, Gemini and Yo! Raps.” She eventually interviewed the likes of Will Smith, Russell Simmons and Jesse Jackson in a roster of notables. Her dream then was “to have an opportunity to write full time. To…have writing become my day job.”
Speaking by telephone on location for her current under-wraps project, Lewis relates that, as her career has blown up, so have her ambitions. Now, she looks forward to directing a feature film. “That’s what I strongly want to do. I’m still in preproduction.
“The hold-up is waiting on my fairy godmother to deliver that five million dollar check. I’m sure she just got the wrong address and will be by soon with my requested funds.”
Lewis then adds, “But in all seriousness, making a feature is quite the costly undertaking filled with a lot of work to secure locations, cast, crew and so forth. My team and I are working slowly but surely towards getting the job done.”
In between those goals she struck out for L.A., where she landed on her feet in fine fashion, going on to work in public relations and social media for the Cannes Film Festival, American Black Film Festival, LA Film Festival and Independent Spirit Awards before firing up Electric Heart Media.
“Working in [Los Angeles] at Film Independent as part of the public relations team helped prepare me. When you get to work on an awards show or a screening, it gives you [the] confidence to associate with movers and shakers.” Among said movers and shakers: Oprah Winfrey, Scarlett Johanssen, Kerry Washington, David Oyelowo (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) and Adrien Brody (Cadillac Records).
The then-fledgling mover and shaker — today technically a rookie with but eight years under her belt — relocated to her present stomping grounds in Atlanta, Georgia. And she is staying put. Along with generating ever-rewarding work, she simply likes the town and says of Atlanta, “It actually feels a lot like when I lived Minneapolis, because there’s a strong sense of community.”
Considering that she has racked up a strong reputation and quite impressive bio in the amount of time most hopefuls are still struggling to establish a presence of any consequence, you have to believe Lewis is looking at an enviable future.
“It feels great to be where I am standing, but I honestly have a long way to go. I’m transitioning my talents in public relations, marketing, and working behind the scenes to being at the helm of projects [as a] writer-director.
At EHM (www. electricheartmedia.com), her bio states Lewis is adept at developing creative content to translate ideas, building brand awareness, audience engagement, and enhancing visibility. There’s no need to take her word. Electric Heart Media has delivered the goods for highly satisfied client after client: athletes, films, production companies, and musicians — you name it.
For instance, does Angie Stone, MC Lyte, Marcus Hill and the Mayo Clinic ring a bell? “Clients [have] a dream, it’s my job as brand strategist…to help them [render it] concrete via website, social media, audience identification, promotional materials, video production; whatever they may need.
“I’ve done this [building audience awareness] with a lot of feature films such as the national 2pac biopic, All Eyez on Me tour.” She also includes in her experience cinematographer for the making of Dear White People featurette (Lionsgate/DVD) and has done what she refers to as “a host of film and video projects through her production company, 46th Street Films (The Avenue, Breakfast, Broken Silence).
Lewis trusts to an ingrained sense of, and belief in, plain, old-fashioned hard work, steadfastly putting her shoulder, acumen and industry savvy to the proverbial wheel.
Not only is there always work at the post office (Alaina L. Lewis bears that out), but depending on what you do with it, there’s no telling where else you might end up. Maybe even as a steadily rising film industry phenom.
“Currently I’m working with a wonderful collective of women in Atlanta to produce a series of short films. We are [making] it a female-driven project from top to bottom, including our technical crew. The year for female empowerment is here, and we feel this is a good place to start for us to kick off our journey towards that movement.”
Dwight Hobbes welcomes readers’ responses to P.O. Box 50357, Minneapolis, MN 55403