Her name is Claudia Murray. And, yes, despite how her name sounds, she’s Latina. Murray is a Cuban-American who gives off an energy and sense of purpose with every word she speaks. She’s also full of surprises at every turn. It’s no wonder she’s ventured into an area usually dominated by men - filmmaking. And she's putting her own spin on the creative venture. She says the key to making films and documentaries that are true to the art is to approach them as a business.
Sure, that may sound counter-intuitive. But she believes, it’s actually not. “I get upset when artists act like the business side is slimy.”
THE BRAINS BEHIND THE ARTFORM
Murray says that if you can raise the money yourself, “people will have faith in you as a filmmaker and you as a businessperson. If you can do that, you have full control over what you do. That’s priceless in an industry that’s all about art.”
Murray was driving cross-country and getting ready for her next film project, "Unloaded", when I interviewed her. She's best known as the director behind "Gringa", the award-winning, original short film she made with the Moving Picture Institute (MPI) and producer, Lana Link. "Gringa"celebrates growing up with both the Latino and American culture.
STARTED BUSINESS: Sept. 2019
LATINO CONNECTION: Mom is Cuban
EDUCATION: University of Florida - Juris Doctor of Law
Bachelor's Degree – English (concentration in Creative Writing and a minor in Philosophy)
Dream Job As a Kid: Veterinarian, pastor, cashier at Eckerd (she clearly wanted to do it all)
Biggest Goal Yet: "I want what the universe intends for me to have – what my intuition, not my instinct, is telling me."
Get festival wins for her current film project, "Unloaded"
Secure funding for a non-film-related business
The Cuban side of Murray’s upbringing gave her a natural advantage. “I don’t know anybody who’s better to get people to do what they want them to do than a Latina. We’re naturally bossy, which I think is a compliment.”
THE ART OF FAILING FANTASTICALLY
But the road that led Murray to her career in filmmaking was also riddled with failure. And she admits the biggest failure was her first failure - the end of her marriage. It was painful because she says she’d worked really hard at that relationship. But it was also the best thing to ever happen to her because it gave her the freedom to fail again. That’s an invaluable trait for aspiring business owners. “It increased my risk tolerance.” She reasoned, “I’m still alive. My family still loves me. I can probably fail again…I guess I can fail twice. I guess I can fail three times.”
And she did; she also failed financially. “My car almost got repo’d.” That happened after she moved out to L.A. to pursue stand-up comedy, giving up a career in policy and politics. She says everyone, except three people, thought she was crazy to make the move. But she did it, anyway. Of course, that followed her first so-called “big-girl job” as an attorney. But she’s philosophical about it all. Even her time working at the Department of Justice taught her how to figure out what was a good fit in business. “I can’t do things that don’t have a sense of humor.” Murray says it also helped her realize she’s not great at keeping up with a lot of things at once.
TELL ME A STORY
And yet, somehow, filmmaking perfectly wove together the things she learned she was good at: community organizing, writing, the art of persuasion and storytelling. She credits her storytelling skills to a distinctly Latino tradition she cultivated while growing up. Murray recalls how she would sit with her mom and her sister practically every night for years, each sharing a story about their day. She learned the art of negotiating from her father, an attorney, who has owned two firms. Combine that with more than a decade of religiously watching the very American business-based reality show, “Shark Tank”, with her ex-husband every Friday night, and she thinks she was destined to become an entrepreneur.
MAKE YOUR OWN MOVIES
And Murray is adamant that young girls can do the same. She believes that all this talk about the wage gape for women goes about things the wrong way. Instead of focusing on being at a disadvantage, she laments, “Nobody is teaching little girls…how to negotiate.” She says that, once she stopped doing the chasing, she started reaping the benefits. She told herself, “Stop asking for an agent. Stop asking to be let into the Writer’s Guild. Make your own movies. Go find the money yourself, like you know how to do.”
And that changed everything. By setting that as a goal and working backwards, she found the money. Ever since, she’s been working on the projects she wants. Murray was named a “LatinX Director to Watch” by NALIP (National Association of Latino Independent Producers” and now works as a filmmaker full-time. Her latest project, Unloaded, is a comedy short she wrote and directed that's due to be released late next year. More than anything, Murray has now stepped into her comfort zone as an "artist" - a label that, at one time, made her uncomfortable. Now, she proudly claims it. And she's owning the title with the creative control that comes with controlling the purse strings. And that’s why, above all else, Claudia Murray revels in being a businesswoman. “Creativity starts there. It starts with the money.”
THE TIP JAR (Tips passed out courtesy of Claudia Murray)
“Live intentionally and make sure that you think about what you want your life to be before you live it.”
“Do things, or try to do things, from the joy of what would happen if they are done, not from the fear of what would happen if they are not done.” In other words, she says “your motivation should be how great it’ll be when it’s finished, not how much trouble you’ll get into if you don’t finish.”
STEEPED IN SKILLS (mid-career): “It sounds stuck to me. And no one should ever feel stuck. Live as if it’s the first day all the time. Shake s*** up.”
STARTING OVER: “I’m so happy for the world that you’ve decided to do this. Because what the world needs the most is people pushing for their inner self and not for what the world is telling them they have to do…Every day you don’t pull the trigger is a day later.”
I’LL NEVER DO THAT AGAIN: Work for the government. She respects people who do it. But, she learned it once, and then she had to learn it again: she’s not cut out for government work. Murray says she needs more creativity.
BEST ADVICE FROM “LA CASA”: Murray’s grandfather always reminded her, “Lo que no mata, engorda.”
LOOSE TRANSLATION: What doesn’t kill you makes you fat.
MURRAY’S INTERPRETATION: She says that this quote taught her, whatever it is, “you might as well try it. It’s better that it’s making you fat than it’s killing you.” It also taught her that “the spirit of risk is a gift.”
NO NEED TO GO IT ALONE
HELP ON THE OUTSIDE...because we can all use a helping hand:
Figuring out the finances for your business can instill fear and anxiety. Planning it out for the future can seem even more daunting. The SBDC at FIU is offering this hour-long webinar to help you get a better handle on budgeting and dealing with fluctuations when it comes to revenue. The class is free.
WORKING ON THE INSIDE...because, let's face it, our culture has a hard time asking for help:
Looking inward and working on ourselves can be difficult. But if you know what specific qualities you need to be aware of and develop, you can have a better chance and better experience on your entrepreneurial journey. AOF (Accion Opportunity Fund) gives you a checklist of characteristics to work on to get you in your best entrepreneurial mindset:
THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THIS ISSUE: I was going to stay away from the arts as I was deciding which direction to take with this newsletter project. But then I came across Claudia Murray’s bio. This Latina took such an interesting path to filmmaking, I thought she would have some interesting lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs and others trying to find their purpose in life. She did not disappoint. Listening to all of the twists and turns she took to get to a place where she finally was doing what filled her spirit reinforced my instinct that she had important advice to share.
Murray said what many Latinos know: the pressure they feel to choose a career that their parents consider “appropriate” can be intense. She says it took her years to finally admit to herself out loud that she was “an artist”. And, as you can see, Claudia Murray is showing others how to redefine the role of an artist.
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