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Chatting With Director & Producer Tyshun Wardlaw, the Woman Behind HBO Max’s “Growing Up Milwaukee”

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As a part of the Morning Lazziness series about strong women leaders who attained success with their incredible ideas, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tyshun Wardlaw.

Tyshun Wardlaw is the owner of Wardlaw Productions. After graduating from Santa Clara University with a B.A. in Business, Wardlaw relocated back to the Midwest and then earned a Master’s degree in Business Management.

She started her career in news broadcasting in production and producing for a CBS and ABC affiliate and then transitioned into production for daytime talk for the Jeff Probst Show and Steve Harvey Show. She had over 10 years of broadcasting and television experience before starting her own production company. 

Thank you so much for connecting with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your career as a Filmmaker and Director? 

Thanks for the opportunity to connect. I’m the owner of Wardlaw Productions, a boutique independent film and television production company located in the Midwest, with an office in Chicago and Milwaukee. We create and produce independent/studio feature films, documentaries, television projects, and branded storytelling.

My journey as a filmmaker started six years ago when I started directing and producing my own content for my production company. Prior to starting my entrepreneurship journey. I developed a little over ten years of industry experience working in the news industry in production and as a producer. I also worked on a production team for daytime talk shows and independent contracting as a producer for several television production companies.

Can you share the most interesting and inspiring story that happened to you since you began Wardlaw Productions?    

Everyday operating as an entrepreneur can be an interesting story and inspiring. Over the last few years, I had to learn how to maintain my focus while still maximizing the time to build. Directing your focus is a key component in the blueprint of moving your company’s vision forward. Creating a new start-up company actually takes a lot of time and during that time you can become distracted by things that won’t necessarily help your business.

Hence, one of my biggest hurdles is finding time to do everything. This is a problem that I’ve had since the first year of opening the company. In a perfect world, it would be great if entrepreneurs could magically teleport between events, projects and execute project ideas instantly, but unfortunately, this service is not available to us.

In the meantime, I’m continuing to get over that hurdle by discovering the power of saying no and prioritizing my great bucket list of ideas.

Can you please give us an introduction about your New Documentary- “Growing Up Milwaukee”? What impact does this documentary have on society?

Starring: Tiana Gee, Brandon Haney, Marquell Jenkins. 

Growing Up Documentary is a feature-length documentary that explores the notion that behind every statistic is a story. Three Black youth grapple with the daily experiences of growing up in the heart of Milwaukee, while fighting to avoid becoming just another statistic.

Stark yet hopeful, it’s an essential viewing for all to see through the eyes of these young folks and build empathy around their singular, yet all too familiar, experiences.

Thus far, the reception I’ve been receiving from those who watched the film has been positive and thought-provoking. Many have shared how it has inspired them to take action to figure out what they can do to help improve the lives of youth.  

What do you think- is life challenging for the people, especially for the Black People in Milwaukee. 

A life-changing moment for anyone and/or especially for the Black people in Milwaukee is having access to resources that will create forward mobility and actually receiving solutions to some of the problems that they currently face. Unfortunately. 

In Milwaukee, 50% of Black men in their 30s and 40s have been incarcerated, 33.4% of Black communities live in poverty (the highest in the country), and 33.8% of Black youth don’t complete high school within four years.

Lastly, Milwaukee has been rated the worst city for Blacks to live in. 

Can you share a story from your own life, if you ever faced any cruelty or bullying by people on terms of color? 

Personally, I’ve never dealt with bullying, but I have been exposed to and witnessed institutional racism within the corporate employment structure within the Midwest, both Milwaukee, and Chicago. In between TV/Film gigs, I’ve worked at a few companies to offset living expenses. With most fortune 500 companies, the glass ceiling exists with the lack of representation of people of color and women.   

What inspired you the most to shoot this documentary, and showing the real, true side of how people in Milwaukee live.  

Over the years, I had the opportunity to travel between states. Right out of high school, I moved from the Midwest to attend undergraduate at Santa Clara University in California. While relocating between states for work purposes in the entertainment industry, I noticed that my hometown had changed and unfortunately, we had the worst statistics about the Black community.

I wanted to explore the stories behind the statistics and look at it from a youth perspective to understand what the youth are dealing with each day and what is being done to help change the narrative. Most importantly, creating a film that remembers everyone that all hope is not lost. 

Should society judge or discriminate against people according to their color and gender? 

Of course not, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr will forever be true “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” This also applies to gender!  

How have you used your success to make the world a better place for Black People? 

I plan to continue using my platform as a filmmaker to be a powerful change agent by telling our own stories. Using and creating our own narratives so that we have the power to dictate what is said about us and how our stories are revealed in the media because we’re creating the narratives.

We’re being positioned in the boardrooms and making executive decisions to help display how people of color and women are being portrayed in the media and on-screen.  

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.) 

1st – Respect the process of the journey – After graduating from college, I had a set plan that I believed was going to happen. I would graduate and work for the Oprah Winfrey Show-climb the ladder within the company and no one could tell me differently. However, I had multiple detours while starting my career in the entertainment industry, but every position and opportunity provided the experiences I ultimately needed to take the leap into creating my own television/film production company. 

2nd – Discover your life’s purpose – Once I discovered my purpose in life which is to be a creator of content and a creative storyteller. I realized that the path that I’m on is a path of divine connections and meaning. Therefore, it did not matter how many detours or how many places I had to stop along the way. I knew that if I stopped at any given moment that I would no longer be operating in my purpose and what I was created to do.  

3rd – Brace yourself for the positioning of your life’s purpose – Positioning is everything. Most of the opportunities that I’ve received in the industry were being at the right place at the right time or speaking to the right person at the right time. One must learn how to be extremely resourceful with making connections to continue moving forward and remaining relevant in the industry. 

4th- Build a certain level of resilience – To work in the entertainment industry, you have to have tough skin. There are several different layers with each part of the industry that you have to be able to deal with. A variety of challenges, egos, and difficult personalities. You have to be able to work in a fast-paced environment and be able to adapt to whatever comes your way without folding. 

5th – Never give up – It’s just that simple. Never give up. You get knocked down, get back up! You are the author of your life’s story and how each chapter can be written by you. This includes the good, bad, and ugly parts of your story.   

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work? 

“Dreams only come true when you’re awake” – Wardlaw. This is actually my own quote that I live by. The moment that I allow myself to sleep on my dream and/or not work to make it a reality is the moment that I’m not operating in my full purpose. 

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