I met Namakula at the Girl Power Film & Media Summit in Brooklyn this past March. The Girl Power Film & Media Summit is a celebration of Women’s History Month. The summit inspires and empowers women in film and media with insightful conversations, motivating workshops, and opportunities for networking. Namakula participated in one of the panels and she epitomizes the spirit of the summit. She’s an advocate for women in film, and her story shows that you can follow your dreams by being the artist of your life. This quote from Carrie Fisher comes to mind: “I don’t want my life to imitate art, I want my life to be art.” Thank you Namakula for sharing your story with me.
REBECCA MARTIN: Tell me about where you grew up, how did that inspire you to go into creative fields?
NAMAKULA: I’m a first generation kid who grew up all around. The two connective elements that deeply influenced shaping my being were: growing up in America, but being raised in a bi-cultural household (Ugandan and Jamaican) and living in the suburbs surrounded by nature. Having immigrant parents, I was exposed to different ways of thinking, perceiving and behaving that often did not coincide with the typical American lifestyle and culture of my peers. My parents had accents, sometimes we ate different foods, my grandparents lived overseas, and there were traditional and respectful beliefs and practices that weren’t always observed by my American counterparts. I had a diverse group of friends and was raised to perceive and carry myself as a unique individual, not part of a collective group or someone easily labeled as a certain type or put into a box. These factors enabled me to freely follow my interests and act on my divine inspirations and passions.
I loved creating stories and characters, writing and performing was fun and natural. I was drawn to progressive, new wave, alternative music and films. This excited me and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. When I was about 12, I created a dark comedy comic about a mischievous alien, Cha-Cha-Moo-Moo who was macabre, humorous and murderous. But it always had a moral lesson or some sort of twisted social commentary. I was inspired by clever, rare, edgy, (often morose) music and lyrics from artists like: The Smiths, Prince and The Dead Milkmen. I took guitar lessons and drew satisfaction from learning riffs of my favorite tunes or creating my own. In my early teens, I was regarded as someone with a dark, quick-witted sense of humor. I’d watched Whoopi Goldberg’s one-woman Broadway show on HBO. Inspired and with no real training, I performed one of the monologues in my high school talent show. My parents always encouraged my sisters and I to be educated, independent and happy. We were expected to go to college, but we were never pushed to a particular profession. Both of my sisters are lawyers. I went on to study acting at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and what follows is just part of my history.
MARTIN: After meeting you at the Girl Power Film & Media Summit and hearing your stories about all of your experience with the filmmaking process, and supporting filmmakers, I’d love for you to share a few stories of what shaped you and brought you to your current role at Agent 99.
NAMAKULA: Agent 99 was born out of a natural evolution of my diverse personal and professional background, along with my inherent love of collaborating and uplifting and mentoring. After my college dramatic studies, I fell into a position as an apprentice editor at a top commercial (video) editorial post house. I soaked up knowledge and experience from the myriad projects, and my work with creatives and producers in advertising. I assisted on big accounts (such as: Burger King, Pepsi, GE, GM) with top agencies (like: BBDO, Mullen and JWT). I worked my way up to editor and was integral in launching the New York office of renowned British editing house, Final Cut. During this period, I was making time to write spec comedy scripts, scored a pitch meeting with the producers of MAD TV, performing stand-up in numerous NYC comedy clubs, while also spending time in Barcelona (between editing projects), where I had an agent sending me out on acting/modeling gigs.
After many years as a video editor, I worked with some prolific talents such as: Sophie Muller, Spike Lee and John Leguizamo. I had the privilege of training under and working alongside powerhouse editors, like: Kirk Baxter, Rick Russell and Barry Alexander Brown). I edited many high profile and rewarding projects: The MoMA’s Artist Oral History Initiative, commercials for Smirnoff Ice campaign launch, Coca Cola, and Hershey’s & Wendy’s (in Spanish), in the US and abroad. I eventually went freelance so that I had more control over my time, in order to get back into acting and producing.
During this time, I wrote, directed and edited the dark comedy webseries, KATE & KULA. I co-produced and co-starred in the show with actress / filmmaker, Katie Hyde-Lewars. This series was an opportunity to utilize my skills in writing, acting, production and post. This show enabled me to create my own work, cast myself in the type of role and world that I always wanted to play in, work with talented actor friends, while getting access to locations based on my various connections, (ie: restaurants, office spaces). In addition, I worked with other artists who contributed to the show (photographers, DPs, graphic designers). This whole experience let me know that I had the skills, talent and resources to not only create my own work, but to produce for others.
Also, during this time, I was brought on as an actor / producer on an international webseries, The Groom (2010-2011). The Madrielño director, Álvaro Collar, was shooting episodes in cities around the world. He’d already shot in London, Beijing and Madrid–NYC was next. He booked me as a lead and I also cast some of the roles, hired DPs, the sound person and scouted locations. It was fun to bring people on who I’d worked with on previous projects, helping to establish new relationships and create great work. I’d found my niche!
MARTIN: How did Agent 99 get started?
NAMAKULA: I’m truly a self-starter and create my own way and opportunities. Because of this trait, with all of my years in advertising and the service industry, having a diverse group of friends and contacts–I was constantly being contacted for help. Whether it be a referral, a lead on a job, career advice–I was the go-to girl. I did this for years, really just because it came naturally and I really loved being able to help someone achieve clarity, employment, or just lifting their spirit. But after awhile, it started to become more and more time consuming-draining my energy. One day it finally dawned on me: What I’m doing is valuable, I enjoy it–and many businesses that do the same thing, are charging for it. I realized that I could be doing this thing that was intrinsic to me, as a business. In 2015, I harnessed my artistic, marketing, mentoring, managing and advertising acumen and officially started Agent 99 Reps. I took on my first client in September 2015 and the rest is ongoing history!
MARTIN: What projects are you working on now that you are excited about?
NAMAKULA: On an artist note: I just ended a 2 month stint as the Understudy in the 2019 Pulitzer Prize winning play (Drama) FAIRVIEW, by Jackie Sibblies Drury. It was with the original cast and I was covering two principal roles (Beverly & Jasmine). It was a phenomenal, exhilarating experience: the exact type of characters and work that I’d been visualizing being a part of since I was a girl!
Currently, I’m in the midst of executing a small project for female forward, San Francisco-based event management agency, LAUNCH INC: Agent 99’s handling the VO casting and audio post producing for a creative, hype video, screening at a promotional event for one of their key clients. The Senior Art Director who hired me, Silvina Guerreiro, is someone I’d worked with as an editor some years back on an IKEA project. I love observing how the Universe ties everything together and enjoy creating opportunities for my friends, colleagues–and myself. And, I continue to rep talents: DP Valentina Caniglia and Pekat Photography. I’m truly excited about what lies ahead and being aligned with my purpose: to create, collaborate and uplift.
I’m truly excited about what lies ahead and being aligned with my purpose: to create, collaborate and uplift.
MARTIN: Thoughts about the landscape of women in film? Do you see change? Advice for young women breaking into a film career?
NAMAKULA: My thoughts about the landscape of women in film is what I’ve always felt and what we all know. In order for us to tell our stories in the way we want, we have to be in positions of power and/or have allies who will give us opportunities to be in control of storytelling, hiring practices and setting standards and practices that are conducive to our ongoing success. I was concerned that the recent rallying cry to increase women and diversity /POC in the various ranks of the entertainment industry, etc., would be a passing fad. Possibly leading us to be slapped with a major backlash–setting us back further? But I’m hopeful that we’re finally turning a corner. When I see more and more women and POC in decision-making, powerful positions throughout the creative chain/ladder, rather than just a head figure at the top (that is often more of an appeasement, than a real effort for change), I think this may be the beginning of a new era.
Seeing Ava DuVernay’s diverse roster of female directors that she’d brought on to direct “Queen Sugar” episodes puts a smile on my face. Seeing writer Kriss Turner credited to having penned episodes of Matthew Weiner’s, “The Romanoffs”–yes! My advice: follow your passion and instincts, find your tribe, cultivate loving, reciprocal friendships and alliances, keep working, failing, trying, succeeding, learning and evolving. Spend quality time with loved ones, and more importantly, find happiness with being alone. Be your own best friend first. Dream, visualize, listen to and surround yourself with uplifting text, audio, imagery, pets and people. It takes a village. It’s important to believe in yourself, but it’s also important to have people in your life who believe in you. Someone can love and support you in your dream, without having to understand your WHY. The only person who needs to know and understand your WHY, is you. And anyone that deters you from going for your dream (unless they’re trying to protect you from a dangerous or harmful situation)–run!
Someone can love and support you in your dream, without having to understand your WHY. The only person who needs to know and understand your WHY, is you. And anyone that deters you from going for your dream (unless they’re trying to protect you from a dangerous or harmful situation)–run!