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Interview with the Filmmaker and Speaker of Proyecto ñ

As a Hispanic, have you always felt out of place but suddenly, in the midst of one special moment, connected to people with a similar background to yours? Read the following interview with Denise Soler Cox, who documents the stories of the ñ, children born to Hispanic immigrants in the US, and learn what she did to help them feel they belong to a growing community.

Please tell us about your childhood and where you grew up.

I grew up in the suburbs of Manhattan in a place called Somers, New York. When I was four years old, we moved there to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Bronx and, more specifically, to move to safer pastures. My brother’s bike had been stolen twice, and my parents felt that it was beginning to be unsafe for all of us to live there and to raise a family so they moved us to Westchester. Incidentally, it’s right across the street from wheheadshot-denise-solerre Sonia Sotomayor grew up.

Did you go to college, and if so, was being a Hispanic an advantage or a disadvantage?

So I like to look at my past—good, bad or indifferent—as advantages regardless of whatever I struggled with. I’m one of those people who insist on seeing the silver lining. Since I’m light skinned, I kind of blended in with the mainstream so it took a while for me to find my people and for them to find me. I never felt so much at a disadvantage, but I did feel different, very different. What I realized was that it was up to me to learn to feel comfortable in my own (light) skin anywhere, regardless whether there was a representation of my people and my life experience or not.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in?

My job title is Co-Founder, Filmmaker, and Speaker. What I think is more appropriate is Chief Everything Officer. I take out the trash; I make landing pages; I input contacts; I make memes. I fill in any gaps I see. I do whatever it takes to move this project and this film forward. Anything.

Can you please tell us about your career path, i.e. how did you get to your current position?

So my current position is more of a declaration. Four and a half years ago I pitched a film concept to my now producing partner and for the last four and a half years I’ve been working as a filmmaker. I’ve considered myself a serial entrepreneur with several different businesses under my belt. Some successful, some were great learning experiences. I’ve always considered myself a creative type but I have always allowed that part of me to come out until now.

Please describe the things you do on a typical day.

I get to the office at about 8:30 in the morning after I drop my girls off at school. My days are often very different, which is why I love what I do. Some days I’m on the phone all day every hour on the hour with a short break for lunch at my desk and then back on the phone. Other days I’m in production meetings talking about shooting or in a creative meeting with an editor. At least once a week I’m meeting with my marketing and social media team strategizing campaigns, taking the pulse of where we are at, and honing the voice of the project online. In the in-between times, I’m on social media responding to people or playing with the Snapchat filters.

How did you come up with the idea for Proyecto ñ?

So the answer to that is in the film, : ) The short version is that twenty years ago when I was twenty-six years old, I was hanging out with a bunch of my friends late into the night. I felt profoundly connected to them and wanted to understand what it was about the evening, or the conversation was so special, so I could feel it again—I wanted to bottle that feeling! I realized that what we had in common and how we were expressing that was what bonded us and left me feeling so relieved that this experience that I had lived with my entire life was theirs too. It was the experience of being the child of an immigrant and growing up in the United States. The connection I felt after realizing this thing that we had in common was something I wanted for everyone. That night I decided to make a documentary about it and share it with the world. It took me seventeen years to actually make the film but that’s a completely different story, : )denise-soler-3

What have you learned from other Hispanics because of Proyecto ñ?

I have learned that we are more alike than we are different.

What did you learn the hard way in your career and how did that happen?

I’ve learned that opportunities only come once (maybe twice) in a lifetime. When you have an opportunity it’s your job to seize it and give it all you’ve got. Unfortunately, because of my immaturity, I have missed out on a few professional opportunities that I later regretted, which is why when I had the opportunity to make this film with my producing partner, I grabbed hold of that opportunity and I still haven’t let go and I continue to give it everything I’ve got.

What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?

Self-care is such an important piece of being successful. There are always a lot of things to do in a business and because of that, I put my own emotional and physical health on the back burner. It would be great if in school they reminded us and taught us that success in the world has everything to do with being able to enjoy that success with our physical and emotional self. I don’t know if it’s really the responsibility of our schools to do this but I guess if I had to design it my own way, I would make sure that well-being was a part of my education.

On a good day when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?

I love love love hearing from our community. I recently received a very heartfelt email from a Dominican ñ who is teaching English in Korea right now and who found us somehow on the Internet and who is totally inspired and empowered by the work that we do and that just completely makes my day.

When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?

Together with my partner Henry, we handle every win and every loss and everything in between. Some of them can be extremely disappointing and make me question why I even got started on this project to begin with and then others are so amazing, they remind me of why it is that I do what I do. As long as we’re even, I think we’re doing pretty well.

How stressful is your job?

Some days are more stressful than others. Production trips are hard on me because sleep is a luxury, so I run on adrenaline the entire time. When I get home I usually need a full day just to recuperate. The job is more of a marathon, though; I feel like I just need to keep running and eventually, I’ll see that finish line. We do have very real things that put pressure on the project and like most things in life it revolves around money.

Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?denise-soler-2

My work life and my life are much collapsed into each other. That’s the only way that I can do well with both sides of my life. So my kids come to my office a lot and my work comes home with me as well. I talk about the business constantly with my husband and my business partner. I find balance in my daily practices like my morning routine which includes meditation, visualization, and a green smoothie. I spend quality time with my girls every day; I cook a home cooked meal every night, and I make time to spend with friends as much as I can. I have a friend that I meet with every other week just to talk through the challenges of entrepreneurship, I have other friends that I spend time with that my business is rarely if ever mentioned and it’s a nice respite, to be honest, and I’d like to say I have regular date nights with my husband, but that’s a work in progress.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold?

The salary range for what I do is probably quite good. I just recently—after two-plus years—started to take a paycheck and it really doesn’t represent what the proper range is. I guess to do what I do, one must be willing and able to not take a salary for a while. I will say cameramen, editors and sound guys easily make over $500/day and sometimes much more than that depending on skill. Day rates for producers and directors are higher for productions that are fully funded. Depending on skills and experience, speakers can make a very nice living. I think it pays to have multiple streams of income.

What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in your career?

The absolute most rewarding moments of my career have all had to do with feeling as though my work makes a difference. I am driven by being a person of consequence and when it looks like something I’ve done actually matters to someone and helps them thru something, it is the greatest reward.

What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced?

The most challenging part of my journey was willing to be uncomfortable most of the time in a world that I wanted to transition to but had no formal training. I’ve had to ask for clarification on so many things. It was super challenging to have to ask what seemed like remedial questions to have basic knowledge of what was going on. That feels like so long ago now.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

I think what I do demands a lot of different types of skills. Developing people skills, leadership skills, social media skills, marketing skills, speaking skills, presenting skills are all important. The most important skill, however, that one needs to have is the willingness to do whatever it takes. That’s not a skill, though, it’s a mindset and a value and well, that is the most important thing to me.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

I would tell a friend to look and dig deep to discern how much stamina they have. This work takes way more time than I ever realized, it takes more tenacity, more courage, more resourcefulness, and basically more of everything that I thought I had but realized I needed twice as much of.

denise-soler-4Do you feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

I absolutely feel like I found my calling in life. Filmmaking and speaking about the films that I make is probably the most fun combination of a career that I could ever dream up. It is incredibly rewarding to see something that we talked about, shot and edited with a team, come to life into a beautiful story that is fun to watch. The rush is insane. For seventeen years I avoided pursuing this profession of filmmaking for a lot of dumb reasons. I guess I always knew what would make my heart sing.

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