Why Passion and a Deep Emotional Connection Are Critical Not Only in Film, But in Entrepreneurship: With Filmmaker Riley Robbins

By Yitzi Weiner and Casmin Wisner

“People forget that you turned your passion into a career. Don’t get lost in the lights and glamour. …Just have fun and create from your heart.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Riley Robbins, who has directed projects for Jordan, Nike, fashion magazines, Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J, ASAP Rocky, Machine Gun Kelly and many other big name musicians. He has also worked with multiple NFL and NBA athletes such as Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Mercedes Lewis, and Manny Pacquiao, and has won several awards for best director.
To Riley Robbins, film is about making an emotional connection. Aside from efficiency and experience, Robbins’ rising popularity is also a result of his unique perspective. Combining the flavor of his own artistry with what his audiences crave, Robbins creates film that is not just image — but also feeling.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your backstory?

I was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. After college I moved in with my mother because she was diagnosed with cancer. I got two jobs and helped her pay bills. Two months later, one of my best friends died in a car crash from drinking and driving after a night we all went out.

Three weeks later, three of my friends were arrested and sent to prison. I realized that staying in Indiana wouldn’t lead me to my main goal in life— directing movies. So I gave my mom the majority of my savings and I packed all of my stuff in a car and drove to Hollywood, California. I promised her that I would cure her cancer and become a big director, and asked her to trust me. She kindly let me go, and I have lived in Los Angeles for seven years now.

Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

I can’t reveal many project specifics because of non-disclosure agreements (NDA’s), but I can say that the billboards across the country will look good. I recently went to Dubai, Sweden, and London, and got a chance to direct some beautiful fashion commercials. I am in the editing process of that right now.

I am also doing a pretty cool project with model Alexis Ren that’s in the works and will be going to Egypt next month to direct a commercial.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you are grateful for who has helped get you to where you are?

Having my mother alive has helped me get to where I am. I grind 24/7 for her and my sister. I know you said only one person. I am so grateful for the universe bringing me all of the people I have met on this journey—whether or not I still talk to them. Everyone you meet is a lesson in your path of life.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I feel like film is about making an emotional connection. It’s about falling in love with the way people move and the way they speak or touch. Finding that raw feeling in someone’s dance, their words, and their looks, and delivering that in its purest form. I will never say that I have found success. Instead I would say that I have conquered challenging lessons in life that granted me
with new lessons to overcome. The moment you stop conquering lessons and settle with your “success” is when you lose. I receive emails from people all around the world that tell me I have encouraged them to quit there jobs and pursue there passion in film.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started,” and why?

  1. Listen and respect artists requests. I learned quickly not to film Nikki Minaj when her bodyguards say not to film her. I was on set filming behind the scenes of a big music video and Nikki’s bodyguards screamed to the entire set, “Do not look at or film Ms. Minaj!” I’m a rebel so I did it anyway. As I was trying to sneak a shot of her performing, she stops and walks over and says, “Why are you filming me?” Then her HUGE bodyguards surround me and threaten to break my camera. This was my first time on a rap music video set, and I now know what not to do.
  2. Back up your footage as you shoot. My friend Chadd and I were filming a project a few years back. Once we got done we went to the afterparty of the shoot. The next day on set Chadd asks me, “Did we dump the footage last night?” I said, “Yea I think we did.” So we both formatted our cards. Then we found out in the editing bay that we DID NOT dump the cards. It’s safe to say that client never called us back.
  3. Bring a lens cleaner everywhere you go! Once I was filming a short film in the desert and something black got onto the lens. It was so small we couldn’t see it on the playback monitor. Once we got back to the editing bay there was a small black spec on EVERY shot in the desert.
  4. Don’t travel with big batteries for the camera. Once I was at the airport and a TSA agent thought my batteries were some type of mysterious bomb. They searched me for almost 45 minutes and broke down my bag and everything in it, checking every single item.
  5. Just have fun. People forget that you turned your passion into a career. Don’t get lost in the lights and glamour of that director’s chair. Just have fun and create from your heart.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I know you said one person, but I would love a private lunch conversation with either The Rock, Tom Ford, Quentin Tarantino, or Pharrell Williams.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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