An Interview with Filmmaker and Therapist Melisse Tokic
"I do what I want!" is a philosophy I adopted a few years ago when I found myself immersed in activities I didn't want to do: exercise, dieting, jobs, etc. It's like one day I woke up and realized I could do what I want. Today's bitch also does what she wants, although in fairness, she came to it after nearly dying giving birth to her son, as opposed to me who just spent $300 on a race I didn't want to do. Tomato, tomahto.
I met Missy at her wedding. One of my husband's favorite people is Andrija Tokic, which is how I found myself one summer night driving to a castle in Franklin County for the wedding of Andrija and Missy. Their wedding included children in costumes, a non-binary wedding party all wearing mylar dresses and flower crowns, and dogs in outfits. If I could re-do my wedding, you bet your ass this is the kind of wedding I would have. Meet today's bitch, Melisse Tokic, who does what she wants!
What do you do and what is the name of your business?
Melisse Tokic, Filmmaker, Mental Health Therapist, Founder of the non-profit Dialogue Films. My first film is Queer and Southern God. It is doing well at film festivals and just won Best Drama at the Southern Short Awards. I hope to turn it into a series. My second film is called Percy and Bud, and stars my 1 year old son, who wears a business suit and drinks out of a flask the whole time. It’s currently being edited.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
If you want to learn how to make films, or do anything, the best education is just doing it.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
I’ve got two big ones. Surround yourself with individuals whose art you appreciate and who know more than you do. Get everything in writing, especially if it deals with money.
What is your greatest success, or something you’re most proud of related to what you do?
Having my son and staying alive so that I was motivated to make my first film. My near death experience and the recovery period were huge wake up calls that life is short and I need to follow my dreams, no matter what anyone thinks of me.
Going ahead and making my film even though everything was stacked against me. I didn’t have any money, experience or connections. I did have a lifetime of going to movies and being critical though.
Do you have a morning or nighttime ritual?
It’s pretty glamorous. In the morning I lay there and listen to my son play in his crib until he starts hollering for me. Or my husband places my son on me and I ask, “Did you change his diaper yet?”. Then I drink coffee. Yes, I know pregnant woman shouldn’t drink coffee. I don’t care, it’s better than a mimosa. Did I mention I'm 34 weeks pregnant?
What helps when you’re stuck? Do you have a motto or quote that inspires you?
When I’m stuck on anything, I ask someone to meet me at a coffee shop or the YMCA so that they can go over what I am working on. That way, I’ll make sure to get something done. If I tell them I’m going to email it, I’ll just wait until I get bored and move on to my next idea. If we meet in person, I’ll be up late the night before or that morning making sure it’s finished.
What does self care look like in your life?
Self care has always been my strong suit. I realize that I need to take care of me first to be able to show up to be a good wife and mother. A big part of self care is a daily acceptance of who I am and my limitations.
I attempt to schedule time in the week for yoga, walking, writing and collaborating with others. I realized I have a need to be involved in the community, so I founded Dialogue Films. A 501c3 non-profit that awards money to disenfranchised and minority filmmakers to get their story told.
Every night I go over a mental gratitude list in in my head, especially in the areas where I am frustrated.
I have come to realize I need to keep a packed schedule or I won’t get anything done. If I actually have time to do the things I want, I just turn into a teenager and eat a bunch of sugary snacks and watch reruns of My So-Called Life.
How do you feel about social media?
I love it to numb out and scroll through before I fall asleep. It makes me sleepy. I do think it is a great way to raise awareness about social injustices.
Are there any women who helped pave the way for your success?
Merrill Farnsworth, who used to lead the Writing Circles in our Nashville community. In her therapeutic writing groups and retreats, I wrote a book. She was the first person who complimented my writing, made me face my fears of public speaking and came up with the idea to make it a film. She passed from breast cancer right before we started filming. Without her, I never would have found my love for writing and the courage to make a film. Before experiencing Merrill, I always assumed my writing was “bad” because I didn’t know all the grammatical rules.
Katie McDougall also teaches writing classes in the community with The Porch. I would go to classes she held in her dining room. She really taught me how to structure a story, develop characters, set up a plot, etc.
Emerson Caddell was hired as the Assistant Director of my film Queer and Southern God. I feel like she ran me through a film school boot camp. Any filmmaking question, she has the answer. I’ve learned quite a bit on how to influence by watching her timing when she is motivating others to get things done. She could also translate the vision I wanted to other members of the crew.
Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite podcast and snack?
Podcasts are hard. Any suggestions? Things stick in my brain more when I’m reading them. I’ve listened to No Bad Kids by Janet Lansbury, Indie Film Hustle by Alex Ferrari, and Serial. But I wouldn’t say any are my favorite.
Now snacks, that’s easy! I love getting a fancy latte and muffin. That’s my ultimate treat. At home I like popcorn, marshmallows, chocolate or red wine. I obviously have a sugar addiction that I sometimes try to keep under control.