Directed by Aida Teklemariam, Jake Chamberlain
Ever felt so overwhelmed you don’t do anything? Earnestly aiming to rise above her crippling false inner narratives, TEGIST tries the latest trend from unintentional mantras to ginseng drinking to half-ass community building. In YOU LOOK HAPPY, time will tell if she’ll “succeed” or interminably live in the dumps of her depressive mind.
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Aida Teklemariam is a San Francisco Bay Area-based filmmaker and producer focused primarily on TV creation and show development. Creator of the web series, YOU LOOK HAPPY (YLH), Aida’s latest project focuses on highlighting ethnic-minority characters’ inner worlds who are ill-fitted in rigid and overtly monoethnic environments. Shot and centered in Palo Alto, California, YLH serves as a first in Aida’s burgeoning career as Aida wrote, produced, starred in, co-directed, and self-financed the series under the constraints of a relatively modest budget.
Aida credits the roots of her development as a visual creator to high school, when at the behest of a drama teacher, she was ushered to enter her original written material to drama performance festivals. By her senior year, Aida received first-place accolades for her original monologues performed by her peers. Consequently, she went to film school at Chapman University to further her storytelling capabilities in an academic setting. At Chapman, Aida scrutinized classics and contemporary films such as THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY by Edwin S. Porter and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN by the Coen Brothers and heeded multifarious filmmaking tools such as audio motifs, visual juxtaposition, and characters’ parallels and, or foils; she simultaneously noted an absence in the program’s “masterminds” — there were far and few Black auteurs.
One of her first hands in filmmaking, Aida was hired as a script reader for Grindstone Entertainment Group, a subsidiary of Lionsgate, a role that encouraged her to begin to critically read fiction in order to forward the company’s business objectives. Since then, Aida has written, directed, and produced with industry best practices in mind for an Ethiopia-nationally-broadcasted television program and distinguished her storytelling voice by writing, directing, and coordinating short-length, indie narrative pieces. Her voice has developed to be at times playful and frequently mordant. Ultimately, as a budding creator, Aida aims to speak to the absence mentioned above via making content that critiques social issues that center Black Americans in a non-formulaic and nuanced manner.
In a recent survey conducted by Indeed, a worldwide employment website, 52% of workers said they were experiencing burnout. Many analysts attribute the burden to the pandemic. However, having spent the last four years in Silicon Valley, creator, Aida Teklemariam observed varied forms of professionals’ unhealthy coping mechanisms (drug addictions, intense workout regimens, etc.) pre-pandemic.
Through further rumination, her many encounters with her high-functioning community indicated they were acutely miserable because of their lack of work boundaries. The web series, YOU LOOK HAPPY (YLH) was thus created with aims to destigmatize conversations surrounding workforce-induced mental health issues for the new media medium. YLH strives to spread bite-size but potent awareness of burnout in high-stress environments and the intersectional particulars of burnout experienced by a variety of subjects, beyond what has previously been found to dominate representation of the Silicon Valley work culture, namely people of color. In the first three episodes, YLH addresses burnout from the point of view of a first-generation, Ethiopian-American, 20-something breadwinner, TEGIST as she navigates severe anxiety in idyllic Silicon Valley. When writing YOU LOOK HAPPY, the team’s ultimate objective was to tell a story of unabating mental health issues compounded by being a minority and a perfectionist. Utilizing anecdotage experienced while in Silicon Valley, the storytelling voice focuses on tensions of intellectual and social inferiority or superiority and is nuanced by depicting Tegist’s inner beliefs, technology business- and academia-cultural prescriptions, and Tegist as a first-generation American trying to navigate foreign terms.
The director pair, Aida Teklemariam (Chapman, B.F.A.) and Jake Chamberlain (Stanford, M.F.A.) drew inspiration from the works of Michaela Coel (MAY I DESTROY YOU), Lizzy Sanford (RUBBER HEART), and Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfield (HIGH MAINTENANCE). Production Director, Chamberlain especially garnered the edge of the aforementioned pieces and aimed to similarly apply certain devices like audio and framing to heighten inner suffering and isolation. Outside of shedding light on burnouts’ repercussions on a character’s inner well being, other project goals were to cast and focus on diverse, mostly first-generation or immigrant actors. Similarly, the project aimed to employ and sync a team of majority women professionals and students.