For some creatives, accidentally stumbling across our talents often makes for the best success stories. But for director and cinematographer Jarred McGriff, he always knew he had a knack for visual storytelling, he just didn’t know where his gift would lead him.
As someone who had only discovered video production in high school, there was no way to predict McGriff’s talents would allow him to get tapped to work on major brand campaigns for TikTok, Crown Royal, Live Nation, McDonald’s and more. However, his upbringing — which surrounded him with creativity and technology — made for the perfect foundation for what would later become his life-long passion. According to him, it was his high school video class that ultimately helped him determine video production was something he was “going to do for the rest of [his] life.”
From there on, McGriff has elevated into roles as BET’s senior video editor where he puts his storytelling abilities to work on viral series like BET’s Rate the Bars and #FindingBET (which has garnered over 30 million views across multiple platforms). He’s now in a position to create narratives for the culture using his own unique perspective.
McGriff spoke to AfroTech about how he got his creative start in the entertainment industry, where he fits into the digital content renaissance and how his talents are opening doors for other Black creators.
View this post on Instagram
Editorial note: Portions of this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.
AfroTech: How did that high school class shape the beginning of your video production career?
Jarred McGriff: After I graduated high school, I ended up [attending] a community college for a year and then I transferred over to Full Sail University in Orlando, FL (known for its advanced tech programs). They gave me the tools to really learn [this craft] hands-on and gave me that experience. After I graduated from there, I got my first TV production job, which was with Nick Cannon’s Ncredible [Entertainment].
AfroTech: You also worked another job at a camera rental company while you were freelancing at Ncredible. How did that get in the way of you pursuing your real career?
Jarred McGriff: That was probably the toughest time [in my life] because I was barely making anything. I was still living in Central Jersey and I would commute in and out of the city every single day. I had my nice, shiny bachelor’s degree and [told the company] I had been doing videos since high school, but the managers there were just like, ‘okay cool, we’re going to break you.’ So, for my first four or five months there, I was cleaning tripods and [changing camera batteries], and it was like the most grunt work ever. It’s like I’m doing all this stuff but I know I can do more. But the benefit of working there was that I got 75 percent off equipment that I rented. So, I was utilizing that to my advantage in terms of my career.
AfroTech: When did you reach your breaking point to go off and pursue your real passions?
Jarred McGriff: Eventually, I ended up leaving and that was the same month that I started my now production company, L2C Studios, back in 2016. I said, ‘cool, this will be great’ because I had a couple of other contracts, but like two of those fell through. So, it went from [me being like] I know we’re about to clear a smooth $60,000 within the next couple of months, to like yep you’ve got whatever’s in your bank account [to last]. So, now I got this camera equipment that I can’t do nothing with and my credit card bill for the equipment knocking at my door too. So, it was rough for a bit.
View this post on Instagram
AfroTech: How did that struggle period set you up to get hired at BET?
Jarred McGriff: I was shooting this free project in New York City [for K Camp] one day, and I had just peeped that my bank account was in the red. So, I show up for the shoot, park at a parking lot and swipe my debit card for it [knowing my account is in the negative], but then someone tells me it’s cash only. So, I did the shoot and afterwards talked to one of the producers to ask if I could borrow $20 [to get my car], but he made such a fuss about it. Then, I remembered I had a friend that was working at BET. So, I called to tell her to stop by her office and ask for some bread. While I was there I asked if anybody was hiring. We ended up walking around to different offices just to see who we could talk to. I literally had business cards, and was just leaving them on people’s desks like somebody has to call me back.
[Long story short] I get a call from someone from their office and they say, ‘hey can you come in for a test run?’ So, I came in the next day and the person showed me the edit they needed and I knocked it out quickly. They did this for like a week straight until the [producer] that called me in ended up leaving work early one day. At the end of the day I looked around like, ‘I guess I had a good run here.’ So, I didn’t go in the next day. I then got a call in the middle of the day asking where I was at, and I was like ‘I didn’t know y’all wanted me to come in again.’ Nobody told me to come back. They said, ‘From here on out, don’t not come in unless somebody tells you not to come in.’ So, that’s kind of how I got hired at BET.
AfroTech: On behalf of Black creators all over, how are you helping to push the culture forward?
Jarred McGriff: The biggest thing that I do is hire Black. That’s the one of the easiest, simplest and most necessary parts of not just owning a production company, but a Black-owned production company. What’s the point of having a Black-owned company if you’re not hiring folks that look like you? I never had a really strong mentor. So, as I’ve continued to grow and build I’ve made sure that I’m not only giving opportunities to folks that look like me, but also folks that may not have the experience to get the same opportunities I’ve had. Now, I have a bunch of folks that are like little brothers and sisters to me that I try to throw certain opportunities at or at least have a [small] footprint in their creative journey.