My documentary Bad Hair is about natural hair. I knew I had a story to tell. I knew it was timely. I knew I was über passionate about it. I felt that the natural hair movement was experiencing ebbs and flows that I wasn’t there to document. And because Bad Hair is a character driven film, I was missing opportunities to document my characters’ stories. Every moment I missed was like a dagger [this is me being dramatic, but not really]. Out of the window, past the billboard, I could see the life I longed for — where I’m barefoot in the country somewhere, prepping for a shoot. I dreamed of being on set and working with actors. Mostly though, I dreamed of the end product — the feeling of being free and creative. I lived there.

The convenient thing about daydreams is that you can fast-forward through all of the boring parts, you know… the work. You’re free to play the juicy, sweet part in slow motion. Also weirdly convenient is the tortured “I’m an artist and I can’t make my art because I have to pay bills” line of thought. Don’t get me wrong, that catch-22 is very real and anyone who can figure out the universal way around it should be an automatic bazillionaire. I’m speaking of the emotional exercise of being free from actually proving you can live your dream because you’re victimized by capitalism in such a unique way that you simply can’t live it. You can get sympathy for that. You can get reassuring nods from that. But you can’t get closer to your dreams. The torture is similar to the hopeless romance of our teenage years and secretly, we love it.  However, the truth is that it’s not so unique.

Deciding to live my daydream and taking the steps to do it was the least romantic thing I’ve ever done. Not one dreamy thing about it. First, I had to identify my goal — to finish my documentary, Bad Hair. Then, I had to budget that goal and every nook and cranny of what I was going to need, from equipment and cell phone bills to food and birth control. Insert: notepad, paper and quiet. I took that amount. That amount (the magic number), was the amount I needed to have to quit my job. I was giving myself until the end of the year to finish the film. This brings me to the next step (and the most important).

I had to bet on myself. Finishing this film in a year is the most ambitious, ridiculous and challenging goal I’ve ever had, but that’s as far as the money would go. So instead of betting on another film or a magical infusion of money to carry me over the next year or two, I bet on my ability to be flexible and make the best film that could fit into that time frame rather than to take industry standard advice and “let the film take as long as it takes.” With a combination of working my day job, picking up a night job and emptying out my 401K (yes, I did that) I had just enough. So what now?

Now, the moment. The very next time I saw my boss’ face, I pulled her into her office. The timing was all wrong. She was just back from vacation and was coming into the office at 4 p.m., just to ‘check in.’ She was tired, had a ton of things on her plate to catch up with and I loved my boss. I LOVE my boss.  And… she needs me… and how am I going to make money? What if the film isn’t good enough… and then I turned my brain off. I walked into her office and just said it. “I’ve decided my last day is May 1st.” It didn’t feel like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. It didn’t feel like a warm and fuzzy feeling. I didn’t see a light. It felt like nothing. The weeks that followed were all logistical. Moving costs, packing and going to the doctor. Sexy stuff, right?

Photo: Courtesy of Velissa Robinson
Photo: Courtesy of Velissa Robinson

Today, I’m sitting in an Airbnb, editing and shooting Bad Hair. It’s quiet. My breakfast table is piled high with hard drives and equipment. My days are slow and creative. This is my daydream. It’s not all perfect. Some days I get exactly what I was looking for. Others are filled with doubt and procrastination. I don’t know if I’ll actually finish this year, I don’t know how the film is going to turn out. I don’t know if I’m going to get this grant, or take that part-time job. What I do know is waking up to find myself in my daydream meant doing the logistical and emotional work of making a plan and trusting that plan (and  relied on my ability to carry it out or be resilient and push it through). And where that felt like nothing, this feels like everything.

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Velissa Robinson is an LA-based writer, director and graduate of University of Southern California’s school of Cinematic Arts. She has worked with BET, Tyler Perry’s 34th Street Films and Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program.

Her first documentary, Seen Also In Men, a short about single black fatherhood, has played at numerous festivals in the US and abroad. It won Outstanding Documentary from the Beijing International Student Film Festival. The film has gone on to play on the Documentary Chanel and gain educational distribution. An Atlanta native, Robinson is directing her first documentary feature, Bad Hair.

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