Perhaps dabbling in multiple areas of storytelling and video production is what has alchemized Amanda Shelby into a surging virtual reality producer with the knack to see the world from multiple vantage points at once.  Having successfully served clients such as The Obama Administration, Facebook, Disney, and Hyundai, Amanda Shelby is a black woman with one of the industry’s most major keys concealed tightly in her grip.

But how does a little girl grow from the childhood sandboxes of Natchez, Mississippi to filming former POTUS Barack Obama at 360 degree angles during his historic farewell speech in Chicago Illinois? Like most modern day success stories, it all starts with a little bit of struggle…. or in Shelby’s case, a lot more than a little. “I got what was called, ‘The LA welcome.’ It’s the equivalent of landing a plane with no wheels. I literally moved here with what was left of my savings and a jar full of coins to get reconnected with what it is I’m supposed to do.” As the new kid on the Hollywood block, Shelby didn’t have many people to turn to. In fact, most of the associates who were the most supportive of her move across the country were nowhere to be found now that she actually made the move. Thankfully, her cousin had an extra room in a small apartment with her daughter Corey, and welcomed Amanda if she agreed to babysit for her from time to time. Sounds easy enough, right? The situation would soon escalate into a pivotal collection of months that would change Shelby’s life forever.

“One day, I looked up and my cousin was gone. She had been gone for four weeks, and at this point it was just her daughter and I, and I didn’t have any money. Six weeks in, I still hadn’t heard from her, and so I took up internet stalking to find Corey’s missing mother. Around week eight, I finally heard from my long lost cousin. She told me that she needed a break and went to her mother’s house for a while.” I said, ‘you don’t get a break. You have a kid. You can’t take a time-out. You are a parent,’ Shelby expressed with a chuckle. But this was only the beginning of her immediate concerns. Shelby’s cousin went on to inform her that she hadn’t paid the rent in months, and had now collected a healthy $12,000 debt versus eviction. The initial rough LA landing officially burst into gasoline drunken flames.

Despite the rough start, there was also a fire in Shelby that could not be extinguished and she not only found the money, but she also became Corey’s legal guardian, and continued raising her for years. “I was going to leave; however, one day as I was driving [Corey] to school, she looked at me, and said, ‘When you first moved here, I thought you were going to be like everyone else that comes to stay here with my mom, but I really think I prayed for you. I think God sent you as my angel.’ “At that point I knew I couldn’t leave,” said Shelby. One can’t help but hear this story of perseverance and smile, maybe even chuckle, but at the time Shelby was painstakingly shaping within herself a relentless spirit that would go on to produce some of the most ambitious Virtual Reality productions in the nation.

“Eventually I got a job, working at Radiant Images, a camera house. I didn’t want to leave the industry but my friend said that I could still learn camera systems while working at the camera house. At that time, I was a little upset with God because that wasn’t the plan that I had for myself. Right around that time, I received a virtual reality headset. I then started telling my co-worker that VR was going to be the future; however, at the time, nobody at my company cared. I attended the first VRLA (Virtual Reality Los Angeles Conference), and there were a bunch of people in the parking lot trying to figure out how to strap Go-Pros together. I’ve watched this event go from a parking lot to owning half of the Convention Center in Downtown Los Angeles.”

At the time, VR production was still foreign to most folks in the film industry, and Shelby had to do some digging to find out how to get the ball rolling and who was going to roll the ball with her. “I realized the reason nobody wanted to touch the VR gear was because they were not sure whether or not they were going to get a finished product. So many people came into the camera house and said, ‘We don’t know who’s going to shoot it,’ so I started finding people to shoot it.” From there, Shelby went on to build a database of VR videographers, editors, post production facilities, and anything else that needed to implement VR technology. Since she became an expert in the field, and knew exactly what needed to be done to shoot VR content, Shelby organically began indirectly producing and directing all of the 360 degree productions that came through the camera house, and was soon promoted to the Head of VR Production at Radiant Images.

Shelby’s career was starting to heat up, and things really took off when she received a call from one of her industry colleagues with ties to The White House. Her collegue asked her a life changing question, ‘What do you think if we live streamed the Obama farewell speech? I know somebody that works at the White House, and I soft pitched them. They are interested.’

A few months later, Shelby found herself in the same room with the POTUS, filming all angles of the Obama farewell speech. “[The Obama Administration] didn’t want to solely stream on Facebook, they wanted to stream in 360 degrees on Facebook, Periscope, Twitter, and YouTube. This was something that had never been done before.” Shelby continued, “We were late getting to the airport, we almost didn’t make our flight, and we were flying all of this gear across the country. Everything was happening all at once, and to top it off the White House didn’t have credentials for me, so I had to sneak in! The production team was getting hassled by the secret service, and they had to prove that some of the weird looking cameras were NOT bombs. It was pure insanity but we made it happen. We broke so many records, and had over 700,000 impressions on Periscope alone. Months after the live stream, the speech continued to go viral. It was an amazing shift and turn in my career. I had done so much work in this industry silently, and this was the first time that I had been credited publicly for the work I was doing.

Shelby was soon presented with another big bird to fly. “Shortly after the farewell speech, I received a phone call from a friend of mine that I was working with. He said, ‘Hey, do you shoot the super bowl,” Shelby says with a laugh.

Shelby currently teaches courses on the production side of VR and also produces VR content for networks and studios. “In a way I’m like Mary Poppins. I want to guide newcomers to the technology through their first project, and once they understand the logistics of VR content, I want to move on and help someone else. My mission is to make sure this technology reaches as many people as possible. Once someone has the knowledge, they can pass that knowledge to someone else. We need to keep the cycle of information revolving in our community. That doesn’t happen enough,” she shares.

With a huge clientele base bubbling under the surface for the budding powerhouse VR producer, Shelby still holds dear, the purest big picture. “More people need to know that this exists so that younger girls in Atlanta or in Mississippi can say, ‘I can do this one day because I can see it. If I can see it I can be it. I come from Natchez, Mississippi. The hospital that I was born in was called Jefferson Davis, and Jefferson Davis was one of the major officers in the Confederate army, so it doesn’t get any more racist than that,” Shelby says with a laugh. “We owe it to ourselves and the future generations to make sure that we stay apart of the fabric of content and technology, so that no one is left behind as technology advances.”

Recently, Shelby launched her own VR company and continues to work as an independent VR producer and consultant for a wide range of clients. For more on Amanda’s company be sure to check out her website at www.producedbyshelby.com.

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