For Deonna Weatherly, storytelling is in her blood.
She remembers her first foray into storytelling was creating lives for her Barbies as a child. Her initial glimpse into the video world came from her experience with her father, who owned a video company and worked for the Pacers’ media team. Weatherly’s narratives grew as she did, and when her father gifted her a digital camera when she was a teenager, Weatherly began documenting her family’s vacations through photography.
“I used to come back home and compile all the footage and add music,” she said. “I thought it was really cool—to create something literally out of nothing.”
Weatherly nurtured her love of storytelling until she ventured into filmmaking in college at Indiana University. Once there, she saw that Indiana—although not typically a state sought out by filmmakers—was ripe with opportunity.
“By being in Indiana, it’s a clean slate,” she said. “You can create the environment, the community that people leave for New York and L.A. to be part of.”
Weatherly has seized the opportunities that Indiana presented, and now the 27-year-old has several awards under her belt.
“Angela’s Tale”, a short film written by Weatherly about a woman navigating challenges such as memory loss, nightmares and déjà vu, won Best Director at the Indie Film Festival in Phoenix, Arizona, this year. “She Is”, a short film that tells the story of a young, African American, LGBTQ couple’s relationship challenges, won Best Short Film at the Indie Film Festival in 2020.
But Weatherly is looking for something other than awards. She’s looking for wins.
“I take wins as, not awards and things, but the experience that I get from even just putting my name out there,” Weatherly said. “Something I think about all the time is my name being in rooms I’m not in. Right now, there might be a conversation I’m in that I’m not connected to directly.”
One such win came when “Angela’s Tale” was presented at Indianapolis’ own Heartland Film Festival in 2022. The film didn’t receive any awards, but it connected Weatherly with Colman Domingo, who was cast as Ali Muhammad in “Euphoria” and Victor Strand in “Fear The Walking Dead.”
Domingo approached Weatherly and told her she needed to be connected with the AMC Network, which is home to well-loved shows such as “The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul.” Now, there are beginning talks about how Weatherly can format “Angela’s Tale” into a full-length feature film.
“I didn’t win anything at Heartland, but I really did win,” Weatherly said.
During college, Weatherly first studied telecommunications, but a professor’s advice had her gravitating toward film. Her love of storytelling began to take hold, and Weatherly now has a master’s degree in media and specializes in narrative storytelling. Weatherly also excels in documentaries. She said some people have explained her narrative films as having a documentary feel.
“Documentaries are telling real stories from real people,” Weatherly said. “I really enjoy that aspect of it.”
Two of Weatherly’s documentaries are finished and available for viewing on Weatherly’s website, weatherhousepro.com. A full-length documentary called “Behind the Curtain” follows students and directors of Indiana University’s African American Art Institute as they put together their annual Potpourri of the Arts show in 2020. A shorter documentary that Weatherly helped film, produce and edit called “In the Beginning” delves into the conversation about Black women and hair.
Weatherly is also currently working on two new documentaries. She is in the throes of editing an untitled documentary about the Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music’s new opera.
“I documented the cast’s journey as they navigated through the process of bringing to life the very first mainstage opera based on the diary of Anne Frank,” Weatherly said.
A release date has not been set. Weatherly also is working closely with the Indiana Black Expo to document students learning about Black history through the lens of Black film while participating in The Performing Arts Academy. She expects to start filming next month.
Now, Weatherly is digging her roots into the Hoosier State and seeking out every opportunity to expand that she can. She founded her production company Weatherhouse Company in 2021.
And although Indiana has its benefits for filmmakers, it also poses difficult challenges, especially for Black filmmakers like Weatherly. Some companies seeking out Black artists claim there aren’t enough available artists to take on the work, but Weatherly challenges that stance.
“There’s a ton of us out here, you just have to look in the right places or ask the right questions,” she said.
Weatherly plans to create a directory of Black filmmakers and artists so companies seeking their work have no excuse to not hire them. At the same time, Weatherly is trying to prosper relationships within the Black filmmaking community.
“Sometimes, Indianapolis has this reputation—especially in the Black artist community—of this ‘crabs in a barrel’ situation. There’s not a ton of work here,” she said.
The lack of work makes artists protective over the work that they do get.
“I want it to be a community where we don’t even have to worry about that. If anything, we are giving jobs to other people because there’s a surplus of opportunity,” Weatherly said, adding that she likes to collaborate with other artists outside of film. “I like to see how I can bring it all together.”
Currently, Weatherhouse Company is a one-woman operation with Weatherly at the helm. But she expects that’ll change soon.
“Hopefully that will change. It has to change,” she said. “It’s been growing really quickly. It’s hard being the admin and the artist and all the responsibilities that come with that.”
Other projects exist under the Weatherhouse Company umbrella, and one venture has strong potential to give back to young filmmakers.
“I wish there was a space for me when I was in high school that told me ‘you can be a filmmaker here, and you’ll be OK,’” Weatherly said. “I wanted experience with other filmmakers.”
Now, Weatherly is offering that opportunity to students. She formed Weatherhouse Institute last year, and it’s already gaining traction among high schoolers.
The fellowship provides mentoring to young adults interested in filmmaking.
“A lot of young people have stories to tell, but they just don’t know how to start,” Weatherly said. “They don’t know how to use a camera, but they know how to write. Or they need a crew. I want to give back the resources and knowledge I got from school.”
As for what’s next, Weatherly plans to stay in Indiana, at least for now. She hopes to put Indiana on the map for filmmaking.
“I want to create a foundation here,” she said. “If in the future something requires me to move, I’m OK with that.”