At the outset, Ihunmehai Isaac could’ve passed for no more than a struggling Accounting graduate in Nigeria. But, far from it, she now edits films for an Emmy-worthy production team in New York.


After wrapping up her undergraduate degree in Edo State back in 2013, it became clear to Ihunmehai that she still had a deep-seated void in herself to fill. She would take to Pan-Atlantic University in Lagos for a management course, then proceed to New York’s The New School to kick-start what became her foray into the media industry.

Ihums, as she’s fondly called, is now a video producer and editor with five years of work experience under her belt. Joining a production studio in Brooklyn called Dakoit Pictures, the filmmaker worked alongside teammates and colleagues on notable projects for clients that include CNN, TikTok, Sound Mind, ASPCA, Grove, HBO, and MTV.

“The transition into filmmaking was when I hit a roadblock and I told myself I needed to do something I liked, if not I wouldn’t survive in this world. I had come to understand myself. I became more self-aware,” Ihums explains.


In this interview, Ihunmehai talks about aborting her initial pursuit of an accounting career, studying in the United States, navigating the uncertainties of a post-pandemic industry, working with an Emmy-nominated production company in New York, inspiring projects, and the struggles she overcame on her daunting journey to self-discovery.

You work with the film production company that got nominated for a news & documentary Emmy. How did your journey into the film industry begin?

I studied Accounting for my first degree at the University of Benin in Edo state, Nigeria. It was challenging. I didn’t even do well. I was terribly struggling and I got frustrated. It became obvious I didn’t have the brain for numbers.


I finished the programme but I also wasn’t happy. You know when you finish something yet dislike what you are doing, even when you’ve been able to navigate all the difficulties.

Even in filmmaking, I struggle sometimes. I cry when something doesn’t go right. But you’ll see me the next day fired up to keep pushing. It is because, this time, I really love what I do. The transition into filmmaking for me was when I hit a roadblock and I told myself I needed to do something I liked, if not I wouldn’t survive in this world.

I had come to understand myself. I became more self-aware. I told myself changing my career path to what I like was the only way I’d be able to survive in a world as competitive as this. I leaned into my creative side and that was when I started pursuing film. I actually didn’t even start in film. I started with photography, just taking pictures.

You know how the story goes. I was trying to explore the media field. I applied for internships at a couple of radio and TV stations in Nigeria. Someone suggested Pan-Atlantic University’s School of Media and Communication. They were like, “Why don’t you go to SMC because it’s known, and it’s from a prominent school, Lagos Business School.” So I spent more than two years there, and I just started building confidence on this path gradually.


It’s about being in a good environment. You see people who are doing what you’re doing and you just start to build confidence. Even at that time, I was trying to apply for journalism school in Canada. I was still trying to figure this media thing out. I didn’t have all the answers. I can’t give any deep-rooted reason why I chose to study Accounting.

Coming from a Nigerian family, you’re expected to embark on one among a finite number of career paths that are believed to guarantee success in life. You could either be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, or an accountant. My mum worked in procurement. My brother is currently a lawyer. I’m the only one who ended up not doing the right thing, so to speak. I thought I could maybe actually do Accounting. And that was why I started at it. It was a bad decision.

And why move to the United States?


I moved to the US four years ago for a master’s in Media Management. My goal has been to be able to tell stories. Due to that passion for storytelling, I decided to pursue skills in the film industry. I attended The New School in New York. I took classes in cinematography, audio editing, script writing, and other economics courses in the media business.

No doubt, hopping from Accounting in Nigeria to film in the US must have been one hell of a ride.

It was worth it, no kidding. One person who helped me ease in while at The New School is Vinay Chowdhry. He’s a professor and he also runs the production company that I now work for. He’s someone I look up to. He’s been doing fantastic work and partners with other founders as well. I’m really inspired that he’s an educator who deploys his media industry experience to reach people through documentaries and filmmaking. That, I feel, is impact work.

Another person that I remember very well is the late Michelle Materre who died from cancer. She was a prominent name at The New School then, being something of an expert in film distribution. I remember taking her classes in film distribution. It was how I got to know her. She mentored me during my capstone and was instrumental to my success in the degree. She’s similarly collaborated with a lot of filmmakers in New York and abroad.


Another person is Professor Charles Warner, a media sales executive. I remember, in his class, we’d go to places like ESPN. In fact, almost all of us wanted to attend his class because he used to take us on really fantastic trips and talk about the media industries. We also visited Google and Warner TV mostly on trips to learn sales, management, and how these media companies run. He too contributed to my being able to prepare my capstone because it was about a film I intended to do and how I was going to distribute it.  It was nice talking to both him and Michelle.

And there’s David Lieberman whose audience I often sought to lament about how scared I was. He was the first prof I met when I joined The New School. He’s a journalist, but he taught me media management and leadership.

He would make us read these fun case studies, including one about former Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. I really used to enjoy those kinds of cases and he would bring people from the industry to come and talk to us. So those kinds of things inspired me a lot and made me feel like I had the capacity to do some of these things or to venture into storytelling and just find my own footprint there.

This capstone project, what more is there to it?

It’s about an American woman who is forced to remain in an abusive relationship with her partner because she’s trying to navigate her citizenship status. I wrote the story and filmed its pilot. It was well accepted by my classmates when I presented it. I also showed it at a gathering, a Blacks union gathering at Yale, where I explained what I was trying to do with the film. I talked about what I was trying to do with the story and how I was going to distribute it.

Why choose this story for your capstone? What does filmmaking mean to you?

Filmmaking isn’t just a regular profession. It comes with a lot of responsibility. I feel like telling these stories are very important because there are many women who, in one way or the other, experience abuse in their relationship. And I just wanted to tell the Capstone story from the angle of an immigrant Black woman. My goal was to also have an event where I could host people and just talk about that kind of experience and distribute it really.

I was able to show the pilot at Yale University. As for making the film, the capstone was a presentation of how I was going to have the event and how I was going to make it, what it will cost me to make it. All that was during COVID.

We graduated during COVID. And the whole point of the capstone was to make sure we understood what it meant to be in a film and the business of film. I eventually haven’t made that film. I have kept it. I have the pilot but I haven’t made the full film, the reason being that I have kept it for a later time in the future. I just feel like this is not the right time for me to make it. There are certain financial constraints. And I’m on OPT STEM here. My visa can’t just allow me to do so much for now. But it’s something I really want to flesh out and work on it later in the future.

What was your programme like and what was it like working with peers?

A lot of us were international students and everybody was hungry to learn. I worked on other films with colleagues. One is a dear friend of mine, Dennis, who made a film honouring Jack Nicholson, the actor in Batman. I remember making that film with him. I was one of the producers and also a sound operator. We just helped each other really.

That film has gone on to get a big festival in Germany, Berlin Indie Festival. I’ve also worked on a project with one of my friends Malyiamungu Muhande. She’s a Sundance fellow now and she got grants from Adobe. She created a film about her friends and I was featured in that documentary. I was one of the editors in the documentary. I’ve gone on to collaborate with colleagues in school and it’s been a good experience.

How long was your programme for?

It was two years. I graduated in 2020.

At the height of the pandemic? The global film industry had it tough at the time.

It was hard. We didn’t know what was going on with the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time as well, I had just had surgery. It was hard. The film industry is not an easy one to break into anywhere, even coming from Nigeria.

It was at that time I started my podcast, Gradlife Uncut. I interviewed young people in different schools during the lockdown. It wasn’t just one part of the continent; it was that the whole world was experiencing one thing. So we had a community to discuss what we knew and create a resource for others getting into grad school.

How after post-graduation? How long did the job search take?

It took me about a whole year.

And what did you do during that period?

I graduated in mid-2020. During that period, I was doing my podcast. As someone who’s on OPT, you’re able to do volunteer work or whatever. It has to be an e-verifiable company. So I knew I had to find something for my OPT STEM. Thankfully, I had financial support from my family and so I was able to navigate life. But also it wasn’t too bad because it was the pandemic and we didn’t have to go anywhere. Everyone was home. I literally spent a whole year at home. Because we didn’t have to go anywhere or travel anywhere or do anything so it was easier to manage and just keep my head up till I was able to find something. Then eventually I got this company that I work for.

How has that been?

I have grown ever since I got the job. I started off with fewer hours as an assistant editor. Over time, I had to start coming to the office because the company was trying to bring people back. I started doing long hours and started getting more hands-on experience with technical tasks. Then I got to be promoted to the lead assistant editor.

What projects have you taken on since?

In this company, I worked on my first TV show ‘Freestyled’ about an African American woman who uses old things to refurbish people’s houses. I was one of the editors on that project and it was a long one. It aired on HDTV.

Another project that is really close to my heart is a series we do in collaboration with a company, Sound Mind.

So we make documentaries for musicians who battle with mental health but they’re not ashamed to come to share their stories. We do really beautiful pieces on them. Last year, I worked on a lot of those pieces. One of the pieces that I worked on as an editor is about a rapper, Eric The Architect. He lost his mom, and he was talking about grief and how that has impacted his music. That was a beautiful piece and it was featured on Billboard actually.

I really enjoyed piecing that edit together in collaboration with my colleague who also helped on that piece. Because you could see the emotion of him talking about experiencing grief and his music and all of that.

Another project I’m very proud of is a documentary I worked on that went on Sundance. It’s ‘Tik Tok Boom‘. I was one of the editors on that. Our company handled the graphics of that documentary. It was a tough one to do but we scaled through. We distributed it around the world, including in the UK, the US, and on PBS.

There’s this other commercial we did for Western Union. That was also a very collaborative effort. We did a spot for them. There was even a Nigerian character and I had a lot to say because I’m Nigerian. There’s this other project that went on New York Times; a comedy special by a woman called Liz Miele. We were in the post house for that.

Even as a production firm, we got nominated for an Emmy. We worked on this documentary called Coded Bias. I didn’t work on it too much, but I worked on it as one of the editors of the project a couple of times. It is on Netflix now and it was nominated for an Emmy award. The recognition of course went to the post team in the company.

There’s this other project I did for the American Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I was the editor of that. This is a documentary about a veterinarian who was helping pets during the Ukraine-Russia war. He was helping pets and saving them and bringing them to the border, treating them. We did a documentary on that piece.

It’s part of a series of documentaries. But that particular story, I handled it and I edited it. It came out fantastically well and the organization that funded it had really fantastic feedback on those pieces. So I would say I have done really good work. Personally, I was the videographer, cinematographer, and editor for a short film that talks about racial issues concerning COVID-19. I’ll be wrapping it up with the producer. Hopefully, that should come out soon.

I have worked on some interesting projects, and I’m looking forward to more prominent ones. There’s one coming up in February. The Emmy-nominated director that I mentioned, I’m going to be working directly with her actually and she’s doing a documentary that I can’t disclose now because we’re still in the early post-production stages.

What’s the demand and supply for editors like in the US film industry?

The entertainment industry is blowing up. So of course, editing is in demand. More filmmakers are coming up as well. There are many more stories. You have all these platforms that want stories. The media industry in the last five years has changed dramatically, especially because of how we have all these new streaming platforms. They want interesting stories and they want to be able to showcase the stories in their catalog.

And who’s the backbone of actually making a story visually pleasing? It’s the film editor, right? No matter what you do in production, if the editor does a terrible job, it will not come out well. The editor is a storyteller. They have to be able to tell the story the way the director has envisioned it. It is also very tasking and technical.

How long have you been editing?

Well, in the US, I’ll say I have for two years. But overall, I’ve been editing for about four to five now. If I’m going to add some experiences that I got when I was in Nigeria. But I can’t really add that so much because what I do now is like Hollywood’s standard. It’s very different. There are lots of things you need to understand about storytelling. It demands meticulousness. It’s also a very high-stress job because we spend a lot of time in front of the computer for hours to meet deadlines. You have to not make any mistakes. And you’re a human being, so it can be stressful.

How rewarding has the job been for you?

Editing can be stressful but it’s also very rewarding. Just imagine a group of people watching a film that you edited, and they are laughing or responding to it with that kind of emotion that you have anticipated. It is highly rewarding to see that. It’s just a recreation of art. It just makes you happy beyond the compensation. I think that’s just the highest compliment you can get: having people react positively to your work.

What have been the responses of clients you work with in projects?

Many of these projects are life-changing. For instance, the documentary about the veterinarian doctor helping pets on the Russia-Ukarine border. Imagine this doctor risking his life to save these pets. There were many more stories. There was also a story about some firefighters who went into a burning house to rescue two dogs. So these are stories that impact people and their pets. Even the story about musicians that talk about their mental health. These are people, right? When we share these stories and you go on to really watch it, you see there are people responding a lot to the film you made, and they express how much they enjoyed it or how much it has impacted them.

It’s very satisfying to see that the stories that you’re telling are impacting people, in one way or the other.  The show ‘Freestyled’ which I worked on and is on HDTV’s YouTube channel. I go to that YouTube page once in a while and I see people’s comments like, ‘Omg. It’s so nice to see a Black woman doing this kind of work.’ So going back and seeing people reacting to the things you’ve worked on in that way is very encouraging.

To aspiring filmmakers looking to grow on their career path, what would you say?

Believe in yourself. Ten years ago, I didn’t think that I belonged in any of these places. I didn’t just think that I had the capacity. I think one thing that has made the difference every step of the way is there was something in me that told me to keep going. It was also very helpful to have people who believed in me that way. And that has just always been the way I’ve moved forward over the years. So I’d say just believe in yourself, and everybody else will follow.

How you talk to yourself is also important. I catch myself talking down on myself sometimes. But I try to shut that voice out. You have so much to give to the world, no matter where you are in life. You cannot talk down on yourself. Don’t do that. Documenting your experiences as a proof is also important. It becomes very valuable in the future.

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