From princess to P.I.: Actress/alumna set to shine in new BET series

(Photo courtesy of Danielle Moné Truitt)

Danielle Moné Truitt is a self-described late bloomer when it comes to acting. When she arrived at Sac State as a psychology major, the longtime singer had no idea she might want to be an actress as well, until a professor prompted her to join her first play.

But when Truitt set foot on the Sac State stage for the first time, everything changed. “Opening night I walked out, and I was like, ‘Yep, this is what I want to do,'” she says.

That moment ultimately led her to a brighter spotlight than she had ever imagined: Next February, Truitt (’05, Theatre Arts) will play the lead role in the new BET series Rebel, accompanied by an all-star cast and crew.

After more than a decade honing her craft in Hollywood, performing around the country, and raising a family, Truitt’s big break was a long time – and a lot of hard work – in the making.

“I’ve been here 10 years and I have a husband, I have two children, and I got a chance to grow a family in the midst of pursuing my career,” Truitt says, “and it just feels great to know know that you can have it all if you just don’t give up.”

Rebel stars Truitt as a former Oakland police officer who turned private investigator after her brother was murdered. The series is the brainchild of Academy Award-nominated director John Singleton, best known for the groundbreaking Boyz n the Hood as well as blockbusters like 2 Fast 2 Furious and Four Brothers.

Some of the industry’s top stars will share the screen with Truitt, including Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), Mykelti  Williamson (Forrest Gump), and Method Man (The Wire).

“The fact that (Singleton) cast actors like Giancarlo Esposito and Mykelti Williamson around me has just given me opportunities to raise my game, because they’re heavyweights in the acting field,” Truitt says. “It’s just been a dream come true.”

Truitt has traveled a long road to realizing that dream. After moving to Los Angeles to pursue acting full time after graduating in 2005, she quickly found out that she had to develop a thick skin to succeed in Tinseltown.

“L.A. is a beast in itself,” she says. “There are so many people telling you ‘no’ on a regular basis, there’re so many people judging how you look. … You have to really have self-esteem, and you have to really have a community of people that love and support you in your career in order to make it.”

Disney fans especially may already be familiar with Truitt, though they may not  know it: In 2009’s The Princess and the Frog, she did the video referencing for the film’s animated protagonist, Princess Tiana. She lent her movements and expressions to bring the character to life.

That opportunity opened the door to a number of guest- and co-starring roles – including on shows like Fox’s Mulaney – in addition to a host of other auditions.

All the while, Truitt continued to work on her own material, started a family, kept auditioning – babies in tow – and even starred in a one-woman show, 3 Black Girl Blues, which she performed on both coasts.

No matter how committed she was to her dream, she simply refused to put her life on hold, and it paid off: This past December, she auditioned for the starring role on Rebel, and after long months of waiting, found out in April she landed the part.

“One thing to keep in mind is that there’re no guarantees,” she says. “You cannot handcuff yourself to a timeline. For me, I got married and I could’ve said, ‘I’m not having kids until I make it.’ That would’ve meant that I still wouldn’t have kids right now, because it took me 10 years.

“This industry is so hard to navigate. And the best thing to do is to stay open to life and take it as it comes.”



Behind the lens: Meeting one of Sacramento’s favorite Instagrammers

Xing Liu
(Photo courtesy of Xing Liu)

If you’ve ever been to a Sacramento event – Gather Nights, Concerts in the Park, or even just an evening at Temple Coffee – chances are you’ve seen local photographer and Sac State alumnus Xing Liu plying his creative genius.

The 32-year-old engineer-turned-photographer is one of Sacramento’s busiest and most popular personalities behind the camera. Highsnobiety lists him among the top six photographers you need to follow. This weekend, Sacramento State welcomes him as our Weekend Guest Instagrammer, and he’s ready to show off the best and brightest spots on campus through the lens of his Fujifilm X-T1.

Originally from Taishan, China, Liu moved  to the United States in 2002 to pursue higher education. He graduated from Sacramento State in 2011 with a master’s degree in software engineering and is now a senior software engineer at SymSoft Solutions.

But after work, Liu lives his true passion as @caliallstaring on Instagram, with more than 23.6K followers and countless collaborations with artists across the region.

Liu’s photographs reflect a deep love for the Sacramento community, giving viewers infinite reasons, big or small, to brag about their city. Whether it’s a flower field, local business, or just some really great ice cream, Liu makes them glow:

In 2012, he found his first inspirational subject: flowers. Since then, his passion has evolved from petals to people, as he evokes beauty and strives to capture the mood and expression of human subjects in various settings.

Many have asked – as evidenced in his ever-flowing comments section on Instagram – how does he do it? In addition to providing photo tips in many of his captions, Liu always offers up encouragement and advice to photographers:

“Try different angles, and follow where the light is,” says Liu. “For portraits, make sure the background is clean enough for the subject to stand out.”

And while Liu’s subjects surely do stand out, so does he.

Be sure to follow @SacState and @caliallstaring on Instagram this Fourth of July weekend for the very special takeover.

Streetwise: Skateboarders turn lifelong passion into design success

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How did two skateboarders, working out of a bedroom, end up running advertising campaigns for some of the world’s biggest brands?

By being really good at guessing celebrity emails, apparently.

While that isn’t the whole story, it’s the way Sac State alumnus John Davidson (’11, Business Administration) and friend Barton Damer, founder and creative director of the motion graphic and design company Already Been Chewed (ABC), landed one of their biggest clients on the way to international renown creating marketing content for the likes of Vans, Nike, and the Dallas Mavericks.

“My view is that if you can be on time every time and have pretty good work, you can be very successful,” says Davidson, ABC’s business manager. “But if you can be on time every time and have amazing work, the sky’s the limit.”

Since his first ride at age 11, Davidson knew he loved skateboarding. He wasn’t so sure about anything else, and he bounced around jobs – at a telemarketing company in Orlando, a cell phone kiosk in San Francisco, a tax firm in Washington, D.C. – before returning to California to study business and marketing at Sac State.

John Davidson, business manager for Texas-based design company Already Been Chewed, graduated from Sac State in 2011 with a degree in Business Administration. (Photo courtesy of John Davidson)

“I was really in the right place, mentally, to go back to school,” he says. “I love encouraging young people to pursue a degree in business, especially from Sac State, because what it enables you to do is learn how to make money doing what you love.”

It was during his time in D.C. that Davidson met Damer, a fellow skateboarder and freelance artist. After Davidson graduated in 2011, Damer invited him to join his burgeoning freelance company as business manager.

Davidson moved to North Texas in 2012, and after a “very steep learning curve,” he says, things started to take off.

ABC designs still images and videos for every visual medium – print, broadcasts, live events, web, in-store displays. Initially, Damer handled all the design work, while Davidson employed his business sense to handle clients and market the company.

Two weeks after starting, Davidson landed his first major contract: an internal project for Nike Skateboarding and Nike Surfing. For two self-described “skate rats,” it was right in their wheelhouse.

“It was great because we know this stuff, and we’re part of the culture,” Davidson says. “If you’re not, you can make mistakes that the audience can easily pick apart and say, ‘Wait a minute, you don’t really know what you’re talking about, you’re faking this, and now I don’t want to buy your product.’ ”

That shared love of skateboarding – and serious persistence – ultimately nabbed ABC one of its biggest clients, skateboarder and television star Rob Dyrdek (Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy FactoryRidiculousness). Davidson and Damer always wanted to compose motion graphics for Street League Skateboarding (SLS), a televised international skateboarding tournament founded by Dyrdek.

To get Dyrdek’s attention, the duo took a shot in the dark: They guessed his personal email address, sending out their pitch to about a dozen possible addresses.

One of them got there.

As a result, ABC took over the entire TV package for SLS, which it still produces today for Fox Sports, and it continues to work closely with Dyrdek, producing content for various episodes of his shows on MTV as well as other projects.

Today, Already Been Chewed – a play on the common skating phrase “already been done,” referring to never wanting to repeat the same trick in the same spot – has grown into a staff of seven, moved into actual offices in downtown Allen, Texas, and tripled its revenue in the past four years.

It’s hard to fathom how such a small team has managed such an expansive portfolio, which includes work for: Vans, for which it produced the mega-brand’s 50th anniversary campaign; the Dallas Mavericks, for whom ABC produced an in-stadium home game intro video; and celebrities including Dyrdek, Desean Jackson, and Lil’ Wayne.

Davidson’s role as business manager has been crucial to the company’s growth. He attributes his tenacity and business sense to his time at Sac State, which, in addition to years and years of skateboarding, shaped him into the professional he is today.

“The falling, the getting back up, the trial and error: That absolutely has a lot to do with business as a whole,” Davidson says. “Continuing to persevere through difficult times and through challenges is related to skateboarding; the learning curve I had to go through was not easy.

“So your choices are either to work hard and continue to learn, or quit. And quitting was not an option.”

Check out the gallery at top for examples of the company’s design work, and click below for a highlight reel their recent motion graphic work.