Triple Take: What It’s Really Like Working as a Producer in TV & Film

“Passion is the immeasurable, indescribable factor that separates movie from movie. Passion moves freely across borders, speaks every language and flourishes in every culture. The movement of passion is the most gratifying satisfaction in any movie maker’s life.” — Saul Zaentz

producer

The producer. A role in the anatomy of a film that many people hear about (cue the awards speeches) but few understand what it actually means. A producer’s life cannot be easily explained. Rather than offer textbook examples of what a producer does for a project, International Film Institute of New York (IFI) turned to three women working in this role for insights and advice on getting started. Stephanie Serra produces and directs films in New York City, Krystia Basil works within film and TV around NY, and Ashley Pacini started in film but has found herself in the world of television while living in Los Angeles. The following is how Stephanie, Krystia and Ashley define working as producers in today’s world of cinema:

 

How would you define the role of a film producer?

Stephanie Serra: Film producers have several roles to play and seemingly endless duties to fulfill throughout the course of a film’s development, production and distribution. A good producer thinks critically and creatively in each of these roles and regarding each duty/task.

Krystia Basil: I would define the producer of a film project as the alpha & omega. That sounds self important, but what I mean is that a project starts and completes because of the efforts of the producer. He/She is the one who initiates a project by finding a story, optioning an intellectual property, developing a script – and follows through to the final product – the film reel – but also beyond that to distribution, publicity, and if all goes well, he or she is the one who gives the Oscar acceptance speech! In between, the producer hires all the key players, both creative and logistical, onscreen and off screen, and then trusts their vision, supports their choices, and coaxes a collaborative effort to create a cohesive end result.

They are also responsible for putting money in the bank to get all these peeps paid. As they say, ‘You have to pay movie if you want to play movie.’

Ashley Pacini: A producer is a connector and problem solver. Producers do various connecting from money and story to logistics and talent.

 

How did you become a producer?

SS: I started producing my own films. Colleagues of mine saw that I had an understanding of the above-mentioned roles that a producer fills and so they asked me to produce their films as well.

KB: I started out wanting to be a writer/director, but my innate skill set – management, finance, persuading people to do things they may not ordinarily do – thrust me into production coordination, line production and from there producing. I also like nurturing stories into scripts or concepts into shows.

AP: While studying film, I fell in love with the concept of connecting people and stories. I love the idea of seeing something from inception to execution. To me, producing is the best of both worlds: logistics and creative.

 

What is one surprising thing you have learned about the film/TV industry while working as a producer?

SS: When I began making films, I believed, and still do, that producing my own work was a valuable experience; that it would allow me to better understand the many crafts that are a part of a filmmaking collaboration; and, that this understanding would help me to be a better storyteller, writer, director, etc. I’ve been surprised to find that many of the first-time/beginner filmmakers I’ve encountered in the NY independent film industry seemingly do not share this view. There is more specialization and less interest in an interdisciplinary approach than I expected.

KB: How many people it takes and how much teamwork it takes to go from script to screen. It is the most collaborative art form in my opinion. If filmmakers ran the world we would get all sorts of stuff done and fast! I’m [referring to] production and crew though. Development is slow as a sloth trapped in molasses.

AP: There are a lot of people willing to help. I didn’t expect to find as many support systems as I have.

 

What is a typical day like for a producer during the production phase of a project?

SS: In the world of independent producing, days are often described as anything BUT typical. Each day of shooting brings new challenges.

Mostly, I try to do whatever it is that I can to keep the shooting schedule on track and to keep my crew moving at an efficient pace. I try to get a lot of the nitty-gritty work done and out of the way during pre-production so that I can expect my directors and departments heads to be prepared and ready to deliver.

KB: It’s putting out fires, placating ruffled feathers, keeping your eye on the ball while preparing paces ahead. It’s a lot of phone calls and emails, lots of coffee during the day and something a ‘lil stronger at the end of it!

AP: During production there is very little sleep. It’s getting to set early, making sure things are set up properly. Once the day is moving along, it’s time to get ready for the next day and the day after. It’s securing, confirming, and finalizing permits and talent. Helping to get call sheets ready, etc. Then, it starts all over the next day.

 

Where do you get ideas for projects?

SS: Strong stories are rooted in their characters and I like engaging with people to find my inspiration for characters. This has the added benefit of requiring me to practice active listening.

Having an eye for material that people will connect with is, for most, a skill learned over time. Some may possess this talent from early on but I believe the real skill necessary for a producer’s sustained success is the ability to exhaustively research the idea from its many angles so as to be able to cultivate it. Everyone has ideas but bringing them to life requires commitment to them.

KB: Books are my favorite source, news or feature articles are next. Personal stories are great when it’s unique, yet, universal.

AP: I have a great group of people that I reach out to. They are so talented. Sometimes their ideas spark ideas where I can also participate in the creative process, which is always rewarding.

 

What personality traits make for a great film producer?

KB: You have to be an entrepreneur in spirit and an artist in vision. You have to be dogged and determined. Never ever, EVER give up on something you believe in – all you need is one Yes. Shake off the No’s and the naysayers and keep going. When a project is picked up, sustain your initial vision while listening to and collaborating with the crew and cast. You’ve got to be like a conductor with the Philharmonic. The harmonious whole is what matters and you simply cannot achieve it solo. Understanding that is key so that your ego is not getting in the way of your art.

AP: Patience, being a good listener and being a quick thinker. Creatives will come to you in confidence to express frustrations or talk through creative blocks. By listening, they generally figure out what they ultimately want [to do]. And, like any creative project, things will fall through. Things will happen that are unexpected. By being a problem solver, it helps move the creative process forward.

 

What advice do you have for someone considering producing as a career?

SS: Find stories that fuel you and surround yourself with collaborators who complement your abilities. Also, dabble in other production work if you can manage to.

KB: It’s not really a career anyone CHOOSES because there’s no straight path, such as you get a degree and you hang a shingle and you’re ready for business. It’s something you build up to while doing other things. You’re working as a PA and making connections. Maybe one day you park someone’s car for them, and now you’ve got their ear. Maybe you tell them about the article you read, and maybe it comes to nothing, but at least now you’re in their mental Rolodex as a keen mind. Or, maybe you write a small piece and shoot it on your iPhone and get a ton of likes on Facebook. If you like the process so much, you do it again with a stronger script, better camera and an aspiring camera person who is also an extra on the show you’re day playing on. You’re building your network and sharpening you narrative sense while learning the techniques and tricks. There are just so many paths to it unless you’re Steven Spielberg’s offspring (and that comes with its own problems I’m sure!). If you like leading, collaborating, and bit by bit, creating a magnificent whole then trust yourself and start telling the stories that inspire you; use whatever you have access to. Especially today with no boundaries on format, medium, or budget – anything is possible as long as the story is interesting and timely.

AP: First and foremost, make sure the crew is always taken care of [on your project]. Network as much as you can. Also, make sure you always have an exit strategy and Plan B.

 

Stephanie Serra works as a producer and director in New York. She is the founder of TRISERRATOPS Productions, an independent production company dedicated to delivering content for and about children. Serra’s goal as a filmmaker and mission at TRISERRATOPS is to create films that broaden young audiences perspectives of the world. TRISERRATOPS collaborates with producers, directors, and writers, both domestically and abroad. TRISERRATOPS is currently developing a live-action series of short films for young audiences, as well as its first feature film. Serra’s film slate includes award-winning short films, CHRISTINE (2016), and STEEL (2014). TADPOLES (2017) a Norwegian co-production and Serra’s directorial debut is currently slated to premiere in the 2018 film festival circuit.

Krystia Basil has been producing since 2003. Basil has developed and produced narrative as well as documentary features & shorts. She has line produced reality television shows for History Channel, Animal Planet, HGTV, BBC and PBS. She has worked with celebrities such as Matt Lauer and Lara Spencer, as well as invested in and developed shows with emerging talent and new voices. Her passion is, and has always been, to collaborate with and consummate the vision of artists as they tell their stories through the screen.

Ashley Pacini is a TV and film producer and founder of The Reel Women, stories set up to support and celebrate women in film, television and media.

 


The elements of a successful movie have remained constant since the inception of the art form. The International Film Institute of New York (IFI) was founded in 1997 to provide those with a sincere and abiding interest in filmmaking with a high-quality, low-cost education in all aspects of the filmmaking process: screenwriting, directing, producing, cinematography, and editing in a curriculum combining classroom instruction and hands-on technical workshops. http://www.nyfilmschool.com

From 50% to 4%: A Virtual Roundtable on the Drop-Off of Women Working in the Film Industry

What Happens to Women Between Film School to the Film Set?

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The disparity between how much women and men are paid in the film industry is no secret. Patricia Arquette’s clarion call for wage equality at the 2015 Academy Awards and Jennifer Lawrence’s viral essay later that year about being paid less than her male co-stars brought the gender pay gap in Hollywood out of the shadows and into the klieg lights. And last year, Alex Gibney’s Jigsaw Productions was behind a docu-series on women in film that went behind the scenes to highlight the lack of women on the other side of the camera. The title of “The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem,” a collection of short films directed by Caroline Suh on the dearth of female directors in Hollywood, references a discouraging statistic: Only 4 percent of top-grossing movies over the past 13 years have been directed by women.

This year, an annual academic research report on the number of women in film revealed that in 2016, women working on the top 250 domestic grossing films declined 2 percent from the prior year, with women comprising 17 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers. Among that group women accounted for just 7 percent in the coveted director’s chair, down 2 percentage points from 9 percent in 2015. And among the top 100 domestic grossing films, an even smaller circle, that exclusive girls’ club within the boys’ club shrank even further with just 4 percent of higher echelon titles helmed by a woman, down from 7 percent in 2015.

Meanwhile, nearly 50 percent of students at some of the nation’s top graduate film schools are women. So what happens after graduation to account for this gaping disconnect? This Women’s History Month, IFI reached out to professor Kate Hearst, who specializes in teaching gender, race and sexuality in film, after polling six current female graduate and undergraduate film students at programs across the globe to create a virtual roundtable on women in film.

“The women interviewed were very articulate about their film school experience,” Hearst says. “Their classes were usually half men, half women but often the male voices were heard more than their voices so I think that they start in film school already feeling the pressure of being a woman in a male environment.

“I was in film school in the ‘90s and the class was made up of 50 percent women and men, we were all given the same opportunities, and we all had successes in film school, men and women,” Hearst recalls. “And then getting those jobs in the industry afterward that was really the stopgap for being successful in filmmaking. What I’m hearing is a lot of the same story today, and of course the statistics bear that out.”

Here are the fascinating, inspiring and sometimes heartbreaking thoughts on being a woman in film that we heard from the women who are poised to lead the film industry of the future:

[Out of respect for our respondents, IFI has omitted their last names’ and schools to protect their identities while they continue to study in their respective programs.]

 

How competitive is your program?

“It is the #1 film school in the country, according to The Hollywood Reporter.” — Lina, MFA candidate with a concentration on directing.

The film program is very competitive. Not only is it difficult to get in – within the program there is a lot of competition. Peers are often competing for allotments, internships and other opportunities.” — Kristi, film and television undergraduate student

“It’s not super competitive because it’s so small, not a true “film school,” so it’s self-directed; opportunities are limited if you don’t surround yourself with the right people.” — Alisha, film, black and women’s studies, undergraduate.

“It is very competitive. Every year, senior theses are limited in numbers and students try really hard to stand out both in class and at office hours to have the opportunity to shoot a short film.” — Tiffany, undergraduate majoring in film with a certificate in writing.

There’s definitely a lot of competition to get into Cinema Studies classes, because there’s not a whole lot of them in comparison to some of the other departments (like English) and I think there’s a lot of people that are interested in at least dabbling in it.” — Juliette (Jules), English and Cinema Studies double major undergraduate.

The program is reasonably new – I am in the second year it has run. The students are hand selected by our heads of program, and out of hundreds of applicants, only up to 30 are chosen. I graduated from The Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts in December, 2012. I then moved to California to work the film industry from January 2013 to August, 2015, after which I decided to go back to school to refine my business skills for producing.” — Courtney, master’s student and MA International Film Business (MAIFB) London.

 

What would you say is the ratio of men to women in your program?

“I am not certain, but for my semester, I think fairly even.” — Lina

“In the school overall, the ratio of men to women is more or less equal. Certain classes I have taken, however, had an uneven ratio. I was the only woman in my directing class.” — Kristi

“Maybe 2:1 because the school’s population has more girls than boys. Also, not everyone falls into the gender binary so they don’t identify as either. Regardless, the loudest voices are boys. It’s a boy’s club and a lot of the women aren’t heard or seen.” — Alisha

“I actually counted the number of males and females in my lecture class because I noticed there was a large disparity. The ratio is roughly two-thirds men and only one-third women.” Tiffany

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see that women have actually been the majority in many Cinema Studies classes – I would say it’s something upwards of 8 women to 1 man, which is huge. I wonder why that is? I’m not complaining though, I love it!” — Jules

“Our class is rather unique in the sense that it is majority women. We have five men (truth be told – they love it). This is the first time I have ever been in a film-related program that there is a higher ratio of women to men.” — Courtney

 

Would you consider your program fair to aspiring female filmmakers?

“I personally have not experienced difficulty because of being female in the program.” — Lina

“Yes and no. The program itself does not overtly offer any benefits to male students – but the majority of professors are men and they often favor the boys. I have talked to many women in my program who have had the experience of a male teacher failing to take them seriously or being sexually inappropriate.” — Kristi

“If you know what you’re doing, yes, in a way. I think more things should be done to make sure that females aren’t being left out of decisions. Sadly, it’s preparing us for the industry that we’re about to enter.” — Alisha

“The film program offers equal opportunities, regardless of gender. However, I find that more males apply for the major than females.” — Tiffany

“I would say that my professors are extremely encouraging – both in my undergraduate and in my masters. They do not differentiate between male or female in the classroom and are generally unbiased in their lessons. While this is an excellent approach, I think it is still important for students who have never worked in film to understand there is a gap in the industry – and across almost all industries – between women and men. It is a major problem that women are still earning less than men. You can’t ignore the problem, but fortunately there are people who are coming out of the woodwork to discuss instigating change.” — Courtney

 

Do you have any mentors / teachers that have inspired you to make a difference (in the disparity of women in film)?

“Absolutely. I have had a couple of writing and production teachers with whom I have had close personal relationships. They provided me with invaluable career advice They were also extremely encouraging to me and inspired me to believe in my own abilities. One of my professors was an incredible role model and inspired me to continue my pursuit of directing even though it is a male-dominated field.” — Kristi

“Yes, but indirectly. Through my women’s and black studies, I’ve had teachers who have shown me that I can be in film through their curriculum. Also my first year studies teacher, although a man, has helped me greatly with making the right moves with the politics of the film department. He’s also helped put my name out there and telling me that my ideas that have to do with race and gender aren’t crazy. Between my teachers and the girls that I do meet in the department, hearing their stories and watching their film always pushes me forward. Gives me some inspiration.” — Alisha

“I owe so much to Dr. Ana Maria Trenchi Bottazzi, my past piano teacher, and Mrs. Margaret Gullotta, my middle and high school orchestra teacher. They were perhaps the strictest and most demanding teachers I’ve ever had. They pushed me to perform in front of large audiences and taught me how to keep an audience’s attention, and keep a rhythm. But most importantly, they showed me that I can conquer any piece of music or task if I dedicated enough time and effort. I wouldn’t be allowed to leave class until I performed a song “five times perfect” in a row. The skills I learned from my music teacher, both in technique, work ethics, and perception of difficulty have had a huge impact on my pursuit in filmmaking.” — Tiffany

“I took a Chinese Literature and Film class my first semester, and I was surprised to see how much I already knew about Chinese cinema just having grown up in a Chinese-American household. For example, I didn’t realize how familiar I was with Zhang Yimou’s work before I even began the class until my professor started listing his filmography.I would say she was instrumental in my fairly newfound identity as a female Chinese American filmmaker (quite a mouthful to say), especially when she sponsored my independent Winter Term project where I wrote my first feature length screenplay. She’s encouraged me a lot, especially with my writing, which made me really happy because thinking back on it, that screenplay was a wacky combination of a lot of things I like.” — Jules

“All of my teachers have been inspiring, in different ways. The benefit of my program is that you have many guest lectures attend the classes. One of the best lectures we had was with Anna Godas who is the CEO of Dogwoof, a documentary distribution and sales company. She and her husband started Dogwoof in 2005, and have since grown it to host some of the top documentaries, such as Blackfish and Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Where to Invade Next? She is a go-getter, and extremely inspiring. Tough, no nonsense and clear about what she wants and how she wants it.” — Courtney

 

How has your experience in school prepared you for the real world?

“I think that’s one important aspect that the school is not as strong in preparing the students for. I graduated from undergrad in New York, and struggled for a few years afterward doing odd jobs while writing. If I didn’t have that experience of learning how tough it is to get ahead in the industry, I wouldn’t know now that I have to really start preparing and involving myself in the “real world” while I’m still in school and not wait until after I graduate.” — Lina

“It’s hard to say whether the school has prepared me for the real world when I haven’t experienced the real world yet! I have learned a lot about how to work with difficult people and work under them when they are authority figures. On a more positive note, however, I have learned the joy of collaboration at its best and I had the opportunity to learn a lot about the industry.” — Kristi

“I believe so. Even though it’s hard and definitely limiting because of marginalization but that made me try harder. In an industry that doesn’t have a very big female or of color population, you have to make your own opportunities. And if you don’t have the funding for that, put yourself out there, work hard and show that you can do anything that boys can do. Not just in film but even at food service job, I had to learn how to be assertive and fearless in regards to business and my worth.” — Alisha

During our Film Major orientation, the professors explicitly stated they had zero tolerance for tardiness because in the film industry, time is everything. The professors promptly lock the doors when class starts and drop students who are late or absent. Unfortunately, I have witnessed more than one classmate who was dropped from the course due to an absence. Although these are tough expectations, I have definitely noticed that I prioritize meeting deadlines and showing up on time. I believe that this practice provides great training and time management skills for any career.” — Tiffany

“I’m not sure yet! I think it’s definitely taught me how to be more independent in pursuing my own projects. It’s like that Yoda quote, “Do or do not. There is no ‘try.'” — Jules

“In any industry, you learn “on the go”. Film is no different, and while Florida State provided an outstanding education, there is no way a university can prepare you for all of the challenges in the film industry. I was spoiled in my world view – that all was fair and equal – and once I had started to work, I learned quite a few tough lessons. Someone can tell you the industry is tough, but you never truly believe it until you’re working full time…It is now almost the end of my course here in, and I cannot believe the change I’ve experienced in myself and also my approach to work. While I lived in LA, I felt a bit shy even though I had acquired state of the art production skills. What I missed was how to connect my skills with the real world of actually making a film. I talked about what I wanted to do, but I did not know how to actualize it. I suppose it is age and experience as well as a learning curve, but since being in the MAIFB, my confidence has soared and I can now boast that I have produced a short film in London and am currently working on two documentaries. I have also been signed on as a producer on a competition commercial. It provided me with the ‘missing link’ between my skills and how to implement them.” — Courtney

 

What is the biggest challenge you are facing as you continue to pursue your film career?

Money. It’s not easy to find money for your films, especially for newer filmmakers. I’ll have to prove my ability to tell a story and somehow gain the trust that I can deliver a good film – without much money.” — Lina

“I think my biggest challenge when it comes to entering the film industry is accepting the uncertainty of my career path. It can be very stressful when you are not able to have a solid plan for your career. It can be even more anxiety-inducing when you are starting out with very few connections in the industry.” — Kristi

“My biggest challenge is not allowing people to take advantage. I had one awful experience this year with a bad film set ran by guys who were taking advantage. The biggest challenge for anyone is knowing when to walk away and not being afraid of doing so. But that comes with knowing your worth and who you want to be known as.” — Alisha

“Personally, and this isn’t a huge problem at all, but still one that bothers me, is the comparisons I often get to Lena Dunham because we are both women in the industry that went to the same school and are from New York. It’s not that I dislike Lena, I admire the fact that she made Tiny Furniture all on her own, it’s just that her work is very different than mine and I don’t want to be pigeonholed on the basis of my alma mater. I think this may speak to a larger issue at hand with women in this industry. Because there’s so few of us that are super well known in mainstream consciousness, if an upcoming filmmaker has any similarities to an already established artist, the younger one might get labeled as being “the next ______,” which is frustrating because then she’s not given any room for her work to speak for itself!” — Jules

 

What will be the most challenging aspect of entering the film industry for you?

“Pushing back against doubts about my ability, and figuring out how to rise among the amount of massively talented people in the industry.” — Lina

“What I should be putting out there, honestly. Anyone a part of an oppressed group, whether it be race, gender or sexuality, there’s pressure to make all your art about that. I’m sure it’s expected from you later on in the actual industry but right now I feel like I have to be taking a stance with my art. It’s strange how white cis male issues are just stories and ours are political stances. I see my fellow male filmmaker aspirers making very mundane things with no point and I wish I had that luxury but I feel that everything that I put out needs to have purpose because how many opportunities will I actually get? I can’t waste it.” — Alisha

“I am the first in my family to venture into a career related to the arts. I don’t have a specific path or person to help me enter the film industry. Its a scary venture but I hope that with hard work, I will come to meet the right people and opportunities to help me earn a career in film.” — Tiffany

“I feel like it’s all networking, networking, networking and you either “know people” or you don’t…Also I’m very conscious of the fact that I’m an Asian American, and that my community is severely underrepresented in Hollywood, so I just have to be very conscious that I have that going on as well as my female identity, which totally shouldn’t be seen as a challenge, but unfortunately is.” — Jules

 

What would you do to change the tide of the lack of diversity in the film industry as it relates to Women?

“A lot of the same things we’ve been hearing. Make more characters in scripts to be women. Employ more women directors and writers. It sounds so simple but it’s not being done quite enough. Also making sure that women speak up more, not only in the public space, but in meetings and on an everyday basis. We can’t say that one thing will change the lack of diversity because the problem is at a root level of how girls AND boys are told they need to behave early on, but it’s also at the adult systemic level.” — Lina

“On a personal level, I would try to make sure to support fellow female filmmakers instead of seeing them as competition. If female filmmakers work together instead of against each other, I believe it can make a real difference. And I would tell a female filmmaker looking in to film school to remember to be assertive about networking in school. It is easy to become discouraged or insecure when you’re in classes with confident and connected male filmmakers who do not take you seriously or acknowledge you as an equal. It is important to continue to believe in yourself even when this happens. I would also tell her to challenge herself to do classes or internships that scare her. It is empowering and helps you expand your knowledge of film and the entertainment industry.” — Kristi

“By creating things and bringing them to fruition. If I hadn’t seen Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, and Beyonce’s work all these years I wouldn’t have kept going. All of these women have worked so hard and believed in their talent and are killing it. For me it takes seeing one other girl in a room filled with men to keep me in the room without feeling anxious. Having conversations with women who are upperclassmen at my school does it for me. Knowing that it is possible does a lot in itself. Making conversation is important but just grinding is also beneficial because you’re aspiring another girl who doesn’t think she can do it.” — Alisha

“I would start at the undergraduate level and encourage male and female filmmakers to work together. During our production course, film crews changed every week. I got to work with a lot of students I’d never talked to before and made really great friendships. After the class, several of them reached out to me and asked if I could help on their theses. I think these team projects offer a great opportunity for women to show that their work abilities overshadow their gender. In the end, people want to make films with other skilled and compatible individuals. I think if we work to encourage male and female collaborations within a new generation of filmmakers, we will definitely see more female presence in the film industry’s future.” — Tiffany

“One thing I am so, so frustrated with seeing is badly written women. I mean, without naming names, I saw this movie the other day with a cast made up of some of my favorite actors that was written by a very famous male novelist, and the script’s treatment of its female characters made me both gag and laugh at the same time because of how ridiculous and out of touch it was. I think some of my goals as a filmmaker are to use my voice as a woman to create characters that are much closer to how women are in real life, which is a total spectrum with no specific features other than that women are very complicated! As an Asian American woman, I would like to help put an end to the “dragon lady” stereotype I see on the screen all the time, because that’s been a trope that’s haunted Asian women since the time of Anna May Wong, and that’s really messed up. To speak further about my Asian American background, I would also like to create stories about cultural differences across generations pertaining to Asian American women that my mother told me all about when I was growing up. There’s a lot of conflict there that is never really spoken about or explored, and I think it’s time America gets its own Bend it Like Beckham.” — Jules

“I think the best example of a community changing gender equality is in Sweden, where the gender gap has been forcibly closed by the head of the Swedish Film Institute. Anna Serner has completely changed the funding strategy and promotional aspects of the institute to allow for more female directors to receive money and publicity. It is now 50/50 female to male directors, to exceptional international acclaim – the female directors are pulling in money and fame to the industry. This change was not without major controversy, but Serner kept pushing to make the change. She believes that change is easily done, if you have the drive. She is the perfect example of a strong female CEO championing our cause. I think there is a lot to take away from The Swedish Film Institute – by forcing the change to take place, Serner has allowed female filmmakers who may never have had the opportunity in the past to receive funding and exposure, finally get in the limelight. She changed the dialogue and that is what I am attempting to do within my small pocket of the industry.

I believe we often allow the stereotype to continue because we are too afraid to stand up and say, hey, I can do that. Or, I don’t like how you’ve described the female in this script. Or, why don’t we think about making the lead a woman? By changing how we approach these issues, by encouraging strong, non-sexualized roles for women in film, we can actually inspire generations to not “see” gender, but rather, see opportunities.” — Courtney

 

What advice would you give to an aspiring woman filmmaker looking into film school?

“Be the woman that you are, and have confidence in yourself. Always strive to get better at your craft. Don’t feel like you are in competition with other women because there are so few spots for women. Make more spots for women. Encourage your fellow female filmmakers to grow, and grow with them. Collaborate with people – men and women. Hone your craft so that it is legitimately competitive so that you know you deserve your dream job. Yes, there is pushback and doubt and sexism, but don’t let that be your excuse not to become the best so when it comes time to fight for that job, you truly, truly do deserve it. Then make yourself heard.” — Lina

“Don’t beg to be on any guy’s sets. Obviously work on their sets but if you feel like a quota or like your ideas aren’t being heard, get out. Get your own set, which is easier said than done, but if you have an idea go for it. It’ll take time but no girl should ever feel like she’s there for vanity purposes or for someone to save face.” — Alisha

I would tell them to only focus on their own work, work hard, watch A LOT of movies, and improve on their craft. Do not feel intimidated by those who appear to have more experience because no one starts as an expert.” — Tiffany

“During my time as an undergraduate, I did not fully realize how important a network was. I began to focus on honing the art of networking and negotiating when I went to Sundance Film Festival in 2013. There, I was essentially tossed into the world of deal-making and selling. I loved it. Needless to say, networking is an ESSENTIAL aspect of our industry. If you have the opportunity to attend a major festival, TAKE IT. Your mind will be blown, you’ll have a blast, and it will benefit you greatly. In a class I took with Sandy Stern, Producer of Being John Malkovich, in Los Angeles, Sandy said something I will never forget – “If you get a party invite, GO. Never turn down a party in LA.” Take his advice. Parties are to the film industry like golf is to conventional business – a place where deals get made.” — Courtney

 

What area of filmmaking do you see the most opportunity for women to step into/have more of a presence in?

“We need to see more women writers, directors and cinematographers.” — Lina

“Producing. You have some say and it’s a pretty fun job where guys actually listen to you. I don’t think that there should be one area though, make space in the room for yourself. If you want to be on the cinematography side, which in my opinion is the most male dominated, then go for it. — Alisha

“I think there is room for a larger female presence in the fields of directing and cinematography.” — Kristi

“I think everywhere! Lately I’ve been hearing a lot from women cinematographers in articles on Indiewire. Cinematography has a woeful number of women, but those that are already there are speaking up and so I feel really optimistic about the future of female DP’s. Also I’ve noticed lots of women editors too, and I’ve watched them get nominated and win Oscars for their work, so editing is also an area I see a lot of potential in for women as well, since it seems that a lot of ground has been broken already. It’s also been very exciting to see actresses such as Angelina Jolie, Jessica Chastain, and Katie Holmes stepping into directors’ seats or starting their own production companies supporting female voices.” — Jules

“Women can be ANYTHING they want. I know female cinematographers, editors, camera operators, ACs, sound, et cetera. There are some physical restrictions to certain roles, but if you want to do it, then DO IT. For example, don’t let someone telling you “You’re a woman – you don’t have much upper body strength” prevent you from pursuing that dream position of a gaffer.” — Courtney

 

Do you see a divide between men and women in the film industry? How so?

“Absolutely. There are more male directors, male cinematographers, male writers, male producers, etc. … Oftentimes, they get paid more, and they are trusted more to do the job. There are prejudices that they don’t even realize they have about how a woman thinks or sees or what her taste is. Once a gentleman of an actor that I was directing, started tiptoeing with his words as we discussed his character, and I told him politely but pointedly, “Don’t talk to me like I’m a woman. Talk to me like a person.” That’s a terrible thing to have to say in order for him to see what he was doing. But then we started having more open discussions.” — Lina

“Yes. I see the industry as a boy’s club. Even when Noah Baumbach came to my school (it was my first time seeing a real film set), his set was full of men. I see lack of opportunities but more strides are being taken and that’s all that really can be done.” — Alisha

There is such a huge divide between male and female directors. I don’t think I’ve seen a single action or superhero movie directed by a woman. It is also a shame that the first and only female to win “Best Director” at the Academy Awards happened only a few years ago. I think women are capable to take on the heavy role as director and it would be fantastic to see studios and producers give larger projects for women to direct.” — Tiffany

“I feel like the divide has been pretty much created by a lot of man dudes on set that feel weird about being directed by a woman. They thus treat women on set differently, and automatically gender things with the way that they talk to them. I feel like women are just trying to live and do what we love to do, it’s just that we’re doing so in an industry that still can’t completely wrap its head around the presence of women on film sets yet. Also it’s really upsetting to see the ways that some actresses have been mistreated by male directors that it’s no wonder the industry has been so cold to women over the years. In a way, I also hope that that’s generational. It’s strange to me, because over the last few years that I’ve been making movies, I’ve almost always been “in charge” of crews made mostly up of teenage boys, and my “authority” or “vision” has never been questioned, probably because we were operating under the pretense that I knew the most about filmmaking, so I was in possession of the “key of knowledge,” so to speak. It’s also made me wonder if it’s because my physical self/presence isn’t extremely feminine, like say Kim Kardashian or something, or if it’s because I was a tomboy in elementary school and have always been friends with lots of dudes. I think it will be interesting to see how this pans out for me in the future. That said, I do feel that there’s some male directors that really understand and empathize with the struggles that women filmmakers face in the industry, like Steve McQueen. It’s guys like him that me think that there isn’t always such a divide, because he clearly understands the situation and acknowledges that it is a problem! Perhaps the divide is strangely stratified in that respect.” — Jules

“There is an epidemic within the female community, and I have personally experienced it, with the glass ceiling. For some reason, some women (men too, with each other) decide to hold their fellow female back. The glass ceiling shouldn’t exist, but it does, and it’s important to be aware of it. A key element of the glass ceiling however is ‘giving into it’. If you believe in yourself and do not get discouraged by external forces, then you have won more than half the battle against it.

I’ve worked at one company that basically promoted the glass ceiling, and worked at another that broke it. The company and my boss, a female Executive Director, was exceptional at providing equal opportunities for men and women in the office. I don’t think I’ll ever find a place that open minded, accepting and, overall, pleasant place to work.

With the divide in mind, however, I do not believe men and women are the same. Men and women, just from person to person, have different strengths and weaknesses. For example, on a physical level, I know I am not as strong as my male counterpart on set on the grip team. That doesn’t mean I can’t reach his physical level – it just means I have to work extra hard to achieve that strength. Apply that to anything, and you’ll see you can change the divide.

Sometimes you need to accept that people are different, and not see something that isn’t there. Maybe a man is hired into a position you wanted. Do not just automatically assume it’s because you’re a woman that you did not receive the job. That kind of thinking is actually what holds us back – assuming the role of the victim. Don’t be a victim – be a champion.” — Courtney

 

In your experience, do you believe men and women in film are compensated equally for the same job?

In my undergraduate film studies experience, I don’t really see gender have an impact on the reception of their work. There was one incident where a male colleague was surprised I could carry all the film equipment. But there were no negative feelings. Unfortunately, I believe many people in the workplace still perceive men as a stronger and more capable candidate and bias is prevalent.” — Tiffany

“I am not sure yet, because I’ve always been paid to work as a one-woman crew, or I’ve compensated actors I’ve worked with with equal amounts of pizza. But the preexisting wage gap does make me fear that there is lots of wage inequality that my female peers are experiencing.” — Jules

“Absolutely not. We all remember Patricia Arquette standing up at the Oscars after winning Best Supporting Actress for Boyhood and insisting we fix the gender gap in Hollywood. I know I do. The statistics are shocking, but finally actresses and female members of the film community are coming out, discussing the problem. The ultimate question is, however, what can we do to change this? We could adopt the ideals showcased by Anna Serner in Sweden and force the pay gap change. This has been successful, but not without controversy. But really, what we, as women in a sexist industry need to do, is stand up for ourselves.

In my opinion, it is often women that are allowing the gap and discrimination to continue due to fear. Women need to change their attitudes to their communities and lives. We are not on the planet as “extras” to our male counterparts. We aren’t “borrowing” the space we occupy. It’s ours – we own it.

I think Jennifer Lawrence articulated her reaction to the pay gap she experienced on American Hustle perfectly. She was not angry at the company for doing what they have always done – sticking to their standard, learned practices. She was mad at herself for not realising her own self worth and negotiating. I believe the only way we can really change the approach to the gender gap in film is to accept that we, as women, as humans, have worth. That we can provide the same, if not more, than others around us. We are special and we have a lot to offer.

So, with this in mind, start studying up, ladies, because the only way we can make change is if we acknowledge the issue and take responsibility. To quote the 1968 slogan for Virginia Slims, “We’ve come a long way baby”, but, there is still more change to go.” — Courtney

4 Filmmakers Envision Their Art Post-U.S. Election

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Well, we weren’t expecting 2016 to turn out this way, but our wheels are turning. If we look back at some of the biggest and most notable films of the past year, there has been no shortage of heated political cinema, inspiring features on social issues and thought-provoking documentaries to get us through this election. These films have laid the groundwork for topics we’re likely to explore in greater detail in 2017 and beyond. Our IFI community took note of a few standout works – in no particular order:

  1. Ava DuVernay’s “13th
  2. Michael Moore’s “TrumpLand
  3. Oliver Stone’s biopic “Snowden
  4. Michael Bay’s war film “13 Hours
  5. Nate Parker’s “Birth of a Nation

Now, the question becomes “Where do we go from here?” As a whole, our IFI community has had time to digest the U.S. Presidential election results and to realize there will be a greater role for us in the coming years.

When we stepped away from reading Facebook feeds, angry tweets and bogus news stories, we chatted with a few IFI instructors to ask “How might the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election influence your work as a filmmaker?” Overwhelmingly, we heard that everyone is inspired to create new art and “hungry” to make a statement with it. You will see from their responses below that we are going to make MORE films that stand for something. We are going to raise our voices louder as a film community and lift up our fellow Americans through our art.

  • “My work has always been spurred by the identity politics of immigrants and minorities in America. Who are we, where are we, what defines us, etc. Although I’m disappointed about the outcome of the election, I’m glad that the harder questions we need to face and ask about ourselves, as people struggling to coexist in this thing called America, is coming to the forefront. There’s a great deal of work to do if we want to live up to the ideals of this country. I think you’ll find a lot of new, unheard voices in these troubling times. Hopefully one of those will be my own.”Stephen Lee, Directing Instructor
  • “Well, I think we’re past the point of ‘might.’ Throughout history, there have been moments where art is needed to bring to the surface whatever reality is trying to subdue. We find ourselves in such a moment. Trump appealed and brought to light America’s worst impulses. Now, it’s on the rest of us to show, to prove, that this is not all what America is. This is a time when we’re called on to do things we may not have done before. This is a time to write and film outside of our comfort zone. This is the time to tell stories that make us connect, because God knows we need to strengthen our empathy for our fellow men. And, it is a moment to make a statement. Not only in the stories we tell but also in how we treat those who work with us in order to make those stories into film. It is time to improve our art and us, ourselves. So today, more than ever, I’ll try harder to be a better person. We stand together; we stick up for the vulnerable. Today, more than ever, stop judging, be kinder, feel empathy, respect women, stop being racist, stop being a bully, stop being homophobic, listen more, argue less and make good art. Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” –  Jesús Alarcón, Directing Instructor
  • “The uncertainty surrounding President Elect Trump’s agenda – what he has said he will do, what he really intends to do, and what he is actually able to do – makes it unwise for me to speculate about how my work as a filmmaker will be affected in the next four years, specifically. Generally speaking, filmmakers have the ability, and therefore the duty, to inform and hopefully educate, to entertain and hopefully inspire, and to seek out and amplify otherwise-underrepresented, credible voices. The election was engulfed in misinformation; where we were owed thoughtful discourse, we were instead distracted with name calling for our entertainment; and, credible voices – underrepresented or otherwise – were awash in a sea of much louder, angrier voices. My most recent work, and the work I hope to do moving forward, seeks to help educate children by encouraging them to reach beyond borders and to learn about cultures outside of their own. The anti-intellectualism embodied by the election stands counterpoint to my work and reaffirms the need to take seriously the duties involved with filmmaking.”Stephanie Serra, Producing Instructor
  • This election influences my work on both a creative and a monetary level.  Creatively, I am hungry to edit more truthful factual media and put it out there. I am eager to use my work as both an outlet to express myself, but also a resource to learn more. Something that is clear to me is that I did not really understand my country or what problems that others face are causing so much irreverence and hate speech. And so every day I look to see the footage we take or Americans and listen to them. I also have this unique opportunity to be working at a news organization during an administration that is rather closed to the media and this presents an interesting challenge. Monetarily I must make decisions that will secure my future – this presidency will not be friendly to freelancing. Therefore – I am making choices to move towards more permanent positions in order to secure health insurance and proper tax rates.”Danielle Beeber, Screenwriting Instructor

Without question our community of artists have turned into activists, armed with the power of the pen and the lens. We are hopeful people will come together to support one another, accept each other and keep the American spirit alive and flourishing.

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Filmmaker In Focus – George Kimmel

We begin our series with George Kimmel, a Producer at Maker Studios, who has spared time from his jam-packed schedule, to answer a series of questions on the nature, operation, and his position with the company as well as valuable advice and insight into the nature, now and in the future, on the continually evolving field of online media. Words of wisdom. Truly.

George Kimmel, as the idiom goes, “knows whereof he speaks.” A graduate of the University of Michigan (BA in Film and Video Studies), he received an MFA in Film Producing from Columbia University where he worked on more than 30 short films, received the prestigious Producing Fellowship, and won Faculty Honors at its film festival for his short “Escape” (2010), which additionally received a $20,000 ASCAP Grant and a Director’s Guild of America award. Other credits include Associate Director on the Bollywood film “Musafir” (2004), Production Supervisor on Pauly Shore’s “Vegas Is My Oyster” (2011), and Associate Producer/Unit Production Manager on the independent “Pervertigo” (2011). He was a Producer on the prize-winning Comedy Central webisode “Family Bum,” has been a Program Coordinator and Screenwriting Instructor at IFI, and a Production Supervisor at Landing Patch Productions.

International Film Institute of New York (IFI): Please give us some background on Maker Studios.

George Kimmel (GK): In 2009, a group of content creators who had established themselves on YouTube joined forces to collectively drive audiences to a single destination–The Station. While pooling resources, they decided to form a company Maker Studios. In 2014, The Walt Disney Company purchased Maker for nearly $1 billion. Maker is the global leader in short-form video and the largest content network on YouTube. Maker attracts more than 10 billion views every month with over 650 million subscribers.

george kimmel picIFI: How and when did you become involved with Maker?

GK: I heard about Maker in late 2011 when a friend toured the studio and told me it seemed like the perfect place for me. A month later I was at a Columbia University networking holiday party and ran into a friend whose boyfriend was a producer there. Two weeks later I was his coordinator, and three weeks later he was a part of the online hit “Sh*t Fashion Girls Say” and became a YouTube celebrity.

IFI: What are your position and duties at Maker?

GK: As a Producer, I oversee the channels for some of the biggest YouTube stars. My goal is always to make a viral hit, but the first step is consistency. It’s much easier to “go viral” if you have a loyal fan base watching all your videos. I average a video a week for all the talent I work with. Every project is different. For some, we just get a camera and microphone together and let the talent riff (Tough Talk). For other projects there are weeks of pre-production and months of finding the project in post (California on Sasquatch). For others still, it’s a matter of recreating a hit music video at a fraction of the budget (Call Me Maybe Parody).

IFI: What makes someone a worthy candidate to work at Maker?

GK: Getting along with a wide range of personalities as well as keeping a lot of balls in the air at once are great qualities for a producer. On any given week, I could have multiple shoots, uploads, and development meetings to oversee. While I am a creative producer, I am not an egotist and know that the talent who built their own channels usually has the best ideas regarding what their audience will like. Riding the line between making the best video without losing the elements that attracted viewers to a channel in the first place is key.

IFI: What is the process for becoming an employee of Maker?

GK: Honestly, it was competitive before Disney acquired Maker, but it’s even more so currently. Working in production, I think a smart way to join the team is to start as a freelancer. Our workload changes every week, so we continually have to hire freelancers. When a full-time position opens, we look first to people we’ve previously seen excel under the specific pressures of our work environment.

Maker LogoIFI: What are the elements that constitute a noteworthy “viral video”?

GK: Is it sharable? That’s the main thing I look for. I ask myself if I would share it with my friends and, if so, it’s a go. If you can summarize the video in a few sentences, then it’s a good concept. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a porn star or two in the video [referencing Kassem G’s comedy series “Going Deep”].

IFI: What will be the effect of Disney’s purchase of Maker?

GK: I believe Disney acquired Maker because of our expertise in new media, and it allows for both companies to have access and insights into new areas, e.g., Maker to Disney IP, Disney to short-form expertise, data and Maker talent partners. Maker and Disney truly do share the same DNA of quality content and a strong focus on engagement and storytelling. Maker has been working with divisions across The Walt Disney Company to develop new and unique content.

IFI: Your advice for creating online content?

GK: Start with something you love doing so that you will keep at it. The joy of working in YouTube is free rein (there is nobody telling you what not to do). And if your initial goal is fame or ad revenue, you’ll probably stop making videos before you achieve either one. Lastly, be ready to pivot. Many stars I work with began doing one thing and then switched to something else that worked even better. It’s usually the 2nd or 3rd idea that actually hits, but they wouldn’t have known the audience well enough to come up with that new concept if they hadn’t been creating weekly videos for a long time.

IFI: Pitfalls to avoid in creating online content?

GK: Do it for you first, and secondly for the audience. Don’t try to follow trends, unless it’s organic to your way of telling a story. Have a different take on your material to avoid just following the crowd into a full swimming pool.

IFI: Your forecast for the future of Internet content?

GK: Continual change, but there is always a place for great content. When I started at Maker, YouTube was the big new thing. Now Vine and Snapchat are crushing it. Tomorrow if might be Meerkat and Periscope. Clever stories told in original, interesting ways with fun personalities are all that matter, no matter the platform.

Cinematographers Discuss Shaping Today’s Cinematic Language

On Saturday, December 6, 2014, as part of the 25th Anniversary celebration, AbelCine sponsored a panel, “The Feeling of Being There: Shaping Today’s Cinematic Language.”

The panel focused on the innovation driven by filmmakers and camera engineers that led to portable sync-sound technology, which facilitated “cinema vérité” in the 1960s. The goal, in the words of pioneers like Ricky Leacock, D.A. Pennebaker, and Jean-Pierre Beauviala was to create “the feeling of being there.” Since then, the language of vérité has moved beyond the documentary into a myriad of forms.

The panel featured four cinematographers who discussed their experiences in documentary, indies, major features, and new genres, as well as the influence of vérité on today’s cinematic language. The cinematographers (DPs) all with extensive credits and experience were: Frankie DeMarco, Paul Koestner, Jojo Pennebaker, and Will Rexer.

IMG_4622Attending from The International Film Institute of New York was Misael Sanchez, Founder and Director, who commented about the sponsor’s position in the industry and relationship with the program as follows:

“Abelcine has a very clear focus as to what they provide the industry. It is reflected in every aspect of their business from their expertise in technology to their focus on the individual client.  They are a role model to how we continue to grow our program and how we develop as a provider of an educational service to the film community.”

Also in attendance from the International Film Institute was Donella Alanwick, Managing Director, who reflected on the panel’s content:

“It was insightful to hear of the different techniques used by each DP and how they were adapted to different projects, especially their desire to make things, not clean and perfect, but more real. One repeated point throughout was the reiteration of their role as storyteller. ‘Stories, that’s what matters,’ Paul Koestner said. We at the IFI believe and share the feeling that story is one of the most important elements of filmmaking. Technology is a tool to help bring the story to life but it’s important to learn the components of a good story first before bringing all the other pieces together.”

Gotham Awards 2014

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 10.41.07 PMThe 2014 Gotham Independent Film Awards, created and under the auspices of the IFP (Independent Film Project), will stream their awards show, one of the earliest of the season, live on Monday, December 1, at 6:30 p.m., on www.ifp.org,

Nominees, in alphabetical order:

Best Feature: Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Love Is Strange, Under The Skin.

Best Documentary: Actress, CitizenFour, Life Itself, Manakamana, Point And Shoot.

Breakthrough Director: Ana Lily Amipour (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night), James Ward Byrikit (Coherence), Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), Eliza Hitman (It Felt Like Love), Justin Simien (Dear White People).

Best Actress: Patrician Arquette (Boyhood),  Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beyond the Lights), Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Scarlett Johansson (Under The Skin), Mia Wasikowska (Tracks).

Best Actor: Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year), Michael Keaton (Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)), Miles Teller (Whiplash).

Breakthrough Actor: Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler), Macon Blair (Blue Ruin), Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood), Joey King (Wish I Was There), Jenny Slate (Obvious Child), Tessa Thompson (Dear White People).

Special Jury Award For Ensemble Performance: Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum for Foxcatcher.

Spotlight on Women Filmmakers ‘I Live The Dream’ Grant: Garrett Bradley (Below Dreams), Claire Carré (Embers), Chloé Zhao (Songs My Brothers Taught Me) – A grant sponsored by Calvin Klein that awards $25,000 to further and assist a promising female filmmaker with her first narrative feature.

The Gothams will also include tributes to film veterans Bennett Miller (current directorial work, Foxcatcher), Ted Sarandos (acquisition and original content executive for Netflix), and Tilda Swinton (among other roles, Academy Award winner for Michael Clayton).

Film School Basics

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Why am I doing this? What do I know about this?  I’ll tell you.  One year working at a film workshop program, three years teaching at a top liberal arts school, 12 years running my own film program, and 15 Years working and teaching at one of the top graduate film schools in the country.  Having that varied experience at these different institutions, I think, makes me realize one thing…this can all be done differently.  What do I mean by that?  Well, that’s why I started this and will continue until my entire thought is processed.  Every program has pluses and minuses.  Each has something it does great. Some have great instructors, some great facilities, great marketing, great curriculum, but none have been able to take the best of what is out there and been able to weave it all together.  I’m not saying it can be done but I do think it can be something that we should be strive for.  I’ve seen the good and want to bring the good forward.  But what will it take?  How can it be done?  One thing I do know for sure is this… Eliminate Bureaucracy!  Too many cooks in this arena is the worst thing that can happen to a film school.  But that is something I will cover later.  This is just the beginning.  In the end my actions will speak much louder than this page.  The school I have been running for the past ten years is a testament to my quest for a program that offers students an experience that provides a complete and seriously productive filmmaking environment.  Where I go from today is what excites me.