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Marketing to Millennials: Move Beyond the Stereotypes

Millennials doing HIIT workout Photo by Thinkstock.
The millennial generation spans more than 20 years, so generalizing how to reach this market is not recommended anymore than generalizing marketing to any other generation. Instead, you must segment this generation as you would any other.

It’s no secret that brands today are making a concerted effort to get in the good graces of a previously shunned generation — millennials. But why?

Let’s first address the elephant in the room. For years, millennials have been labeled with disapproving nicknames and negative stereotypes. The “Me Generation” that is supposedly lazy, entitled and lacking work ethic. Yet, this generation — diverse in age, lifestyle choices and purchasing habits — represents a unique majority of America’s current consumer base. And if you think the workplace is immune, it’s good to understand that millennials are expected to make up more than 50 percent of the global workforce by 2020.

With their diversity in mind and the rapidly evolving “new normal,” it may seem impossible to develop an exact formula for connecting with this generation.

The truth is, even though future shifts are imminent, by listening, keeping up with generational norms and formulating organic relationships, brands can continually adapt their marketing plans to best engage this ever-changing and important audience.

To better understand how to effectively market to millennials, let’s take a holistic look at digital marketing’s evolution.

The Early Days of Digital Marketing

In the early days of digital marketing, it was simply a matter of claiming and branding your profile page on relevant platforms such as Facebook, Yelp, etc. Then came the phase of posting interesting and keyword optimized content — blog and social posts  — to engage your core audience and drive earned media impressions. Although these both still hold relevance, it is not that simple anymore.

Somewhere along the way, social platforms realized that they could monetize interest and started restricting views (and engagement) through sophisticated algorithms. As a result, many brands started to pay to boost content and acquire larger organic audiences.

Although this is largely the cost of doing business today, many brands have still not initiated these basic concepts.

The Current Landscape

Digital marketing has diversified as the number of social platforms have increased. Today, the role of influencers and experiential marketing (pop-ups, virtual reality, etc.) is gaining significant traction. Implementing experiences such as these require a more sophisticated approach to marketing and a greater commitment of resources: time, budget, creativity and manpower.

The most important thing to keep in mind is, whether it be through an experiential engagement or influencer strategy, millennials are more focused on a relationship and conversation versus a pushed message.

How to Irk Millennials

In the interest of developing the right formula for a strong millennial marketing campaign, let’s take a look at the marketing tactics that are sure to leave a bad taste. Brands should avoid:

1. Overgeneralizing. The biggest mistake is casting a single stereotype across an entire generation (millennial or otherwise). People who are between the ages of 18 to 34 years old represent a wide range of lifestyles and priorities. Companies need to narrow or segment millennials into relevant subgroups and adjust messaging accordingly. To be clear, 75 million people spanning a nearly 20-year age gap is not a segmented audience.

2. Skimping on authenticity. Using a tone that is not authentic to your brand is another common mistake many marketers make, and not surprisingly, it usually falls flat. Did you hear about the Microsoft recruiter who sent an email to college job candidates with a subject line of “HEY BAE INTERN! <3”. Uh, yeah, it happened.

3. Overusing emojis. This mistake isn’t exclusively owned by our parents — many companies have also embraced the emoji as a barometer of coolness. This rarely goes over well. Emojis have a limited place in the marketer’s toolkit. Know it, appreciate it. Don’t overuse it.

4. Respect the direct and text message. Millennials (and most consumers) regard their text message stream as personal. Without explicit permission to engage with consumers on marketing messages via these channels, you’re violating their trust (and probably breaking the law).

Who Is Doing It Right

Although it would be easy to point out the slew of brands who have botched connecting with millennials, some brands offer inspiring examples of doing it right. Amazon continually re-defines the concept of frictionless user experience and has created the standard against which every brand is being measured even if Amazon is not considered a competitor in the traditional sense. Surprisingly, Cadillac is also doing a great job of reaching millennials. In 2015, they launched a 10-year plan to rejuvenate the brand and engage a younger generation. Their “Dare Greatly” and “Don’t You Dare” campaigns featured young people’s stories of inspiration and innovation where they only mentioned their product in the last few seconds of the commercial. They have followed that campaign with “Book By Cadillac,” a subscription-based car service available in New York City. It’s a great story to watch unfold.

Key Takeaways

Although developing an adaptive and unique marketing strategy that resonates with millennials is no simple feat, below are a few key takeaways from my experience in building out millennial fitness-focused brands:

1. Think community. Brands must stand for more than profit. What is your brand’s greater purpose, and how do you share this story with your audience?

2. Create a seamless experience. A frictionless brand experience is a must. Think of millennials as a co-creator/ambassador of this experience. The traditional customer journey and life milestones don’t apply to millennials, so you should consider creating a non-linear customer experience that still creates value regardless of entry point.

3. Strive for balance and diversity. Both are important to millennials. Know your brand’s “sweet spot” and don’t push for more or you risk turning off your most loyal customers.

4. Disrupt and innovate. Millennials appreciate brands that embrace this mindset, even if it fails. Create a brand architecture that promotes these concepts and note that this goes far beyond marketing. To be successful, you’ll need cross-functional alignment from operations, human resource and IT, among others.

5. Be authentic. Although this is the easiest recommendation to implement, it’s often the most overlooked. Sincerity is key when it comes to messaging, tone and voice.

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Why Racially Tone-Deaf Marketing Keeps Happening

by Stanley Lumax

“Have you lost your damn minds?”

That’s what The New York Times columnist Charles Blow asked H&M after the brand became the latest case study in racially insensitive marketing.

H&M’s product listing featured a young black child wearing a sweatshirts that read, “Coolest monkey in the jungle.” Before that, Unilever’s Dove ran an ad including a black woman who had been “cleaned up” to have white skin. A Nivea ad—which also ran last year—promoted a face cream that offered “visibly lighter skin” for black women. Gap and vegan brand Tarte Cosmetics also ran ads that proved problematic for minority audiences.

Yet such brands seem to face no significant short-term business repercussions. It’s not like their sales just fall off a cliff.

While the initial reaction is to question whether these brands have lost their damn minds, the bigger issue is whether these decisions were all made with sound minds in the first place. We aren’t dealing with start-ups that lack the experience, time, or discipline needed to facilitate best practices.

If the decision-makers are not crazy, then we must ponder if this insensitivity is deliberate. In this age of hot takes and attention-driven controversy, I, for one, wonder whether these marketers somehow write it all off as a case of all press being good press.

With each of these branding faux pas, there is plausible deniability. Someone loses their job, an apology is made, and after a week (or less) we move on.

If these acts are not deliberate PR stunts, then one must turn back to the industry’s ongoing struggles with diversity: Just 6.6% of those employed in the ad industry are black versus 12.7% of the U.S. population. Hispanics comprise only 10% of the industry versus 17.6% of the general population. And just 11% of the world’s creative directors are women. In many cases, there is clearly no one involved in the process who thinks to stop, assess the cultural impact of an idea and ask, “Do you realize how that might be interpreted?”

There’s no easy fix for this situation, but hiring a more diverse team at your ad agency is an absolute necessity. I know from experience that if you are the only African American on staff, you will often be asked to speak for every black person in the U.S. That means you go from being just another account guy to the voice of 37 million people. Black America is not a homogeneous population; no cultural group on earth is.

You can’t say, “Stan saw it, so it’s okay,” and assume that it’s been vetted. That’s not how life or advertising works.

What’s the Solution?

Start with championing holistic diversity initiatives and hiring practices that are sensitive to race, gender and class. By doing so, you create an environment that is not only diverse in demographics, but also in terms of perspectives and life experience. Such diversity allows for a healthy debate and the opportunity to learn from and educate one another.

Brands also have to take on the challenge of destroying toxic, pressure-filled environments that produce groupthink. We have to create a space where all viewpoints can be aired and valued equally. This includes listening to and discussing ideas that we don’t like and might even deem offensive, in an effort to learn, teach, and grow.

As creative professionals, honest and open dialogue is a must. That’s the only way we can create work that positively impacts our culture.

 

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At Sundance, The Films Took A Hard Look At Race In America

Storytellers behind seven major movies are working through the themes that haunt our national headlines.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Clockwise from left: “Monster,” “Tyrel,” “Sorry to Bother You.”

“Representation” has become a buzzword over the past few years, often used to excoriate the limited diversity that Hollywood brings to our big screens. But, with the Sundance Film Festival come and gone, and a new year of movies revving up, it’s clear that when it comes to matters of race, popular culture has taken note of our national talking points.

No fewer than seven major Sundance movies tackled race relations in America and the issues related to them ― and that’s not counting documentaries. Storytellers had police brutality (“Blindspotting,” “Monsters and Men”), wrongful imprisonment (“Monster”), the Ku Klux Klan (“Burden”), microaggressions (“Tyrel”), code-switching (“Sorry to Bother You”) and the foster care system (“Night Comes On”) on their minds.

We’re witnessing a phenomenon in which socially-minded artists are processing the topics that make headlines almost daily. More than any other Sundance lineup before it, 2018′s was a heady and searing crop, aptly reflecting our national mood.

One year after Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” raised the bar for veiled social commentary, “Tyrel” presents a similar premise, sending a young black man (Jason Mitchell) into the woods for a weekend getaway with a batch of white dudes. Meanwhile, “Monsters and Men” evokes the real-life killing of Eric Garner and the persecution of NFL iconoclast Colin Kaepernick, and “Burden” (which won the festival’s audience award) portrays tensions among neighbors sharing turf in the South.

“Blindspotting,” a passion project co-written by “Hamilton” breakout Daveed Diggs and performance poet Rafael Casal, is a hip-hop-inflected tour through Oakland, California, where gentrification has tarnished the area’s working-class restaurants, and black residents watch white cops shoot their black neighbors at traffic lights. In “Monster,” racial profiling lands even a college-bound teenager (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) with a bright future behind bars. These movies portray a world, not unlike our own, in which only whiteness gets ahead; just ask the telemarketer Lakeith Stanfield plays in the surreal comedy “Sorry to Bother You,” who is advised to use his “white voice” if we wants to get sales.

For Hollywood, indie filmmaking is a platonic ideal, painting a progressive image that puts Sundance and its ilk one step ahead of the wider industry, in terms of style, content and representation. Still, that hip image doesn’t always prioritize women and filmmakers of color. (Women helmed 37 percent of this year’s lineup ― an above-average figure that still lacks parity.) But with 2018′s movies, the festival claimed a newfound sense of topicality. The conversations unfolding on Twitter, in the media and in many Americans’ homes are resurfacing right before our eyes. Artists are doing their best to sort out the issues plaguing the country.

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In the Next 2 Years, Only 15 Hollywood Studio Movies Will Be Directed By Women

Director Ava DuVernay / Image via Getty

When it comes to helming major Hollywood studio projects, the future for female directors in 2018 and 2019 doesn’t look too bright.

IndieWire reports on the 2018 and 2019 schedule for films coming out of studios like Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Sony, and finds that so far, only 15 of those projects will be directed by women.

There are plenty of bright spots and familiar names—like Ava DuVernay, Elizabeth Banks, The Handmaids Tale director Reed Morano, and The Diary of a Teenage Girl director Marielle Heller—leading highly-anticipated projects this year (hellooo A Wrinkle in Time!). And there are also three superhero movies directed by women, a development no doubt inspired by the immense success of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman: there’s Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Spider-man spin-off Silver and Black, Anna Boden’s Captain Marvel, and Wonder Woman 2 of course. It’s as if Hollywood finally realized, yes, women can direct blockbuster action movies and people want to see them!

It’s important to point out that the report does not include movies that have yet to be scheduled, so there’s still hope for more women-directed movies to make their way to theaters in the next two years. But considering 92.7% of the 109 top film directors in 2017 were male, according to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s study “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair? Gender, Race & Age of Directors across 1,000 films from 2007-2017,” the industry has its work cut out for it when it comes to hiring women at legacy studios.

Ava DuVernay Is in the Door-Making Business

Ava DuVernay is a force for change in Hollywood. And when we say force, we mean category-5 hurricane force. Her mission is to make Hollywood more “inclusive,” not just diverse. She’s fighting to not just open up old long-closed doors, but to also build new ones for women and people of color in the entertainment industry.

And as the first Black female director to helm a movie with an over $100-million budget (A Wrinkle in Time, 2018), 2017 has given her the biggest door-building opportunity yet.

“The images in our minds that make up our memories are all told by one kind of person, one kind of background. It shouldn’t be this way.”

To say Hollywood has an inclusivity problem is a massive understatement, particularly when it comes to women — and especially women of color. A recent University of Southern California study found that only four percent of the 1,000 top-grossing films during the last 10 years were directed by women.Only three of these films were directed by Black women, three by Asian women and one by a Latina.

In light of those grim stats, DuVernay’s successful rise to the status of powerhouse director is one of the most unlikely. She didn’t start her directing career until 2008, when she self-financed a documentary at the age of 36 after years of being a film publicist. Her first major studio success, Selma (2014) — which also made DuVernay the first Black female director to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award — happened within six short years.

Remaining Time -1:22

DuVernay has since seen massive success with the OWN network series Queen Sugar and the groundbreaking 2016 documentary, 13th for Netflix, which explored the “intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the United States.” The latter was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary and won four Emmy awards.

But DuVernay isn’t just resting on those laurels; she’s looking to make a sea change. Following the success of Selma, the directing powerhouse expanded her film distribution company to become ARRAY, dedicated to getting more independent films by women and filmmakers of color out in the world. And on Queen Sugar, she set out to build a crew of minorities and women both on set and in the writer’s room, and chose all women directors for season two of the show.

“If the person who gets to tell the story is always one kind of person, if the dominant images that we see throughout our lifetimes, our mothers’ lifetimes, our grandmothers’ lifetimes, have been dominated by one kind of person, and we take that? We internalize it. We drink it in, as true, as fact,” DuVernay wrote in Time magazine earlier this year. “The images in our minds that make up our memories are all told by one kind of person, one kind of background. It shouldn’t be this way. That is a deficit to us. A deficit to the culture.”

Among the biggest risks DuVernay has taken on in her mission is in her forthcoming adaptation of the Madeleine L’Engle classic novel A Wrinkle in Time. Starting last year, she showed just how daring she could be by casting young Storm Reid, a Black actress, in the role of main character Meg Murry, who was traditionally depicted as white. From there, DuVernay went on to add more diverse actresses to the mix, including Mindy Kaling as Mrs. Who and Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Which.

When the film’s trailer debuted earlier this year and we got our first glimpse of Meg, it caused quite a stir. Alongside the praise of a more modern Wrinkle came reactions from those who thought DuVernay was aiming to politicize a childhood favorite.

“You’re seeing worlds being built from the point of view of a black woman from Compton,” she said at this year’s New Yorker Festival. “So when I’m told, ‘Create a planet.’ My planet is going to look different from my white-male counterparts’ planet, which we’ve seen 97 percent of the time, so you’re used to seeing that.”

Moving into 2018, DuVernay’s poised to have her biggest year yet. A Wrinkle in Time hits theaters in March, Queen Sugar has been renewed for a third season, and she’ll begin a new series for Netflix on the Central Park Five, part of a first-look TV deal with Oprah’s Harpo Films. Along the way, she’ll also keep chipping away at that mission, opening her own doors, and breaking her own glass ceilings.

This profile is part of our new project “Year in Women.” Check out all the women featured:

 

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“Yikes! I think I’m in over my head.” Or…making your first movie.

Camera and Laptop

by

Sheree L. Ross @womenfilmofcolr

Sheree L. Ross

November 14, 2017

So you we wake up one morning from a fevered dream with what seems like a brilliant idea, “I want to make a movie”. And then miracle of miracles, somehow every day you move forward on it. It actually starts to take shape as you call in favors from friends, even the ones from first grade. Everyday it looks more and more like you are really going to make this movie. You do all of the steps, which include writing the most brilliant script ever written. How do you know? Because all of your friends and family who you let read it, say so. You even go one step further and actually let people who know what they are talking about (because you found a writing group in your town) read it and they give you feedback that is sometimes painful (yeah, you cried once…maybe more than once), but you listen, do the adjustments, write a few more drafts – and now you have a solid working script.

And even though you’ve never directed anything before in your life you decide that you are going to be the director. You want to be an Auteur and this film will be your first shot across the bow. But one thing you didn’t know about yourself is that you’re not much for the tiny details and after two days of doing the stuff good producers can do in their sleep you put an ad on Craigslist and take the first person that will call you back.

At this point, of course, you don’t have any money but somehow they’re willing to work with you and wait until you’re able to raise some. And for the first month or so they’re completely on board and you get through most of pre-production. You get casting done, you find locations, and you put together a pretty solid crew. You are feeling great. Now you are three weeks out before you shoot and suddenly the producer gets a gig that will actually pay them their rate and they quit. But hell, you’ve got this. You’ve got everything in place…who needs a producer anyway? You can just add this as another feather in your cap. You’re sure now that you can direct and produce this script better than anybody because you know it better than anybody. You still don’t have enough money but you are moving forward as if you do as…Thanksgiving approaches. And what luck, your favorite aunt – who loves movies – overhears that you are doing a film and says she’ll give you the rest of the money. What a relief! But a week out you call her and she doesn’t remember the promise, blaming it on the several glasses of wine she had before dinner was served.

Now you’re a week out and everybody wants something. The art department is calling you to try to figure out how to do your sets, the wardrobe and prop people need to start shopping. And you get a text from one of your actors asking about rehearsals and blocking. It’s too late to crowdfund, you didn’t even know you should do a rehearsal, and one of the locations that you were promised just fell through. The next night you wake from another fevered dream with a thought that could possibly get you disowned. You have a savings that your parents set up for you with just enough to get the movie shot and you’ll have to edit it yourself. After thinking about the pros and cons of this conversation at Christmas next week, you decide to go ahead and do it.

Yay! You are making your first movie, congratulations! Now this is just one example of how crazy this process can be, and this should in no way stop you from making your first film. If you are in the middle of this process I hope this makes you feel better about what you may be going through right now. If you’ve already finished your first film (web series, short, etc) I hope it made you smile. Filmmaking is not for the faint of heart, and many filmmakers struggle their first time out (and even the second and third time before they find a rhythm). There is no right or wrong way to make a film, web series, or short, etc. If you think you’re in over your head but you keep moving forward and you keep focused on your idea, as well as communicate with everybody as often as possible…more times than not, no matter how crappy things might get, the people that you have brought on board to help you will do their best to help you see your vision come true. People are more forgiving and flexible than you might think, as long as you are honest with them.

The other advice I’d offer is don’t lie about paying people. If you intend to pay people and then your money falls through, be honest about it. You may lose half of your cast and crew (maybe all!) but you’ll maintain your reputation and this industry is smaller than you might imagine. Another bit of advice is that though it is not impossible to produce, direct, and act in your first movie (in fact it might be wise to do so for your first project, you will learn a whole bunch) don’t spend a lot of money on the project. Let this be an experiment that you can share with your family and friends, and maybe put up on YouTube. But the chances that you will be able to sell it or make your money back might be very low so let it be an opportunity to learn. Ultimately, if you’re new to this make a short film. Something that doesn’t cost you over $1000. Maybe you can engage some of your friends over the weekend and feed them for pay. Bill Murray once said (highly paraphrased) that no matter how crappy the movie is, the fact that it has made it into some form of watchable content is a miracle and should be appreciated as such because it takes so many people to make a movie. It can sometimes feels like you’re drowning (you’re not). It’s a lot of balls to keep up in the air no matter how much money you have (or don’t). So learn from your mistakes, learn from your successes, and be proud of whatever you create. And most of all, please have fun. Why do it otherwise? Because it’s just a step in a long line of many steps that will culminate into being your career.

 

Women’s Voices Heard at AFM

Women’s Voices Heard At American Film Market

Geena Davis
“The Future Is Female” session sparks lively discussion, cites problems, points to progress; Overall AFM shows gains in attendance, exhibitors

Known for drumming up business, the recently concluded American Film Market & Conferences also generated food for thought, particularly during an AFM session presented in partnership with the Alliance of Women Directors. Titled “The Future Is Female,” the panel discussion identified problems in the marketplace as well as signs of progress–both of which were touched upon, for example, by Jennifer Warren, chairperson and founder of the Alliance of Women Directors, in her introductory remarks.

Warren noted that 94 percent of feature films are directed by men. This lack of parity in the workplace is detrimental to society, she affirmed, citing the importance “for women and girls growing up to have role models and to see things from a woman’s point of view.”

She added that striving for hiring parity is good business, as proven by FX which instituted a program to get women to direct half of its content. Last year, said Warren, FX attained that 50-50 balance and saw its ratings go up 15 percent. Contending that a woman’s POV offered a fresh perspective to storylines and characters, helping to boost Nielsen numbers, Warren then turned the stage over to discussion moderator Wendy Calhoun, a Writers Guild Award nominee (and producer) for Nashville and Justified, and four panelists: Geena Davis, an Oscar-winning actress (The Accidental Tourist), who founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; director Jen McGowan (Kelly & Cal, the upcoming Rust Creek); and Catherine Hand and Jim Whitaker, producers of A Wrinkle in Time, the Disney feature slated for release in March 2018. Based on the novel of the same title by Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time is the first feature with a budget of $100 million-plus to be directed by a woman of color, with that historic achievement being made by Ava DuVernay. A Wrinkle in Time features a cast which includes Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Chris Pine.

Davis noted that the launch of the research institute bearing her name was sparked in part by her noticing that children’s programming seemed to feature a disproportionate number of male characters. She saw the need for delving more deeply into this from a research standpoint, confirming that “there are profoundly more male characters than female characters in the content we are showing our kids. Female characters don’t take up half the space, aren’t doing interesting things, aren’t leaders, are more hypersexualized…The worst  ratio of male to female characters is in what’s aimed at kids 11 years old and under. We are training kids from the beginning to have unconscious gender bias.”

Feature films also don’t have much to boast of when it comes to casting diversity. According to Davis, “The ratio of male to female characters in film has been exactly the same since 1946.” She noted that most think the percentages have gotten better when there have been certain turning points over the years such as Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise, featuring two strong female characters, including Davis’ Oscar-nominated performance as Thelma. “You think that this [breakthroughs like Thelma & Louise] changes everything but nothing has changed,” said Davis.

Still she thinks that exposing gender bias and its negative impact on casting and society has resulted in more people proactively looking to improve the situation–but that’s not necessarily the case when it comes to those who have the power to hire directors. “Directing is a completely different problem that I don’t think is unconscious. People who are creating content that is gender biased are horrified to find out and immediately want to do better. The fact that there are no women directors is not a secret and hasn’t been for decades yet no one is making the change.”

Technology is also advancing to help the Davis Institute in its endeavors. “We have a brand new tool that never existed before to do our research with–Google gave a grant to develop the software that uses face and voice recognition to tell us how many female and male characters are in film and television, but also how much screen time they have and how many lines they have, down to the millisecond. It is very revealing and horrifying; far fewer characters are female and the ones that are, are on-screen less and talk less.”

On the casting front, Davis shared several other insights with AFM attendees. “In movies with female leads, the male supporting character is onscreen an equal amount, however if there is a male lead, the female counterpart is only on-screen 25 percent of the time.”

Davis continued, “When women are talking, they are onscreen less than when men are talking (the shot is cutting to something else), so now we need to talk to the editors! Unconscious bias is happening on every possible level.”

Moderator Calhoun, who’s currently working on a Grey’s Anatomy spinoff, said that re-writing certain characters to be female instead of male in TV and features, can help to address the situation.

Director McGowan said she  makes it clear on her projects that diversity is a must. “I do not want to see an all white, all straight, all male crew.”

Sadly, coming up the commercialmaking ranks, McGowan witnessed a profound lack of women. “For 20 years I worked in commercials; I never worked with a female first AV, grip department, electrical, and only three female directors (and only one who worked regularly). Those are all union and really high paying jobs, jobs that filmmakers use to supplement creative careers, and those are completely shut off to women.”

McGowan has set up Film Powered, a networking and skill sharing tool for female professionals in the industry. It is a free, membership based community of over 1,300 vetted women offering classes, social events and job postings designed to increase the skills and strengthen the contacts of and relationships between its members in an effort towards gender parity in the business. She advised AFM session attendees to check out her filmpowered.com site.

A Wrinkle in Time
Producers Hand and Whitaker discussed A Wrinkle in Time, a film which has been a lifelong dream for Hand whose storied career includes collaborating over the years with iconic TV series creator Norman Lear.

“When I was a little girl,” recalled Hand, “I read ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ and I thought it would make a great movie so I wrote a letter to Walt Disney to say he should make the film and that I wanted to play Meg. I never sent the letter and on December 15, 1966, when he passed away, I cried because I felt so guilty for not sending it, because no one else would make that movie. That day I promised myself I was going to grow up and find someone to make it. That was 50 years ago.”

It was worth the wait as Hand and Whitaker both said they treasured the experience of working with DuVernay. Hand said that DuVernay make it a point to seek out female and minority talent for her crew. For industry vet Whitaker, DuVernay was the first woman director with whom he’s collaborated. “It’s been an incredible experience,” he assessed–so much so that Whitaker is gearing up for a feature which too will have a female director. He provided some backstory for the pending project which he wasn’t yet at liberty to publicly discuss in full detail.

Whitaker, shared, “Most of my other films, candidly, were male driven films; can’t say that was by design; it comes down to the stories, finding stories that have, for me, an emotionality and hopefulness. I’m working on a story now that is all female…and an incredible true story; I would say influenced by the experience on Wrinkle, we made a contractual necessity that a female director make the film. It’s important for stories to be told from female perspective in general, not just for female-driven stories.”

Hand sees cause for optimism. “I think that the world is changing and we are in a really wonderful time. Women are in more powerful positions and have the pocketbook more than ever before.” She added, “Middle aged women are a market; when they start to realize we matter, they start to make product for us.”

Hand offered aspiring women filmmakers a simple piece of advice. “Don’t give up.” Alluding to the ability to post work and find audiences online, Hand affirmed, “In today’s world, you have so many opportunities to be heard.”

Increased attendance
Exhibitor and attendee numbers were up at the overall AFM. In total, 7,415 participants visited the event’s prime venue, the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica, as attendance rose by 6%. The market also saw 1,476 buyers arrive from 71 countries with China and Taiwan each seeing growth of 35% more buyers.

Overall exhibitor participation was up 18% with 445 registered exhibiting companies, with the largest number of exhibitors arriving from the United Kingdom, France, South Korea, and China, after the U.S.

AFM Conferences drew an international audience of more than 700 each day listening closely to advice and insights from the likes of Cassian Elwes (Producer/Agent), Jesse Sisgold, (Skydance Media), Adrian Alperovich (OddLot Entertainment), Tobin Armbrust (Virgin Produced),  Rebecca Cammarata (Stay Gold Features), Brian O’Shea (The Exchange), Alison Thompson (Cornerstone Films) and Sam Brown (STXfilms).

In addition to “The Future Is Female,” AFM Roundtables included sessions on Documentaries, Faith & Family films and LGBTQ representation in cinema.

The newly introduced Writer’s Workshop also proved to be a highly popular addition to the AFM experience with instructors from USC and UCLA teaching audiences of 400.

The AFM Campus was busier than ever as attendees took in screenings of 337 films (40 more than last year), including 264 market premieres and 61 world premieres. An additional 78 films screened on demand.

The American Film Market & Conferences is produced by the Independent Film & Television Alliance.

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