by Sheree L. Ross
Urusaro International Women Film Festival
Poupoun Sesonga Kamikazi is the brains behind the Urusaro International Women Film Festival (UWIFF) that was held at the Umubano Hotel in Kigali recently.
In its second edition now, the festival celebrates the gains made by female filmmakers from Rwanda and Africa, although this year’s edition also saw movies from a few Asian nations screened.
This year organizers received a total of forty movie submissions, of which twenty three films were selected. Of these, eleven were from Rwanda, making the event a predominantly Rwandan affair.
Other movie submissions came from East and West Africa. One filmmaker from Gabon and another from Ivory Coast also flew down to Kigali for the festival.
The now annual festival was founded in 2015, but funding glitches left organizers with no option but to cancel last year’s event at the last moment.
New partnerships with Tele 10, 4GLTE and other sponsors ensured the festival bounces back bigger and better this year.
More support and goodwill also came from government through the Ministry of Sports and Culture, and the Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture (RALC).
“Urusaro International Women Film Festival is about movies made by women, be it local or foreign. I myself am a movie maker and an artist. I have made five movies, so why not inspire other women to make movies too?”, remarked Kamikazi, at a pre-event press conference at the 4G Square in Downtown Kigali.
“We have many workshops where upcoming filmmakers will be helped to know how to pitch for funding because making movies requires a lot of money. Filmmakers will also have a chance to network because we have invited people from government and embassies and filmmakers from abroad,” she added.
“This is the first film festival to approach us for partnership and for us as Tele 10 we have a lot of movie content so we decided to come out and familiarize our brand in the society. We need more local filmmakers. People have been watching movies from Hollywood and Europe but it’s now time for Rwandan movies to taken center stage,” explained Emmanuel Niyonshuti, the head of Sales and Marketing at Tele 10.
The festival closed on March 11th, with a special award ceremony for best movie makers.
Some of the local filmmakers who walked away with awards include; Antoinnette Uwamahoro for Best Actress, Ahadi Beni for Best Actor, while the Best Short Film Accolade went to Apolline Uwimana for her film, Bugingo. The Most Popular Film was Isaha, by Zaninka Joselyn.
Started as a joke
In July 2012, Kamikazi won her maiden movie award, courtesy of the short film, Kivuto at the then Rwanda International Film Festival, now Rwanda Film Festival. And she has never looked back since.
She was born in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi but is Rwandan. She attended Kicukiro Primary school in Rwanda, then left for Burundi for her secondary studies. It’s in Burundi that the inspiration for her first film manifested, although at the time she didn’t consider a career in film.
Kivuto is a film borne out of her childhood memories about children with disabilities arising from complicated birth.
“There’s a province called Kirundo on the Burundian side, and Bugesera district on the Rwandan side. Kivuto is the name that was given to a child who had a complicated delivery. Usually the infant would be pushed out of the mother and in most cases that infant would die and if they survived they would come with some disabilities. Growing up, I saw many such children and even adults. Some would not control their biological functions,” she explains.
Following her award, a TV crew from Tele 10 interviewed her family on her success. She was shocked to learn from their interviews that the movie maker in her had started to manifest while she was a little girl of five.
At that age, she started narrating films to her family, films that were merely figments of her fertile imagination.
“I would tell them I had watched the film and start to narrate it yet I had not watched it. My siblings would sit around me and listen. The next day I would do the same and narrate a film I had never seen or heard about. When it was bed time my siblings would come to me to narrate them a film before they would go to sleep. Sometimes they would cry and other times they would be overtaken by fear.
“My mum was so strict and tough, but I was so stubborn and would always break her rules. Every time I would return home I knew that she would beat me up. Because I always knew I was going to be beaten up, I would always come up with a story to calm down her temper as a way of covering my stubbornness. Instead of beating me, she would say welcome, sit next to me and tell me the story,” she explains.
“My mum was a staunch Catholic and she adored the Virgin Mary. To be sure that I had convinced her and her temper had cooled down, I would always add a story about the Virgin Mary. I would tell her that some people had had a vision from the Virgin Mary. That was always the final touch in convincing her.”
It took them about five years to realize she had been creating fictional films she had never watched.
In 2008 she returned to Rwanda to continue with school at Mudende Adventist University where she studied Computer Science and Networking.
Towards the end of 2009 she met an American film crew making a movie in Rwanda.
“I was assisting the casting director to cast the characters. I noticed he was so tired and stressed and offered to help him during the pre production of the film. When I did it, the director of film started taking pictures of me and asking me many questions.”
They thought her to be an experienced local movie director, which she was not.
“The casting director asked me to return the next day yet he had his own assistant. I returned for the next couple of days and he kept asking me many questions about movies but I did not know the answers. I had not even read the script of the movie we were casting.
He asked how many times I had done casting in movies but I could not tell him I had never done it before because I knew they would not believe me. So I kept quiet, smiled and went away, hoping he would never ask me again.”
After the shoot she picked her allowances and headed back to school, the money having been her only motivation.
But even the Rwandan team from Almond Tree Films that had worked as extras in the film mistook her for an experienced American movie maker. Realizing she was Rwandan, the decided to engage her.
“They requested me to join Almond Tree Films and work with them but I told them I’m not a filmmaker but had just gone to make money.
One day they asked me to write them a script. I told them I had many stories but I didn’t have a computer and didn’t know anything to do with writing scripts. I just used to write my stories in a notebook.
When I gave them the story they said it’s a perfect script and they asked to shoot a movie out of it.”
Black Voices’ associate editor Taryn Finley and senior culture writer Zeba Blay sat down with Murray, who was also joined by Buzzfeed entertainment reporter Sylvia Obell, to share her perspective as an entertainment insider.
Here are five women Murray said should be on your list of Hollywood up-and-comers to watch in 2017:
1. Gina Prince-Bythewood
Best known for her 2000 romance film “Love and Basketball,” starring Sanaa Lathan, Gina Prince-Bythewood is no Hollywood newbie. Prince-Bythewood will be directing the upcoming fictional Fox series “Shots Fired,” which is centered on police brutality in South Carolina. Lathan will also star in the series.
2. Dee Rees
In a $12.5 million deal, Netflix recently bought director Dee Rees’ critically acclaimed film “Mudbound.” The film, which follows soldiers returning home from WWII, stars Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell and Mary J. Blige.
3. Stella Meghie
Stella Meghie’s name may not ring a bell just yet, but the Toronto native may soon be at the center of Hollywood’s attention when romance film “Everything, Everything,” starring Amandla Stenberg, is released this May.
4. Jessica Williams
Former “Daily Show” correspondent Jessica Williams should have been on your radar yesterday. One half of the “2 Dope Queens” podcast, Williams will be starring in Netflix’s “The Incredible Jessica James,” about a young playwright living in New York City.
5. Yvonne Orji
Yvonne Orji is everybody’s bestie as Molly in “Insecure.” But Orji really won our hearts with her realness when she opened up to “The Breakfast Club” in November about being a virgin at 32 years old and having experienced bullying when she was younger.
Look out, Hollywood. All this black excellence ain’t here to play.
by Adrijana Lazarevic
August 1, 2016
Ease your workload (and your mind) with these free templates for everything from storyboarding to contracts to accounting.
[Editor’s Note: No Film School asked Adrijana Lazarevic to collect these 99 templates because of her expertise working with filmmakers at Filestage.io.]
No one really feels like doing paperwork, but let’s be honest: no good film comes without organization and planning. That’s where templates can help you out. I work at a startup that creates software for filmmakers, and we see how busy you are every day, so we collected the most helpful templates, guides and checklists out there to make your life a little easier. They really help save time for what matters most: letting your creativity flow and producing breathtaking movies that won’t be forgotten.
The categories covered in this list are: Script Prep/Pre-production, Storyboard/Mood Board Templates, Shot List Templates, Script Breakdown Sheets, Budgeting, Accounting, Personnel/Cast Forms, Insurance Forms, Equipment Documents, Production/Shooting, and Music Releases.
Much of your planning happens well before production, including trying to get investors on board and starting to determine who your audience will be. Here are some templates for early steps, including a form for “optioning” a story that you want to produce, and a director’s worksheet that lays out what you’d like to see happen in each scene.
1. Director’s Worksheet – Film Contracts
2. Guide to Formatting a Screenplay – Final Draft
3. Literary Option & Purchase – Sonnyboo
4. Ultimate Creative Brief – Filestage
5. Cinematography Pre-Production Checklist – Film Contracts
6. Buyer Persona Template – Filestage
Storyboard/Mood Board Templates
Storyboarding is a cornerstone of the filmmaking process. A storyboard is a sequence of drawings that paint a picture of the your storyline, showing the structure of, and vision for, key scenes. We’ve also included a moodboard sheet for establishing the visual style of your film.
7. Moodboard Template – Filestage
8. Storyboard – Filestage
9. Storyboard – Sonnyboo
10. Storyboard – Filmsourcing
11. TV Storyboard – Film Contracts
Shot List Templates
Organization is the key to a successful shoot. With the help of a shot list, you can easily arrange single shots within any given scene. You can determine, for example, the number of shots necessary to capture a particular action most effectively. Give it a try with one of these practical templates.
12. Shot List – Film Contracts
13. Shot List – Learnaboutfilm
14. Shot List – LAvideoFilmmaker
15. Camera Shot List – Filmsourcing
16. Camera Shot List Advanced – Filmsourcing
Script Breakdown Sheets
Here you can find helpful templates providing detailed descriptions of scenes, and the equipment and personnel assigned to each one. This way, you never lose sight, and can make sure everything is going according to plan.
17. Script Breakdown Sheet – Studiobinder
18. Breakdown Sheet – Michael Wiese Books
19. Script Breakdown Sheet – Sonnyboo
While making a film, you or your producer have to keep a lot of things in mind and, before you know it, you can easily go over budget. This compilation of templates will help make sure that you don’t lose sight of your financial statements. Some of them additionally provide examples of budgeting.
20. Sample Budget – Sonnyboo
21. Budget and Invoice Template – Fstoppers
22. Film Budget Top Sheet – Making the Movie
23. Questions & Budget Creation – Michael Wiese Books
Once you have a budget, you have to actually do the accounting. Maintaining an overview of your finances and money flow is crucial. Check your financial resources by making notes of their movement. These forms will help you keep track.
24. Amount Received – Film Contracts
25. Cash or Sales Receipt – Film Contracts
26. Promissory Note – Film Contracts
27. Daily Cost Overview – Film Contracts
28. Cash Flow Sheet/PO Log – StudioBinder
29. Final Cast List SAG-UBCP – Film Contracts
30. Check Request – Film Contracts
31. Invoice Template – Going Freelance
32. Simple Invoice Template – Steve Hall Video
33. Expense Report – HowtoFilmschool
From general contracts and agreements to crew templates, many of these forms are necessary to lay out a foundation for the business behind your film and get a good team on board.
Cast & Crew Lists
34. Crew Contact List – Filmsourcing
35. Cast and Crew List – Studiobinder
36. Cast List – Film Contracts
Crew Deal Memos, Contracts and Agreements
37. Crew Deal Memo – New Brunswick Filmmakers’ Co-Operative
38. Writers Deal Memo – Film Contracts
39. Deal Memos – Film Contracts
40. Producer Contract – ISP Group Inc
41. Producer Video Release & Contract – Film Contracts
42. Contractor Agreements – Film Contracts
43. Photographer Work For Hire – ISP Group Inc
44. Producer Agreement (Short Form) – Film Contracts
45. Producer Agreement – Sonnyboo
46. Producer’s Royalty Attachment – ISP Group Inc
47. Executive Employment Agreement – ISP Group Inc
48. General Proxy – ISP Group Inc
49. Consulting Agreement – ISP Group Inc
50. Investor Suitability – ISP Group Inc
51. General Partnership Agreement – ISP Group Inc
52. Joint Venture Agreement 1 – ISP Group Inc
53. Loanout Agreement – Film Contracts
54. Basic Actor Info Sheet – Sonnyboo
55. Casting Sheet – Film Contracts
56. Cast Scene Number Breakdown – Film Contracts
57. Cast Deal Memo – Film Contracts
58. Actor Contract – Sonnyboo
59. Freelance Actors Contract – Film Contracts
60. Personal Release – Film Contracts
61. Talent Release – PremiumBlog
62. Actor Release – Film Contracts
63. Freelance Performer Agreement – Film Contracts
64. Actor Player Casting Agreement – Film Contracts
65. Nudity Rider for Casting Agreement – Film Contracts
So you found the most suitable locations to portray your vision. Now, as with everything else, you need to do the paperwork and take care of business These templates have you covered.
66. Location Contact List – Film Contracts
67. Location Scouting – Filmsourcing
68. Location Fact Sheet – PremiumBeat
69. Location Information Sheet – Film Contracts
70. Cinematography Location Information Form – Film Contracts
Contracts & Releases
71. Location Contract – Film Contracts
72. Production Location Contract – Film Contracts
73. Location Release – PremiumBeat
74. Production Location Release – Film Contracts
75. Location Agreement – Sonnyboo
Keep in mind that life doesn’t always have a bright side. Especially when it comes to accidents or health problems. Therefore, always insure your crew, yourself and the equipment. These templates will get you started.
76. Insurance Claim Worksheet Personal – Film Contracts
77. Actor Insurance Claim Worksheet – New Brunswick Filmmakers’ Co-Operative
78. Insurance Claim Worksheet Damage – Film Contracts
79. Insurance Claim Worksheet Automobile Accident – Film Contracts
80. Injury / Illness Report Form – Film Contracts
A movie is usually not made by a smartphone in one hand and a music player in the other. You need a whole bunch of stuff, plus, you have to deal with it. Cameras, recorders, lights, a whole set, and so on; all this has its price and needs to be paid attention to. These forms can help.
81. Box / Equipment Rental Inventory – Film Contracts
82. Equipment List – Dependent Films
83. Video Equipment Rental Agreement – Film Contracts
84. Special Camera Rigging Authorization – Film Contracts
You’ve got your cast & crew, locations, and equipment and now you’re onto the shoot: the time when staying organized is most crucial. To avoid slip-ups, interruptions or any other negative factors that make your life as director harder than it should be, use these forms. This list includes call sheets, your essential tool for communicating requirements with everyone on set.
85. Production Tracking Form – Film Contracts
86. Filming Notice – Filmsourcing
87. Production Requirement – Film Contracts
88. Shot Log – Film Contracts
89. Scene / Take Log – Film Contracts
90. Daily Production Report – New Brunswick Filmmakers’ Co-Operative
91. Continuity Log Sheet – Filmsourcing
92. Actors Production Time Report – Film Contracts
93. Call Sheet – Filmsourcing
94. Call Sheet – Cast and Crew Call
95. Call Sheet – StudioBinder
96. Call Sheet Cast – Film Contracts
Imagine movies without any music—unthinkable! Music is an essential part of a film experience. But, just as films have their patents and rights of use and enjoyment, sounds and music do too. And the legal use of music can be complicated. Here are some of the papers that help you do things right.
97. Sound Report – Filmsourcing
98. Music Reference – Filmsourcing
99. Music Release – New Brunswick Filmmakers’ Co-Operative
You know the hot babe. You’ve watched her on-screen as she inches her way out of a crystal blue pool, slowly shimmying to some sexy tune in the background.
BuzzfeedSports.Tumblr/Giphy – giphy.com
But if you ask actress Freida Pinto, and a growing group of voices in Hollywood, there simply has to be more powerful roles for ladies.
The actress and producer, in collaboration with her partners at We Do It Together, wants to change the way female voices are presented both on and off-screen.
The nonprofit film production company is creating more women-driven projects with a group of actors, filmmakers, and producers, whose collective goal is to introduce bold stories and feature powerful female characters to help inform and develop our culture as a whole.
And Pinto and Chiara Tilesi, founder of the nonprofit, say there’s a serious demand for these roles off-screen, too.
You might hear jokes about the “celluloid ceiling,” but according to a recent report, there are as many women directing films in 2016 as there were in 1998.
This year, just 19 percent of the big decision-making jobs in film were held by women in the top 250 domestic grossing movies, including director, writer, editor, executive producer, and cinematographer.
In the coming months, you can expect to see Pinto attempt to shatter many outdated clichês in her upcoming films, as she and the organization work to write new narratives for women. They’re thinking about the future. They picture the children, both boys and girls of today, looking for heroes like they did. ATTN: sat down with Pinto and Tilesi to talk about why they want to break these stereotypes and help inspire women. They want to show that women are sexy, smart, and much more than just objects.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.
ATTN: Why are there limited opportunities for women in entertainment?
Freida Pinto: I don’t think there is the lack of wanting to go out there and creating more roles and opportunities, but I feel there’s been a lack of doing so far. We’ve been hearing for a very long time, studio heads, and producers, and agents, and actors themselves saying that there should be more women roles, but I feel it takes a lot of doing to actually make it happen. And I think that is the harder part, and it’s a longer part, it’s a longer commitment. And of course it’s mindsets. There’s a certain way that women have been viewed in film for years. To break that stereotype, you have to go out there really, really hard. I feel like there is an opportunity now, more than ever before, with all this conversation about equal pay and women standing up, saying that we want more roles that are not just the mother or the girlfriend or the hot babe, and I feel with all this chat now, the next thing for us to actually do is to do it.
ATTN: What do you think are the most typical or standard portrayals of women in films?
FP: I’ve played a few of them. I’ve played a few of those stereotypical roles: the girlfriend, who usually is a useless sidekick.
The hot babe. There has to be a hot babe. How can you sell a film without a hot babe?
The mother, and usually as they get older, women are stuck in roles that are devoid of any sexuality or sensuality, like they don’t feel the need for being sexual or sensual after the age of 40, and that’s really sad. And not to say there aren’t women who aren’t defying that.
The other one that I feel is the other extreme of it, is when you want to sell a woman as a strong person, she almost has to wear male pants, or else it’s [almost] impossible for a woman to be wearing a normal dress, or jeans and t-shirt, and still be powerful. I feel there is a sense of lack of understanding, that women can be women and still be powerful.
ATTN: And for minority women, what does that standard portrayal look like for you?
FP: Doctors and nurses. There is an overpopulation of them in the film world, and the TV world. There is also this constant need, in my opinion, for studio heads to make minority women exotic. Unfortunately, I have played one of those as well. I learned from my mistake, because I kind of feel in a way, ‘That’s great, that’s great to do that. But what more am I giving my character, and what is the impression that I’m giving a whole population that looks up to me as their representation?’ I feel like the exotic, or the nerd, or the doctor, the nurse — [these stereotypical roles] need to stop.
ATTN: Can you describe some of the ageism that some women in film are facing right now?
FP: I feel like because there are so few women who go out there and defy ageism, I end up watching a lot of their films. There’s Meryl Streep, there’s Helen Mirren, there is Sally Field.
I think it’s absolutely admirable to see what they are doing, because the opposite is the larger chunk: Women who are not given the power of being in their bodies, whether they’re sexual or sensual, within their bodies — and powerful, just because they’ve crossed a certain mark. Whereas with men there isn’t such a problem. Tom Cruise is still Ethan Hunt in “Mission Impossible.”
He can age and age and age and he’ll still be a super hero of sorts, and I feel that is definitely lacking in women’s roles. Women automatically become the wise mothers or the wise grandmothers, imparting all this amazing knowledge, funnily enough, in one move. And for me, that does not make any sense.
ATTN: What roles are we seeing that are positive examples of movies doing things the right way with women?
FP: The positive examples, and they have to be mentioned, otherwise it just seems like we’re out there being negative about the change that is actually taking place as well, as slow as it may be. In recent times, “Blue Jasmine” definitely empowered Cate Blanchett’s character, and she did not need to be the perfect, beautiful woman playing that. She was empowered in her own way, with her own dysfunctionality, and it was a thrill to watch a performance like that. She kept it very organic and real.
I loved Helen Hunt in “The Sessions.” It was nice, for a change, to see a fully sexually liberated woman. There was not a sense of objectification. That was the main thing about that film. There was no objectification of her naked body. It was serving a purpose that was graceful and almost noble, in a way. There were so many emotions running deep, it wasn’t just ‘Helen Hunt’s naked body, look at it.’ And I think that was definitely another brilliant example of a film in recent times.
Of course, everyone will go back to Erin Brockovich, everyone will talk about “Blindside,” because those are amazing films and role models, as well, for us younger actors to look up and say, ‘These are the roles we need to aspire to, the roles we need to be in.”
ATTN: There’s a lot of conversation about the pay gap, what do you think can be done to solve these problems?
FP: I don’t have necessarily the answer to the pay gap problem in Hollywood, because I’m not an expert on how to solve this problem, but I feel women need to band together as well. Female actors need to make sure their voices are being heard right at the level of negotiation. I feel there’s a sense of fear, in a way, that ‘You know what, I have a job, I might as well take it and just be quiet about it, because at least I have a job.’
But I feel we need to start changing that attitude. And I feel changing that attitude is going to meet a lot of resistance at first, hence, changing the attitude with a little bit of bravery will be very, very important for this actual shift to happen. All I can hope is that agents and producers and studio heads don’t shun this as women rising up for no rhyme or reason, but actually pay attention to what they’re saying.
ATTN: For the young people out there, including our audience, how does it affect them when they don’t see somebody on the screen who looks like them?
FP: I will give you my example when it comes to not having enough role models or enough people who they can actually look up to and say ‘I relate to that person.’ There were hardly any strong, female, brown, Indian characters in films before. It was always the nurse, the doctor, the teacher, the social worker, and it was always in these roles that if you pulled them out of the script they would hardly change the course of the film. And I felt that was nerve-wracking at first, when I did my first film, when I did “Slumdog Millionaire,” and I was like, ‘Here I am, thrust onto this international platform, with not many women in the past who’ve come from India or South Asia who’ve done it before, how am I going to change the game? How am I going to make it known that I am not willing to play these roles that don’t do anything to the film?
Giphy/http://do-androidsdreamof-electricsheep.tumblr.com/ – giphy.com
It’s not about just wanting to play the lead roles, but even in a supporting role, to make sure that it is truly supporting the crux of the film. It was really difficult at first, and I did have to play some of the stereotypical roles, to be honest. But now, having done all that, I feel it is my responsibility, in a way, to make sure that the next generation of boys and girls, whether they are from India, South Asia, brown, not brown — doesn’t matter — that they just see strong female characters from now on. Especially for boys as well, because you can really shape the way they think about girls and women, their future wives and girlfriends in general, if the representation in film is not just objectification, and if it is someone who is powerful.
ATTN: What important stories are you fighting for right now?
FP: At the moment, with the films that I’m producing, I am kind of hell-bent on doing the first three films of South Asian women. I think it’s very important, as someone who comes from that part of the world, that I tell a few stories about women from my part of the world, and in making sure that when I tell the stories of these women, that there is no demonizing of men, because that is something I’m strongly opposed to.
Jessica Lea/Department for International Development – wikimedia.org
In order to tell a strong woman’s story you don’t have to make the man look bad. There are always gray characters, there are always the characters in the middle, but no one needs to look like a bad person, just keeping the humanity intact while telling the stories.
ATTN: What’s it like to work with women, on women-driven projects? Is there a big difference?
FP: You know, the truth is, I have never worked with a woman. And I am working with one right now, but I’ve never gone on floors with a female director, and I’m yearning so very badly to do that, just because I want to experience a different perspective. I’ve not had trouble communicating what I really want, because I’m not the kind of person to have trouble communicating my perspective even with a male director, but I just want the experience of working with someone who I will not have to spend a lot of time explaining a lot of things, where I can just go out there and go with the flow.
What I love about the women that I’m working with right now, with We Do It Together, with Chiara, with my director Kátia Lund, who is producing the next film with me as well, which we’re working on, the working relationship with them is we complement each other. There is no sense of competition. Every time you think about women in a work field together, for some reason, there is, again, this stereotype of them being competitive. But I love the fact that we complement each other because of our different upbringing and backgrounds and experiences, we bring so much richness and flavor to what we’re doing right now, it almost feels like we’re unstoppable, and I can’t wait to actually go out there and film the things that we’re planning on doing!
Tuesday, Mar 22, 2016 02:35 PM CST
Justin Lin: If we want more diversity in Hollywood, “the general public has to demand it”
The “Fast & Furious” director’s plan to support Asian American artists is one of several new diversity programs
Paula Young Lee
In 2016, the fact that Hollywood made a sequel to #OscarsSoWhite has energized longstanding conversations regarding systemic racism and sexism in the entertainment industry. In its wake: a rash of new initiatives aimed at diversifying television, film, and theater. As the squeaky wheels of progress turn inside the Hollywood machine, a few film directors are doing their part to pull it into the 21st century.
Director Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) founded the film distribution collective, Array, and hired women and people of color for the currently-filming production of the OWN network television series “Queen Sugar.” “Star Trek: A New Hope” director J.J. Abrams’s production company, Bad Robot, will henceforth require that women and people of color be submitted for writing, directing and acting jobs in proportion to their representation in the U.S. population. A new non-profit, We Do It Together, aims to finance and produce films, documentaries, TV and other forms of media that will challenge stereotypes regarding women, and its advisory board includes directors Catherine Hardwicke, Hany Abu-Assad, Amma Asante, Marielle Heller, Katia Lund, Małgorzata Szumowska, and Haifaa Al Mansour, among others.
In 2010, YouoffendmeYouoffendmyFamily (YOMYOMF), the Asian-centric blog and entertainment website founded by director Justin Lin (“Fast and Furious” series, currently filming “Star Trek Beyond”) initiated a competition, “Interpretations,” which asked aspiring Asian-American filmmakers to develop and shoot a 3-minute short around a four-line script. A resounding success, it is being run again this year, with a script written by Tony-award winning playwright David Henry Hwang. The four lines are:
Don’t do that.
I have my doubts.
What is it?
(Confused? Here is a funny example of how it works.) The winners get the opportunity to craft a project for the initiative’s lead sponsors, Comcast and NBC Universal (NBCU).
In a recent interview, Lin told me the more the public gets behind these works and artists—both in front of and behind the camera—the more we’ll see things start to change.
“After I made ‘Better Luck Tomorrow’ and started taking meetings in Hollywood, I quickly learned that Asian Americans weren’t even in the conversation as a minority, since there wasn’t even a significant enough audience, and especially an audience for Asian American content,” he said. “I think it’s changing now with shows like ‘Dr. Ken,’ ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ and ‘Master of None,’ but obviously when we look at the film side, there’s still a lot to be done.”
“Interpretations” is the first initiative for the nonprofit YOMYOMF Foundation, which supports Asian American talent, and more programs are on the way. Lin says he started the foundation because he knows talented artists are out there, they just need opportunity and mentorship.
“I’m the child of immigrants. My Taiwanese parents came to America with no money and supported my brothers and me as small business owners in Orange County, which is close to L.A. but about as far away from Hollywood as you can be. I didn’t know anyone in the industry, but had a great deal of people help me along in my path,” said Lin. “I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but feel incredibly lucky to be in the position I am now and to be able to play a small part in trying to support talented, aspiring young filmmakers out there through a program like ‘Interpretations’ who, like me, had the desire and passion, but no connections to the industry.”
Lin also says if we want to see more diversity in film, “the general public has to demand it.”
“It’s about supporting the many talented artists and filmmakers out there trying to create work from that marginalized point of view,” he said. “Go out and buy tickets to their movies and plays, support their crowd sourcing campaigns, show the industry that there is a viable audience for this work.”
The pronounced under-representation of Asian-Americans in the entertainment industry has not gone unremarked. The Asian American Arts Alliance of New York, for example, just announced the launch of a new theater fellowship aimed at supporting young artists and directors of Asian descent by providing them with a stipend, mentorship, and other forms of support. When marginalized groups have limited access to opportunity, it shows up in various ways, including the ongoing drama of #OscarsSoWhite. As the Economist explains:
Oscar nominations have not dramatically under-represented black actors. Instead, they have greatly over-represented white ones. Blacks are 12.6% of the American population, and 10% of Oscar nominations since 2000 have gone to black actors. But just 3% of nominations have gone to their Hispanic peers (16% of the population), 1% to those with Asian backgrounds, and 2% to those of other heritage.
Given that Asians are not only are 60 percent of the world’s total population but Asian-Americans are also the highest income and fastest growing racial group in the U.S., it is statistically improbable that they are barely a blip at the entertainment industry’s most prestigious award ceremony.
YOMYOMF announced the second “Interpretations” competition this past weekend at the annual film fest organized by the Center for Asian-American Media in San Francisco. CAAM Fest, explains YOMYOMF creative director Phil Chung, “has been supportive of Justin from the very beginning when he came here with his UCLA feature, ‘Shopping for Fangs’,“ and so there has been a longstanding connection between Lin and the organization. “Seeing the packed 1,400 seat Castro Theater for CAAMFest’s opening night,” Chung tells me, “was a visceral reminder that there is a huge audience out there hungry for Asian American content–stories by, for and about our communities.”
A few television executives have already figured out that this audience is out there. Karen Horne is Senior Vice President of Programming Talent Development & Inclusion for NBC Entertainment and Universal Television. For many years, she explains, Comcast and NBC Universal have supported CAAM Fest, so partnering with “Interpretations” was a natural segue. The company’s diversity push (opportunities linked here) date back to 2000, when NBC “initiated a diverse staff writer initiative that has given start to many people like Mindy Kaling, Alan Yang, Danielle Sanchez-Witzel and many, many more,” she emphasizes. “Our initiatives go far beyond my department as well. It is company-wide and is a part of our DNA.” The winners of “Interpretations” will be featured at NBCU’s Short Film Festival finale in October.
Horne couldn’t promise me that NBC Universal would pick up where ABC left off and build a new comedy around John Cho, of the late, lamented sitcom “Selfie,” but did affirm that casting for new shows under development is “still underway, and I’m enthusiastic that this year, we will see more diversity across the board.”
The key phrase is diversity across the board. When all the other factors are taken into account, the tiny number of Asians in popular media is especially egregious, but Natives and people of Middle Eastern descent are so marginalized they often don’t even get mentioned in “diversity” conversations. The point is that Lin, DuVernay, Abrams and other directors are implementing their convictions, taking financial risks, and using their focused spheres of influence to change cultural perceptions. The result? Great visual storytelling and fantastic entertainment. Let’s demand more of this.
Paula Young Lee is the author of “Deer Hunting in Paris,” winner of the 2014 Lowell Thomas “Best Book” award of the Society of American Travel Writers. She is currently writing outdoor adventure books for middle grade and young adults. Follow her on Twitter @paulayounglee
by Sheree L. Ross
All of the diversity talk since the Oscars is a very good thing. Already new production companies are being formed in Hollywood by women deciding to own our narrative, but it will barely be much more than just a conversation unless we see greater action out of studio executives and powers that be, that isn’t just predicated upon the momentum of bad press.
It is great to see our allies – like high profile filmmaker J.J. Abrams and Women Filmmaker’s of Color like Queen Latifah making concerted efforts to change the paradigms around Hollywood’s overwhelming diversity problem, yet let’s take a second and expand this conversation to include not only what’s going on in Hollywood but the diversity of location.
Diversity thinking (as it relates to our domestic film and television industry) should also start to include filmmakers, production companies and studios all throughout the United States. This country learned an important lesson a few decades ago about company towns. Detroit and the people who worked for those car companies could never have imagined the long term economic devastation that continues to have withering effects. I believe those who run Hollywood aren’t imagining, nor can fathom, the long-term effects of their blockbuster spending, monopoly mind-set, and narrow parameters around casting, production location and story lines.
With the increasing affordability of making movies and media, the plethora of exhibition platforms and ever increasing media innovations the powers-that-be of Hollywood can’t continue to ignore what is clearly a shifting paradigm. There are so many talented filmmakers who live all over the US by choice or by economics. Many of us don’t want to live in Hollywood for varying reasons, and yet it often feels impossible to think of any levels of success without doing so. And just before you think I am off the subject of diversity, believe me this is a conversation about diversity most of all. Any industry that is disproportionately dominated by white men gathered in one geographic location has a severe diversity problem.
I do realize that there are successful companies outside of Hollywood – Harpo and Troublemaker Studios are at the top of these success stories. But I think most would agree that there is something inherently screwy about a system that has the deck stacked so in favor of just the Hollywood big boys.