Last Friday, we presented our annual Women in Focus conference. For over 10 years, we've welcomed a handful of prominent women working in the film and media industries to speak directly to students about their career path, educational choices, professional development, and the state of the industry, especially with respect to a female perspective. We've long held that diversity enhances the educational experience, and celebrating the accomplishments of women is one way we communicate our passion for personal engagement and storytelling.
This year, our panel featured very successful independent filmmakers, those working in the middle-ground between full-on studio partnership and the guerilla filmmakers tying their films together with shoestring budgets. These women have pioneered new roles and relationships among themselves and the industry, breaking glass ceilings and redefining what it means to be a film executive working in Hollywood today.
Guests were greeted in the afternoon to enjoy an exclusive luncheon, to introduce the panelists to the faculty and administration, and foster a spontaneous feeling of connectivity throughout the day.
Each VIP guest was accompanied by a student "Ambassador" to see to their needs, provide exclusive tours of the facilities, and assist in travel arrangements.
The main event takes place in the Folino Theater; after introductions by Film Chair Alex Rose (who has organized the event since its inception) and Dean Bob Bassett, each guest is further introduced to the audience via a reel of clips from their most prominent work. These clip reels are highly entertaining, created and edited in-house, highlighting similar themes and common interests between the panelists' diverse body of work.
Following the reels, the panel assembles onstage and conversation begins. The panel is always led by an engaging, powerful executive; this year, our moderator was Dawn Hudson, executive director of Film Independent, a local Los Angeles organization devoted to promoting indie films. Dawn led a fascinating discussion of a wide array of topics, from the place of women in the industry, to each panelists' personal career path and struggles, to advice students of any gender can use to make it in the business.
This year, we collected questions for the panelists via Twitter, before and during the event; we asked interested parties to tweet a question for them with the #WIF2011 hashtag; we collected these questions and provided them to the panel at the end of the event, to directly address students' practical concerns. I live-tweeted the event, so those students who couldn't make it were still able to follow along (we had a few students Tweeting about the event – during class!), which means we also have a record of what was said! Check out some of the best quotes and advice:
Susan Cartsonis: "Digital media allows you to embrace niche distribution, and tht's something that's brand new and extremely powerful. This is going to be a powerful new age for us. Forget the word 'no' and just say 'yes,' and when a door opens, just go through it."
Shana Feste: "Write your own material!"
Mary Lambert: "Say what you want to say and do – not what other people want you to do. Also, never shoot yourself in the foot."
Cathy Schulman: "Don't sell anything to anyone else before you can sell it flawlessly to yourself first. The process [of selling a property] is such a long and grueling one, so if you aren't onboard, no one else will be either."
Nancy Utley: "Persevere. If the first 11 drafts aren't right, keep going. It may take a a decade, but if you have talent, it will work out."
Rebecca Yeldham: "Keep your integrity and listen to your own truth. If you can't see yourself lying down on the tracks for your film, [you're in the wrong arena.] Pursue your passion for that thing that inspires you most honestly."
Dawn Hudson: "Always make friends with assistants. They have more power than you can imagine. And, make great friends in general. They will mean something to you [as your career develops.]"
Did you attend the panel? What was your favorite quote or theme they discussed? Let me know what you think in the comments below!