INTERVIEW: Co-directors of the Women's Weekend Film Challenge
Network, network, network. It’s all about who you know. A lot of job opportunities come about because of who knows who in the biz. This is a rule of thumb in many careers but the film industry is notoriously close circled. When new film projects are crewing up, potential candidates rely on reputation and word of mouth to seal the deal.
One of the biggest challenges for women working in the film industry is breaking into the inner circles. Talented female technicians often get overlooked, not because they aren’t every bit as qualified in their role but because they are not under the noses of those with hiring power.
“Work begets work,” as co-director of the Women’s Weekend Film Challenge, Katrina Medoff says. It’s natural to hire a safe bet for a project, to hire who you know. So how do we get more women in film into profession roles and change the gender bias of the film industry?
This is just one of the reasons the Women’s Weekend Film Challenge, a grass roots initiative out of New York, is making a real change for women in film. Gathering together passionate and proactive women to create and complete a short film within the space of a single weekend. It’s the ultimate filmmaker challenge with far reaching benefits for its female participants.
The Women’s Weekend Film Challenge has two main goals:
1. To help female filmmakers network with each other so that they can hire and recommend one another in the future.
2. To tell women’s stories through film with women behind and in front of the camera.'
I spoke with co-directors Katrina Medoff and Tracy Sayre on the eve of their next challenge about to take place in New York.
Watch the interview here:
*This interview has been edited and condensed for length.
AD: The Women’s Weekend Film Challenge is a women in film initiative that challenges all female cast and crews to write, shoot and edit a short film all in the space of a single weekend. It’s such a great idea for a film challenge and I’m sure it’s no easy task for the participants.
KM: Not at all, but it’s fun.
AD: But sounds so much fun. So, you first launched the challenge from a single Facebook post back in November 2017, how did it grow from that very first call out?
KM: I’d had this idea that came to me the same day that I wrote the Facebook post – what if there was this film challenge with all women working in it, where the person who is organising it is putting the teams together so that people are working with an entirely new group of people and before I could second guess myself I put that up on Facebook just to see what the interest would be.
TS: I read this post and Katrina had written - if you’ve only worked with a male cinematographer how will you ever refer or work with a female cinematographer? This is a chance to meet all those women in every field and potentially refer them for future jobs. I was thinking about the last film I had produced and I had worked with the most amazing cinematographer but he wasn’t a women. So if I were to refer any cinematographers or basically any of the technical roles from my last project it would all be men. So when I saw Katrina’s post I thought, oh that’s such a good idea. There were 300 women who posted in 10 hours who also thought it was a really great idea.
AD: The power of social media. You can blast this call out and like-minded people can all jump on board. I think that is so amazing. What you’re saying as well about referral. If you don’t have those female contacts in the industry then you won’t think about it moving forward, especially as you go up the chain of production.
TS: At one of our screenings, Katrina asked the audience to raise their hand if they’re working on projects where they are hiring people and almost everyone raised their hands. It just hit home that we all have hiring potential and as long as we’re introducing women into that mix then we are helping to increase the representation of women in film.
KM: I really think work begets work. Every single set that you’re on, you’re going to meet somebody and they’re going to need you as a sound person for this next job or they’re going to need that graphic designer or they’re going to need that gaffer… I think getting all these women together and all these women are professional, they’re all working on short films a lot of them are working on their first feature film. They’re in positions where they can hire these people and refer them in the future.
AD: I’d love to know the specifics of how the challenge actually works, can you talk me through it?
KM: We put together the teams from applications, we spend hours and days looking through these applications where people are sharing their reels and their websites and their talents. We take all that information and we put it together like a puzzle. We make sure all the teams have a couple of cars, people aren’t working with the same people they worked with last time if they’re second time participants and all sorts of things go into the making of those teams.
TS: When people apply, they can give up to four choices for the role that they want to perform on set. For example, someone might say their first choice is DP, second choice is 1st AC, third choice is 2nd AC and fourth choice is gaffer. Then we look at their reels we look at their writing and websites and try to determine is this person ready for the task? Do they need a little more guidance? Do they need a push forward? What are the best skills for them and for us to help the teams? For this challenge we’ve created 7 crews, there’s 27-30 women on each of the crews. Every role is covered from hair and makeup, costume designers, assistant editors, assistant directors, two associate producers etc.
AD: So they’re fully fledged teams. Even though this is a bit of grass roots indie movement, the teams that you’re building are full teams.
TS: It’s really a chance for our filmmakers. All of them are working professionals but they all have different backgrounds. Some of them are coming from commercial productions, some of them from the indie world and for some of them this is the first time they’re working with such a large crew and also we’re providing amazing equipment for everyone.
MS: We have some really great sponsors. We have RED camera packages for all the teams. We have sound kits donated via Gotham Sound which is local. Zeiss lenses, batters, hard drives, everything.
AD: Sounds like with successful sponsorship that the community is really backing this movement.
TS Oh yeah. Every major company we’ve spoken to. They’re like, how can we help? We need to help women in film.
MS: People have been so helpful.
TS: This is such an easy way for them to help hundreds of women in film, right off the bat.
KM: Once we have these teams and we get them together, we train the team leaders and then at 6pm on the Thursday that the challenge starts we pull a genre out of a hat for each team. It’s a different genre, you don’t know if it’s going to be a horror or a rom-com when you go into it. We give them all a prop they need to work with. Last time it was a stuffed animal and once they have that they get to work. They start writing, they start shooting, editing, creating an original score, everything.
TS: We assign two writers to each team and we find that this is really helpful for them to practice collaborating with a new partner. We give fun writing prompts to help them prepare for the challenge and so Thursday night when they get the genre they basically have to finish the script around 2am. Then the next morning, Friday AM, the producers are securing all the equipment, the locations, finalising everything that needs to happen and then filming typically starts Friday evening and goes through Saturday.
KM: They have to submit the finished film by 11:59PM Sunday.
AD: Wow. Has everyone so far been able to get their films in on time?
TS: Amazingly so!
KM: We made seventeen films last year, total of 300 or more women and they all got in on time.
AD: So fantastic. What were some of the films, as an example? Were most of them set in a single location to try keep it simple or how does it go?
KM: We had everything. We had a buddy comedy that was shot in the first challenge in January 2018, they shot at the Women’s March in New York. We also had an amazing dystopian sci-fi film that was shot in one house and it was equally awesome.
TS: Katrina and I take turns participating as well as organising the whole thing. We see it as a way of learning from the inside what needs to be improved and what’s working.
KM: And it’s fun!
TS: Yeah, and it’s fun! The last time I directed one of the films, we shot in five locations all over the city and moving all that equipment in taxis from Queens to Brooklyn took like an hour and half to get between locations. That’s part of the fun.
AD: Talking a little bit about the theme of women in film and supporting female voices; where we are now in this post #metoo world. There is so much more talk about gender pay disparity and inclusion ryder and the importance of minority voices and different voices. How has this new media attention helped you as a movement gain more traction?
KM: At the very least, people are starting to be more aware of this. I think that’s helped us get sponsors because people are really seeing this is something that not only filmmakers but also audiences want to be changed. We’ve been at speaking engagements and sometimes we’re talking to people who’ve never really thought about this before, even with the #metoo movement. We had someone at the last event…
TS: He never really realised that women we objectified in film. We showed a clip putting a bunch of images of women’s bodies, the camera just panning up their bodies. He was shocked by it. Never had given it a thought before.
KM: We’re so used to seeing it. We also showed this compilation of clips from our films and the way that women are treated on screen when you have a female cinematographer, when you have a female director, when you have female writers, writing the characters and they’re really complex, interesting and dynamic characters. It’s just night and day.
TM: Speaking of the #metoo movement. At one of our talks, the opening question was how do we amplify women’s voices? I was listening to what some of the people were saying. It was all talk about, “we need to listen to victims.” I’ve realised women have a voice beyond victim-hood. We just need to tell our stories. We need to be listened to, no matter what we’re telling. We deserve to have a voice.
AD: What are your maim goals for this film challenge? What would you like to see next?
KM: Coming up next for us, we’re going to be launching in LA for the first time. We’re so excited about that. We were out there a couple of months ago and we hosted a drinks night for some interested future participants and everyone’s just so excited.