It’s an unfortunate broken record hearing the annual statistics reporting the lack of women in Hollywood. The main problem with the lopsided numbers is that there are many women in the industry that deserve the same opportunities as men. The demand for equality is not to simply hire more women and throw qualified men out on the street, but rather give the same opportunities to women since they are equally and even more qualified than their male counterparts.
There are typically more hurdles for a woman to prove she’s right for the job. Those hurdles are even more difficult to get over when for example she is Indian, Muslim, Latina, Asian, and even disabled. Which is why these three women deserve credit for overcoming the critics telling them they can’t do it. They all come highly qualified and their personal life experiences are an inspiration to all.
“Don’t wait for permission, give yourself permission, to learn, to fail, to do and it will all serve you”
Director Regina Ainsworth
Director Regina Ainsworth is a member of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Alliance of Women Directors (AWD), Women in Film, Women in Media, Cinnefemme, and NALIP. She was elected to Co-Chair the DGA’s Latino Committee and appointed to serve the Women’s Steering Committee Proposal’s Committee. Recently Regina spoke on stage to DGA members for a special event hosted by the DGA Latino Committee and Special Projects Committee, The Craft of the Director: Guillermo del Toro “Fables and Parables.” Regina talked about the committee’s work and introduced del Toro, “The Latino Committee is thrilled to co-partner this discussion on fables and parables. Tonight, we get to do just that by recognizing the work of Guillermo del Toro, a person whose vision, leadership and directorial style has moved us all. His visionary monsters, examination of the other, and authentic storytelling style has had an indelible impact on cinema.”
She has worked with over 120 episodic TV series, shorts, and films. With the strong ambition to visually tell stories, she committed herself full time to filmmaking. Her experiences in the film and TV industry are extensive, her resume is remarkable, but yet the odds are still against her. “It’s extremely challenging being a female director, and a Latina director. But it is a misconception that we aren’t out there….while we are unicorns, there are whole villages of unicorns that are easily found….they are just not plucked out and propped up the same way men are,” shares Ainsworth.
Regina says she’s a valuable and nimble director because she works very well with others, she’s decisive, and is quick at trouble shooting to avert major issues. “Leadership, collaboration, communication, and enabling people to do their best work are all key to bringing your artistic vision to life on screen. Being prepared and having a clear vision is also extremely important. I prep like nobody’s business,” shares Regina. She got her start in the industry as an actress and said that gives her an edge as a director on getting the best from her cast and that she knows how to speak that language fluently and sees each actor’s part being extremely critical to telling the story.
Networking, being open to taking advice, and learning from those before her, along with guidance from mentors are all crucial to her success. She is constantly on the rise as a director, she won’t go away, and refuses to give up. “Have I had to be more assertive, more tenacious, more bold, less apologetic – absolutely. I speak up and out, and for me, I was more rough and tumble as a girl growing up, so I never really learned to be meek in a way; I guess my upbringing has served me…I’ve never thought about it before really, I just did it.”
In college Regina was a theatre actress, dancer, and writer at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. After receiving her B.A. in Theatre Arts she enrolled in a two year program at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts. After all her theatre work, which included studying the London stage, she wanted to work on films and television. She relocated to Los Angeles and ideally wanted to attend film school, but unfortunately that was not an option at the time as Regina shares, “I couldn’t afford to go to film school (I had already gone the theatre route and had student loan debt and was getting kinda old to start over in film school). I came to Hollywood as an actress not knowing a soul, and started temping while I was going to acting classes and auditioning. It was a temp job that landed me at Warner Bros, and then I got hired and worked my way up, learning the business of film and TV (but mostly TV) on the lot. I went to set every chance I could and that was my film school.”
Knowing she wouldn’t get the same opportunities as men and in order to continue establishing herself in the industry, she would have to be extra assertive and persistent. “I read an article recently about Spielberg in Forbes (article here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/carminegallo/2017/10/09/steven-spielbergs-first-boss-made-this-promise-that-unleashed-the-directors-creativity/#23a1e4e46d75) that when he got his first studio deal at 20, former MCA/Universal President Sid Sheinberg advised he would be supported for 7 years, regardless of box office success, to make his feature work,” tells Regina. “So that gave Spielberg permission to fail and make great work. Women generally don’t have that opportunity…they get one shot and if their work isn’t a critical success that turns a sizeable profit, they go to filmmaking jail. They will have to spend a lot of time doing shorts or indie film to move the needle to ever be considered again. Hollywood is also not in favor of past works. They want to know what you just did, or what you are working on. And if you haven’t had something remarkable in a couple of years, you are stale.”
Never backing down or giving up, she took her own advice of just doing it and not sit around waiting for the opportunity to come to her. She didn’t wait for someone to give her permission to make a film, she went out and connected with like minded craftspeople, deployed her alma mater’s slogan of ‘learn by doing’, and just went after it. Seeing the road as a female director was going to be a difficult and tiresome one, she started up her own production company, Defining Moment Entertainment LLC, while still working at Warner Bros. It was after she had her son Elijah, and returned from maternity leave that a miracle happened… She was given the task of overseeing the launch of the Warner Bros. Television Directors Workshop. It was then that she audited the course, was inspired by fellow filmmakers, and met her mentor Bethany Rooney, that she took the plunge and devoted herself to full-time filmmaking. “My best advice is to do it anyway. I didn’t wait for permission or funding from somebody else. I found people to connect with and trade services. I finally had the courage to start my own business and learn by doing with my own shorts in 2010. I leapt to full time filmmaking in Feb 2014 and joined the DGA in 2015 and have never looked back.”
Just keep an open mind, don’t worry about failure, and collaborate, are just a few points Regina says are the key to success, “Don’t wait for permission, give yourself permission, to learn, to fail, to do and it will all serve you. Be good to others and help in every way you can. And learn all you can. You have to have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a never ending desire to explore, to ask what if? And be open to ideas other than your own. The best idea might come from the grip dept or from the b cam op. You never know. Give credit where credit is due, but ultimately you are the director and the leader. Lead and they will follow.“
Regina loves spending time with her son and husband when she’s not working. Typically mothers are at a disadvantage moving up the corporate ladder. In most cases they still are the ones taking time off of work for sick children, school events, etc. and of course there the maternity leave. Some companies are changing their policies to assist mothers, additionally some dads have been taking on more responsibilities, and the stay home dad is not uncommon these days. Meanwhile in Hollywood, production will not be put on hold when a situation comes up with a child, parent, pregnancy issues, or recovery time after giving birth as Regina explains, “Let’s say I have a child, and the process for that takes two years to get that child to a good place to be cared for (pregnancy to age 1 for example) and then I have another child, or I decide 1 is enough and I try to get things going again, or I have a sick parent….women are still traditionally the caregivers, the child-rearers, and Hollywood doesn’t care or give room for that at all.”
The salary gap between male and female cast and crew has been under scrutiny also and just as critical is the overall budgets for movies. With the exception of a handful of big budget productions, most women filmmakers have to make smaller or micro budgets work. Having a smaller budget than their male counterparts limits their resources, equipment, and sometimes desired cast members which puts women at a significant disadvantage to make a successful movie. “Women have it harder financially, to be a man you just maybe have to shoot one film (short or long) and you can drag that film around to investors and eventually somebody will fund you,” tells Regina. “OR be incredibly charming with great vision – I know a TV director that got his first feature funded at $1M without any experience; he just had a great vision and a lot of charm…Not so with women. All of the work on my reel has been done with little to nothing (either totally free or with a budget under $5K) because those were the opportunities I had.”
Regina currently is working on an exciting new short Recombined that’s based on the Tankborn Trilogy by veteran novelist and Writer’s Guild member Karen Sandler. Regina, Sandler and filmmaker and Producer Guild member Neobe Velis have teamed up to bring this action filled piece to life. Get involved as currently there is a crowdfunding campaign running (link below). In some cases crowdfunding is much more than raising money for a project and in Regina’s case with Recombined, she wants to break the barriers, as the majority of TV series writings coming from a few high profile agencies. “Crowdfunding is a viable pathway to getting the work created, that otherwise the male investors at the top would overlook,” tells Regina. “William Morris Endeavor and Creative Artists Agency package their writing work to TV – so in essence between 70-80% of what we see on TV comes through these two agencies, and through their top earners, which surprise! are white men. So our perspective, as women, and particularly women of color are underrepresented. The WGA and others have recently discovered this packaging monopoly and will be working on breaking it up in the future. We have to break the cycle to enable other powerful storytellers and interesting voices to make it to the screen.” http://deadline.com/2018/03/tv-series-packaging-agency-domination-wme-caa-writers-guild-data-1202338755/
For more information on Recombined, visit their crowdfunding page https://www.hatchfund.org/project/recombined_a_sci_fi_short_film
Once funding is obtained and the Recombined short is made, Regina said they will run it for release in new media. The intent is for the short to be part of a virtual pitch package to new media companies for the YA sci-fi book trilogy Tankborn. The goal is to bring it streaming into each home, worldwide, however all doors are open and making a feature film is still an option. Regardless, the priority is that Regina will be directing it whether it’s on TV or made into a feature.
To keep up with Recombined and all of Regina’s projects and for much more information visit her production company’s website. www.definingmoment.co/
“I realized that in pulling each other up, we could create an army that would hopefully help us all as we rose.” Director Iram Parveen Bilal
Award winning director, writer, producer Iram Parveen Bilal firmly believes that everyone has a gift no matter how small or large it may be. Her gift is the ability to tell stories that matter, to bring awareness to issues, and to show the world the truth she lives and observes. She says that to grow, you must diversify yourself and get out of your comfort zone to discover who you really are.
Her beliefs and words to live by are derived from her personal experiences. She was raised in Nigeria and Pakistan and moved to the U.S. with a scholarship to attend the prestigious Caltech. Adjusting to her new life in the U.S. and college was difficult and she was even bullied, however her intellect and competitive personality welcomed the social and academic challenges she encountered. She embraces all her life experiences and utilizes them when making a film, “I was raised in three different continents and I believe that my international upbringing and extensive travel at a young age has helped me gain a sensitive and empathetic eye to my storytelling, from casting to editing”, shares Iram. “Having grown up in a turmoiled household and having made brave choices in my personal life that have often landed me in conflict before the exaltation, I have a keen eye on drama and conflict navigation. This helps me work with actors on choices in vulnerable and honest ways. My strength as a director is definitely my work with my actors and then, the visual language of my shots. Actors are the reason I direct. A constant conversation with them and my DP helps us navigate through our pages in an efficient and successful way. Lastly, being a dancer in my former life, I love performing a dance with the camera and the space.”
Even though she’s more qualified to direct than most, the odds are against her being a woman of color and Muslim. Encountering many situations where she was at a disadvantage and lost jobs due to who she is, she refused to give up and believing in karma is one of her many motivators as she shares, “I definitely feel that there are moments where I’ve been invisible and inaudible, for instance where a male peer who has come up with me is taken up over me for jobs and representation. I’ve reacted in a few ways to that. This is no doubt initially frustrating and heartbreaking, but then I quickly realized I just had to wait for my match in terms of representation, someone who saw what I had to offer and was willing to fight alongside me. I needed them when they felt they needed and wanted me. Secondly, I realized that in pulling each other up, we could create an army that would hopefully help us all as we rose and so I diligently started mentoring emerging filmmakers both here and in Pakistan who I hope will grow their careers and be the voice of agent for themselves and for all those who have helped them get to that point. In short, I believe in the rising wave and I believe in karma. I have focused my energy inward. I keep my headspace focused on building my work ethic, my tribe and my audience.
Iram keeping that focus resulted in her making captivating films that have won her many awards and honors for both filmmaking and activism. Her work earned her spots on prominent committees including the Pakistan Foreign Language Oscar Committee as a Initiator and Member, Co-Chair of the Asian American Writers’ Committee at the WGA, Board member of the Caltech Y, the RAW science film festival and Asian World Film Festival Jury Member and awards such as the APPNA Alliance Award, DOGANA Contribution to Pakistani Cinema award & fellowships at Women in Film, Film Independent, CAPE and Thomas J. Watson, among others.
She grew up watching Bollywood films which gave her that desire to be a Director. She knew it would be difficult to get a production company to make her films, so she took matters into her own hands and made her own films, “I’ve been in the indie space which has really helped me control my career a lot more,” tells Iram. “I raised financing in the private space as well as self-distributed my films, found my own audience and then created more opportunities outside the system. That’s been my bread and butter and ever so slowly, I’m finding my way into the traditional setting now as I look to pivot into the TV space. The good news is, I didn’t wait for their permission to create my career. I’m now knocking on the door with far more experience and weight behind me.”
Iram’s first feature film Josh is about Fatima, a committed schoolteacher living the cosmopolitan high life in Karachi, has her life shattered when her nanny, Nusrat, inexplicably disappears. Josh is the story of Fatima’s search for a dangerous truth in Nusrat’s feudal village.
Josh ran the festival circuit and won many awards including Best Film at the DC South Asian Film Festival, Best First Feature at the Silent River Film Festival and Josh is a permanent selection at the US Library of Congress. Theatrical releases in Pakistan, North America, and the UK were very successful and it is currently available on Amazon, Netflix, Vimeo on Demand and Itunes. For more information visit the movies website www.thefilmjosh.com
The next feature film on Iram’s slate is a passion project titled Forbidden Steps. The film is about a Muslim law enforcement officer who battles the generational gap between his ballerina daughter and his orthodox father as family alliances challenge him to define his ties to ideology, tradition and America. With her award winning screenplay in hand, Iram brought on a team that consists of Oscar nominated producers and writers. Filming is set to begin this year and for more information visit the Forbidden Steps website www.forbiddensteps.com which includes a short video summary of the project. For all of Iram’s other films including the long list of honors and awards, and links to her social sites, go to her website http://iramparveenbilal.com.
“We are in a good place in history, I hope the #timesup movement will translate into real change for the film industry,”
Visual Effect Supervisor Kaitlyn Yang
Kaitlyn Yang has nearly 50 visual effects credits, she founded her own post-production company Alpha Studios, is a graduate of USC, received her MBA degree from Smartly, and was listed in the Forbes 30 Under 30 in the ‘Hollywood & Entertainment’ category. Her awards and accomplishments continue to rack up each year.
Kaitlyn’s road to success began when her family moved from China to the U.S. when she was 9 years old in hopes of giving Kaitlyn a better opportunity in life. They bought her a computer she can use to learn English, but when Kaitlyn discovered Photoshop came with her computer she spent most of her days on the computer creating. In no time she was creatively modifying photos and making clever logos before she learned a word of English.
Kaitlyn’s desire to create effects began after seeing Star Wars and Harry Potter. Her mind was set to learn how movie effects were made and she spent most of her days in the local library reading every book she could find on visual effects. In high school all her free time was in the computer lab using the creative software available. During her high school years she built up an elaborate art portfolio while maintaining a perfect GPA. Her hard work earned her a spot in the prestigious film animation program at USC. Upon graduation she started working as a freelance visual effects compositor for TV shows including The Walking Dead and popular kids show Imagination Movers.
After a few years of freelancing she took her talents and passion to the next level and opened up her own visual effects company Alpha Studios. The company specializes in post-production visual effects, motion graphics, and color grading. For a full detailed list of Alpha Studios services and examples go to www.alphastudios.com. Kaitlyn’s team at Alpha Studios quickly gained them a reputation as a reliable visual effects company that provides a high quality service while meeting stringent deadlines. Even while operating Alpha Studios, she continued her education and in 2017 she met her parent’s expectations and received her MBA from Smartly.
Her success is a huge inspiration to all as she achieved her educational goals, started her own company, and is well-known in the visual effects field. Kaitlyn broke the barriers being an Asian woman and having a disability. She was was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy and uses a wheelchair daily, the odds are against her, but Kaitlyn manages to keep focused and get over the hurdles, “I have the trifecta, I’m a woman, I’m Chinese, and I have a disability,” tells Kaitlyn. “I definitely feel that people like me have to work harder, and prove themselves more often, in order to be noticed in our industry. At times, it feels so unfair. I try not to let it get to me, because I love what I do, and there isn’t anything else I want to transition to.”
She didn’t want to use up her time trying to fix her disability and instead utilize her capabilities to benefit herself, “For a lot of us wheelchair users out there, we are accustomed to having plan A, B, C D, E on a daily basis,” Kaitlyn shares. “I also translate this into filmmaking. I’m used to having a few plans in my head for every shot we attempt to do, to lessen the chance of surprises and to always have at least one plan that works.
Kaitlyn continues to excel in the industry and has been emerging as one of the top visual effects supervisor in the industry. Her eye for detail, work ethics, and the final product her company puts out, stands above the rest. Being a woman shouldn’t make any difference, but that’s not always the case as she tells, “I still feel that being a woman is the hardest hurdle. Especially in visual effects, a male dominated field, you just don’t see a lot of women. We are in a good place in history, I hope the #timesup movement will translate into real change for the film industry. I’m excited to see how many people will embrace the inclusion rider. You have to find your tribe. I have a great support system, from mentors from USC, to our agent at APA, everyone is helping us succeed.”
Kaitlyn shared that Alpha Studios recently completed Just Add Magic: Mystery City for Amazon Studios and are delivering three commercial spots for The Getty Villa. To keep up with all of Kaitlyn’s projects and news by visiting her personal website and Alpha Studios website.
Be sure to keep updated with Regina, Iram, and Kaitlyn and all their amazing current and upcoming work, but visiting their website and following their social sites.