Dinner with Dames Case File
Who: Elvia Van Es, VP of Development at TLC, & Cinefemme board, fiscal sponsorees, and referrals – Michele Blackwell, Gabriela Gonzalez, Michelle Kantor, Jill Morley, Jenna Payne, Rochelle Vallese, Stephanie Wain, and myself, Kristen Murtha
What: Dinner 1.2 – a casual discussion on industry issues facing women & ways to excel in their careers over dinner & drinks
When: Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Where: The Water Grill
Why: To propel women to bigger and better career opportunities within studios and networks
My role as a producer is to facilitate the telling of meaningful, entertaining stories and, in equal measure, to create positive filmmaking experiences. I endeavor to bring talented people together that share a similar vision, and I feel fortunate to have had many opportunities to connect people, to raise people up, and to create some great work. One such opportunity was a feature called The Great Silence, currently in post-production, where I found myself surrounded by incredibly talented female filmmakers. In fact, throughout my fledgling career I’ve found great joy in being around brilliant and talented women.
The last Dinner with Dames was no exception: Cinefemme gathered a group of inspiring female filmmakers, writers and content creators to dine with Elvia Van Es, Vice President of Development for TLC. As someone that has to program 500 hours of content for the cable network, Van Es has that unique view from the opposite side of the table that sparks a key question from many writers – what makes a good pitch?
Although her work and her background is primarily in unscripted content and docu-series, Van Es was able to provide useful insight to us about how we might find success in getting our ideas made. She explained that for her, it helps if you have a clear knowledge of the brand and cater to it specifically. TLC’s brand is women-centric television, especially when they are standing on their own or the anchor for the story’s perspective.
Documentary director Jill Morley asked Van Es about female representation in pitches, acknowledging that she often can only get meetings with a male colleague, even if it’s her pitch. Van Es did acknowledge that it’s harder for women to get representation, and that she too often sees too few women across the table from her.
In addition to discussing her role in development, we also spent time on the future of media as it relates to digital content and distribution. Van Es was able to provide a lot of insight as someone working for a cable network, discussing and analyzing how these giant companies are working to break into the digital content and distribution arena. To her, it seemed exciting and energizing to be moving into a new frontier of media. She explained to us how it reminded her of the beginning of her career, working in the earliest days of reality television before it was even known as that. It was interesting and inspiring to listen to her describe being on the edge of a new type of storytelling, which has turned out to be hugely influential in media in the last twenty years.
The group also brought up a few things over the course of our conversation that are unique to being women in this industry. We discussed work and life balance, which is a topic that I find women in this industry often contemplate: how to manage the incredible demands that doing this work puts on us alongside wanting to have a personal life, whether for you that is making it to an evening yoga class or your daughter’s school play. There seems to be no right answer to that ongoing quest, a notion that both Van Es and the ladies at the table seemed to acknowledge. Another point that Van Es mentioned is that men prioritize, and are able to prioritize, networking with colleagues while working women do not as much and frequently cannot with the demands of motherhood and other obstacles.
Dinner attendee and producer Rochelle Vallese’s takeaway from this discussion was that inspiration comes from many different places along the path of your life, so use that fuel to forge forward with your desired dreams in your career and personal life and you can achieve exactly what you need. Van Es agreed that she has to restrategize her career every few years to balance her work goals with her current life outside of the office.
I myself had two main takeaways from this fantastic evening. The first is that the industry is always changing, and we should feel excited and energized by the idea of getting our hands dirty and creating. The second is that we should always look for incredible and talented women around us to help us in that task, and the ladies at Cinefemme are in that mix as a bright light of collaboration and positive female energy.
Cinefemme is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded by women filmmakers, for women filmmakers in 2002. Cinefemme provides fiscal sponsorship to women filmmakers and artists, as well as peer-to-peer networking, mentorship, and strategy for project fundraising. By advancing women’s careers in film and the arts, we empower women’s voices to create gender parity in the arts and equal representation in the media.
Kristen Murtha is a Producer and Production Manager with a Boston heart and a Hollywood mind. Her work has been seen by audiences on large and small screens around the globe, receiving recognition at over seventy film festivals as well as millions of views online.
Kristen’s projects span all mediums: short film, branded and digital content, music video, web series, television pilot, feature narrative, documentary and animated film. She has worked at major studios DreamWorks Animation and Warner Bros. as well as digital companies such as Maker, Awesomeness TV and Elite Daily. Her passions are compelling stories and unique experiences.