Dinner With Dames Case File
Who: Zoë Bell, actor, stuntperson, and director, & Cinefemme board, sponsorees, and volunteers – Dawn Sam Alden, Michelle Kantor, Marissa Labog, Geeta Malik, Jenna Payne, Bola Ogun, and myself, Marina Viscun
What: Dinner 1.7 – a casual discussion on industry issues facing women & ways to excel in their careers over dinner & drinks
When: Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Where: Bru’s Wiffle & More
Why: To propel women to bigger and better career opportunities within studios and networks
Change is scary, but when it is part of a plan, it’s also rewarding. I recently took one of those scary steps by leaving my Head of Production position with Pulse Films to focus on being a creative. I loved the work I did – daily production hassles, working with clients, developing relationships, being part of a team. Now, my team is me. The amount of work didn’t change – I still have to market, network, and build my Pingvin Productions brand – while creating film and television projects I am passionate about as a writer, director, producer, and a multi-hyphenate.
This is not my first leap of faith – I’ve gone through a few – from sailor to college instructor to commercial producer, all continuously building and relying on what I’ve learned in prior positions: my organizational and networking skills, empathy toward the audience – be it a few students or millions of viewers – and understanding on how to deliver a message effectively. It’s still scary.
We all carry with us some fear when we move up. It doesn’t only depend on our experiences or our belief in ourselves (though that is part of it) but also on openings for that step up. This was a major through-line of Cinefemme’s most recent Dinner with Dames, which I was happy to attend with other talented female writers, directors, actors, and stuntwomen. Each one of us has created opportunities for ourselves because we wanted a shift. All of us agree that it would be easier and faster if we support each other.
Our host Zoë Bell delved into the leaps she took from stuntwoman on Xena: Warrior Princess to Quentin Tarantino’s muse in Death Proof to producer with Array Entertainment to recently working as a director. Each shift was an opportunity to step up, learn something new, share that knowledge, and build on a brand that supports and drives stories with strong female characters.
Just like many others, Zoë Bell has experienced gender bias, sometimes with unexpectedly chivalrous outcomes. Early in her career, she was passed up multiple times for fire burns – a dangerous stunt where one gets set on fire – on Xena by the seasoned male stunt coordinator. She questioned herself, her abilities, and her experience, only to be told that he just couldn’t stand to burn a woman’s face. Bell’s hard work and tenacity were soon rewarded when the same coordinator selected her as the new stunt double for Lucy Lawless, and she ended up doing many fire burns over the run of the show.
The stigma of feminism (internal and external), the fear of opening up to something new and unknown, and cultural differences were a factor in how Zoë Bell perceived herself. So she decided to shift the paradigm and make a film that she wanted to see and had not seen. It seems she was not alone, and Raze won over cast, crew, and audiences. Actresses and stuntwomen were excited to participate in the film because they portrayed female characters non-existent in today’s cinema (like Marissa Labog – one of the dinner attendees) and consumers embraced it as a feminist film, even if its message was accidental.
Bola Ogun, Dawn Sam Alden, and Geeta Malik are similarly working on projects that are not part of the mainstream, or even independent, media. Bola’s The Water Phoenix is about a black mermaid escaping the constraints of an aquarium. Dawn’s Her-POW! New Adventures of Vintage Heroines (currently crowdfunding) reimagines for film the forgotten stories of three comic book heroines from the 40’s, and Geeta’s Nicholls Fellowship winning script Dinner with Friends reflects on feminism and the stereotypes and traditions of Indian immigrants in the US.
Zoë Bell reminded us that nobody stops growing and that dreams can become real when there is a support system. All Dinner with Dames attendees are beneficiaries of such support, be it through Cinefemme, WIMPS – a listserv created by Cinefemme board member Emily Best, Alliance of Women Directors, Producers Guild of America’s Women’s Impact Network, or Women in Media – all represented at the table. But, while this support is available, we still have to work hard (usually harder than men) to prove ourselves in the complex and competitive world of entertainment – a world rigged against women and minorities and often controlled by white, male suits. And prove ourselves we do!
So how was the dinner? Rowdy! And the drinks? Many! And even though we all had fun networking and sharing each other’s projects and ideas, we still had to address the disparity between the salaries, opportunities, and treatment of women in the industry. But we all see ourselves as a fearless fewer-than-six-degrees-of-separation group who rise every day to do the work we love.
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.
About Marina Viscun:
Marina Viscun is an award-winning filmmaker with background in TV, film, digital, branded entertainment, and music videos. Marina’s approach toward filmmaking combines her personal and professional experiences as an immigrant, veteran, educator, and content creator. She is currently developing semi-autobiographical feature Seeds (a feature drama about three generations of women caring for an ailing patriarch while battling a corrupt healthcare system) and pitching the TV pilot Dress Blues (a dramatization of life in the US Navy that reveals the scary, sexy, and subversive secrets of this isolated world), while adapting a short story into a period piece, writing a new TV series idea, and co-writing a R-rated comedy with Neobe Velis.
Marina is the President of Pingvin Productions and a member of the Producers Guild of America (Producer Council), and has served as the Chair of the Events and Programming Committee with NewFilmmakers Los Angeles and Operations Director for San Pedro International Film Festival. She likes chocolate, animals, traveling, good company, and is a US Veteran.
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