Filmmaking (like raising a child) takes a village and the team behind our Make Your Feature Competition winning film Under The Influencer, is birthing their film with exactly that in mind. By creating what they term Intern University, the production team (comprised of all queer women) is supporting their budgetary, workflow, and (wo)manpower requirements while elevating a fresh crop of queer, female filmmakers. By employing 12 film school interns in various positions on their crew after putting them through a training program prior to the shoot, the team has provided an exceptional opportunity for those who may not otherwise be afforded a chance to gain experience which would in turn connect and qualify them for future assignments in Hollywood. “With a diverse cast and crew, our priority is that everyone feels safe and welcome, and by setting and articulating those expectations before filming begins, we hope to see our goals of positive and respectful consideration for one another met,” declares Skye Emerson, who penned the feature film script.
WMM is thrilled to champion this film, and as an organization always interested in the process, admires that this team is not only providing these interns with the real-world, hands-on training prior to and while filming, but that they are endorsing the WMM Values and improving the industry by holding inclusion, respect, and safety as paramount. We asked producer / script supervisor Katie Hall (She’s In London), producer and queer icon Jill Bennett (And Then Came Lola), director Bryn Woznicki (Her Side of the Bed) and prolific writer Skye Emerson to tell us a little more about the impetus behind the program, their experiences so far, and how they would have enjoyed a similar advantage in the beginning of their artistic careers. We also picked the brains of two recipients of the internships, Chapman undergrad Allison Smith and almost CSUN alumna Makenna Cordiano to share with us what this opportunity and experience means to them. Read on!
WMM: What are you hoping to gain from employing interns on your set and what specific problems are you hoping this intern system will solve?
Katie: As well as being a highly creative project, Under the Influencer is also extremely values driven. As such, the chance to provide opportunities for the next generation of filmmakers to have on-set experience, particularly students who are often marginalized from such opportunities, was a no brainer. We receive high quality, enthusiastic individuals to fulfill core roles on set, such as Production Assistants, Props and social media, and even more specialized roles such as Covid Safety and 2nd AD which is fantastic for us, as an ultra low budget movie. In turn, we can offer a fun, creative, learning experience in queer, women and BIPOC centered filmmaking and in how to enhance production values when working with an ultra low budget.
Jill: The film industry isn’t a meritocracy. Women, ethnic minorities, and the queer community are often left behind, both in front and behind the camera. Our own experiences as filmmakers reflect that reality, and this competition offered an opportunity for us to show that true diversity both in front and behind the camera is both possible and ideal.
During the pitch process, we made a passionate case for diversity, equity, and inclusion by submitting an outline and business plan that laid out our values as filmmakers. We vowed to gather a cast and crew that reflected those values, and since being chosen last October, the core creative team has done just that. Obviously, using interns was a necessity at our budget level, but as Katie said, it was also about paying it forward to the next generation of female filmmakers.
WMM: What are your concerns around working with interns as opposed to seasoned professionals? (other than the obvious inexperience)
Katie: No doubt, extra time will be required both beforehand and on set to ensure our interns and volunteers feel supported and confident to carry out their roles. This has been the purpose of the “Intern U” training but that support continues on set. There will be a dedicated “Intern” supervisor for the students to communicate with, and coaching and mentoring into specific functions. Because of the mix of seasoned professionals and interns, we are hoping everyone can learn from each other, and that our students will be inspired to make their own contributions too.
WMM: Would you have taken this type of opportunity if it were presented to you when you were starting out as a filmmaker and what would you have hoped to gain from the experience?
Bryn: Absolutely. When I was in film school, all of my free time was spent volunteering on sets. The sets I worked on were predominantly film school friends’ projects - chaotic, disorganized and under-funded. But they were huge learning experiences and great resume builders. If I had been given the opportunity to add a feature film credit to my resume, I would have taken it in a heartbeat. Plus, if the crew’s demographics were predominantly female, queer and people of color? I would have been chomping at the bit.
Jill: I studied theater in college, which did absolutely nothing to prepare me for a film set or Hollywood in general! If I knew then what I know now, I would have gotten my business and marketing degree as a kid (instead of last year) and would have immediately started working on sets. I would never dismiss the importance of formal education, but there is no replacement for actually being on set and seeing how it works.
I had never been on a real set when I got my first role (Days of Our Lives). Even just a few days of PA work would have helped me to understand how set protocol works. I was so lost! Thankfully, I was just acting and not doing the 50 jobs required as a producer like I am now, but suffice it to say that I was pretty overwhelmed and lost those first few days.
Interns have the opportunity to connect with seasoned filmmakers. This business is all about relationships and your Rolodex. I tend to work with the same folks on project after project for a good reason. Making a movie - especially on a micro-budget - requires absolute trust and an understanding of common values. I will always hire my friends and previous co-workers when possible. It’s all about creating community and long term relationships for me. If you’re an intern who shows up with a good attitude and work ethic, you’ll be hired for the next project.
WMM: For those of you who went to film school, what do you think this type of opportunity provides that a formal education in the field doesn't?
Skye: As someone who went to film school (and teaches screenwriting), I think that this type of film set experience is invaluable as it takes one’s formal training and applies it in meaningful, contextual ways. To study filmmaking gives one a solid foundation of the what’s and why’s, but the on set work gives one the critical where and how’s that truly make someone a filmmaker.
Bryn: Like driving a car, playing a sport, riding a bike (I assume, I never learned) with filmmaking: you have to get your reps in. You can read “Driving a Car 101” but until you feel the resistance of the gas pedal under your foot, you're not going to truly understand how it feels to make a car go. When learning how to make a film, studying is good, being on set is necessary.
WMM: What is your background and how did you arrive at filmmaking?
Ally: Growing up, I got my hands on a Canon EOS60D photography camera. My mom and dad bought the camera for my older sister’s photography class, but they soon realized the camera was perfect for me. I loved taking pictures on our family vacations of all the animals we would see, whether they were hawks, squirrels, or tiny bugs like tarantulas. I soon upgraded to the GoPro Hero 3. The camera quality was pretty bad, but I loved the idea of filming everything we did. I was always filming and directing my family in order to get the best shot. In my school classes, I loved working with my classmates to make funny videos instead of writing essays. My home was my set and when you were paired with me, you knew I wouldn’t take the film lightly. I ended up at Chapman University because of its ranking and producing program. I knew I wanted to produce and Chapman offered a unique creative producing major.
Makenna: I first got into filmmaking at a very young age, maybe around 5 or 6. I remember recording and editing videos on my family's Mac Desktop on iMovie and presenting them as if it was a self produced film festival. Later down the line I learned how to create short stop motion animations with my Legos, Playdoh, and different drawings. In high school would be where I really focused on the different parts of production and actually started to create scripted/non-scripted projects on a slightly more serious level. I am forever grateful for my video production teacher in high school (shoutout to Mr. Castro) - I think it was after my first year in his class I realized filmmaking was what I wanted to do with my life and I didn’t care how, I just wanted to create. I’ve always been a creative, whether it's pencil and paper, camera and computer, or designs and t-shirts.
WMM: How did you find out about this film and what made you want to get involved?
Makenna: I found out about this film through CSUN’s internships. My resume was passed on through some connections through school and my program. I wanted to get involved with this film because I had never worked on a non-friend related project before and this will be something new and exciting for me to dive into.
Ally: I found out about this film due to my connections at Chapman University and I wanted to get involved because the set included so many students. This film offered training sessions in order to teach its interns. I liked that the team had women in the leading roles and felt safe as a person who identifies as LGBTQIA+.
WMM: What positions are you qualified for on set and what skillsets are you most looking forward to practicing on this set?
Ally: I am qualified to do Behind the Scenes photography because of my experience with the camera. I own a Canon EOS80D camera and have been taking photographs for many years. I am looking forward to capturing behind the scenes content that shows all the hard work on set. I am excited to work as a PA on set, though I have some minor experience working on projects with other friend filmmakers. I am excited to have a more serious approach to what being a PA looks like. I am also excited to help in the social media marketing for this film because I think it is possibly one of the most important aspects of the film both during production and after to keep your target audience engaged with the product you are currently working on and what it looks like after post production.
Makenna: I am excited to work as a PA on set, though I have some minor experience working on projects with other friend filmmakers, I am excited to have a more serious approach to what being a PA looks like. I am also excited to help in the social media marketing for this film because I think it is possibly one of the most important aspects of the film both during production and after to keep your targeted audience engaged with the product you are currently working on and what it looks like after post production.
WMM: What excites you and stresses you out about pre-production / production / post-production?
Makenna: I get most excited with the production and post-production portion of filmmaking. I have a big heart for editing and sound design, so if that means I spend hours and hours nitpicking every little frame in a final cut sign me up! The production portion of filmmaking I think is just exciting in every way. I love to be on set and watch everyone do their own thing, and watch how everything comes together in the end after all the hard work is dealt with. The main stress for me comes with pre-production. Though I consider myself to be an organized person, I do not recommend my organizational strategies to the world of pre-production filmmaking. I am also not a big writer which is a good portion of the pre-production stage. I like to consider the pre-production side of filmmaking to be the non-visual side and the production and post side to be the visual side, which is how I prefer to work. It's much easier for me to plan visually than with words.
Ally: I am excited to get on set and hands on experience as I work in BTS. I have little experience on set due to Covid restrictions and I am ready to learn. I am slightly stressed about the long work hours, but I know that I will do the job to the best of my ability. I’m excited to work with more experienced workers and make more connections with crew members my age.
WMM: What are you looking forward to learning and how is being on set (as opposed to learning in a classroom) important in your growth as a filmmaker?
Ally: I’m looking forward to learning how a feature compares to a short film. I know that features are much longer so it will be interesting to see how much more work they are. Learning on a set is so important to me as a student because I need to apply the skills I learn in the classroom. Everything I learn needs to be practical and if I can’t translate it to set, then I didn’t learn the idea.
Makenna: I am extremely looking forward to all the hands on experience I will gain with being on set. I transferred to CSUN in 2020 after I finished at my local community college, so as one can imagine being film student and not being able to use the equipment or studios on campus hurt. For the almost two years we were remote learning. Going into my last semester at this school before graduation, I am looking forward to absorbing as much information as I can with this internship, considering this will be my first real set work outside of anything school related.
WMM: What are your filmmaking aspirations? What are you working on other than this project?
Ally: I hope to become a producer on a diverse project that shows the world the way it is. Other than this project, I will be producing a short film for school in the Fall. I’m excited to be taking on a role with so much responsibility.
Makenna: I would love to work in the live music industry and work with music artists on making of the album documentaries and tour documentaries. It would be a dream of mine if I would work and travel for one specific artist, and become a part of their team through their visual team with music videos, documentaries, or other social media promotions. Currently, besides this project, I run my own small business designing and screen printing sweatshirts, t-shirts, and tote bags based on my own artwork inspired by some of my favorite music artists. I also am an avid concert goer and if I am close enough I love to photograph concerts. I recently got into it when I first started going to more live shows when quarantine regulations started lifting in 2021.
WMM: What obstacles have you faced on your artistic journey so far?
Makenna: I consider myself to be one of my main obstacles in my own artistic journey. I run my own small business, so in doing so I am required to make postings about my own artwork on my social medias and try and market myself to others, which is something I don’t enjoy doing. I love to make videos, and create fun designs, but something about having to promote my own work seems like a strange task and is something I am currently pushing myself to be better at. That being said, I have no problem making promotional posts about anything else. As long as it is not myself I have to promote I can do it without a thought.
Ally: My artistic journey is only just starting now. Due to the pandemic, I didn’t get the on set experience I was hoping to receive at school. With this opportunity, I feel like I am making up for lost time. It has been a struggle finding sets that encourage learning and this film is just what I need to grow as a filmmaker.
WMM: How and why does this opportunity seem promising to you?
Ally: All the key crew care about my learning as a student. It has been clear by the training and attitude of this team that learning is important. Sets can be extremely stressful, especially if you are new to the job, so it is wonderfully reassuring that our team is here to help.
Makenna: I will be using the skills I will learn from the social media marketing for this film and try to use those skills for my own business. I will also use those skills to gain other similar positions with other companies in the future and hopefully network my way into the music industry, inching myself closer and closer to where I hope to be in the future. With the PA work I will be doing for this project I hope to use this opportunity to hopefully gain other PA work on other productions in the near future which will help to continue to network. As we all know in this industry it may not be about what you know, its about who you know.
WMM: What do you think needs to be changed in the industry or what would you like to see happening that is not currently happening?
Ally: I think the industry needs to have more women in leading roles. In order to tell diverse stories, we need all genders to be included from the start of the creative process. I think diversity is important in all parts of the crew and you can’t make truthful stories without diversity in your cast and crew. I want to see diversity both on and off the screen.
Makenna: I think this industry needs to make more consistent change in creating diverse cast and crew for all films, so that some day in the future a movie won’t be awarded higher praise because of its diverse cast, because it will be the new normal and it won’t be a surprise. However that takes time and consistency, which is a difficult matter in this industry. I am excited to work for this production specifically because of their mainly female cast and crew, which is something that this industry also struggles with. I would say I am proud to be a part of any production big or small that is willing to take a stand and make a difference in an industry where being different is either frowned upon, or marketed only for money purposes. I would also like to see more female movement within the post production portion of filmmaking. I know when studying film editing it was female dominated because of its nit-picky workflow, however the more there was in a budget for post production the more male population there was in the editing bays, and now a days award show nominations.
Written by Sapna Gandhi
Sapna Gandhi is an actor, singer-songwriter, and content creator. In addition to TV credits such as BOSCH, SHAMELESS and SCANDAL, she has appeared in numerous shorts, features, and series, including festival darlings IN ABSENTIA (Raindance) and THUMPER (Tribeca). Gandhi has produced several series and films under the umbrella of her production company Elegant Grotesque (most recently SCRAP, starring Anthony Rapp and Vivian Kerr, and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ STRANDED ON THE EARTH, directed by Mike Bruce). She is also 1/2 of the musical duo, VATAVARAN, was born in England, raised all over the states, studied English and Women’s Studies, and trained at the American Conservatory Theatre in SF.