#WCW: AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women

This week’s #WomanCrushWednesday I’m going to talk about an exceptionally awesome program that only gets more awesome with each year’s fresh batch of filmmakers.

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Since 1967, the American Film Institute has sat perched atop a hill over Hollywood Boulevard, producing legends (notable alumni include Darren Aronofsky and Terrence Malick) and serving as an archive for great cinema. In 1974, “legendary” took on a new meaning when AFI launched its first annual Directing Workshop for Women, “a hands-on training program committed to increasing the number of women working professionally in screen directing (AFI, 2015).” In the four decades since then, nearly 300 women have been trained in screen directing – 25% of those women directing professionally and winning awards in the field from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and the Directors Guild of America.

Each year, women with three years or more professional experience in the arts are invited to submit samples of their work for consideration and admission into the program. Many apply and only eight projects are chosen per cycle. Once selected, the participating directors are provided with a three-week training workshop that requires full time attendance at the AFI campus, learning how to approach each department as a director. The program provides mentorship, education, professional etiquette and training, insurance, facilities, a premiere, access to an expansive network of filmmakers and artists – and above all, the confidence to achieve what only a narrow margin have.

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This month, veteran showrunner/filmmaker Jill Soloway delivered the keynote address to the students of the DWW’s 2015 showcase and it was.. wait for it… legendary.

“So yeah, instead of waiting for [the male-dominated industry] t0 change, instead STORM the gates, grab hands with each other, RUN like red rovers at the lifeguard chairs…”

I can’t even tell you how many people have approached me asking if I heard that Jill Soloway’s advice for me (and for any woman looking to break into directing) is to STORM THOSE GATES. And she follows this by telling us to grasp hands, as women, to hold onto each other and uplift our peers until we render ourselves not just relevant but crucial in an industry that has for so long said they can do it without us. THIS is cool.

Soloway has spoken publicly before about the hardships of being a woman in Hollywood – staying inspired and strong as you push against the current, in the face of rejection, while raising children, etc., etc. The DWW keynote was something more – even a call to action. Near the end of the speech, Soloway calls out the very basis of how we think a set looks and runs:

“You can own the energy of the set by embodying the idea that everyone is safe, no one is going to get yelled at, that we’re lucky to be called upon to make art together. People on sets have gotten so used to operating under this fear, this TIME IS MONEY PEOPLE, this hyper-masculine worshipping and privileging of equipment, cameras, cranes, numbers, schedules, money. I mean, who ever decided that right before you start filming EMOTIONS you’re supposed to YELL ‘LAST LOOKS’ or YELL ‘QUIET’ and then SCREAM ‘ACTION.’ I mean, it was shockingly, frighteningly easy for me to realize that I could invite actors into their risk spaces by leading with receiving, gathering, feminine, space-creation energy.”

That’t not just girl power; that’s people power.

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Click here for full text on Soloway’s speech

For more information on DWW or to apply, visit http://www.afi.com/dww

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