the WCA blog

  • SCA writing prof Pamela Douglas signs new book Saturday, April 11!

    SCA writing professor Pamela Douglas will be signing her acclaimed new book The Future of Television: Your Guide to Creating TV in the New World this Saturday, April 11, at 3 p.m. at The Writer's Store in Burbank. The event is free. Click here for more details.

    Prof. Douglas is an award-winning writer with numerous credits in television drama.

    Her book Writing the TV Drama Series (Third Edition, 2011) is considered the premiere source on the subject, and has been adopted by network mentoring programs and re-published internationally with translations in several languages.

    She has been honored with the Humanitas Prize for Between Mother and Daughter (CBS), an original drama that also won nomination for a Writers Guild Award. Multiple Emmy nominations and awards, and awards from American Women in Radio and Television went to other dramas she wrote. She was a creator of the series Ghostwriter, and on the writing staff of many shows including the Emmy-winning CBS series, Frank's Place, A Year in the Life, and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

    Acclaim for The Future of Television:

    "If you are serious about working in television as a writer, producer, or executive, you must read this book. It is the essential guide." -- Jack Epps, Chair, SCA Writing Program

    "With The Future of Television: Your Guide to Creating TV in the New World, Pam Douglas has managed to deliver insights around the creative and business opportunities in what has become a very disruptive and constantly changing entertainment industry.  Readers will walk away with actionable to do's and an insider's perspective on how to navigate the television ecosystem.  And for those already in the know, Ms. Douglas uncovers some details around business decisions that have left us all wondering how they do that and why?  A must read for all who want to be players in the TV biz." -- Lori Schwartz, Former Governor, Interactive Media Group, Television Academy



  • WCA's Dina Gachman's first book, "Brokenomics," hits stores April 1!

    In Brokenomics, SCA grad and author Dina Gachman shares the lessons she’s learned about how to live large in the cheap seats. Through stories both painfully honest and laugh-out-loud funny that anyone -- especially cinema majors -- can relate to, Dina reveals all the tricks you need to live the good life without spending a ton of money.

    Dina, a 2007 production MFA grad, tells us, "I worked in development for two years after school. Like a lot of people I got laid off in 2010, and that's when I started writing my blog Bureaucracy for Breakfast, which was a comedic look at being unemployed in LA. From there I got an agent and then worked on the book proposal, and Seal Press bought it last March."

    The official publication date for Brokenomics is 4/1. It is available in stores and on Amazon April 1.

    Dina also has two readings set -- Saturday, April 4 at 4 p.m. at Book Soup in West Hollywood, and Wednesday, April 8 at 6:30 at The Last Bookstore.

    Below, Dina gives us an exclusive exerpt from her book. For more information on the book, go here.

    Congratulations, Dina!

    EXCERPTED FROM BROKENOMICS:

    From Chapter 40: DENIAL, ANGER, BARGAINING, DEPRESSION, ACCEPTANCE, DIRECT DEPOSIT

    You will likely experience an anarchic typhoon of emotions when you graduate and realize that all that money you borrowed for school needs to be paid back. To help you through that time and make you feel less alone, here is a rundown of the emotional states you’ll likely experience along the way:

    Denial. Debt? What debt? I didn’t spend the last few years paying to sit and listen to lectures on free will and Samoan marriage rituals; I was climbing my way up the corporate ladder and getting paid. I am not in debt. I am rich. Physical symptoms during this stage may include a feeling of euphoria followed by a hunch that something is amiss, followed again by euphoria in a repetitive cycle on and on until . . .

    Anger. The entity that let me take out all those student loans without doing a credit check or counseling me on the idiocy of taking out private loans is a succubus/demon/troll/fanged goblin/criminal/ malignant fiend. Symptoms of anger may include: screaming at customer service people, stabbing your student loan bill with a kitchen knife, drinking, banging your head against concrete walls, Googling the CEO of your student loan lender to see how much they make per year.*

    Bargaining. Dear Universe (or whoever), please make it so that my lender gets caught in a giant fraud scandal, which causes the president of the United States and every human being on the planet to unanimously agree that the proper and just punishment will be to shut down the company and make all of our loans disappear. If you make this happen, I’ll give you my firstborn child, a bouquet of roses, or some macaroons. Whatever you want. Symptoms of bargaining: an imagination running amok.

    Depression. I’ll just lie here on my back, staring at the ceiling, trying to suffocate myself with my diploma. Symptoms of depression include: depression.

    Acceptance. This whole suffocation-by-diploma plan isn’t working, so I may as well get up, take a shower, acknowledge that I owe a large sum of money but it’s because I decided to invest in myself and in my future and go after a career that I’m passionate about. I will make this work. Somehow. Symptoms of acceptance include: the will to live and a slight puffing of the chest.

    Direct deposit. I am finally able to pay at least the minimum amount each month, so I will set up a direct deposit, since it will lower my interest rate an infinitesimal yet meaningful amount and, best of all, I will not have to be reminded of the succubus each month since the money will be pried out of my account and into the lender’s cold, withered claws without me having to write a check and waste even more money putting a stamp on the bill. Symptoms of direct deposit include: a healthy infusion of stoicism.

    Once classes end and your grace period is over, you may find yourself moving through these very common Post-Graduation Stages of Despair (PGSD). Don’t avoid them. Feel your feelings. In so doing, you will be able to blossom from a despondent fool into a hopeful (or at least semi-hopeful) member of society. And then the real work begins.

    * I strongly advise you not to do this. Ever. I did and the number was so outrageous it sent me into a tailspin of alternating rage and ennui, which I still haven’t fully recovered from.

    -- from Brokenomics: 50 Ways to Live the Dream on a Dime, by Dina Gachman. With permission from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2015.

     

     

     

     

     

  • WCA Member Survey!!

    Dear WCAers,

    In an effort to learn more about our membership and continue to serve its needs, we have created a survey asking a bit about you and your interests.

    We would greatly appreciate it if you would take * 3 minutes * to fill out this quick survey. Your answers will be huge help to us and greatly appreciated!!

    You can take the survey here:
    Many thanks!

    WCA Alumni Board
  • Q&A with Marcy Patterson, Co-Producer of "Mad Men"

    Currently in her seventh season on “Mad Men,” Marcy Patterson began her producing career with the award-winning short Band Camp, which circulated numerous festivals and also aired on IFC as part of their shorts program.  A graduate of the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts and the DGA Training Program in New York, Patterson has worked on numerous television productions including “The Sopranos,” “Law & Order SVU” and “Law & Order: Trial By Jury,” as well as the feature films Stay, Lord of War, Annapolis, and In Good Company.  Additionally, she recently co-produced the film Are You Here, written and directed by Matthew Weiner.

    Marcy Patterson on the old Sterling Cooper Mad Men set

    A little bit about Marcy

    I graduated from USC with a degree in film production in 2002. After working briefly as a literary agent's assistant, I was accepted into the DGA Training Program and moved to NYC to begin my career working in production.  After completing the program (and taking some time off to travel) - I moved back to LA and joined the DGA as a 2nd AD.  After working as a 2nd AD for almost a year, I joined Mad Men as Scott Hornbacher's assistant before being promoted to Associate Producer and then Co-Producer within the show.  

    When did you know that you wanted to be in the film & television business?

    I always wanted to work in film / TV. When I was a little kid I would write my letter to Santa asking for a one-way ticket to Hollywood so that I could work in the biz.  

    What was your "big break"?

    I would say that getting accepted into the DGA Training Program was my "big break" because it was what gave me my first jobs out of school, got me into the DGA, and allowed me to work with the people that I would end up spending seven years with doing Mad Men.  

    How did you get involved with Mad Men?

    I was a DGA trainee on The Sopranos, where I worked with Matthew Weiner and Scott Hornbacher.  I stayed in touch with Scott and sent him a holiday card in 2006 and mentioned in there that I was looking for work.  He called me and told me he had a new show he was doing and asked if I wanted to work with him.  

    What does a co-producer on a TV series do?

    It really varies from show to show. Some television co-producers are writers - others (like myself) are not. Most TV shows have producers that write, producers that oversee post production, and producers that do a little bit of everything else (which is me).  I oversee the budget and schedule, and spend a lot of time prepping directors for their episode.  

    How do you prep directors for their episodes?

    Prepping directors involves me riding around LA in a scout van with them for a few days trying to select the best locations for us to film in.  It also involves having meetings with each department to go through the script page by page to discuss everything from what props will a certain character be holding in a scene, to what costume they will wear, how their hair and make-up should look, etc.  The director is not the final authority on all of these topics - it's a collaboration - balancing what the director wants with what the department heads think is best, and what Matthew Weiner and the writers ultimately envisioned when writing the episode.  

    Marcy on the set

    Can you walk us through a day for you in the Mad Men office/set?

    A day for me in the office usually starts somewhere around 8am if we're scouting or 9am if we are starting our day with meetings.  I typically spend from 8 am or 9 am until 8 pm or 9 pm prepping the director for the upcoming episode.  Some days the director will break off and do storyboarding or walk the stages to shot list with our 1st AD, and that is usually when I will jump into the accountant's office to go over the budget with our accountant and UPM.  Sometimes during that time I'll get caught up on phone calls - it really varies from day to day.  Once the director goes home for the night though I then spend time on set just to check in and see how the current director that's shooting is doing.  

    How did you rise from being assistant to producer Scott Hornbacher to being a co-producer?

    Scott knew that I was capable of doing more when he hired me to be his assistant.  I was a 2nd AD prior to being his assistant and took a huge pay cut to work for him. He asked me what he could do for me to make it worth it (since I was taking a big pay cut), and I asked if I could sit in on every meeting he had - just to observe.  He said yes.  Little by little I was no longer just sitting there listening and learning, but I started actually doing things - producing - and Scott promoted me accordingly.  

    What part of your job as a producer makes you say to yourself, "This is why I'm doing what I'm doing."

    When the script calls for something challenging and I am able to help make it happen.  When I see it on screen when the episode airs - that's when I feel good.  

    Can you give an example of a script challenge you solved?

    Mad Men's season 6 premiere episode shot in Hawaii.  That was a huge challenge because it was scripted that Don and Megan were staying at the Royal Hawaiian hotel (which is a very iconic pink hotel) and see Diamond Head in the background.  Those are not things that could be easily cheated in Long Beach for example.  Filming a period show in Hawaii, however, is challenging because they don't have the vendors there that we have in LA where we can go shop for period items and find a lot of what we need.  We determined that in order to achieve what we wanted to creatively we needed to shoot in Hawaii and we needed to ship a lot of the period items from LA. That was expensive, so trying to find ways to make cuts that would reduce costs in other areas of the episode was a challenge.  

    Mad Men stars Jessica Pare and Jon Hamm on the Season 6 Hawaiian set of Mad Men

    What are some of the other challenges of your job?

    Everyone involved in making a show has different objectives - part of my job is to balance all of that, and sometimes it's a challenge.  The show runner may want one thing, the studio or network may want something else, and then factor in what the director wants and what the budget allows - it's a challenge. 

     What important lessons have you learned on the job?

    It takes a lot of hard work to have success - for EVERYBODY.  

    Mad Men has dominated your professional life for the past seven years. What other projects have you worked on during breaks from the show?

    I was a Co-Producer on Matthew Weiner's film "Are You Here," I produced a short film "Fruit of Labor", and I 2nd AD’d a Showtime pilot as well.  

    Marcy Patterson with an extra on the Mad Men set

    How has your USC education played a role in your career?

    USC definitely played a role in my career.  It taught me the importance of relationships within the industry, and to this day - I have never gotten a job from a resume, but rather through people I knew (and I moved here from Delaware to attend USC knowing no one).  My USC professor Brenda Goodman has been instrumental in every step of my career - from showing me how to produce a 480 when I was in school, to encouraging me to apply to the DGA Training Program, and supporting me along the way as I've grown in my career. 

    What has prepared you best for your career?

    USC and the DGA Training Program.

    What career achievements have you been most proud of?

    I don't know if there is one specific thing I am most proud of, but in general I am just very proud that I am where I always wanted to be - producing.  Coming from a small town in Delaware with no connections to the industry, I didn't know how to make my dream a reality.  USC definitely helped lay the groundwork for me to do that, and I'm proud that I was able to take what I learned in school and put it into motion in my professional life.  

    Can you tell us about spearheading the effort that earned Mad Men multiple EMA Green Seals? How does one "green" a TV or movie set?

    Mad Men decided to try to go green around season 3, I believe.  It's hard to make a show fully "green" because we still use a lot of paper, etc. but we decided to make our best efforts to improve our thumbprint on the earth and it really helped.  We had already been shredding and recycling all of our paper on set since day one, so that wasn't an issue, but we wanted to do more.  We started off by getting rid of bottled water on set.  We gave the entire cast and crew reusable water bottles and craft service started placing large water coolers on set instead of individual bottles of water - making it easy for crew members to fill their own reusable water bottle.   We brought in environmental consultants who helped us come up with a plan for other things we could do.  As a result of that - we decided to offer our employees the opportunity to take public transit to work and get reimbursed for the cost.  It isn't easy to take public transit everywhere in Los Angeles but our sound stages are downtown so it was possible.  Additionally, we required our caterer and craft service team to switch from using standard plastic utensils to biodegradable utensils.  We also met with LA Center Studios (which is where we leased our office space and sound stages from) and worked with them to make the studio more green too.  

    What are the most important qualities you look for in hiring people? (And what qualities do you avoid?)

    I look for people who are willing to put in the hard work - with a positive attitude. We work a lot of hours and you want to work with people that have the endurance for that, and also have a can-do attitude.  I avoid hiring people who think work is a time to surf the net and update social media.  

    What advice would you give to women starting out in the film/television industry?

    I would give them the advice to just be themselves.  Don't play up your femininity to try to get jobs, but don't downplay it either.  You can do anything a man can do and if you are yourself, people will see that.  

    One of Mad Men's themes is the struggle of women to rise in a male-dominated field. What parallels does the world of Mad Men have to women in today's film/TV industry?

    The parallel is that women working in the entertainment industry, much like the ad world of the 1960s, do work in a male dominated world.  Don't let that intimidate you.  

    Mad Men has been lauded for staffing a good number of female writers, producers and directors. What do you attribute that to?

    I think that our Executive Producers Matthew Weiner and Scott Hornbacher are a few of the men out there in this industry that really do see the value that both men and women bring to the table.  I think they both honestly seek to hire the best candidate, regardless of gender.  

    Marcy most relates to Peggy Olson (left), but her coworkers think she's more of a Joan (right).

    What Mad Men character do you relate to the most, and why?

    I personally relate most to Peggy because she is so ambitious, though I've been told by coworkers that I am more of a Joan since Joan is the person who everyone goes to to handle things, and that's definitely me.  

    What is the most memorable thing that's happened while working on Mad Men?

    Getting nominated for multiple Emmys our first season was definitely the most memorable thing that's happened while working on the show.  None of us were expecting it and it was pure joy.  

    Marcy Patterson (in pink dress) at the Emmys, celebrating Mad Men's Season 1 win for Outstanding Drama Series

    Tell us about the camaraderie of the cast and crew.

    We are a family, and there is a deep love there for each other.  Some family members you love and would hang out with even if you weren't related to them, and other family members drive you crazy and you would probably never see them if you didn't have to, but at the end of the day - you love them all the same and they are a part of you. That's how I feel about the cast and crew that I've spent almost every day of the past seven years with.  

    Now that the show is in its final season, what's next for you?

    I hope to produce more great projects!  I am currently developing a TV show with another USC alum, writer Tara Pinley. I'm also having meetings to see what other projects are currently out there looking for a producer.  

    Anything else you can tell us about that?

    We are developing a one-hour drama that's very character driven. That's all I'll say for now.  

    How did you connect with Tara? How do you find collaborators in general?

    Tara and I met at USC when I interviewed with her to produce the 480 she wrote and directed.  Twelve years later we're still friends, though we haven't worked together since our film school days.  In general I find collaborators by working with them and just clicking.  Be it working with Tara at USC or working with someone on one project and really getting along well, so deciding to do something else together.  It takes trust and similar taste to be able to collaborate with someone and I feel like it's much easier to do that once you've already worked together in some capacity in the past. 

    One last question. Any tantalizing hints you can give us on how Mad Men is going to end?

    Nice try.  ;-)

    Marcy at Mad Men's Season 4 Emmy Awards in 2011

    Q&A by Nora Donaghy, SCA Production MFA 2006

     

     

  • Q&A with Jen McGowan, director of "Kelly & Cal"

    SCA alumna Jen McGowan premiered her feature film directorial debut in March 2014 at the renowned SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas  where she was awarded with the Gamechanger Award. The film – KELLY & CAL  starring Juliette Lewis, Jonny Weston and Cybill Shepherd, tells the story of a reformed punk rocker-turned-housewife [Juliette Lewis] who strikes up an unlikely friendship with her 17-year-old neighbor [Jonny Weston].  The film, released on Sept. 5, opened to rave reviews from Variety, The Wrap and countless other sites and made best-of-the fest lists with Vogue and Variety. The film is now available on cable on demand, iTunesAmazon, XBox, PlayStation and Google.

    A little bit about Jen

    I studied acting at NYU for undergrad at the Atlantic Theater Company. Once I graduated I worked in commercial production in NY for my day job while I auditioned and did plays. I started out as a receptionist and worked my way up to PA, coordinator, PM and then producer. While I was still a receptionist I didn’t enjoy the acting work I was getting so I decided to make a short film. That was when I caught the bug. When I made that film I realized I enjoyed directing far more than acting. At least the real world versions of each of those jobs. So I applied to USC and was there 2002-2005. My thesis film, Confessions of a Late Bloomer, premiered at Tribeca. I then did a couple spec commercials and another short film called Touch. Touch did incredibly well and was the film that got Kelly & Cal green lit.

    When did you know that you wanted to be in the film & television business?

    I sort of stumbled into it. After NYU I still didn’t really know anything about film or the industry. I thought I was going to work in theater. But out of necessity I needed a job and I thought working at a commercial production company would allow me to work and learn more about other aspects of the business. That led me to feel confident enough to make a short film, which sparked my career. So I don’t think I knew until I was 24 or 25. 

    What was your "big break"?

     I haven’t had it yet. I’m just beginning. It’s important that people understand how long this whole process can take. I really encourage people to structure their lives so they can be happy being in this for the long haul. If they hit early, great. But it doesn’t happen like that for most people.

    Tell us about Kelly & Cal. How did that come about?

    Kelly & Cal began at a USC alumni program called USC First Team. It was a wonderful program created by three alumni - Kam Miller, Barbara Stepansky and Henry Lowenfels. Its goal was to foster feature film production amongst alumni. For Amy (Lowe Starbin), the writer, and I it worked! Me met there and developed the script during that program. From there I took it around to producers. The whole process from meeting one another to opening on screen took about four years. People tell me that’s very fast but I’m impatient so it felt like ages. 

    Why this script?

    What’s important to me when looking for material is three things - authenticity, relevance and can I do a good job with it. This script had all of those things. And I liked Amy a lot. I knew we could work well together.

    How did you get the film financed?

    First of all, I had the rights to the script. This is important for a first-time director. USC frequently pushes the writer/director angle and I understand why but I don’t entirely agree with that. The reason they do so, that I agree with, is you are far more likely to get something going as a first-time writer than director. But if you own the script you can do both. But I know there are much better writers in the world than I and I didn’t want to take the time to write, so I achieved the same goal but differently. While I didn’t write the script, I was attached to it so it was essentially the same.

     My producers found me out of the blue online. They were looking for up-and-coming directors and they saw my name again and again because the short film Touch played tons of festivals. They reached out to me through Lunafest. It so happened that at that same time I was trying to find producers for Kelly & Cal. They are experienced producers who have equity contacts from previous films and they reached out to their contacts to finance this film. We kept the budget incredibly low, just about $1M, and they were able to raise that amount.

    Writer Amy Lowe Starbin (SCA), director Jen McGowan (SCA) and Oscar-nominated actress Juliette Lewis, star of "Kelly & Cal"

    How did you get such a great cast on board?

    I worked with a wonderful casting director, Rich Delia, who was at Barden Schnee. And with him and my producers we did traditional casting. For Juliette and some other roles, that meant making offers and waiting for them to read the script and respond. Which they did. And for other roles we held auditions. Jonny (Weston) was cast through auditions and Juliette very kindly came in and did a chemistry read with him. 

    What were some of the challenges of making your first feature?

    Money. Money is always a challenge in this business. I’ve never made so little money as when making this film. Because I was working in NY I had to work with all new crew. That was hard. I only had two crew members that I knew from prior films on the whole shoot. Also there were some things that are unique to the longer feature format that I just didn’t know - such as how many days do you need to shoot. Fortunately I had a friend from USC who just did his first feature and I called him a few times when I had questions about things like that.

    Any lessons you learned the hard way?

    When hiring new crew, speak to the last three films they worked for -- not who they suggest for recommends. The last three. And ask multiple departments. For scripty, ask the director and the editor. For the 1st AD ask the director and the producer. For vanities see if you can ask talent and the 1st AD. Same goes with distribution. If you have multiple offers make sure you talk to a handful of filmmakers who have recently been distributed by that company. Just because a company was great a few years ago doesn’t mean they still are.

    What is the most memorable thing that happened while making Kelly & Cal?

    Oh, I don’t know. The whole thing was pretty memorable. It will always be my first. No other film will replace that. That’s very special.

    Tell us a little about your training as an actor. How did that prepare you for being a director? Do you think all directors should step into an actor’s shoes?

    Every director is a product of their experiences. For me studying as an actor was key. But I would never tell another director what to do. As I would never take advice from another director. The whole point of directing is it’s singular. You must do things your own way. Period.

    For me, what I learned at Atlantic in terms of script analysis, performance and work ethic, though I’ve always been a very hard worker, were invaluable. I understand what an actor is going through and that is very helpful.

    Do you have any signature directorial techniques? What’s your style as a director?

    My strengths are casting and performances and tone. I do both comedy and drama. But my process is always the same. I have always very much believed in prep. For me, pre-production is where everything gets done. That allows me to work the way I like to work on set, which is to focus in on the actors. Performance is the only thing that has to be done on set. Everything else can be planned out. But the performances are being created live. So I think it’s very important to make proper space for them. 

    Jen McGowan with Kelly & Cal director of photography Philip Lott (SCA alum)

    Tell us about the challenge of directing such experienced actresses as Juliette Lewis, who’s worked with directors like Oliver Stone and Martin Scorsese, and Cybill Shepherd, who’s been directed by Woody Allen and Peter Bogdanovich? How do you get over the intimidation factor?

    I don’t intimidate easily. So that wasn’t really a factor for me, I don’t think. I was excited. I cast people that I respect a great deal and was thrilled at the opportunity to collaborate with them. Also, I was very lucky with my actors. Never at any point did I feel that anyone was doing anything other than giving their all to our collaboration. Each in their own way but I certainly never felt intimidated. All of these actors had seen my previous work though so even though every actor on set had far longer resumes than I, I think there was a mutual respect. At least that’s how it felt to me.

    But I think part of this is I’ve never sold anyone on anything that I didn’t feel certain I could do. So I’ve never really felt out of my league. This is not to say I haven’t stretched myself. I frequently say yes to things I may not be able to do right at this moment but am sure I can figure out by the time I have to do it. But I’ve never tried to sell anyone on anything I wasn’t comfortable with. I think that confidence come across and is reassuring to people.

    What part of your job as a director makes you say to yourself, “This is why I’m doing what I’m doing?”

    All of it. That’s why I moved from acting to directing. I love all of it. From reading scripts to meeting talent to designing shots to editing to promoting. I love all of it. And I love the business, too. I think that’s important that you find a way to enjoy the business. Too many people suffer through it and I don’t want to be around those people. No one does. 

     What was it like watching this film with its first audience?

    It was horrible. In the past, I’ve always really enjoyed watching my shorts with an audience but this time so much was at stake. I had watched it many times with test audiences but the first screening at SXSW was really not fun for me. It was a great screening and everyone loved it but I heard every shift, every cough, every movement in the audience and by the end I’d convinced myself it was a failure. Then, we cut the credits too short to give more time for the Q&A and the audience was still so into the film no one asked any questions. For me that was the nail in the coffin. So I got really grumpy and probably did the worst Q&A of my life. Then, my producer came up to me with tears streaming down her face. She could hardly talk. I was like, “great.” But it turned out they were good tears. Our Variety review posted and it was amazing. All our major important reviews were.

    After that experience I didn’t watch the film again with an audience until the London Film Festival this month. Because by then all of the pressure was off. And I could relax and see the film with the audience. Never before had I experienced a screening where the response mattered. And it mattered big time. That was a first.

    Tell us about winning the SXSW Gamechanger Award earlier this year.

     It was great. It was very important for our press. It was very helpful for me in terms of contacts and exposure. I’m very grateful for that award. And proud of it.

    Jonny Weston (Cal), Juliette Lewis (Kelly) and director Jen McGowan at the 2014 SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas

    How has your USC education played a role in your career?

     I really learned the most just making movies over and over again. And watching others do the same. It’s very important. You will likely never get to make movies at such a pace ever again. The way our business is now, you make a movie, if you’re lucky, every couple of years and if it does poorly you go straight to director jail. Especially if you’re a woman. At USC I got the most concrete opportunities out of everything extra I did. The extra classes. The internship. The working on other people’s films during holiday. The student industry group that I volunteered with. Everyone does the basics. But the extra is where the gold is.

    What has prepared you best for your career?

    Personality-wise I am a very hard worker. I am extremely focused and ridiculously persistent. I’m passionate when I get into something and I think that makes people comfortable. I’ve never had any reservations about asking for what I want. Training-wise again I really think it was the repetition of making films at USC and the script analysis and performance at NYU/Atlantic.

     What are the most important qualities you look for in hiring people? What do you avoid?

    I want to work with people who love what they do. I’m not looking for people to help me do my job. I know how to do that. I want to collaborate with people who are excited and in love with their work as much as I am about directing. And sadly it’s hard to find that.

    How do you find good creative collaborators?

    I keep the people I like with me and try to carry them with me from project to project. It’s important, though, as my films get bigger that my key collaborators grow in their fields as well or it’s hard to bring them along. This is especially true of your first feature. You think “awesome, I’m going to hire all the people I love working with.” And then the producer says, “What have they done other than with you?” Or the actor gets approval of the DP. It becomes very hard to raise people up, they have to be climbing the ladder at the same rate so they don’t make anyone feel like they’re taking a risk by hiring them. As a crewmember, a director, whatever, you always want to be someone that is going to make people’s lives easier. You need to be a solution for someone. Not a favor and certainly not a detriment.

    What advice would you give to women who want to direct feature films?

    Not just for women but for anyone. Find material you love and commit. Be absolutely persistent. Live below your means, whatever those means are, so you can make creative choices about your career. Work hard. Do the best you can and then do more. Then let it go and move on. Understand that this is a lifestyle. For you and whoever you live with. And definitely don’t make any big lifestyle changes until whatever great opportunity you took has been consistent for over a year. Nothing stays constant in this business.

    Jonny Weston and Juliette Lewis in Kelly & Cal

    How can we get more women making movies? And why is that important?

    It is important because all diversity is important. Our world is diverse. Our audience is diverse. Our storytellers and stories should be diverse. End of story. Women particularly are 51% of the population and 4% of studio films in the last five years. That’s pathetic. And I don’t know about you but my work is at least better than 50% of what’s out there so some of those old white dudes need to step aside.

    There are many solutions and everyone needs to play a part. We need to support the few women filmmakers who are out there by going to see their films. Did you see Kelly & Cal? If not, I have very little time for women who do not watch films by women and then complain about their own lack of opportunities. If films by women who go before you don’t make money, you will not get money for your movie. This is something the black filmmaking community does very well. Their movies make money because their audiences turn out and show up.

    We need journalists to promote the films that are out there. We need producers and execs to use a bit more effort looking for filmmakers rather than just getting the same lists from the same agents who rep women at ridiculously small rates. There’s a wonderful resource created by USC grad, Destri Martino, called The Director List, which lists over 800 women directors who have directed a feature film or TV show. We need women to keep making great work in all storytelling forms. We need great organizations like the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media to keep doing solid research so we have accurate numbers. And we need unions, like the DGA, to properly step up in a manner that is consequential and not just merely good PR.

    One of the reasons I love this business is because there are so many incredibly smart, talented and hard working people here. You cannot tell me we are incapable of solving this. It is not due to lack of ability it is due to lack of will.

    Now that Kelly & Cal is out, what’s next for you?

    It’s a very exciting time. As I always do, I have many projects at different stages going on. Millie to the Moon is a lovely script written by fellow USC grad, Lynn Hamilton, and that project is currently being packaged at Very Special Projects. Little Girl Lost is at very early stages. It’s a thriller that Amy Lowe Starbin, who wrote Kelly & Cal, is writing. I’m also pitching on much bigger projects, features up to $20M, and TV, and that is really cool. At this exact moment I’ve just been offered another film that I love that would shoot in the spring in New York again. I’m hoping that deal gets closed in the next couple weeks.

    I’m always reading and talking to people about what’s out there. I’m just super excited. I want to do big Hollywood movies. And I’ve got a great manager and lawyer who are working with me to make that happen. It’s a nice feeling to finally feel the wind at my back.

    As you acknowledge, working in this industry is a challenge. Do you ever say to yourself, why am I doing this? I’m going to chuck it all and go live in a yurt in Mongolia?

    I’m not a big fan of camping, so no. And honestly I’ve never done anything else so I don’t really have any other skills. I have no idea what else I would do. If I did give up directing I would probably still work in the industry somehow because it’s what I know. But no, I love what I do and I’ve been very fortunate so far to actually get to do it. No plans to leave.

    Got any movie recommendations for us? What little-known gems out there should we give a shot?

    Some of my favorite movies that might not be so well known are The Ice Storm, Welcome to the Dollhouse, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Control, In This World, Being There.

    Anything else you’d like to add?

    I really hope your readers will check out Kelly & Cal. We’re on cable on demand, iTunes, Amazon, XBox, PlayStation and Google. But only for a couple more weeks. If you see the film and you like it, please tell someone else to see it. We’re on twitter @KellyandCal and I’m @IAmJenMcG .

     

     


  • Stay tuned!!

    New blog posts from Mad Men's Marcy Patterson and Kelly & Cal's Jen McGowan coming up this week and next! In Marcy's Q&A, find out what a television co-producer does, what qualities she looks for when hiring, and which Mad Men character Marcy most relates to! In Jen's Q&A, she'll tell you how she got her first feature made, what it was like working with Juliette Lewis and Cybill Shepherd, and why she's not going to give up her career to live in a yurt in Mongolia.

    Juliette Lewis in "Kelly & Cal," directed by SCA alum Jen McGowan and written by SCA alum Amy Lowe Starbin

  • WCA DRINKS: MEET THE 2014-15 BOARD!

    Join us --

    and members of NextGenFemmes!

    Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

    7:30-10:30 p.m.

    Del Frisco's Santa Monica

    1551 Ocean Avenue

    Santa Monica, CA 90410

    Complimentary appetizers for the first hour
    and $7 VIP cocktails throughout the evening! 

    RSVP Here

  • Birthing the Sex-Ed Documentary: Lessons in Film Conception

    By Caitlin Krapf 

    Caitlin Krapf is a producer working on video games, television programs, feature films, and documentaries. The feature documentary she co-produced with Brenda Goodman, Sex(Ed): The Movie, just premiered at Cinequest.

    I never expected to get into documentary film – I decided to major in film studies after watching Blue Velvet and imagined myself on the set of quirky, indie dramas. But the universe had other plans. When I started my first internship search as an undergrad, at all the traditional film companies it seemed like the most complex task I’d be doing was getting the coffee order right. The documentary companies offered the chance to do actually meaningful work – and being young and ignoring the concept of networking – I went with the chance to do something where I could learn real skills and wound up working for Michael Moore, transcribing footage from Bowling for Columbine. (Side note: I think Moore often comes across better in the raw footage than the final product often. I certainly gained a lot of respect for how he worked.) That job led to two more documentary internships before graduating from Yale and applying to USC. Even though at that final internship I was developing new concepts and acting as the liaison between the filmmakers and their documentary subjects, I still thought that would be my last foray into documentary production. Then, my second year at USC, I received an email from a friend’s dad. The foundation he worked for had given a grant to a documentary filmmaker in LA and she was looking for help. Would I be interested? Sure. After two fascinating summers, she offered me a job on graduation. That gave me the chance to oversee a ton of archival research and shepherd a film through its theatrical release.

    By the time Brenda Goodman asked me to co-produce the documentary she wanted to make about sex education and the history of sex-ed films in the U.S., I felt pretty confident in my knowledge of documentary production. However, starting a project, taking it from nothing through production and to completion was a totally new adventure and taught me just how much I still needed to learn about documentary film.

    WHEN IT COMES TO CASTING, GO WITH YOUR GUT, NOT WITH YOUR HEAD. Documentary films rely on people, but not everyone is good in front of a camera. Even the best interviewer can’t make someone a storyteller who isn’t. Early in the process I suggested we talk to a couple people who, based on what I knew about their backrounds, should have had significant stories to tell. Not so much. Then, in my reading, I found Carol Queen’s book Real Live Nude Girl. A lot of what she wrote about didn’t exactly apply to what we were filming, but she could be funny, smart, and insightful about the most difficult topics. I said we had to at least talk to her. I think Brenda was a little dubious, but during that first meeting with her in San Francisco she got to the heart of issues we’d been struggling to find ways to explore since the start of the project. She’s really the heart of the film in many ways. If I hadn’t trusted my gut that she was going to be an asset, I don’t know if we ever would have found a way to address some key issues about sex education.

    REMEMBER THAT THE EASIEST PATH IS NOT ALWAYS THE BEST. Finding money for documentaries is hard. Really hard. There are a limited number of grants, and convincing foundations that don’t usually fund film projects to look at a documentary is an uphill battle. I’ve worked for filmmakers that literally polled all the organizations in their subject area to find out what issues they wanted covered before deciding how to pitch their project. It’s a smart way to get possible funders on your side. When we began Sex(Ed): The Movie, I thought there was a good opportunity to do something similar. Brenda said no. She didn’t want to be bound to an organization’s agenda. That made raising money a lot harder, but in the long run I don’t think we could have made the film we made if we had gone that route. Staying independent gave us the leeway to tell the story in the best way possible without worrying about rubbing anyone the wrong way.


    THINK LOOOONNNGGG TERM. I went to an IDA event, and the speaker announced that the average time it takes a documentary film to go from production through post is five years. Most documentaries I’ve worked on have taken a bit longer than that, but I still wasn’t prepared for how difficult this would be for a film I produced. On all those other docs, I was working for the companies full-time. It was easy to stay focused, but that just wasn’t possible on this project. I’ve had four other jobs since we started work on Sex(Ed): The Movie. I’ve gone from working full-time to part-time to full-time to barely at all on the film. In retrospect, there are strategies I would have used to make the long haul easier. I would have been more thorough about note taking (and I’m already a pretty detailed note taker). Because do I remember where I found that quote in the grant I wrote three years ago at five in the morning that now we want for promotional materials? No. No I do not.

    KEEP THE FAITH. This goes back to the issue of time. Docs are made in the editing, and when that editing takes years, it can be hard. I watched that happen on other films I worked on, but it’s easier when it’s not your baby. But when you’re truly invested in what the film can be, when you feel like you know just how much potential it has, it can feel impossible when cut after cut comes back that just misses the mark in one way or another. One of the things I feel proudest about my time at USC were the directors I chose to work with. I do think I have an eye for talent, and Brenda is an amazing director. It took some doing, but she pulled a great film out of the footage. I would have saved myself a lot of heartache and worry if I’d been able to be a bit more Zen during the process.

    And finally, you might be wondering if I’ve learned anything about sex. Yeah – tons. But you have to come and see the film to hear about that. 

    "Sex(Ed):  The Movie" will next be screening at the festival Dances With Films on
    Sunday, June 8 at 12:30pm at TCL Chinese Theatres in Los Angeles, CA

    For all the latest news and screening information visit the festival website at http://www.danceswithfilms.com/slt_sexed.html

    For the past two years, Caitlin Krapf has worked as an associate producer at sekretagent Productions, helping to develop videogames, scripted and reality television programs, and feature films. Caitlin began her career working in the world of documentary film, associate producing two feature documentaries: View from the Bridge: Stories from Kosovo, which premiered at Slamdance, and Refusenik, winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, for which she oversaw the national theatrical release. She also did a stint at Cause & Affect, the company founded by Meredith Blake to create social action campaigns around media projects and worked with a private foundation to develop documentary projects around its areas of interest. The feature documentary she co-produced, Sex(Ed): The Movie, just premiered at Cinequest.