Skip to main content

For the Artists, the Fighters, & the Dreamers: 'Or Die Trying' & Seed & Spark's Emily Best

OR DIE TRYING (ODT) is a series about women who live and work in Los Angeles as part of the entertainment industry, now in post production for season one. The ODT creators – and their characters – have set out to progress the narrative of women in film on-screen and are committed to hiring a team that is no less than 85% female.

This is how ODT describes itself. I love it.
OR DIE TRYING is a testament to the countless women in film. We, the creators, are active women in the film industry not just on screen, but in our real lives as well. We don't "ask for permission," we fight for our dreams daily. The struggles that we have faced as millennials in Hollywood have inspired us to create a story that is raw, real, and relatable for all of the young women who come out to California with a dream of making it in LA.

OR DIE TRYING represents all of the resilient women who are judged not only by their talent, but also by their age, race, gender, "look," and social following. We represent the women who hustle for what they want, because they don't believe in a plan b. We represent the women who collaborate and create, hoping to build something bigger than themselves.

This one is for the artists, the fighters, and the dreamers.

ODT successfully crowdfunded production costs for season one on Seed&Spark, and has been featured as IndieWire’s Project of the Week. It's exactly the best group to interview Seed & Spark's Emily Best, by ODT's EPs Sarah Hawkins and Myah Hollis. So this is a very special post, reproduced by kind permission, a fine example of the mutual support that's characteristic of the #womeninfilm movement.

Emily Best speaking in Malmo, Sweden.
ODT How did you begin to establish yourself in the women in film community?

Emily Best Not on purpose - I was trying to establish a community of my own. I moved to LA in January of 2014, and I needed to find an anchor here. While at Sundance (just two weeks after I moved), I met Rose McGowan, who had just premiered her short Dawn, and was talking about wanting to work with more women in key positions. She asked me to introduce her to some more female producers and DPs, and when I started sending intro emails, I realized everyone was in LA. So I just invited everyone over to my apartment one day in February to screen Dawn. I sent an invite to 13 women and 26 women RSVP’d.

It turned into an old fashioned salon - we spent most of the time talking as a group about the challenges and opportunities of our business and how we could be helpful to one another. At the end of the evening, everyone agreed we should do it again the following month. That's how the Women in Moving Pictures Salon was born. Yeah, the acronym is WIMPS, but we own it, and the 'I' now stands for Intersectionality, which we discuss a lot and take very seriously. The group is made up of so many diverse opinions, professions, and strengths. Everyone really strives to listen, hold one another accountable, and sit at that sometimes uncomfortable intersection of disagreement.

After two full years, it's a google group of over 1800 women, now all across the country, who use the list to hire one another at the rate of probably 5 per day. It's actively changing the ratio.

ODT What obstacles did you face while starting your business? How did you overcome them?

EB I mean, this could be a book-length answer. Starting a business is really just a series of obstacles. Raising money is hard, getting new customers is hard, marketing is hard, human resources is hard...

The only thing that hasn't been hard, miraculously, is finding a team who is passionate about doing this work.

I think the hardest thing to overcome in starting your own business (or making your own film) is your own resistance. You will have to learn to do so, so many things that maybe don't interest you (for some it's bookkeeping, or fundraising, or marketing, or hiring and firing) and you just have to do them. You have to do them because no one else will do them for you. You discover you can be the reason why things aren't happening fast enough. You have to be patient and persistent, relentlessly.

Seed&Spark co-founder, Erica Anderson, teaching at BRIC.
ODT Seed&Spark has the highest success rate of independent film crowdfunding sites. Why do you think this is?

EB We focus on educating the filmmakers on how to use crowdfunding as a career-building tool. Our live and online course has a proven track record of increasing campaign success rates. We provide direct, personalized feedback on every project. And we make sure that filmmakers are prepared for success with each project. Then, we do a lot of co-marketing of the projects on our site.

ODT How have you balanced the relationship between art and business? Where do they intersect in regards to filmmaking, and how do they conflict?

EB I don't think art and business have to conflict, really ever. There's this idea that if you have to alter your art in any way for business purposes that somehow corrupts the purity of the art, and I call bullshit on that whole paradigm. If you are making moving pictures, you want an audience to watch your work. It's ok to admit that! (And, if you’re just making movies for yourself, I hope you have a big trust fund.) Your audience, and their imaginations, are going to do more than 50% of the work when those moving pictures hit the screen. If you don't have a sense of who wants to watch your work and why, I would argue your "art" will be less effective, and less effectively good. It is possible to have absolute clarity of artistic vision that respects the participation of an audience. And if you are thinking about the audience - how and where they want to watch what you're making - well, that's the business of it.

If you make good business decisions around your art, you get to keep making art. And the wider audience to whom you are directly connected, the more you get to keep control of creative decisions. Filmmakers have this fantasy that someone will pay them to be creative and just take care of the business stuff. Those relationships are the ones in which you end up with the least creative control. Having control over the business side of your art IS having total creative control.

Seed&Spark's Bright Ideas Magazine Launch Party. 

ODT What do you think is the most effective way to go about changing the systematic gender gap in Hollywood?

EB Do. Not. Stop. We have to hold people accountable all the way up the pipeline. We have to make all of our own work with a persistent and systematic eye to creating greater inclusion in front of and behind the camera. We have to actually, meaningfully, change the way we all come to work TODAY.

At Seed&Spark, each project has to make a public-facing statement about how their project increases inclusion.

ODT What has been your biggest lesson learned as a businesswoman in this industry?

EB However hard you think you have worked, you will have to work harder. You do not get the luxury of getting discouraged - or rather, when you do, you must MUST lean on your community to pick you up and dust you off. One of the WIMPS sent an email to the community recently with the title NEVER GIVE UP about how she was incredibly discouraged after mistreatment on a job and came back to direct her own project with her dream lead actress. Many women responded that it was just what they needed to hear. When I get discouraged because it's hard (to raise money, to get the product right, to please everyone...) I have learned to lean on my community. They will always remind me why I am doing this.

ODT What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?

EB Make your own work. Build a community of artists whose criticism you really trust. TAKE CRITICISM, as gracefully as you can. Seek it out. Learn about fundraising, marketing and distribution so you never have to ask for permission.

ODT What dream(s) are you fighting for?

EB I do not think we can solve the diversity/inclusion problem without addressing artist sustainability. The business model has to work for the creators who are serving the diverse tastes of today's audiences.

I want to build a big business where tens of thousands of artists are making a sustainable living making diverse, inclusive work.



Popular posts from this blog

Safety in Paradise?

Children play in safety on the beach beyond my window. Some aren't safe at home, but they do not die in rocket attacks. Along our promenade, this year’s most sustained sirens wailed from motorbike cavalcades, as they escorted royalty to and from the airport. At school, our children may arrive hungry. But they're safe from abduction. The closest I’ve ever been to a war is my parents' silence about 'their' war, refuge women's stories about men returned from wars and Bruce Cunningham’s stories, after I met him selling Anzac poppies. (He was a Lancaster pilot in World War II and then a prisoner-of-war and I’m making a short doco about him.)

Yes, in many ways Wellington, New Zealand is paradise and I’m blessed to live here and to benefit from love and generosity from women and men, my beautiful sons now among those men. But in an interview with Matthew Hammett Knott earlier this year, I found myself saying–
We have to deal with serial violation, direct and subtle, on…

Women Directors of Feature Films in New Zealand

Last week, two lovely people questioned me about my work. I don't look back at it often, but returned to my PhD thesis and various statistics-oriented posts I'd almost forgotten, like this one and this one. And then remembered a survey that I wrote for Geoff Lealand, the New Zealand editor of the second edition of the Directory of World Cinema: Australia and New Zealand. When I looked at it again, I realised that even in the year since I wrote it lots has changed. (I think you can also tell that I don't enjoy writing 'academic', am much happier in real-time immediate responses). 

So here it is while some of it's still relevant and to accompany Matthew Hammett Knott's interview with me, for his Heroines of Cinema series (blush). 

If I were writing a survey today, I'd include all the short films New Zealand actresses write and direct and theirpotential as multihyphenates. I'd include Marama Killen's self-funded feature, Kaikahu Road. I'd add mor…

NZ Update #3: WIFT New Zealand

This is Part 3 of an NZ Update 4-part series. Part 1 was Gender Breakthrough in New Zealand Film Commission Funding. Part 2 was a letter to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Women, Paula Bennett, about the New Zealand Screen Production Grant. Part 4 is a not-quite-A-Z of New Zealand women directors and some writers.

So how has Women in Film & Television New Zealand (WIFTNZ) responded to the lack of gender parity between women and men who write and direct, in particular the lack of gender parity in allocation of taxpayer funding? For example, does it endorse Telefilm Canada's statement, referred to back in Part 1 and to some extent implicit in the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC)'s latest Annual Report?–
Based on industry recommendations that these two roles require immediate critical attention, gender parity amongst directors and screenwriters was identified as a priority (emphasis added).The simple answer: No-one Knows For Sure. And because of this, I believe it'…