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Cinefemme: 'Dinner With Dames' & Paul Feig

photo: Jill Morley

Cinefemme was founded by women filmmakers, for women filmmakers, back in 2002. It 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, the organisation empowers women’s voices to create gender parity in the arts and equal representation in the media.  Cinefemme goes from strength to strength. You can check out its many projects and partners here.

Its monthly Dinner With Dames is among Cinefemme's many thoughtful strategies for change. I love this initiative, because it aims to 'propel women to bigger & better career opportunities within studios & networks' and 'invites Hollywood to tackle the gender diversity issue by sitting down for dinner with up and coming female writers, directors, producers, and other skilled department heads. The hot topic of diversity in film has many people pointing fingers without offering many practical solutions. Join us for Dinner with Dames and let’s talk about the issues facing women at a dinner with mixed company'.

And the group is inclusive. It invites women from different departments and ethnicities, from the LGBTQ spectrum, and working mothers– 'If you are a woman with experience in the industry, we are accepting referrals to join us for dinner. Find us at a Cinefemme event and let us know that you're interested!' 

Toy Lei's report of the latest dinner, #8, with Paul Feig, reprinted from Film Inquiry, shows how useful this idea is, with Paul Feig as a shining example of an industry leader, a mentor and advocate for women who is completely au fait with the issues and is making a difference in his own films. As Toi says, he's 'a gentleman and a warrior'.

Could this Cinefemme model be repeated in other places, with other gentlemen warriors? I reckon! Looking out for them right here in Aotearoa New Zealand! And I bet there are a few in Europe, in New York, in Sydney, in Africa and India, throughout Asia. I'd love to hear about them.

Warm thanks to Toy; and to Cinefemme and Film Inquiry, for permission to reprint this.

photo: Toy Lei

Dinner with Dames Case File

by Toy Lei

Who: Paul Feig, writer/director of Ghostbusters and Spy, Cinefemme board, fiscal sponsorees, and referrals – Emily Best, Brittany Fennell, Michelle Kantor, Jill Morley, Jenna PayneMichal Sinnott, Tema Staig, and myself, Toy Lei.

What: Dinner 1.8 – a casual discussion on industry issues facing women & ways to excel in their careers over dinner & drinks

When: Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Where: Tam O’Shanter

Why: To propel women to bigger and better career opportunities within studios and networks

My name is Toy Lei. I came to Hollywood like most armed only with a snowboard and a suitcase full of dreams. My dreams were to act in sci-fi and action movies, but fast forward six years, I began to understand the reality of the situation – no Asian American female leads in anything, much less action films and certainly no one over 30 years of age. Reluctantly, I started to write and direct my own films just to know what it felt like to be the lead in a movie.

In 2015, I wrote, directed, produced, and starred in an action drama short film called Boxer  (@boxershortfilm) that struck a chord with viewers. I was encouraged to expand the story into a full-length film and now in 2017 I’m ready to look for funding. As a budding first-time feature director, I know nothing of the financial part of movie making. I’ve never tried to look for funding but I keep hearing about the struggle to fundraise for independent film. I decided to do some due diligence and prep by joining a few groups to network and research. These groups included Cinefemme, Women in Media, and Alliance of Women Directors.

Cinefemme has a great program headed up by Jenna Payne called Dinner with Dames in which a group of 6-8 Cinefemmes have an informal dinner with a top industry influencer. The purpose of the dinner is to brainstorm ideas on how to break down barriers. We swap stories from both perspectives and share what we experience as female filmmakers in the hopes of pushing the statistics toward parity. Luckily, I was invited to the dinner with the incredible Paul Feig who directed Ghostbusters, Bridesmaids, and one of my all-time favorites, Spy.

Paul opened with, “How can I help you ladies build your careers?” As an Advisory Board Member to Cinefemme, Paul Feig hopes to help the organization reach its ambitious goals through mentoring, access, guidance, and future support as Cinefemme continues to blaze forward with amplifying the work of women, women-identifying, and non-binary filmmakers. He expressed interest in connecting with more Cinefemmes for possible job opportunities, especially below the line.

photo: Jill Morley
At this particular dinner, the guests also included heavies in the industry’s gender parity movement: Tema Staig from Women in Media, Emily Best from Seed & Spark and WIMPs, Jill Morley, director of the award-winning doc Fight Like a Girl, Brittany Fennell, whose film Strings Attached was shown at Cannes, and Cinefemme leaders, Executive Director Michelle Kantor, The Test podcast co-host Michal Sinott, and Jenna Payne. These women, all articulate, passionate and hilarious, were engaging without being biting. And to say that Paul Feig is a delight is an understatement. I could have sat there all night and listened to him speak in his light but impactful eloquence.

He enthusiastically told us about his involvement with ReFrame, a group of 50 Hollywood leaders who have come together to create a formal action plan for gender parity in the media industry. One could see how the issue of representation for all people was so important to him. His sincerity permeated the room and therefore the entire evening such that everyone felt free to speak without judgement.

Paul was extremely interested in building a bridge from an independent career to a studio career and leveling the playing field for diverse players. Emily stressed the importance of using audience metrics on sites like Seed & Spark to assist in building that audience by knowing it. On Paul Feig’s latest project, he asked his producer to get the crew to gender parity, which is a big step even for the most enthusiastic parity advocates.

Michelle described herself not as an industry anarchist who wants to do away with studios but as someone who wants to help Hollywood evolve through Cinefemme. Jenna discussed the difficulties of navigating a double-standard system and how those in power typically choose protégées that look just like them but younger, perpetuating white, straight men leading the industry.

Paul Feig is an inspiration. As someone who almost quit Hollywood after being told by a woman executive that I was too old to perform in action and couldn’t portray a kung fu master as a woman, I admire Paul’s perseverance. He faced the backlash against Ghostbusters simply for his choice of gender-switching with poise and determination, and despite all the internet trolling, Paul still wants to make MORE female-led action projects. He is a gentleman and a warrior. He fights for a cause from which he will gain nothing other than a good night’s sleep, and he takes hits along the way yet still fights. That’s true courage nothing more nothing less.

photo: Jill Morley


And Cinefemme includes us all, with tastes from each dinner on video! Ace!

Video shot by Jill Morley / edited by Puppett


Toy Lei
Toy Lei has had a fascination with action films ever since her parents took her to Chinatown as a kid to watch kung fu movies every Saturday afternoon. After lamenting the lack of roles for Asian females over 30, she began writing, directing, and producing her own projects. Her directorial debut, The Wedding, won her the Top 5 Women Filmmakers award from the Asian-American Film Lab and New York Women in Film and Television.

Boxer won not only Best Actress, Best Action, and the Grand Prize at the 2015 Asian-American Film Lab 72-hour Shootout but also won Awards of Merit from the highly competitive Accolade Global Competition for Short Film, Women Filmmakers and Leading Actress, and just recently, it added a Maverick Movie Award nomination for Special Achievement in Stunts and a nomination from the Connect Film Fest for Best Drama. The film opened its fest run at the coveted Etheria Film Night and won Best Action.

She has now expanded Boxer into a feature and has signed on Kristina Reed, a two-time Oscar winner, as Executive Producer, and is developing several series. Her latest short, How to Get Caught, has just started its fest run and already winning Awards of Merit for Short Film and Leading Actress. Toy, one of the handful of female fight choreographers out there, is currently under a career mentorship with Grace Moss at NBC/Universal and a stunt/action filmmaking mentorship with Lane Leavitt.


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