Last month, Women in Film and Television Atlanta treated members and non-members alike to a meeting providing insight into the world of film production. The meeting, held at GPB, was arranged as a panel discussion that was led by WIFTA President Cheryl Jenkins and included panel members Al Dickerson, Christine Leuthold, and Jeffrey Stepakoff.
Cheryl began the evening with a powerful statement – “energy follows intention” – followed by an example of how she broke into the film business, which for her happened in a very non-traditional way. Cheryl obtained a degree in finance at Michigan State University and after she graduated, she began working in finance in the car industry. Upon transferring with Toyota to LA, she acquired a lucky break that landed her on the set of the hit show “Moesha.” This example was followed by Al Dickerson’s example of his pathway into the film industry which for him also began in a very non-traditional way. He was in LA driving shuttle buses and eventually landed a gig as a transportation coordinator for a major production studio. From there, he worked his way up to a production manager. Jeffrey Stepakoff took a very traditional route into film. He grew up in Georgia and attended college at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill majoring in theater and advertising. He later attended Carnegie Mellon where he acquired an MFA in play writing. His first job was in motion picture marketing at Universal but this eventually led to an opportunity to showcase his writing skills creating specs for television shows such as Charles in Charge and Simon & Simon. Christine’s background is in marketing but not within the film industry, however. She has extensive experience in the fashion industry beginning her career by working for designer Ralph Lauren.
After everyone discussed how they entered their respective fields, Christine began a discussion about self-marketing. She mentioned that one of her pet peeves in the self-promotion process is the use of the word “networking” because in her opinion this word implies work. Instead, she mentioned that those who are promoting themselves should begin to use the word “netplay” or “netplaying” because this implies that meeting people is fun, not work. Another critical point that she made is that those engaged in self-promotion should move away from traditional three-minute elevator speeches and instead work on creating an even shorter speech that highlights key details about one’s core brand identity. All of these self-promotion tactics are critical in any career situation but it is especially relevant to those in the film industry who have a very short amount of time to make a big impression on very busy film professionals.
Jeffrey took the meeting in a different direction by discussing the latest developments in film taking place in Georgia. He captivated the audience who was really excited to hear about how the state of Georgia is investing in its film future in order to ensure that our film program won’t dwindle like the one in Louisiana and North Carolina has recently. Providing education through the Georgia Film Academy, now under Jeffrey’s leadership, is a major way that the state of Georgia is investing in homegrown talent that can fill many of the positions on local production sets.
The panel discussion lasted approximately an hour and was followed by a question and answer session which included an enthusiastic audience eager to ask the panel members lots of interesting questions. Many of these questions centered around film developments in Georgia which were primarily answered by Jeffrey. After the panel discussion was complete, the crowds dispersed to enjoy light snacks and a brief meet and greet with panel members.