WIFTA May Meeting Recap

Cheryl Jenkins, Al Dickerson, Christine Leuthold, and Jeffrey Stepakoff - left to right

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.

Audience observing WIFTA's May 2016 meeting on film production

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.



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A Salute to Georgia Film Vendors – iZotope


As I said before and I can’t say it enough, we love our growing film industry here in Georgia and to show how much we love it, Reel Focus has dedicated the month of May to Georgia film vendors who help make film possible here in Georgia.  As we round out the month of May, we pay homage to another great household name in film production – iZotope.

Tell Reel Focus readers what iZotope does for its clients both for film production and non-film production.

iZotope is an audio technology company. We develop professional audio software solutions for every stage of the audio post production workflow. RX Audio Editor is our most well-known product within post production. It’s the industry standard for repairing and enhancing your production audio. RX actually won an Emmy Award in 2013 for its technical achievements. It’s important for us at iZotope to deliver solutions throughout our entire product line that enable our users to ultimately produce higher-quality productions.


What sets iZotope apart from other industry leading sound editors?

At iZotope we put a lot of value in keeping connected with the end users of the industry. We spend a lot of time learning and understanding what tools can improve the type of work they are doing, whether they are individual contributors such as freelancers or folks working on the top films of the year. Establishing these kinds of partnerships keeps us focused on solving their top challenges and problems they deal with on a day-to-day basis.

We focus our solutions for post production in two major categories. The first is improving the speed of their audio workflows. We want to free up time to spend on creative tasks or simply starting your next project sooner. Our other focus is developing innovative, groundbreaking technologies to improve audio quality quickly and easily, in a way that no other products provide. For example, being able to remove/reduce noises, distortions, plosives, reverb…or match the ambience or EQ from some production audio to another recording.   

We also put a lot of effort into educating folks at all levels of experience on how to get the best results at any stage of their audio productions using different techniques and approaches. We provide a lot of free resources online for folks to learn about these techniques at  https://www.izotope.com/en/learning/post-production/.

Tell us some of the big names that you have worked with in film and entertainment.

Some of the more well-known facilities we’ve worked includes ESPN, NFL Network, Warner Brothers, Disney, Skywalker Sound, and NBC Universal. Our products have been used in feature films like The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit as well as Captain America and Ant-Man. In television, some of the bigger names include Game of Thrones, Entourage, Deadliest Catch, House of Cards, Orange is The New Black, Daredevil, Dexter, The Good Wife, Glee, Lost…the list goes on and on!

For those who are in sound engineering or want to become sound engineers, can you provide pointers on how they can develop their talent and their portfolio?

It’s important to have reference mixes to compare your mixes to. If you find a mix you think sounds great, keep it somewhere you can easily access. Reference mixes can provide great guidance on where to take your own mix. They’re also good reality checks for the times you get too involved in the minutia and lose sight of the mix as a whole.

Another pointer is to learn your tools inside out. Time is money in post production, and every second counts. Key commands and other shortcuts are great for speeding up your workflow—learn and use them!

Develop your critical listening skills with ear-training tools. The more familiar your ears are with the frequency spectrum, the quicker you’ll be able prescribe solutions for mix issues. There are many free ear-training tools online, including iZotope’s Pro Audio Essentials course.

Participating in user groups and other industry organizations is a great way to network and build connections. Finally, get paid for your work! We’ve all done the free job for “exposure” at some point, but the pay you accept can reflect on your confidence and pride in your own work. Charge what you believe your time is worth.





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A Salute to Georgia Film Vendors – Craig Miller Productions

Craig Miller founder of Craig Miller Productions in Atlanta, Georgia

This week we continue our salute to Georgia Film vendors with Craig Miller of Craig Miller productions.  His company has been an integral part of the Atlanta film community for over 30 years and with the outstanding growth of the industry, we hope to continue to see his film production company thrive.

Thank you for joining Reel Focus this week, Craig.  Your company has been in the local Atlanta area for many years.  Let’s take a walk through memory lane and have you tell our readers what it was like to establish and run your company, especially at a time when film production wasn’t as popular as it is now in Atlanta.

Craig Miller Productions was founded in 1985.  We specialize in commercials, high end corporate communications and entertainment.   We started out in tourism with Callaway Gardens 31 years ago and this year we  released the new Georgia Tourism Campaign.  Tourism is a part of what we do.  We have had The Coca-Cola Company as a client for 28 years.  From that relationship we developed connections with UPS, The Weather Channel, Novelis, AGCO, Acuity Lighting, Delta and others.  In the commercial world we worked with Fitzgerald and Company, Austin Kelly, McCann-Erickson and Vitro.  Work in these arenas and the occasional film kept production companies in the 80’s and 90’s busy.  It also maintained our crew base.

Who are some of the big names in the industry or big film projects that your company has worked on?

Charlton Heston – Regan Documentary, Tim Burton –Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Johnny Cash – Tourism Featured Presentation, Grant Hill – Coca-Cola Commercial, Masters Golf Tournament – Seven Years, Sylvester Stallone and Richard Dreyfus – Coca-Cola movie trailer,  Atlanta Summer Olympics, Vancouver Winter Olympics, Zac  Efron, Mike and Nick, Survivor’s Remorse, 

What are your specialties and why should individuals or companies choose you for their production needs?

We see the big picture.  Companies come to us with a challenge, we study it and provide a resolution.

What’s in store for the next 30 years for Craig Miler productions?

We will be producing features, growing home grown creative and educating the next generation of great filmmakers.



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A Salute to Georgia Film Vendors – RJR Props




Here in Georgia, we love our growing film industry and to show how much we love and appreciate it, this month is dedicated to the people who make it possible:  our film vendors.  For this blog post, we salute RJR Props who has been a staple in Atlanta’s film community for about a decade now.  Rich Rappaport founded the company with the intention of using his extensive background experience to provide filmmakers with accurate props for their films.  RJR props has grown to become one of the largest prop providers in the metro Atlanta area.

Thank you Rich for joining us this week.  Rich, tell our readers what RJR Props is and what it means to Atlanta’s growing film community.

RJR Props is the ultimate source for amazing Props.  Nothing boring here!  We provide props for Television, Film, Music Videos, Conventions, shows and private events.  Where do you go when you need a full size commercial airplane interior to film? Or a real Airport TSA Security area?  Call RJR Props.  We also have working Elevator Props, Computer Rooms, Hospital & Medical Gear, High-Tech Security props. Working bomb disposal robot, Exotic Electronics, A Bank set with Vault, Safe Deposit Boxes, working ATMs and money. We have the most realistic legal Prop Money in the USA.  Our money has been featured in dozens of feature films & TV shows, and it has been seen in over than 1000 music videos by the top artists. We have a Vintage Computer collection with over 5000 pcs. Huge Weapons collections from medieval to flame throwers. A huge collection of News Cameras & Studio Cameras dating back from 1940 to present! RJR Props is now recognized as one of the top Props Suppliers of non-furniture props.  And our website has been recognized as one of the best for Props:  rjrprops.com.


Your background is in medical, avionics, engineering, military and computers – in essence nothing related to the creative field.  What made you want to transition to the more creative world of film?

Having a wide background actually makes perfect sense. In this industry, we need to be experts in many fields.  Having a medical background means that we can make sure we provide the right medical props.  The Engineering helps us design the props. Military helps with our Military props including our Huey Helicopter, yes we have a Huey available!  And computers has been my speciality since the dawning of computer age.  I have 26 yrs experience in all of these fields, plus we have a talented crew with even more diverse skills, making it an essential part of our abilities.image

But I can’t take credit for transitioning into Film.  It wasn’t me. It was a blessing from our Creator.We were in the industrial computer business doing electronic design & repair for many years.  We started getting requests from the film industry to rent Mainframe Computers. But we never considered it.  One day a wonderful man named Bob Shelley walked in the door.  Bob is a world famous Special Effects master in Film & TV.  He asked for a rare item that we had.  We had that rare item, along with thousands of other rare pieces that we accumulated over the years. Bob was amazed with our “collection” and thankful that we were able to provide the piece. He recommended us for a number of other projects. I thank G-d every day for all our blessings, I thank G-d for sending Bob, and I thank Bob regularly!  I know it sounds a bit odd, but I really am very thankful!

Do you provide customized prop options for clients?

Yes, we do provide customized props. We help design a wide variety of amazing props from Computers to Exotic Electronics.  In the upcoming feature film “Sully” starring Tom Hanks which was directed by Clint Eastwood, we were asked to design the cockpit electronics for Captain Sully’s Plane. We collaborated with the Set Dec and Lead Man to come up with an amazing cockpit set.  A few months ago we were commissioned to do custom designed prop money for fashion designer Alex Wang, for his 10th anniversary bash in NYC, which was topped of with a huge money drop.  It was great seeing Lady Gaga, Nikki Minaj and others throwing our money around!  Recently, a famous actress directed her first feature film.  We were commissioned to make a unique one of a kind piece for her desk in her LA office.  In feature films, the Director, Set Decorator or Prop Master usually decides what a piece will look like. However, many times we are asked to create it.  We were asked to provide a variety of props for Madam Secretary, Chicago PD and other shows recently. We have built a trust with them, and they often give us artist license do prop designs as we see fit.  Other times we collaborate together, but always it looks absolutely exceptional.

Where do you see your company 5-10 years from now as the film industry continues to boom?

Where do I see us in 5-10 years?  Older!  But seriously, we are getting better and better every day.  We continue to bring diverse experienced people to make our company stronger and better every day.  We are adding more amazing Props and focusing on the areas that we are asked to grow.  We can’t predict the future.  It’s all in G-d’s hands.  Please G-d, in 5-10 years we can see an even better future, more diversified Props House, new engineering capabilities, and specialization in playback. In a nutshell, we will be able to make every production look even better.  But we all have to do our part also.

The Film industry brings $6 BILLION a year to Georgia.  It gives jobs to tens of thousands of good people, and revenue to other companies like: restaurants, dry cleaners, etc.  But our industry is based on with how we vote: the politicians that control the taxes. If we vote for politicians who will continue low taxes and incentives, the industry will be safe.  Jobs will be safe.  However, if we vote for the wrong politicians who want to raise taxes and kill incentives, the industry will pack up and leave.  The film industry is here for 1 reason: Money.  It costs less to film here.  Some politicians like to raise taxes, and some realize that lower taxes attract businesses and the film industry.  We all need to vote for the right politicians. Together, we can all help make this industry amazing!  I hope this gave some great insight into the film industry!  Call RJR for your next production at (404) 349-7600 or check us out at rjrprops.com  We look forward to helping you in your next Film, TV show, Commercial or Music Video!




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Ladies of WIFTA Speak with the Leading Ladies of Film Festivals in Atlanta

Atlanta's Film Festival Leadership


Kristy Breneman Atlanta Film Festival





Kristy Breneman – Creative Director, Atlanta Film Festival

Specialty – Film About Diversity in the Community

Shellie Schmals Jewish Film Festival





Shellie Schmals – Program Manager, Atlanta Jewish Film Festival

Specialty – Film About Jewish and Israeli Culture

Deidre McDonald BronzeLens Film Festival





Deidre McDonald – Founding Artistic Director, BronzeLens Film Festival

Specialty – Film By and About People of Color

Audrey Thomas Kingdomwood Film Festival





Audrey Thomas – Founder & CEO, Kingdomwood Film Festival

Specialty – Christian and Faith-based Film


On March 23, 2016, WIFTA’s board hosted a meeting on a popular emerging topic in metro Atlanta – Film Festivals.  The leading ladies of major film festivals were invited to attend a panel-styled meeting in which Executive Director, Susan Moss asked members of the panel many interesting questions about their respective film festivals.  One of the first questions Susan asked was about the particular niche or specialty of each film festival which is noted above.  Another thought provoking question that Susan asked was about some of the things that the panel has seen done right or wrong by contestants in the film submission process.  Kristy led the discussion with explaining that she loves to see concise cover letters but is turned off by unkempt websites and too much reliance on music in the film itself.  Shellie likes to see a good maraketable synopsis and good characterization.  Deidre likes to see top notch technical quality and a very compelling story but dislikes time consuming pieces and contestants changing their passwords too frequently, disturbing the judges ability to access the film.  Audrey rounded out the discussion by saying that she likes to see a great synopsis and a great title but is disturbed by film submissions that have heavy violence, profanity, or sexuality considering her film festival is faith-based.

Susan engaged the panel with a variety of other pertinent questions about film festivals and then invited the audience to ask questions.  Another engaging topic that was raised was about how film contestants could spread the word about their film in order to increase awareness of the film.  Some suggestions from the panel included social media presence, radio stations, marketing cards, reaching out to social organizations that may be relevant to the film, and of course old-fashioned footwork – being out in the community speaking and increasing awareness about the film.  Some of the film festivals also rely heavily on PR firms to help get the word out about films and the festival.  The final major question of the evening involved the panel pondering the ways in which they are targeting women to be involved in film production – after all WIFTA is a film organization for women.  Kristy mentioned that the Atlanta Film Festival has its New Maverick’s segment in which there is a focus on film with female leads.  Deidre mentioned that there is a luncheon held during the BronzeLens festival that focuses on women in the film business.  Shellie mentioned that 7 women directed films were included in this year’s festival but that they don’t yet have an infrastructure in place specifically for women.  Audrey also mentioned that they do not yet have an infrastructure in place for women but talks are in progress on how to place a greater emphasis on women during upcoming festivals.

Forum on Atlanta's Film Festivals in GPB conference room 2016

In Addition to Film Festival Discussions. . .

WIFTA plans to roll out its training workshops designed for actors, writers, and producers, soon.  Victoria Smith – Actress, Teacher, and Coach –  also led a brief discussion about the acting workshops which are set to launch sometime in April 2016.  Victoria, who is currently pursuing her M.F.A., claims that her fascination with film and acting began when she was five but she abandoned her first love when her grandmother encouraged her to pursue a much more realistic profession.  She took her grandmother’s advice and received a teaching degree but now will combine her practical teaching experience with her passion – acting – in order to improve home-grown talent pools of actors and actresses to be able to acquire local acting jobs on big film productions.  Some of the workshop will include scene study, cold reads, improv, monologues and a variety of other acting techniques and topics.  A few guest are also expected stop by and assist with instruction.  Be sure to check the WIFTA site regularly for times and dates of the upcoming workshops.

Victoria Smith discussing WIFTA's new actor's track




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SXSW Music Film Interactive – Austin, Texas

Jody Arlington South By Southwest Austin, Texas 2016


Are you going to SXSW?  Are you going to SXSW? ARE YOU GOING TO SXSW!  If you are in the film or entertainment business, chances are you have been asked this question or you are asking others this question.  There is an ‘organized pandemonium’ brewing here in Atlanta’s film and entertainment community and excitement levels everywhere are off the charts here and across the nation.

So, just what is SXSW and why is everyone so excited about this event?  It’s one thing to go to their site and discover an answer by observing the intriguing photos and videos streaming across the page; but, I thought it would be far more fascinating to hear from one of the film representatives of the SXSW festival about what this event is and what it means, particularly for those in the film industry.  This week Jody Arlington, Film Press and Publicity Manager for SXSW, shares with Reel Focus readers more about this exciting event coming up in March in Austin, Texas.

Can you begin by telling us first what this festival represents generally to the entertainment community and the economy and then delve into the specifics of what this festival means to the film community.

SXSW is the premier destination to discover game-changing new technologies, films and artists while networking with some of the brightest minds. SXSW is known for showcasing the most innovative ideas and creative talent of our time.

SXSW Music, Film and Interactive Conferences and Festivals is celebrating its 30th year — and 23rd year for Film and Interactive. This year, we’ve made more sessions and screenings open to more badge types than ever before to bring together even more creatives from all walks of life and industries.

As to the economy, our overall operation directly and indirectly contributes millions of dollars to Austin’s economy.

But back to SXSW Film and what the festival provides for the film community: over nine days we screen 253 films, in 12 venues across Austin. The Feature program has 89 World, 12 North American, and 8 U.S. premieres. In our Film Conference, we have more than 200+ Film Sessions (Keynotes, Conversations, Panels, workshops, Networking Meetups and Mentors) we’ve organized them into tracks to make it easy for the filmmaking community to navigate: Influencers; Creating Your Content; Finding Your Audience; and What’s Next.  Plus the additional 450+ Convergence sessions open to more than one badge.

 As if we could be any more excited than we already are – give us Atlantans some exciting reasons for attending this event this year.

In this landmark year, both the President and First Lady are Keynoting our Interactive and Music Conferences, also open to Gold and Platinum Badges. We’re particularly proud of our 2016 Film Conference Keynotes: Nelson George; Gale Anne Hurd; Ellen Page and Ian Daniel; and Joe Swanberg; our VR/AR Keynotes and Sessions with pioneers like John Gaeta, Chris Milk and Nonny de la Pena; our Featured Conversations with Jake Gyllenhaal, Don Cheadle, Joel Edgerton, Gaby Hoffmann, Sarah Green, Andrew Bujalski and David Lowery; Mark and Jay Duplass; and Alia Shawkat; plus our 2016 Convergence Programming: Future of Entertainment: highlights include featured sessions with Kerry Washington, Ira Glass, the co-creators of Broad City, creators and stars of Silicon Valley and Mr. Robot, and the creative force behind Star Wars, J.J. Abrams in conversation with Andrew Jarecki.

On the screening front, there is a lot of anticipation for our opening night film Everybody Wants Some; and also for Midnight Special, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, Demolition, Beware The Slenderman, Tony Robbins: I am Not Your Guru, Don’t Think Twice, and The Bandit with Burt Reynolds himself in attendance.  We were among the first to start premiering episodic programming and are excited to present Outcast, Preacher; Vice Principals, You Me Her, and Search Party.

I’m sure you have heard about Georgia’s film tax credits and various incentives to promote film here.  Tell us more about the film community in Austin and what is being done to grow film there.

Too few cities and states appreciate the economic and cultural contributions of the film community..  Austin, TX has a deeply seeded film culture with the Austin Film Society, Texas Film Commission and our many passionate advocates and practitioners in all walks of life.

Are there any final remarks that you would like to add about this year’s event.

I invite everyone to go to SXSW.com and check out our schedule–many top talent will be in attendance with their films.  Also, don’t forget to view the SXSW Youtube page.




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Mary Lou Belli Teaches Us How to Master Make-Believe

Mary Lou Workshop with WIFTA Atlanta, Georgia



mary lou belli


Mary Lou's Book


Mary Lou Belli began her career as a stand-in and has risen steadily to the top to become one of the most powerful female directors in television. Her most prominent work includes “The Game,” and “Reed Between the Lines;” but, she has also directed episodes of “Sister, Sister,” “Eve,” “The Hughleys,” “Major Dad,” and “Charles in Charge,” to name a few.  At present, she is the director for a show now filming in Georgia called “Devious Maids.”


On Saturday, February 20, a small group of actors, writers, directors, and producers gathered in downtown Atlanta at Georgia Public Broadcasting’s conference room to listen to Mary Lou share advice on how to master the world of make-believe. The morning began with small-talk and a light breakfast followed by a ’round table’ discussion led by Mary Lou.  She began the discussion with a synopsis of her film career which spans 20 years.  She then ‘cut’ right to an actor activity in which everyone who was gathered in the circle ‘passed lines’ to one another the first line being ‘Go Away.’ Not one person could hide or feign shyness because Mary Lou’s ’round table’ session was highly interactive.  In this activity one person would say the phrase ‘Go Away’ – acted according to the subtext given by Mary Lou or one of the directors present – and the person to their left would say the same line to the next person to their left.

Devious MaidsThroughout this exercise, Mary Lou would have us take it up or down a notch to perform to the level that was necessary to fulfill the subtext goal.  There was a lot of passion and a whole lot of laughter that ensued as we all took turns saying our lines.  Who would have ever thought that the the phrase ‘Go Away’ could change meaning by simply changing the subtext or the action surrounding the phrase?  This exercise allowed all of us – actors, writers, producers and directors – to get a feel for what she experiences regularly trying to get actors perform their roles to perfection.  As simple as this activity may seem, it had its challenges and if you ever thought that acting was easy, this exercise made you realize rather quickly that it isn’t easy at all.

After about 45 minutes of acting and building layers, there was a Q&A session.  Mary Lou answered a range of questions from “How to get actors to do what you want them to do even when they can’t seem to get it right,’ to ‘How to accept things as they are and when to fight for what you believe is the right way for a script to be acted out on screen.”  The topics in the Q&A were intriguing but two that really sparked a lot of interest from the audience was the discussion about Georgia film and TV production and women and minorities in film.  The discussion briefly veered off into the direction of how to keep Atlanta from becoming a mere fly by night extension of California or New York’s film production.  Mary Lou responded by saying that Atlanta is a viable market and stated that the experiences that actors and producers will have here on set will impact the desire to return and film even more because some of the production studios that have been built here are ‘bar none.’  In response to the discussion about women and minorities in film, Mary Lou has a positive outlook about the future and believes that there will be and explosive amount of growth within the next 5 to 10 years for women and minorities in film.



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Screenwriter Anna Waterhouse on Race – The Film

Screenwriter Anna Waterhouse
Photo Credit – Tom Shrapnel


Jesse Owens – an African American Olympian popular during the 1930s – was a man who became a symbol that meant different things to different people.  For African Americans, he represented a great black hope at a time when racism and race relations in the United States was at its worst.  For the American people at large, he represented a great athlete who would dominate the Olympic games in track and field, inspiring nationalism at a time when the entire world was at war.  For Hitler and Nazi Germany, he represented a huge upset in the white supremacist dogma that was spreading throughout western Europe and destroying the lives of many non-Aryan people.  For those of us looking back to those times, he represents a moment in time when the world stood still, stunned by the fact that this African American man could win such a prized possession at a time when so much pain and suffering due to racial tension was taking place in the United States and Europe.

Capturing this moment in time and all of the pain and emotion of this era is very difficult to do on film; however, screenwriter Anna Waterhouse has certainly tried to capture this moment in history in her new film Race which will debut in theaters this Friday, February 19.  Here this week, she shares with Reel Focus what it was like making the film and a little about her career as a screenwriter.

Thank you, Anna for joining us this week to discuss this film about a very controversial period in history.  First, tell us about yourself and how you became involved in film.

I have always loved film.  Some of the most memorable moments of my life are wound up with movies.  I vividly remember being sick and home from school and my parents letting me watch Gone With The Wind.  I don’t think I moved a muscle for 4 hours.  And the day before my first son was born, my husband and I watched Once Upon A Time in America.  Now, every time I hear the soundtrack I cry.  Great movies have an emotional power, like great music — they become associated with these transitional moments, in this case the night before I became a mother.

So I knew I wanted to be involved in film from a very young age.  As a child, I wanted to be an actress.  Then, at University, where I read English, I started producing plays.  This led (somewhat surprisingly) to a successful early career as a West End theatre producer.  But I still had my heart set on film and wrote screenplays feverishly on the side.

Then in 2005 I met my husband, Joe Shrapnel, who was also a writer.  We began collaborating, so that’s when this phase of my life really began.


The thing that strikes me most about this film is the title, which seems to have a dual meaning.  Race on one hand is what Jesse Owens is preparing to run and race on the other hand is the controversial issue plaguing this character as it relates to his skin color and socio-economic status.  Was there much effort put into the title of this film?

Race is the perfect title for this film.  It’s so fitting it seems inevitable now.  Jesse Owens grew up in a segregated America.  When he qualified for the ’36 Berlin Games he was under pressure from many people, including the African American community, to boycott.  It was felt that under the Hitler regime it would send the wrong message for America to compete.  But Jesse was in prime physical condition and if he’d waited four years (or as it turned out, due to the war, longer than that) it would probably have been the end of his Olympic dream.  In the end, his success in Berlin sent a more powerful message than his absence.  He blasted Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy by winning four gold medals and became the icon of the games.  The title seemed to encapsulate in a single simple word all the rich and complex themes of a story about racial prejudice afflicting a track and field athlete.

With all of the controversy brewing in Hollywood about diversity, where do you think a film like this fits into this ongoing dialogue?

It fits right in the centre of the dialogue.  Jesse is first and foremost an American hero – it’s amazing to me that it took 80 years for someone to make a major feature film about him.  So I think the film industry needs to look at redressing the balance.  Time and time again audiences flock to movies with African American and female protagonists.  We should be making more of them.

Someone started a twitter campaign called ‘writers so white’.  Joe and I were included for being white writers who wrote about an African American icon.  It angered me because it implied that white people should only write about white people and black people should only write about black people.  Should women only write about women, and men about men?  Of course not!

If it takes a public outcry like the one surrounding the awards season to effect change, then it’s for the better.  But I look forward to a time when the only issue surrounding a film is whether it’s any good, without consideration of the ethnicity or gender of the filmmakers.

Without going into too much detail, tell us what types of films you want to do in the future  as you grow and expand in the industry; and who would you like to work with (actors, directors, production companies, etc.)?

We are writing an action film for director Chris McQuarrie at the moment which is a wonderful experience.  Chris is a brilliant collaborator and such a champion of other writers.  He makes the job fun!  We have loved working with Ridley Scott on a couple of projects.  We’re very impressed by the films Ben Affleck has made, particularly ARGO.  And Kathryn Bigalow is someone we admire.  I worked with Matt Damon when I was a theatre producer and he’s an actor I would love to work with again.  And Idris Elba.  Joe and I have known him for years and are always trying to find something to do together.


Photo courtesy of Anna Waterhouse.

Video courtesy of Youtube.



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Dressing Hollywood – Interview with Costume Designer Alison Freer

Hollywood Costume Designer Alison Freer


I think that as little girls, almost all of us make-believe that we are fashion icons.  Whether we are slipping into our mom’s high heels, sneaking on makeup and jewelry, or just plain and simply preparing Barbie and Ken for a night out on the town, fashion is something that we use to make a statement in our world of make-believe.  It should come as no surprise that the make-believe world of Hollywood is filled with fashion statements.  However, unlike our fantasy world that we create as children in which our creativity is limitless;  Hollywood employs those whose creativity is limited to budgets and time constraints.  These people are known as costume designers.

Alison Freer is one such costume designer who knows all to well about the good, the bad, and the ugly of costuming cast members for Hollywood.  It is not always the glamour that it appears to be to viewing audiences; it is hard work for all involved especially those responsible for managing image on screen.  In spite of the difficulties Alison faces, she loves what she does and she is here this week to share with Reel Focus readers the trials and the joys of being a Hollywood costume designer.

Thank you for participating in our blog showcase this week.  Alison, tell our readers about your career as a fashion designer and how you eventually became a costume designer in Hollywood.  Was this a life long dream or did you end up in fashion happenstance?


I actually lied my way into becoming a costume designer. My neighbor was a commercial director who came over to look at how I’d re-finished the floors in my 1912 Craftsman home, saw the former child’s bedroom that was functioning as my closet, and asked: “Are you a costume designer?!” I thought he was cute so I said that yeah, I totally was. He hired me to style a BMW a commercial the very next day.


Looking back, I realized that I’d actually been prepping for this career my whole life — I worked retail for almost 16 years and learned how to sell anything to anybody. A big part of being a costume designer is being able to sell your ideas to the powers that be. So really, the moral of the story is this: sometimes you have to fake it ’till you make it. If YOU believe you are what you say you are, who’s to say any different?How to Get Dressed by Alison Freer



Do you only shop for clothing for cast or are you sometimes responsible for creating costumes from scratch.  If the latter is true, provide us with television or film samples in which you creating costumes by hand?


I am a somewhat skilled seamstress — but on a union film or television show, sewing items from scratch is covered by a union seamstress. We shop for everything we can, as time is never on our side, but sometimes you have to go custom-made. I was the costume designer for Nickelodeon’sTrue Jackson V.P. starring Keke Palmer as a 15 year-old fashion designer. Every original ‘design’ that True came up with was really my handiwork. We even designed a dress that she wore in a Bryant Park runway show!



I’ve also dressed a man as a bush (using real twigs, leaves, and mesh fabric) and wrapped an actor up tight in dyed gauze mummy ‘bandages’ without considering that he’d need to use the bathroom throughout the day. Whoops!



Paint a picture for our readers:  Once you receive a script, do you have a knack for knowing precisely what cast should wear; or is there a lot of back and forth during the process of shooting a film?


I always have an initial idea, but there is a ton of back and forth between myself, the director, the network or studio, and the actor playing the part. Sometimes my ideas win out, but sometimes you just get forced into a corner. If you’ve ever watched a movie and wondered “What in the hell was that costume designer thinking?!”, chances are some fool somewhere overrode their ideas. It happens to the best of us!


I like to start the design process by asking myself where a character lives, how much money she makes, what books she reads, what kind of music she listens to, and where she shops. I am a lifelong ‘studier’ of people, so I can usually conjure up an idea of what a certain type of person would wear quite quickly. But really, I’m forever basing character’s looks on people I know in real life: my family, crew members, the baristas at my local coffee shop, girls I follow on Tumblr and Instagram. Style (or lack thereof!) is literally everywhere. I never stop clocking what people are wearing.


What advice do you have for aspiring costume designers for being successful in film specifically and in fashion in general?


Fashion is not even close to being my bag — I think it’s way harder to make it there than in the costume design world! The fashion world is based on whims and trends, while costume design forces you to constantly answer only one question: does the costume service the character? Is it what he or she would wear in real life? If so, you’re golden — trends be damned.


As far as being successful in either world, I have two pieces of advice:


One, read everything you can about your chosen career and never ever feel like you’ve learned enough. I am a completely self-taught designer — I’ve taken exactly zero costume design courses. My home library is bursting at the seams with books on every wardrobe subject possible, from Edwardian clothing to the psychology of fashion. If you’re looking to break into a career as a costume designer, you can’t go wrong with reading Holly Cole and Kristin Burke’s Costuming for Film: The Art and the Craft from cover to cover. It really is the costume design bible — full of useful info as to what costume designers do, how they do it, and why they do it.

Second, always be authentic. Very early in my career, I was trying to be someone I wasn’t: always holding my tongue, never saying what I really thought, just riding the horse in the direction it was going. I never did good work because I was always afraid of being found out.


Then one of my mentors (Oscar Award winner Milena Canonero) pointed out that I should just be myself and say what I really thought, because certain people were going to love it — and who cares about the people who hate it?! The world is starved for people who aren’t afraid to be weird, to say what everyone else is thinking, and to possibly not be liked. To this day I have my detractors in Hollywood — but the directors and producers who are into my schtick are die hards. They are into me for life.  And it’s all because I’m exactly who I say I am, always and forever.







All images provided by Alison Freer



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ChooseATL Movement

ChooseATL Logo




Georgia is winning big in the film industry and as a result local businesses, organizations and entrepreneurs across the state are feverishly racing to take advantage of the opportunities that have resulted, especially in metro Atlanta.  One such organization that is poising itself to meet the growing demands of this industry is ChooseATL.

Kate Atwood is the Vice President of this local organization which is taking advantage of the film growth in the metro Atlanta area.  Not only is ChooseATL concerned with film growth but it also aims to encourage growth in a variety of local business sectors in order to encourage job growth, economic growth, entrepreneurship, technology advancement — essentially, a total way of life in metro Atlanta.  Kate Atwood is an entrepreneur and a community leader who has built her career on heading up social impact initiatives in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors.  Two successful organizations that she has led are her own not-for-profit, Kate’s Club and Arby’s Foundation, in which she served as Executive Director.Kate Atwood - ChooseATL

In September, Kate joined the Metro Atlanta Chamber, as Vice President to lead the recently launched ChooseATL campaign. In this newly created role, Kate is responsible for focusing the region’s narrative to showcase all that metro Atlanta has to offer with the purpose to attract and retain top emerging talent. Undoubtedly, her organization will also attract film talent both locally and nationally that will continue to fuel the skyrocketing growth taking place in film and help to sustain the industry.  This week on Reel Focus, Kate will share with us more about this new campaign and how it relates to the film industry.

Kate thank you for your contribution to Reel Focus this week.  I’m sure our readers are dying to know what ChooseATL is so, tell us its purpose and how it relates to film?

ChooseATL is focused on telling a comprehensive story about Atlanta to attract and retain top talent and intentionally grow the region’s prosperity in the global economy. ChooseATL highlights the abundant opportunity for career growth across the 29-county region, as well as the unique culture and highly ranked livability.

Atlanta’s film industry has continued to flourish thanks to an abundance of talent and generous tax credits, which make Georgia one of the top states for movie and television production, behind California and New York. ChooseATL will continue to highlight the top productions filmed in Georgia, like ‘The Walking Dead,’ and all the reasons why our region is ideal for the entertainment sector.

Simply put, we want to tell folks in the film and TV industry why they should choose Atlanta. I’m proud to say we’re already making great strides. In fact, recently MovieMaker Magazine designated Atlanta as #1 on the list of Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker in 2016.

What are some major benchmarks or how will you know that your campaign is successful?

First, I want to clarify that ChooseATL isn’t simply a campaign with a finite time period. This brand is a movement – one you’ll be seeing for months and years to come.

Startup investors, corporate executives and public sector institutions alike are realizing that the new age of economic development is attracting talent. As Millennials begin to flood the workplace (FACT: they will comprise 75% of the workforce by 2025), attracting and retaining talent is the next big thing for any city. ChooseATL is ensuring Atlanta is poised to win this rush for talent. At a high level, the health of our region and the vibrancy of our diverse and beautiful communities will demonstrate ChooseATL’s success.

Tell us about the next film related event or events that you have planned?

Many of your readers probably attended our January SXSW 2016 pre-party at Spitfire Studios. Our next and final event before ChooseATL takes over SXSW is a music reception at Sweet Water Brewery on Feb 17. The event will highlight Atlanta’s vibrant music industry but we encourage anyone interested in learning more about the ChooseATL initiative to attend.

In March, ChooseATL will head to Austin to showcase our region’s vibrant creative culture wrapped around our evolving tech and entertainment industries. The initiatives and programs we will activate in the ChooseATL House at SXSW will reflect the city and culture we love, and show people why they too should ChooseATL.

In a few words, tell our readers, particularly our readers who may be considering moving her for film, why they should ‘Choose ATL?’

The film and television industry in Georgia generated more than $6 billion in fiscal year 2015, directly employing 22,400 workers in Georgia and 77,900 people indirectly, (Georgia Department of Economic Development).

Atlanta’s diverse economy, global access, workforce, low costs of business and living, and vibrant quality of life are reasons to choose Atlanta. I’d also encourage them to check out ChooseATL.com to learn more about the people culture and opportunities Atlanta has to offer.


Photos courtesy of ChooseATL



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