What drew you into the world of filmmaking? What was your defining moment?
I love filmmaking! My mother would rent movies every Friday. It was our “treat”. Each person would pick a movie and it was through that moment where I really started to see movies as something special. My defining moment was getting a camera and making a short commercial for a program I was in called Junior Achievement, a youth entrepreneurial program. After I made that film and we won an award, I had to continue. At that time I had a Digital 8 video camera and I just started pointing it at everything.
We see that both of your degrees are in film. For those women who are considering filmmaking but don’t necessarily want to go to college what are your suggestion for them?
You don’t need college for film but you do need practice and a lot of know how. There is a treasure trove of YouTube videos, books and artist talks so you can learn everything you need. I suggest watching two talks. One with with Haile Gerima from Black Star Film Festival and the Julie Dash Masterclass at TIFF. I really haven’t learned everything I need to know and I keep digging deeper. You also want to watch different types of films. I am addicted to Film Struck which houses the Criterion Collection. That subscription will change your life. I love that they have analysis videos on the films which helps you to see the material in a new way. Watch the Three Colors Trilogy and then make sure you read articles about it and watch the additional content.
What do you look for when looking for a project?
I usually don’t do it if I think anyone could do that. It takes a lot to make a film. I want to make sure that each time I make one, it’s something unique and also a different voice. I don’t want to make a boy meets girl film. I am queer black woman. I want to make films about black women but for everyone. Good projects are tough. Good ideas are hard to come by but I try not to put pressure on myself. Last year, I had an idea, I wrote a script and I casted and shot it. It was complete in 3 months and now we’re editing my new comedy short Ice Cold. As a filmmaker, you must be honest with what you want to say. I think honesty comes out on screen. You have to remember that your voice is unique. No one will tell the story in the same way. If you have an idea and you have access, jump in and make sure you take a camera and good sound!
What is a successful moment in your career so far?
The Revival Movie has been a wild ride. It went from a little idea, to me jumping in and doing it to a a kickstarter and then a movie and all the festivals. Then, we got distribution with Women Make Movies and it just keeps moving. Someone sent me a text saying congrats on a festival and I was shocked. I didn’t know we had gotten in because I don’t handle submissions to festivals anymore. Now, people send us requests. After we premiered in OutFest in LA, our inbox just kept going and it’s been great. We have been invited to Australia, Scotland, London and Sweden. It’s been an awesome moment to share our story.
We have women in our collective in various areas of the United States and other countries who are concerned about not being in Hollywood and New York do you believe it is a market outside of those industries?
In the digital age, you make the content. You find your audience and the market will find your email and contact you. Don’t worry about the market. If you worry, it’s crippling. Awkward Back Girl was authentic and had a unique voice. Pharrell/I am Other found Issa and made Season 2, HBO found Issa and the rest is history. Building your audience is key wherever you are, the rest will come. However, if you can come to New York, there is a great community here and a lot of resources. I love that I am able to find the talent I need at anytime.
Our DP left us two days before our shoot last month because of a big opportunity that couldn’t be missed but I found someone who delivered exceptionally in 2 days. Thanks talented New Yorkers!
You also wear the hat of a director, do you believe a director needs to know how to operate a camera themselves?
The director role shifts considerably based on platform. Quite honestly while I enjoy shooting. I love equipment and cameras and geeking out. I also really enjoy having a Director of Photography as my creative partner. Having that extra eye, allows the director to have great creative freedom with talent. When I am behind the camera, I have to make sure that shot is composed and exposed. I have to make sure audio is superb. I have to make sure the talent is feeling comfortable. That is a hard task sometimes. If it’s a documentary, it a little easier but if you are working on a narrative the talent has to feel comfortable and you have to really be listening and paying attention to detail in the entire scene every take.
If you are behind the camera worrying about technical stuff with image and audio, it becomes more difficult to ensure talent feels comfortable and you are getting the scene you want. So for narrative work and sit down interviews, I really want that talent connection. For shooting verite, I may do it myself especially if it’s a sensitive situation. I am shooting a new documentary and I had to visit someone in their apartment with their child, I didn’t want to carry 4 people into that space because it would change the dynamic considerably. So I went by myself and it worked out well.
How can someone put themselves in position “or prepared” for opportunities as a creative in a corporate setting?
Working in corporate is tough. You want to work at places that are truly diverse and that is hard when it comes to a corporation.. Also, you want to work at places where there is fresh blood. You want to work where the decision makers have a high taste level and your voice gets to be apart of the conversation. Sometimes startups are the way to go for this. You have to decide what you want your future to be and what is most important for you. What is your vision? Do you want to execute unique storytelling without the intense corporate pressure. It’s a toss up! It’s great to spend corporate money. I was on a shoot and we had a crane in the sky, a taco truck for afternoon snacks and everything at our disposal in terms of equipment BUT that product is not yours. It is under great scrutiny and lots of changes. Sometimes you spend money and time and things change direction, so you have to decide where you want to place your energy.
What’s next for you?
I am really excited about the next two projects. After The Revival, I decided that I needed to make more work and really not wait. I am making a short comedy called Ice Cold about the worst best wedding day in history and I am crafting a new documentary on the history of black women in burlesque. It’s a focus on the women of color legends who we do not know. We are going to meet some stripping grandmas. So far, it’s been great. This project is for my thesis. I am finishing up my MFA.
Shivawn Hill, is a writer, director and a storyteller at heart. She’s currently in post production with her short documentary film. She believes that one day soon she’ll form the ultimate group of Storytellers who will travel the world to share the stories of creative peculiar people.