Interview with filmmaker: Pamela Woolford

I’m a writer. That’s it in a nutshell. If you want the long version: I write fiction and creative nonfiction, screenplays, literary journalism, journalism journalism, and once upon a time I had poetry published. I’m an artist: a writer but also a dancer and filmmaker, a creator—whatever form that creation takes.  

photo by Carolyn Greer

When did you fall in love with writing (your defining moment)?
Wow. Not one defining moment, but there were several transforming times for me. As a child my mother would tell me stories of her life growing up dirt poor in rural North Carolina, and I was fascinated by her stories of a life so far removed from mine. I would ask many questions, and she would tell me her truth. That was the beginning of my enchantment with storytelling.

She’s a writer herself, and she used to read me fairytales and children’s stories when I was so small, but she would also read to me stories written by some of her favorite authors, people like O. Henry and Guy de Maupassant. I was young, in my single digits, bedtime-story aged. We wouldn’t talk about the stories. She would just read, and I would let the words wander around in my head and do their magic. That was another defining moment because—and this is honestly true—it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I found out that O. Henry and Guy de Maupassant weren’t children’s authors. I had carried those stories around with me –“The Last Leaf,” “The Necklace”…—and thought they were fairytales because I had heard them with the fairytales when I was a child. So I was a lover of stories long before I wrote my own.

I wrote my first piece of fiction, or part of one—I never finished it—that I felt incredibly proud about after my senior year in high school. I felt that I could write after that. I attended an open-space high school with a stellar reputation in Columbia, Maryland, but to my memory, I was never required to read a book by a person of color until I went to summer school in San Francisco the summer after my senior year. The vast majority of the students were black or Asian, and we were handed a list of books written by people of color and told, “Read one.” I read Langston Hughes’ “The Best of Simple” and was blown away. I had heard of Langston Hughes all my life— his poems “Mother to Son,” “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” “Harlem (A Dream Deferred)”—but I had never read his fiction. The characters were so real and funny and poignant. “This is the great Langston Hughes?” I thought. “These people seem like people my parents and relatives would maybe know.” It was an awakening. Great fiction could be about people in my universe, so I started writing what I knew in a more intimate way. There were other transforming moments, but that’s a few.
What movies or stories inspire your creativity?
Well, I would have to say O. Henry’s “The Last Leaf.” It was one of my favorite stories as a child, and when I found out it was written for adults and then went back and read it, I was, at first, confused, and then I understood that my memory of the story, the one I had carried with me all those years, had been colored by my own life. I had been a sad child in some ways, and the story gave me hope. I had always thought the story was about a little girl who was lying in bed dying and her mother is caring for her and the little girl thinks she’ll die when the last leaf falls from the tree she can see from her window. But I was stunned when I read it as an adult. It’s about a grown woman who lives with her friend who thinks she’ll die when the last leaf falls from a vine she can see through the window from her sick bed. I had placed myself in the story, and it gave me so much hope and strength as a child. My mother would read it to me by my bedroom window, where I could see our Japanese maple tree as I lay there listening. I had imagined myself as the protagonist, and my mother as the protagonist’s friend, and my maple tree as the vine. In the end, the dying woman gains strength and lives. In my child’s mind, I had let the story encompass me and give me strength.
In terms of movies, well, the list is too long to write here. Suffice to say that I survive thanks to the art of film. I watch a part of a film, or a whole film, or films most days of my life. It’s not just one that stands out but rather I could be reminded of a film I hadn’t thought about in a decade or two, and it could call up so much for me. Films have so much meaning in my life, and the art form influences all forms of my writing, perhaps more than books. The author Marita Golden described one of my essays as having “a definite cinematic quality.” I’d describe much of my fiction and creative nonfiction as cinematic.
What is the biggest misconception about being a screenwriter?
I don’t know that there are prevalent misconceptions because I don’t know that there’s a conception of what it is to be a screenwriter, and that’s problematic. Screenwriting is not often what young people aspire to do because it is an underappreciated art. Filmmaking is thought of as directing and producing, but the heart and soul of any film is the script.

It seems stage plays are much more often read than screenplays are, which is unfortunate. When I was in my early 20s, in the late ‘80s, Spike Lee started publishing his screenplays, and he said he was doing it to take the mystery out of screenwriting. I thank him for that. I read his work, and I also searched for other screenplays to read. I read Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust and the screenplays compiled in Screenplays of the African American Experience edited by Phyllis Rauch Klotman. That reading empowered me. It wasn’t long afterwards that I wrote a screenplay for the first time, which won a state arts council grant. It was my first recognition as a writer.

What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?

Continue to grow as a person, live your life; it’ll show up in your work. 


photo by Ross Lewin

One of the biggest mistakes first-time writers make?

I don’t know because I don’t know what others have been through, but for me, when I look back on it, the only mistake was to think I could be something else, get a job with a regular salary—retail, PR and marketing, fundraising…—and not go buggy. I’m meant to write. I’m 49, and I know that now.

What questions should a writer ask herself prior to crafting her story?

I can’t say that I do that, ask myself questions before I begin. I usually start with a first line, or paragraph really, which compels me to write. That opening just comes to me, and the story happens from there. The words propel me forward. I ask myself questions as I write, but the answers are found in the writing itself, what I’ve written so far. The poet Lucille Clifton once said to me, there are no rules to writing, in general, but once you start a piece you are creating rules that you need to abide by. You need to listen to the essence of the story, I’d say. In some way, the story itself tells you what to write as you write it.
What’s your favorite quote?

There are quotes from people I’ve interviewed that stay with me and also quotes from characters I’ve written. In my most recent published piece, “Just After Supper” the protagonist, an elderly woman who lives in the rural south, says, “I live my life the way I want, I live as I want, and that’s important, too. It’s not just seeing the world, but doing what you want in the world, living your life like you see fit to live your life.” That’s been humming in my head lately.
 

photo by Denee Barr

What’s next for you?

I’m producing a multi-discipline memoir, Meditations on a Marriage, about my short-lived marriage with my former husband, a composer whom I loved like no other man. He was clearly mentally ill, but I had no inkling of it until six months into the marriage, and it really didn’t dawn on me that there was something seriously wrong with the way he thinks until a year in. Soon thereafter I was forced to leave in fear. He was verbally and emotionally abusive. I look back on the relationship now, and I’m shocked at what I had become so quickly. I was so victimized by him, and he was so victimized by his own mind. I want to create art about it because I think it’s not an uncommon story. I’m writing a book and producing an accompanying short film in which I dance and exorcise the pain and confusion of our union—the love, the bond, the bitter end. I refer to the film as a film about a dance about a book about emotional abuse. It’s that and very much more.

How can we keep up with you? 

Pamela Woolford 

Instagram

Facebook

Twitter  

Interview with cinematographer: Mina Monsha’

If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life…” and I have to say that I love what I do. I swear I was an architect in my past life, I enjoy buildings and skylines and I believe that is evident in my work. 


Did you study cinematography in college, or do you have any other kind of training in this field before doing it professionally? If self taught, how did you go about developing your craft? 
Nope, I have a BA in social work and realized my junior year I wanted to be a journalism and media major, but it was too late. I spent mad hours in their lab, learning how to edit. I learned from others and eventually bought a camera and been doing it ever since. I’m constantly wanting to get better, so I’m always studying. 

For someone looking to start out what equipment do you suggest they invest in (especially those on a budget)? 

 When I stared off I thought I needed like a 8k dollar camera, but then I learned about DSLR’s. So I suggest you research DSLR’s (Nikon or Canon) I use a Nikon D3100 and various cinematic lenses. This is an expensive ass hobby, so make sure you invest a lil bread into it.

In terms of cinematographers, who do you like (who do you look up to and why)? 

  I honestly keep to myself, it’s hard for me to trust people. I have good friend (Freshie) who helps me with filming and we are a good team. Besides her, I prefer to do things myself. I know that I will eventually have to build a team though, it’s only realistic.

What advice would you give to a woman cinematographer that was just getting started? 

 Get out and tell the world your story! This is a male dominated field and predominantly white… So what are you waiting for, let’s own this shit!! (Can I cuss?)
What type of film would you love to work on that you haven’t worked on yet?

 I would like to work on a blockbuster film, something big, something special…

What’s next for you? 

Finishing up part 2 of sTelth and I have two other projects that I cannot discuss quite yet. 

How can we keep up with you? 

Instagram 

Interview with Film Producer: Sarah Hawkins

How did producing come about for you?
Out of necessity! I came to LA to pursue acting, but found it so much more exciting to produce my own projects. It was liberating to stop waiting for the perfect role, and put into action something tangible. I love that by creating opportunity, I could help level up other filmmakers in the process. 

Tell us, what does producing really consist of?

Producing tends to be a lot of little details. It’s seeing the big vision, and end-goals, while keeping a clear head about the day-to-day small stuff. I jokingly call it “cat herding,” but it’s so much more fun than that. I love building a team, and putting others strengths towards something bigger than themselves. It’s rewarding to look back and see how every little detail can build and feed into that larger vision. 
How do you handle disagreements you may have with studios, directors, etc.?

This is something I’m still learning how to tackle. I want to be compassionate and graceful, but firm and decisive. It’s so much more how you set the tone at the start of a relationship or project. Hear people out, keep the big vision in mind, empathize with frustrations but expect greatness, and always point to the bigger picture.

What criteria do you use to select a script, screenwriter, director, etc.?

Finding the right personality is everything! I look to work with people who are passionate, professional, and can push the project further along. A perfect example of this is my best friend, Myah Hollis, an extremely talented writer. We push each other and challenge one another to be better and work harder. Find “your person.” By finding the right personality, the right project will follow. 

What was the most important thing you have learned?

Don’t be afraid to stick to your guns at the risk of hurting others’ feelings. Many women (myself included) are at times fearful of what other women will think if they say “no” to something; at the risk of being labeled “bossy.” I have to constantly remind myself that this would never be the case if I were a man. Setting boundaries and expectations are crucial to creating an environment of productivity.
Did you have any specific influences growing up that lead you towards the film industry?

I’d have to say my dad, Bradley Hawkins. He first became an actor when I was very young. I always kind of rejected it as a possibility that I would ever pursue acting as a career, but in recent years, I of course, “caught the bug.” I packed up my car and had it shipped to LA and he and my mom were (and still are) my biggest cheerleaders. 

I’m well aware that it’s so incredibly rare to have parents that 1.) understand the industry and all the highs and lows it comes with, and 2.) are living it as well, and want to work with you. It’s definitely been a unique journey these past few years; auditioning together, producing a short film Roller Coaster together, and now in the beginning stages of forming a production company together. Father-daughter duo for the win!

What was your first movie making experience?

My first movie making experience was acting in a student film when I was a senior in college for a friend’s final project. I have this vivid memory of being in the snow and watching my friends running circles around me, huddled in jackets carrying umbrellas. They worked in effortlessly in sync, everyone having their specific area of expertise/interest, trusting each other completely. Since this first experience, there have been short films and now working a series, and although it’s the story and the final product that you are fighting for, there’s nothing quite like being on set and the unique work family that forms.  
One piece of advice to screenwriters just starting out?

Think about the end goal. Who does your story best serve? If your answer is “everyone will love this,” I would challenge you to be more specific. The more specific your niche audience is, the more a producer can help. 
What’s next for you?

For my full time gig, I work for Busted Buggy Entertainment, a female-driven production and distribution company founded by actor and producer, Courtney Daniels. The company has produced New York Times Critics’ Pick, The Girl in the Book, as well as the indie-kids’ film, Rescue Dogs, which directly resulted in the adoption of 150+ animals. We’re working on a few features for the end of the year, and are actively looking for more!
Outside of BBE, I’m producing a series about women in film, by women in film, entitled Or Die Trying. We successfully complete our Seed&Spark campaign early this summer, were featured on IndieWire, and are now heading into production this October! In addition to ODT, I’m producing a pitch pilot with my dad, entitled Filling In. That project is currently in post production, but I’m excited to get it out there. Lastly, I’m producing the 2nd annual Moonfaze Feminist Film Festival in Hollywood this December! A lot of spinning plates right now, but their all projects I’m deeply passionate about and excited to bring into fruition!

Interview with Screenwriter: Claudia Muñiz

I was born in Havana, Cuba, in the mid 80s, so, yes, I am this rare product from the end of an age when everything became very confusing. I am an actress, screenwriter and filmmaker and I think the world will be terribly boring without Cate Blanchett or Karim Aïnouz; without Marcello Mastroianni, the best actor I’ve ever seen; without Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes, always together; or Tangerine by Sean S. Baker.


What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?

Be loyal to yourself, to your experience. Write about what you know, but also do it about what intrigues you. Never deny your obsessions. Study the classics or whatever moves you deeply. There is nothing wrong with taking inspiration from the ones that preceded you. Take the myth then make it yours. Never stop studying, read plays, scripts and please, please, please be aware of books or manuals that promise you the perfect script out of ten simple steps.

When a writer has an idea for a screenplay, what questions should they be asking themselves before writing?

I only can talk from my own experience and the truth is that I try to keep it simple. I believe that every process is different. Every script is a universe and the approach changes from one project to the other. Sometimes I do a very exhaustive research. Sometimes I don’t. It depends on the kind of story I am trying to tell. It doesn’t work like a clock most of the time. Anyway, there are always some questions that are very helpful. For me it has to be the theme. I try to pick a word or a sentence that grabs the sense of the story that is knocking inside my head. Once I have it, everything flows.

What are common myths about being a successful screenwriter?

It is there such a thing? Really, if someone is willing to succeed in this world he or she has to be prepared to fail many times. It is not the easy and romantic concept what are we talking about. It is not a glamorous party all the time. There are moments of tremendous loneliness and hours of hard work coming up.


Why did you choose screenwriting?

I really like to think that screenwriting chose me instead. I am an actor and I started writing almost like a game. It was for a film that I will be leading in. Kiki Álvarez, the director of the film asked me to write some of the parts that involved my character (it was almost the 99%) and I started writing like it was a theater play. I mean in that same format. It was the only one I knew, as I came from a theater school. Therefore, when I started writing, it was not something that I had planned. I try to keep that in perspective all the time. If I start taking it too seriously I am sure I could not do it anymore.

How do you deal with writers block?

Again, the key is not to take it too seriously. I know you have deadlines and that could be a strong source of stress, but I truly defend life over everything else. You, as a writer, need time to live your life. Either with or without writers block, you need to take a time and go places if that is what you like to do. For example I have my best ideas while commuting. I have time to disconnect. I get to see very interesting people and situations. Go outside! Watch a movie! Cook! Play a game! Whatever that makes you feel good.


What organizations are you a part of? Who’s in your writing creative tribe?

I am not in an organization now. I am new in this country. In Cuba film people make alliances, they even have good production houses, but sadly you cannot make it legal. It is very different here and I am starting to understand that. I am willing to be a part of an organization or collective that has the same point of view as me in film. Anyway, here I have found people that helped me a lot with the finalization of my short film “Days of Wholesome Joy.” It could not be possible without Ruth Goldberg and Bill Toles’ magic; or without the unconditional and constant support of 718Studio. They are my tribe here.

Take us through your script writing process?

I do not really have a process. At least not like something you always do the same way, like a routine. Even when I am a very methodical person for the simple things of life like eating or taking a bus, I do not have a system when writing. Sometimes I find a story just by coming up with the title. That is the detonator. At some other occasions there are news on the television or facebook that makes me want to write. Usually I have an idea going on for a very long time. I have it for months and then one day I am able to sit and write it in one week. The script has been written inside my head already. Whatever the process is, I really have the best moments when writing.

What’s next for you?

Now I am writing a script for Bill Toles. It is about family and immigration in this city. About becoming a citizen and the sacrifices that implies. I am also collaborating with creator Pablo Zequeira to write some of the scripts of his animation series “James in High School.” I am planning to film something here in Brooklyn, so I am starting to put things together in order to get the funds to make it real. As an actress I am in the process of finding the right agent and this is very time-consuming… and I am living, that is the most important part.

How can we stay in contact with you? 

Website 

IG Accounts @mad_unikitty @con_sana_alegria

Interview with Film Director: Stefanie Garcia 

Hello, my name is Stefanie Garcia. I am a photographer turned writer/director. I have been pursuing my dream of writing screenplays and directing movies for almost a year now. I am still very much in the learning process and that’s the exciting part.

When did you fall in love with filming (your defining moment)?

I have always wanted to work in movies ever since I was a little girl in second grade. The movie that most inspired my love of film was the Color Purple. For whatever reason, it was the movie that spoke to me. I remember very vividly, it making me feel like I could make a film like it.
How did you learn to direct?

A lot of what I have learned has been self taught, but I am always expanding, growing and learning from as many sources as I possibly can.
What do you love about directing? 

I love being able to capture the visual and emotional heart of a story.
You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong? 

I think the most important thing about working with a team is remembering that your ideas are not the only ones. Being open to hearing someone else’s idea and perspective is SO important because you never know what will come of it. I think it is also REALLY important to find a community, online or off, to support you. You can find alot of team members there too. Right now, that online community for me has been ScriptBlast.


What female directors have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why? 

To be honest, I haven’t really been inspired by or influenced by many female directors. There just hasn’t been that many that I’ve connected with. If any director has influenced me it has been Steven Spielberg. However, I will say Bryce Dallas Howard is one to watch for. I love how personable she is.
I often wonder why anyone would want to direct. Why would you want to always have 100 decisions in front of you and have over 100 people waiting on your answer?

That’s funny, I really don’t know why. I just feel like I am in my element, and when I think about it, it makes me smile. It’s something I feel called to do.
What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that? 

As a filmmaker, I feel that my job is to pay attention to the story. The heart of the film. Because I feel, as the audience, we love a good story. It’s a great means to escape and the worst thing is to get invested in one and it fall flat.
What do you look for when looking for a project?

Story, hands down. It has to have a good story.
What’s next for you? 

For me, I’m looking forward to shooting my first short film.

How can we connect with you?

My personal website where I share my journey is   Voice A Dream or follow me on Instagram 

 

Get Social With THE CREATIVE OUTSIDERS…

facebook-com_thecreativeoutsiders-instagram-com_thecreativeoutsiders

Interview with Vanessa Crocini : Documentary Filmmaker 

I am an Italian documentary filmmaker focused on social impact stories. I don’t believe in borders. I love food.

When did you fall in love with writing (your defining moment)?

I started writing in middle school, I wanted to be a director and I an idea at the time of me directing a film with Robert De Niro being the bad guy. It was a sort of action movie with a romantic love story in it. I still have the notebook with some written pages of that script.

What defines a good story?

A think as long as you can empathize with what’s told on the screen, that’s the secret. We all go through a different range of emotions and we might not be all superheroes that are able to fly, but we are all living miracles so we all feel and experience things or events that can be reproduced through fictional characters or shared through non fictional stories. If we are moved by somebody’s else story is because we are all able to feel.

What drew you to social impact stories to tell/document?

I first discovered I loved documentaries attending film festivals. I met my mentor at a film festival and I was blown away by all his traveling stories filming around the world. I think filmmaking is an amazing way to make people discover and let them know about places, events and people that they wouldn’t know about otherwise. So if we are talking about things that matter like human rights, women empowerment, environmental issues, children’s rights and more people can be aware of these important facts, then it is already a step ahead. I love the fact that through documentaries that talk about important social impact issues, there have been movements that have created awareness and activated change. For example from my Vimeo statistics, I have seen that the trailer of my documentary Get Together Girls has been seen in over 120 countries. Maybe somebody got inspired to create the same project told in the documentary somewhere else. The thing is you never know who is watching and what escalates in them to bring the message to a wider perspective.
What is the first story you ever wrote?

My first script was officially “My First Thanksgiving”, inspired by the very first Thanksgiving I spent with my UCSB roommate Rend and her family. It was a mix of Iraqui and American festivities. I love when two cultures come together and they embrace each other’s elements like that. So I wrote a script about it. It was a comedy.

What movies or stories inspire your creativity?

I watch a lot of documentaries. And especially since I am part of the Social Impact Media Awards committee for 5 years, I get to see more than 300 documentaries in this time of the year. It is unbelievable how many stories inspire me. From anywhere. Again, as long as the human being empathize with what they see on the screen, we can all be inspired, moved, touched by a story.
Do you use writing software? If so what do you use?

I used to write on Final Draft, but I now love Pages. Honestly though, I think it’s really more about writing, it doesn’t matter where you write… Just let the creativity flow, even on a random piece of paper…

 

What are common myths about being a successful screenwriter?

I think sometimes we get stuck on rules and books and how other people tell you do things. I think everyone has to find their own method. Originality and a unique perspective are the key. So yes, it’s important to read screenwriting books and read scripts, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow the exact same thing. It’s the same in filming or editing. As long as you find your own style and you get your message across, then there is your path!

What’s next for you?

I’m filming my second feature length documentary called Street Poets. I’m following three young men and former gang members who met their mentor in juvenile detention camp a while back through a poetry workshop. Poetry saved their lives then and it is still helping them now figuring their lives as obstacles still arise. An amazing story of brotherhood and community. A woman telling a mans story. Two years in the making and probably another two ahead of me.

How can we keep up with you?

Website 

Facebook 

Twitter/Instagram: vanecool

Get social with THE CREATIVE OUTSIDERS…

facebook-com_thecreativeoutsiders-instagram-com_thecreativeoutsiders