This was a big year for Women's Weekend Film Challenge. 2022 was the first year we ran all three of our major programs: we brought back the film challenge for the first time since the pandemic began; we continued our virtual workshop series; and we opened applications for our second pilot accelerator. Through these three programs, we have helped thousands of women and non-binary filmmakers advance their careers, and we couldn’t have done it without you! Read on to learn more about everything you helped make possible as well as some of the things we’re looking forward to in 2023.
This past August, we hosted our fifth film challenge. 575 people applied for a chance to be a part of this groundbreaking program. With the help of industry professionals, including Anna Sang Park, Annie Sundberg, Adrienne Stern, Nancy Schreiber ASC, Carmen Cabana, Danielle Eliska, Julia Kots, and Mahak Jiwani, who reviewed all of those applications, we selected 180 participants. We then placed them onto 6 crews. Everyone who participated identified as a woman or non-binary, and all of the crew members were previously strangers.
The crews met for the first time at an orientation/pre-production meeting hosted at The Carstage. We were able to keep the crews safe thanks to our COVID compliance manager, Miranda Plant, and tests and masks donated by the Ulster County Dept. of Health. During this meeting, our crews determined filming locations and shooting schedules; however, at this point, they still didn’t know the genre that they would be writing for! The camera, G&E, and sound departments for each of the crews were also able to finalize their gear requests with our equipment sponsors at Sony, Arri, Cinelease, Zeiss, AbelCine, and Gotham Sound. All of the writers and directors received a license for Final Draft 12 courtesy of Final Draft. A special thank-you to Lewis Communications for spreading the word and making introductions on our behalf.
One week later, we officially kicked off the challenge at AbelCine. This is when we picked the genres out of a hat for each of the crews and assigned a required prop: a greeting card. The writers began working on their scripts while the rest of the crew familiarized themselves with the donated equipment. The camera teams were beyond excited to be using Sony Venices and Arri Alexa Minis with Zeiss lens packages. AbelCine generously donated additional camera accessories to ensure that the crews had everything they needed.
As one participant wrote in her survey, “I was blown away by the access WWFC gave to the teams in terms of equipment and professional contacts. The camera package and audio gear were excellent. The G&E package was also great. The Sony Ci account was invaluable. I was so impressed by the scale of the challenge!”
The six crews filmed all over the city and New Jersey. We visited each of the crews to make sure everything was running smoothly. Nancy Schreiber ASC, who helped us select DPs from the applications, joined us for some of the set visits, which was an exciting bonus for all the DPs. It was amazing to see how the film crews worked together so effortlessly considering that they were all strangers beforehand. There was a true sense of respect, camaraderie and excitement in the air.
All six crews completed their films by the midnight deadline. That’s right: They wrote, filmed, edited and scored a short film in one long weekend! Post production went extra smoothly thanks to our sponsors at Sony Ci and end credits provided by Endcrawl!
Two weeks later, we screened the completed films for a packed audience at Village East. Nearly 400 people came to enjoy these films and support the filmmakers. Our participants were excited to see the posters for the films in the lobby (yes, we assign a graphic designer for each film!). This screening wouldn’t have been possible without additional funding from Casting Networks, Western Digital, SanDisk, Resorts World, and Gotham Sound. After the screening, we headed to The 13th Step for an after-party to celebrate everyone’s hard work. This networking opportunity is a crucial part of our mission, and it’s a chance for our participants to meet filmmakers on other crews whose work impressed them at the premiere.
Because the festival circuit is crucial for advancing filmmakers careers in terms of exposure and validation, we train the crews on best practices for submitting to festivals and we provide stipends to offset the tremendous cost of application fees. Already, the films have been accepted into festivals including Norwalk Film Festival, NewFilmmakers LA and Knight of the Reel.
The post-challenge surveys showed that we accomplished our goals by every metric. In terms of diversity, 56% of our participants are people of color, 43% of our participants identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and 8% identify as part of the disabled community. 97.7% of participants said that they would highly recommend this program!
Plus, many participants have shared that they’ve already hired and collaborated with their crew members from the challenge.
After wrapping up the challenge, we jumped right into our next program: the pilot accelerator. We launched this program in 2021 as a means of getting underrepresented writers into the writers rooms, thereby boosting representation of women and non-binary people on screen.
Over 600 applicants submitted a complete pilot script for consideration. Our team vets these scripts along with the help of 40 volunteers and 14 major industry judges including Anita Kapila, Asha Michelle Wilson, Biana Sams, Chelsea Devantez, Felischa Marye, Leigh Davenport, Nicole Mirante-Matthews, Nikita T. Hamilton, Pam Davis, Shernold Edwards, Tracey Deer, Valentina Garza,Vanessa Ramos, Vivian Lee.
Soon, we will be selecting our 6-8 fellows to receive a 3-week intensive training on pitching. This training also includes a mock writers room with Matthew J. Lieberman, speech coaching with Samara Bay, legal information from entertainment lawyer Anuj Gupta, and pitch practice with Elle Johnson and Jasmine Russ.
Then, our fellows will pitch to HBO, Netflix, Showtime, Hulu, Warner Brothers Discovery, Anonymous Content, Sid Gentle, Fabel Entertainment, Yes, Norman, Element Pictures, Irish Cowboy, Good Fear Content, Sutton Street Productions, Shoot to Midnight, Good Question, and Blumhouse Television.
During our inaugural program in 2021, we set up a total of 63 pitch meetings and 75% of those meetings ended in a request to read the scripts. Since then, two of our fellows have gotten staffed; two have become mentees to showrunners; one has become a writers assistant; and several have gotten representation. We are confident that this year’s program will have similarly exciting outcomes.
Thank you to Western Digital, SanDisk and Final Draft for supporting this program.
In November, we held our most successful Giving Tuesday campaign ever! For this fundraiser we made personal phone calls to over 500 of our past participants. This massive undertaking wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Eden Martinez, Kimberly Madden, Maisa Chiang, Miranda Plant, LaQuin Alexander and Lyndsey Casagrande. A special thanks to Compass for donating office space for our phone banking. We raised over $10K for Giving Tuesday! Beyond receiving donations that make our work possible, it was incredibly rewarding to hear directly from so many participants about how the program changed their careers for the better.
Throughout all these programs one thing became clear: we needed more help. We put out the call for a coordinator position and over 300 people applied! The applications were remarkable and the decision was difficult but we are so happy with our final choice. Krystal Dinsberg has become an integral part of the team and brings experience from her years as a writer’s assistant and producer to our programming. You should expect to see and hear a lot more from her!
Lastly we want to thank our advisory board, Elle Johnson, Jasmine Russ, Kathryn O’Kane, Aisha Besson and Anuj Gupta. Your feedback and insights have been invaluable.
If you’re reading this, it’s because you’ve played a significant role in our journey. Five years ago, we had a fun little idea to bring women together to make a short film in one weekend. We are honored that our idea has resonated with so many people and we are excited to see how much that idea has evolved.
2023 is going to be a big year for us, and we hope we can count on your continued support. Our hope for this year is to announce our new name, one that encapsulates our expanded program, as well as bring the film challenge back to LA! We cannot relaunch the LA film challenge without significant funding. Please reach out to us if you would like to get involved with this next chapter! We can’t wait to keep you all updated on the progress.