When it comes to film festivals, I’ve been around the block, having won awards and received nominations in over 60 international screenplay competitions and labs.
Some are cold and cliquey. Some are fun but fleeting. Some are total sausage fests. From the panels to the screenings, you wonder, where are all the women filmmakers and screenwriters?
I know one place they head every July: The Action on Film International Film Festival in Pasadena, CA.
According to the AOF’s founder Del Weston, this year’s festival (July 22-30) will boast over 50 projects directed by women, counting the movies, shorts, music videos, and writers’ series.
The AOF has three awards specifically for women directors, on top of six other directing categories for both men and women.
If that’s not enough, about half of the screenwriting awards are won by women every year.
Christopher Canole, the AOF Writers Awards Show Master of Ceremonies, confirms this incredible statistic for women screenwriters. He says, “as memory serves, at least one woman was nominated in every one of the 22 categories last year, and won or was first runner-up in 14 categories.”
Del Weston says, “Women represent so much of the industry that it is a shame when you don’t see them getting the same opportunities to direct as their counterparts. Our goals are to not only recognize and encourage female directors, writers, producers, and stars, but to assist them along the way with as much support as we offer any other group associated with the AOF Festival and the AOF Channel.”
That’s right. There’s an AOF Channel that aired thirteen 30-minute episodes of “The Action on Film Show” in the lucrative Los Angeles market, on NBC-LA after Saturday Night Live (starting March 12, 2011). NBC-LA reaches over six million households and is the second largest television market in the U.S. Women filmmakers were highlighted and interviewed on this show.
Over the years, the festival itself has honored the work of women like Academy Award Winner Margaret O’Brien (MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS); Talia Shire (THE GODFATHER trilogy and ROCKY); and Deborah Kara Unger (THE GAME); and Asian star Meme (OH! TOUMEI NINGEN). This year’s honorees include actor/producer/stunts Diana Lee Inosanto (BLADE and THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT) and director/producer/writer Lydia Martinelli (LEVERAGE and LAYLA).
Christopher Canole says, “The fact that the AOF selects women for its lifetime achievement awards, when the public might see this as a male-dominated industry, speaks volumes.”
Up-and-coming filmmaker Michelle Muldoon agrees. “The AOF is aware that if it creates an environment for women to succeed, for women to participate – where their voices are not stifled but welcomed – then women have the ability to make it themselves. Just by recognizing Diana Lee Inosanto and Lydia Martinelli, the AOF is helping women. It’s giving us images of women who are in succeeding positions. But there’s no backlash with the amount of women succeeding at AOF because it’s done in such an authentic way. There’s no questioning whether an award is given out of merit. When a woman succeeds at the AOF, because the reputation of the festival is so strong, in that very way it’s helped women out.”
I’ve personally benefited from my involvement with the AOF. In 2009, my screenplay RESISTANCE (then known as VERA) took home the “Best Period Piece” award. Additionally, RESISTANCE was selected for interpretation on camera by the AOF. A scene from the script was shown as a “preview” at Pasadena’s Regency Academy Theater during a block of film screenings. The AOF later included the RESISTANCE scene in a professionally edited interview with me, which was posted on YouTube.
How much did this cost me? Nothing. I just paid the entry fee for the screenplay competition. The AOF took care of the rest!
RESISTANCE is currently in development with Populus Pictures, based in London with facilities at Pinewood Studios, and director Si Wall (SPEED DATE and THE DINNER PARTY).
I experienced something similar in 2010, when my screenplay WONDER DRUG won the “Most Likely To Be Produced” award. The AOF filmed a scene from the screenplay and edited an interview with me. It also extended an offer for me to participate in the first-ever AOF Writers’ Room Invitational, put on by the Action on Film International Film Festival and managed by Michelle Muldoon.
My assigned team of five writers created an original scene called LOCKDOWN HIGH (based on my synopsis, which won a blind vote). The scene was filmed and will screen at the 2011 AOF Festival. The scene is also in the running for an award, as the AOF Writers’ Room Invitational is a competition. The members of the winning group will receive Awards and Prizes at the 2011 AOF Black Tie Dinner and Award Show, and their scene will be shown there as well. The winning group will also be profiled in one of the AOF’s partner magazines.
There was no cost to take part in AOF Writers’ Room Invitational, or to enter these scenes in the festival. The scenes are owned wholly and fully by the screenwriters who write them. We got the chance to work with great screenwriters and move to the next level. The winning team will also get to see their words on the screen.
Michelle Muldoon says the AOF Writers’ Room Invitational won’t stop there. “In 2012, there will be twelve teams instead of five. And hopefully, we’ll be able to grow exponentially.”
The AOF is constantly looking for ways to grow. After the 2010 festival, Carrie Lynn Certa – under the banner of her company Ursa Productions – headed up the inaugural AOF Alumni Writer’s Production Series. She extended an exclusive offer to AOF Alumni writers to produce a couple of shorts in the month of December 2010. Ursa only extended this offer to AOF Alumni in order to solidify the AOF Family of Filmmakers, which is part of Del Weston’s overall vision for AOF.
Interested writers were asked to submit a short script that they were interested in getting produced. Ursa provided a pool of accomplished directors who vied for the scripts submitted that they wanted to direct. The selected writers then had the unique opportunity to interview the directors and choose the one that they thought would not only direct the film in their vision, but with whom they could work in order to shape their script as no novice is usually allowed to do. Once the script was locked, the director took over and production began.
Carrie came up with the idea for the AOF Alumni Writer’s Production Series and pitched it to Del after the 2010 festival. “He agreed to send out an email to everyone at AOF, asking writers to send their script in for consideration,” she says. “In the end, eight short films were made. The AOF really does want to help filmmakers. It wants to take fledgling filmmakers and give them the tools to go out and make something.”
Del gifted Carrie with a camera, lighting, and grip package so the production series could happen. “That package set me on my way,” Carrie says. “Del does care about his filmmakers. No one else has ever given me this kind of opportunity. AOF did. If the package never happened, then these films never would have been made. I recognize that and I’m extremely grateful for it.”
Carrie wrote and produced her own short entitled A DAY IN THE LIFE OF PLAIN JEN. The film was Executive Produced by Graeme Finlayson & Mark A. Shelton; co-produced by Melissa Friedman; and directed by Mark A. Shelton. You may remember Mark as being part of the team that won Academy Awards for visual effects on TITANIC; TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY; and THE ABYSS.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF PLAIN JEN will debut, along with seven other short films, at the Production Series Gala on July 28. The evening will include a red carpet for filmmakers and guests, then a screening of the eight films directly followed by a Q&A. The after-party will celebrate the World Premiere of these films with special awards.
Carrie plans on turning A DAY IN THE LIFE OF PLAIN JEN into a feature film. The script is ready to go, along with the film’s team.
So, if you’re in the Los Angeles area from July 22-30, take a short drive to Pasadena and check out the 2011 Action on Film International Film Festival. Michelle Muldoon sums it up best: “AOF is strictly about the work. Women do well at the festival because they deserve to do well at the festival. It’s an exceptionally fair place. I don’t think gender plays a role in anything at AOF. I think what they care about, more than anything, is passion about film. Are you passionate about film? Do you want to share your passion? Do you want to meet other people who share your passion? If you’re that kind of person, then AOF is the festival for you.”
What are you waiting for? Buy your tickets today
The festival’s film schedule can be viewed here .
Caitlin McCarthy received her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Emerson College. An award-winning screenwriter at international film festivals and labs, Caitlin has a screenplay project in development: RESISTANCE with Populus Pictures and director Si Wall (SPEED DATE; and THE DINNER PARTY). In addition to screenwriting, Caitlin serves as an English teacher at an inner-city public high school.