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How Refinery29’s Female Filmmaker-Focused Shatterbox Shorts Are Creating the Next Generation of Auteurs

Just over a year into existence, the female-focused shorts program has unleashed an enviable list of fresh new talents behind the camera.

“The Good Time Girls”

Girl Talk is a weekly look at women in film — past, present, and future.

When the popular women-focused lifestyle website Refinery29 began to build out its original video assets, they hit a stumbling block: they wanted more women creators to make their projects, but they couldn’t seem to find them through traditional means.

“We were building so many things simultaneously,” Chief Content Officer Amy Emmerich recently explained to IndieWire. “And having such a tough time finding women directors and hearing what the agents would say to us, like, ‘We don’t have someone who is a comedy director for you,’ or ‘There aren’t that many,’ and we kind of looked at each other, like, ‘What the hell is happening?'”

For a female-focused business, that idea just wasn’t tenable, and Emmerich and scripted programming executive producer Shannon Gibson set out to launch their own program aimed at female creators. “Let’s basically show them that this is possible,” Emmerich remembered thinking.

Disrupting the System

By the summer of 2016, they’d made the decision to zero in on short films, a product of both their financial constraints and the realization that there really were a bevy of women eager and able to make shorts. “We’re not a studio, we’re not a television company, we don’t have a ton of money,” Gibson said. “It was like, ‘We just actually need to give more women money to experiment at this particular stage.'”

It was instantly clear how many women they could reach. When they first partnered with the Sundance Institute, their Women at Sundance program sent them a list of 70 possible filmmakers to target. Suddenly, they had the talent pool they’d always wanted, and they were ready to do things in a very new way. “We’re trying to disrupt as many systems as possible, because that’s the only way I believe anybody will move forward,” Emmerich said.

They premiered the Shatterbox Anthology in August of 2016, anchored by a forward-thinking concept: to “create short films that redefine identity, imagination, and storytelling through the female lens.” So far, they’ve made a dozen films with a dozen female directors.

A number of other female-focused film programs traffic in the same arena, including Tribeca’s Through Her Lens, now in its third year, a program that offers a weeklong-workshop and grants for emerging female filmmakers, while AFI’s Directing Workshop focuses on education and mentorship and requires participants to finish a short film by its end (though it asks filmmakers to find their own funding – which is why there’s already been so much crossover between AFI and Shatterbox already).

Pairing up with Sundance was also a natural fit, as its own Women Filmmakers Initiative aims “to foster gender equality in American independent cinema by supporting women filmmakers to create and find audiences for their work, and to grow and sustain their careers.” Similarly, Women in Film’s mentoring program connects up-and-comers with mentors to help guide them to the next level.

Still, Shatterbox’s financially-forward attitude is unique, giving filmmakers not only the money and time to make their films, but also a huge platform on which to distribute their final product.

Shatterbox filmmakers are a diverse bunch – not just in terms of age, background, race, or identity, but also in terms of their actual experiences behind the camera. Some filmmakers, like Pamela Romanowsky and Meera Menon already have features under their belts, while others like Kristen Stewart (whose film “Come Swim” premieres next on the platform, when it debuts on November 10) and Gabourey Sidibe are well known in the industry but were looking to make their first forays into directing.

“Come Swim”

“We’re looking for a wide range,” Gibson said, but it’s one that aims for creators who are eager for experimentation and creative freedom.

The process by which a film is greenlit by Shatterbox is relatively standard and extremely hands-on for Emmerich, Gibson, and their producer Kate Bolger. Most interested filmmakers – many of them sourced by Sundance through their partnership – submit proposals to Refinery29, which the trio vet themselves over the course of many months. Shatterbox filmmakers get to debut their films on the program’s online platform, typically in conjunction with interviews and op-eds. Many of the films also hit festivals, including Sundance.

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