YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND IN
I’m a sucker for a good musical. People who know me, pretty much know this. I’ve done the Singalong SOUND OF MUSIC, gone to the midnight showing of XANADU, and I anxiously await Singalong FIDDLER’s return to the Coolidge. In this moviemaking genre, all the problems in your life are solved with a song. What could be better? And there’s a scene in GREASE when a career-questioning Frenchy wishes, “If only I could have a guardian angel to tell me what to do.” Boom! In pops Frankie freakin’ Avalon with all the answers, and a witty ditty to boot! Imagine if aspiring filmmakers could make such a wish and have someone magically appear with the advice, warnings, and support to point them in the right career direction. But you’re not imagining things at all. You’ve just applied to the Media Mentors program within Women In Film & Video/New England (WIFV/NE).
Sandy Slade spins magic in Lorre Fritchy's
A scene from Liane Brandon's film HOW TO PREVENT A NUCLEAR WAR - filming Tom Lehrer's classic satire "We Will All Go Together When We Go."
WIFV/NE (that’s “wiff-nee” to those in the know) already offers its members perks like creative workshops, scriptwriting contests, industry discounts, health insurance, member screenings, access to the international Women In Film directory, and the local networking opportunities such a group creates. But WIFV/NE took a lesson from Emeril last year and kicked things up a notch when it introduced Media Mentors.
The brainchild of WIFV/NE members Jessica Gidal and Irena Fayngold, Media Mentors was formed as a specific, structured way for members to give and receive career advice. Two meetings and four phone calls spread over four months - that’s the volunteer commitment for the mentor, while the Mentee also must come up with a list of goals prior to meeting.
Instructor, mentor and longtime WIFV/NE member, Liane Brandon says, “It would have been wonderful to have this when I started out. Years ago there were hardly any women filmmakers in Boston. We had to invent things for ourselves.” Which touches on an oft-quoted reason mentors participate: no one should have to reinvent the filmmaking wheel when there are so many comrades and colleagues who have been through what you are about to go through. “We have all that experience, part of the purpose of it is to pass it along,” adds Brandon.
And pass it on, she did, to Mentee Jane Gray. “Liane not only gave generously of herself to me but she put me in touch with a whole network of people,” says Gray, who steered clear of an unfavorable distribution deal for her first film, thanks to Brandon’s experience. “It was great to be able to ask questions comfortably of women who clearly were interested in helping out, rather than feel I was imposing on someone else's time,” she adds. “The advice and support I received was invaluable.”
Gray’s comments are echoed by members either experienced, or completely new to the business, like Marcia Huttner, whose mentor (Producer Laura Bernieri of NEXT STOP WONDERLAND), “Gave a sense of legitimacy to my project and a boost to my self-confidence. I experienced a very productive year of networking and relationship building. [The] program provided an essential introduction and overview of filmmaking.”
If you’ve noticed people singing a similar tune of networking and support, you’re getting the picture. Every one of us knows how painfully exclusive the film and video industry can be. WIFV/NE Media Mentors strives to counter that way of life by creating a community and linking people together in such a way that is useful to the Mentee, but not overwhelming for the Mentor. Some people need equipment advice, others want help tweaking a script, some want duplication recommendations, and others just want a kick in the pants to get their project going. Whatever the goal, Media Mentors can help a person find out where to start.
Mentors are matched with Mentees based on what career or project stage the Mentee has reached, which allows WIFV/NE to make good use of its diverse member base, from writers to composers to editors to actors... Short of singing, “Matchmaker, matchmaker make me a match,” (but I’m singing it anyway, of course) I can say Media Mentors is a knowledge-sharing program of the grooviest kind. Where else can you get dedicated time with a working professional who is there for the sole purpose of answering your questions, encouraging your inspirations, and helping you learn how to achieve realistic goals? The stuff is action-steps, not theory.
“Starting out in this industry is challenging,” admitted my own Mentee, Jennifer Redfearn. “So having a program that helps women gain their footing and obtain support is crucial to their professional growth.” As we speak, Redfearn is traversing America filming her first documentary.
And though mostly newbies participated in the program’s first go-round last year, a very important aspect of Media Mentors to note is that it does not matter what level you are at in your career. Any member of WIFV/NE can apply to be a Mentor or a Mentee. If you have five years of film/video experience, but now you want help with contracts, apply to be a Mentee so you can pick the brain of someone with ten years of film/video experience, who’s seen plenty of contracts. You need not be a beginner to begin.
Even if you’re established, like Mentor Rena Baskin, mentoring reminds us of why we do what we do. Being a Mentor, “…helped me review how I got where I am and helped me clarify what I need to do to go further,” says Baskin. “It confirmed for me the idea that giving is getting.”
Our hair may not be as coiffed as Frankie Avalon’s, but Media Mentors are the guardian angels of Women In Film & Video/New England. Make that wish.
You can learn more about the program by calling (617) 612-0091, visiting the web site at www.wifvne.org/mentors.htm or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.