You often feel alone. I thought that when I started doing this, I would have more to do and be a part of the industry more. That is all true but often you are sitting at your table or on the couch by yourself trying to figure things out and make things happen. Many people will only see the final result and not everyone understands or knows how to talk about what you are doing. It can be hard. The thing is you aren’t alone, you just have to find the right people to connect with.
As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Broghanne Jessamine.
Originally from the North East of Scotland, Broghanne Jessamine is an actor and producer. She is the owner and Artistic Director of Elemental Women Productions LLC, a women focused production company based in NYC. Founded in 2018, EWP produces film and theater productions that are developed and led for and by women, including requiring that our cast and crew be made up of at least 75% women artists.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?
I started performing when I was around 6 years old. It started as a fun thing to do on a Saturday and quickly grew into my dream profession. I took every opportunity I could to perform both in and out of school growing up. In 2012 I emigrated to the United States to attend acting school and pursue my career. In the years since I have worked in theatre, voiceover, film and t.v. In short, living my dream. As an actor I became frustrated that producers and companies did not have the same priorities I had in projects. I have a passion and need to seek out women driven work. They were not sharing women’s stories and experiences in a way that gave them the weight they deserved. I sat with my friend one night and asked her to write me a play. The only restrictions were it had to be entirely female characters and a single set. If she could write it, then I would find a way to put it up. And I did. We first produced Polar as a staged reading, in December 2018, and developed that into The Right and Left Plays, in March 2019. Out of a need Elemental Women Productions was born. We grew from there, producing a podcast and then another staged reading. Then in the Fall of 2019 we filmed, A Series on Surviving, which follows the inner monologues of survivors after experiencing sexual violence. The things that I was missing most in acting are the things that I focus most on in producing.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
Filming outside is always an interesting and challenging thing. There is traffic, people, the elements. We filmed in a park in October and the weather was not entirely on our side. We knew it was going to rain but believed we would be able to get everything we would need before it was to start. We were about 75% of the way through our shot list when it began to rain. We had forgotten to bring a tarp or umbrella to cover the camera, probably because we were overconfident. So, we covered it with what we had, a denim jack. We were working against the clock to get what we needed before the rain really could start to soak through the fabric. Of course, at this time, a dog decides to be the star of the show and continuously runs through the shots barking, playing, and having the time of its life. We all wished we could be this dog, to be free and not care that we were all getting more wet as this took longer. Trying to keep the actor warm and motivated to keep going. We ended up deciding to cut the shots and find some cover to think of something else. No harm came to the camera, but we did make sure to at least have an umbrella the next time.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
The fun thing about working in entertainment is there are always interesting people that you work with. I once worked with a director that would send daily poems and thoughts by email. Every day like clockwork. They would be headed with things like, “Monday. The Smell of Rain”, or, “Thursday Save the Children”. The emails never had anything to do with the project we were working on. They were musings he had written and half-developed ideas he was creating. They were sent to an extensive email list and I never signed up for them. I thought once the project ended, they would stop. They did not. That project was over 4 years ago now and I still receive emails. He periodically creates new email accounts to escape the spam filter. I suspect he still adds every new person he works with to that list. It seems I will forever receive his emails.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Right now, we are working on a few things. We have been pivoting our live staged readings to the virtual world. We produced Meet Me at Dawn by Zinnie Harris in August, with 20% of proceeds going to LGBTQIA+ organizations. Our next virtual reading is scheduled for the end of September. Written by Agyeiwaa Asante, Help Wanted, speaks about relationships and living with chronic pain. We will be donating 20% of profits to The Black Women Health Imperative.
As well, we have begun pre-production and script development for our first feature film, Partial Program by Ali Zagame. A film that follows a Young Woman’s point of view as she enters an eating disorder recovery program. We are hoping to be able to film at the end of 2020 and screen the film, along with a panel discussion, in February 2021.
We postponed our filming of our short film, Socks, due to the pandemic. Our hope is to film it before the end of the year. Socks is all about the extreme lengths we go to steal our sibling’s clothes without them noticing. We will be donating the 75 pairs of socks used during filming to local homeless shelters.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I am inspired by women who stand up for what they want, who fight for their rights, their beliefs, and their right to be human.
Mechelle Vinson is a woman who is a major inspiration to me. I found out about her a few years ago and could not believe more people do not know who she is. Her case against Meritor Savings Bank in 1986 went in front of the Supreme Court and resulted in a unanimous decision to recognize sexual harassment in the workplace a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The courage and determination she had to have to do that is something I admire with ferocity. The world as it is today does not react in the survivor’s favor when they come forward. I can not imagine what that would have been like for her. She stood up for herself and for all survivors of harassment and she won.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?
As a producer my goal is to support people and empower them. At EWP our mission to develop and share women’s stories, which in and of itself creates a social impact. We do this in many ways. We require each project to be developed and led by women artists, including making sure out casts and crews are at least made up of 75% women artists. We make sure that with each ticketed event or production at least 20% of our profits are donated to organizations on the ground who are doing the work to bring awareness and further the subject matter linked to our project.
We also source our props, costumes, etc. from women owned businesses. The arts are such an amazing way to encourage thought, bring awareness to subject matter and to promote empathy. We take a step further by making sure we link that awareness to tangible ways people can support to the organizations connected to the causes inspiring the art.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?
I have always been one of those people who “do” things. In so many ways I am not afraid of failure. I hope I do not fail but I always try to go into things with a “What’s the worst that can happen?” attitude. When we focus on the things we don’t know, we often talk ourselves out of actually doing things. When I catch myself in that loop, I decide to do whatever it is anyway. Then I see what happens. It might all fall apart, but in the end, I will still be there to try again.
There were a lot of small things that ended up with me deciding to produce and create my own company. I had been working in the entertainment industry for 4 years and was trying to find my place. I auditioned for countless roles that felt two-dimensional. As time went on, I worked on more projects and found I had this drive to truly tell women’s stories. Stories that did not use women’s experiences only for shock value or to further the male lead’s arc. I wanted to live in these experiences and really explore what it would mean to do that.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Whenever I talk to people about what I am doing, people get excited, particularly other women who work in the arts. Our film A Series on Surviving is one of our most poignant pieces to date. The night of the screening we paired it with a panel conversation about the stigmas survivors face from themselves and others. I had someone come up to me and talk about how it was one of the first times they did not feel completely alone. Not only that but watching our film and hearing the conversation from the panel allowed them to heal a bit more. Being able to create films, theatre and other productions that help people feel seen makes everything else worth it.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
- Support those in the arts, especially independent artists and companies. Go to shows, watch the films, pay for the tickets if you can. Each ticket means a lot when you are an independent filmmaker or company.
- Follow, and engage on social media, donate or contribute to funding campaigns if you can. We use Patreon to help grow our community and fund our projects.
- Fund the arts in schools, I do not know if I would be where I am today without having a supportive drama teacher in secondary school.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- How to write (and understand) contracts. When producing anything you need written contracts for: actors, directors, photographers, DPs, spaces, composers, all to say you have the rights to the work and can film and distribute. The first contractual agreements I wrote up were horrendous and did not cover everything they should have. Reading contracts is hard, especially if you do not have a background in law. Trying to understand the licensing agreement for a space or the rights to a play can be very tricky. Plus, you sometimes find that something you had thought was in the contract is not.
- It is going to be overwhelming but its worth it. I am consistently overwhelmed with the amount of work that goes into producing. You think it is easier than it is. For example, I always thought it was pick a project, hire people, do it. But there is so much more to each of those milestones. I have a notebook that has far too many lists which are far too long. I am constantly adding to them since it is the only way I can remember to do everything. When you look at a list like that it can be so overwhelming. The nice thing is when you start scoring things off it is easy to see how far you have come.
- Learn how to do a spreadsheet for Budgeting, Profit and Loss and Contact Info. I did not learn how to do this properly and when I brought my P&L to my accountant to do taxes. They looked at it and shook their head. It did not make sense. Learn how to label your costs, do it efficiently and detailed. Keep your receipts.
- Schedule more time than you think your need. Not just a couple hours, often double the amount of time you think you need to do something. You will need it. If you don’t, then you get to go home early! When we did our first technical rehearsal for a play, we only scheduled 4 hours. The play was an hour in total and so we thought the extra 3 would be enough. We didn’t entirely account for set up and breakdown. For films, it is often lighting takes more time than you think to get it perfect. Even worse, it often has to be changed depending on time of day and location.
- You often feel alone. I thought that when I started doing this, I would have more to do and be a part of the industry more. That is all true but often you are sitting at your table or on the couch by yourself trying to figure things out and make things happen. Many people will only see the final result and not everyone understands or knows how to talk about what you are doing. It can be hard. The thing is you aren’t alone, you just have to find the right people to connect with.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
It is so much more fulfilling to be able to actively be making a positive impact than to create a negative impact. Doing what I do fills me with so much joy. I get to create and further the causes that are important to me. I am an active participant in my life and that feel so much better than waiting for something to happen.
We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Jessica Chastain is an actor I would love to work with, as a producer/filmmaker or as a scene partner. Her work is phenomenal and watching her talk about her craft and the way she creates full characters inspires me to be as dedicated as I can to my own craft. To be able to work with or sit down and talk with her about her life, career and art would be a huge moment in my life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Every time I am about to do something big or new, I always say to myself, “Let’s go.” I say it out loud, whisper or full volume. It gives me permission to do it even when I feel like I can’t. Saying it out loud also brings me so much energy and the courage to do what I am about to do.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!