…Women, and specifically women of color, have long been excluded from positions of power in the media industry. This is why we work hard to give women filmmakers the opportunity to grow their professional networks and make high-quality films so that they can remodel the view of women in society. There are so many reasons why we all benefit from diverse representation in media.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Katrina Medoff and Tracy Sayre.
Katrina Medoff and Tracy Sayre are the co-founders of Women’s Weekend Film Challenge (WWFC), a women-in-film organization that places professional filmmakers on teams to write, shoot and edit a short film in one weekend. In just over two years, they have worked with 700 professional female filmmakers in NYC and LA to produce 30 short films, which have been accepted to more than 70 film festivals. WWFC is an intensive networking opportunity that creates a pipeline for talented women in the film industry and tells women’s stories on screen — and it’s free to apply and participate. Sponsors include HBO and Zeiss, and WWFC has been featured on “Good Day LA” and NPR.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Katrina: As an actor, writer and producer in the NYC indie film world, I knew so many really talented female filmmakers who weren’t getting the same career opportunities as their male peers. I got most of my work from people I’d worked with before, so I knew how important it was to have a wide network. So I had an idea — what if we could put strangers together on film crews to make a film in one weekend? That way, participants could leave knowing women in every role of production — plus, they’d have a fantastic film for their reels. I put this idea on Facebook to see if people would be interested.
Tracy: Katrina and I were already friends, and when I saw her Facebook post, 300 people had responded in less than 10 hours. I was a screenwriter and producer with experience planning events for creatives, so I reached out to her to see if she needed help organizing the film challenge. We got to work right away to capitalize on the momentum — less than two months later, we’d held the inaugural Women’s Weekend Film Challenge in NYC, producing nine films with 160 women! Since then, we’ve held three more film challenges — two in New York and one in LA.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Katrina: When you’re making films under a time crunch with hundreds of strangers, there are bound to be crazy, unexpected problems to solve. We’ve had to replace participants in the middle of the night due to medical emergencies. One of our teams lost a day’s worth of footage because of an equipment malfunction. Writers have had to rewrite a screenplay on the fly after losing a location last minute.
Tracy: It seems like the more challenges a team faces during production, though, the more they bond! If we ask people what their favorite part of the challenge was a week later, when the dust has settled, they’re always laughing about how they overcame an obstacle.
Katrina: During one shoot, the power went out across the street from the team’s location, and a ton of ambulances went by. They got a great shot with all of the ambulance lights in the background, and it ended up looking great! Sometimes the unexpected problems make for the best shots.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Tracy: We owe so much of our success to people who have advocated for us and took a chance supporting us. It’s been incredible to watch how one person believing in our mission has such a powerful impact. For example, one of cinematographers in her second film challenge, Jodi Savitz, introduced us to Adam Richlin at Lightbulb Grip & Electric. Adam went to one of our screenings and was so impressed, he not only offered to provide as much lighting equipment as he could for the next film challenge, he also introduced us to other rental houses and the folks at RED. Once we had RED cameras at our disposal, it was easier to get the support of other sponsors like Zeiss. Now hundreds of women are getting access to the best equipment out, there all because people spread the word.
Katrina: The film challenge has become a proven success so it’s become easier to get support, but when we were starting an online workshop series during the pandemic, we didn’t have a track record for that yet. It was such an honor when Susan Johnson, who directed “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” agreed to join us for our first-ever virtual Q&A. After that, it was so much easier to book more guests, because they knew there would be a great turnout and that there was a lot of excitement from our community. We are forever grateful to Susan for believing us.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Katrina: Don’t wait for someone else’s permission to reach your career goals. No one’s going to ask you to write your screenplay, make your film, or start your business — you just have to take the leap.
Tracy: If we had waited until Women’s Weekend Film Challenge was perfect, we never would have launched it. We learned so much along the way, and that’s how we improved our organization. With each of our film challenges, we expanded and provided so much more for our participants, such as cinema-quality gear and stipends for submitting to film festivals.
What drives you to get up everyday and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?
Katrina: Almost every day, one of our past participants will reach out to tell us that they got a job through the connections they made while participating in Women’s Weekend Film Challenge, or that they hired one of their WWFC teammates. One of our sound mixers said that participating in the film challenge kickstarted her career, because previously, she had only been getting hired on short films; suddenly, after participating in WWFC, she booked four feature films back to back. It’s stories like that that keep us going.
Tracy: One of our assistant camera operators told us that the cinematographer we paired her with on WWFC referred her for a gig and coached her on how to triple her rate. We love hearing stories like that — we want our filmmakers to get the compensation they deserve, and each time that happens, it chips away at the industry’s gender pay gap. We won’t reach gender parity unless men and women get hired on equal numbers of jobs with equal pay. In order to achieve that, we need to make sure people know women in every single role of production because people tend to hire within their own networks. People in hiring positions need to make a conscious decision to broaden their network to include women.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
Katrina: For the last two years, we’ve been hosting film challenges to bring hundreds of women together to make several films in one weekend. When COVID-19 shut down production, we weren’t sure how we could continue without in-person events. But we ended up developing a virtual series of workshops with female filmmakers, and it’s been so exciting to get to talk to some of the most accomplished people in Hollywood while reaching a much wider audience.
Tracy: Our series has included directors like Alma Har’el, Karyn Kusama, DeMane Davis and Catherine Hardwicke, as well as composers, editors, producers and writers. It’s been amazing to have attendees from all over the world — some attendees even tune in early in the morning or in the middle of the night due to time zone differences. We look forward to expanding this series as we continue to plan for our next in-person film challenge as soon as it’s safe to gather so many people on set.
We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?
Katrina: Women, and specifically women of color, have long been excluded from positions of power in the media industry. This is why we work hard to give women filmmakers the opportunity to grow their professional networks and make high-quality films so that they can remodel the view of women in society. There are so many reasons why we all benefit from diverse representation in media.
Tracy: Take for example the “CSI effect.” The rate of women in forensic fields surged as a direct result of the representation of women scientists and investigators in the hit CBS show, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” Recently, Mercedes-Benz released a video where girls were asked to pick their favorite toy. When asked why they chose dolls over the matchbox cars, the girls all said that the car was for boys. Next the girls were shown footage of a woman winning the 1962 Grand Prix and suddenly all the girls wanted to play with the toy car. Whoopi Goldberg famously said that when she saw Nichelle Nichols in “Star Trek” and she wasn’t playing a maid, Whoopi realized she could be anything she wanted.
Katrina: These are three examples of representation on screen having a direct impact on the choices, preferences and careers girls and women make. It’s why it’s so important to challenge the status quo that is so heavily skewed toward telling white, male stories.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
We would love to have lunch with women like Ava DuVernay, Reese Witherspoon, Geena Davis and Shonda Rhimes, who are all working toward a diverse, gender-balanced film and television industry.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
Our website is womensweekendfilmchallenge.com. You can find us on Instagram (@womensweekendfilmchallenge), Twitter (@WWfilmchallenge), YouTube (https://bit.ly/2OSWo2w), and Facebook (facebook.com/womensweekendfilmchallenge).
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!