Award-winning Hollywood producer Erika Olde is fixing an imbalance in Hollywood. Believe it or not, people of color made up only 12% of film directors last year. For women, the stats are hardly better: women accounted for just 10% of writers and 21% of producers.
The Canadian-born filmmaker created her own production company, Black Bicycle Entertainment, at age 22 (she is now 27), and has produced high-profile, female-driven films including the comedy “Home Again” starring Reese Witherspoon, “The Female Brain” starring Sofía Vergara, and “Woman Walks Ahead” starring Jessica Chastain, which made its premiere at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival. Each film features strong female leads and was crafted by female directors — but not by design.
Since Olde entered the film business, she has been an active supporter of the Ghetto Film School, a New York and Los Angeles-based nonprofit program that helps bring students from underserved communities into the entertainment industry. To evolve the program even further, she launched IRIS-IN, a Ghetto Film School-affiliated training program for aspiring female filmmakers.
Olde launched IRIS-IN both to open the doors of Hollywood to young women and underrepresented communities, and to improve the kind of film education that young filmmakers get. “I felt like there was so much talent that really probably deserved to have a chance to be involved that didn’t have the access,” Olde said. “I really just felt like they could and should have a place to gain that access and to speak with people who have been in the business for a while and actually learn about the business itself as opposed to just the ins and outs of specifically making a movie.”
IRIS-IN began as a speaker series with leading women in the industry but soon grew into a full-year intensive program that includes hands-on workshops, lectures, and one-on-one training programs for young women filmmakers. Students are also a part of a mentorship program with Black Bicycle Entertainment, where they learn first-hand how a production company runs. After students finish their programs, the school helps them find internships within the industry based on what they decide they want to do after their immersive experience in the film production process. This year, for the first time, the program will be comprised of 50% women and 50% men, as Olde felt compelled to include men from underserved communities as well. While women are clearly underrepresented in the industry behind the camera, she believes that everyone should have a chance to succeed. The addition of young men adds to her mission of providing an opportunity of success for all. Olde doesn’t believe that men have to be at a disadvantage or underrepresented for women to succeed; she simply advocates for equality in numbers between genders in the industry.
IRIS-In took off quickly, which Olde attributes to the generosity and excitement of the outside community — she has never had to look far for star-studded speakers — but most importantly, to the passion and commitment of the students. Olde firmly believes that children are our future and instilling positive values in our children will create a better world. At 27, she feels that her generation has the ability to pave the way and set a positive example for those who come after them.
“I feel that we have a responsibility to leave a lasting impact on our industries and on the world, and if we’re in a position to make things possible for others and teach others, then that’s our responsibility to the next generation,” she explained. “So that’s exactly what I’m doing with IRIS-IN.”