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THE PLEDGE (Or How to get out of your own way and start kicking ASS) Month Two: Get Inspired!!!

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Madeline Merritt.jpgSo if you are anything like me, a woman pursuing a career in Hollywood, it can be pretty easy to get discouraged. You look at the statistics and they are daunting: women creators and leaders are hard to find in the top ranks of Hollywood elite. For instance, I was riled up and motivated by a fantastic blog this month, called O Woman, Where Art Thou? which presented the dismal statistics for female directors in television today. In a pool of 3,300 episodes of television produced each year, only 35 women directors work steadily. Yes, only 35!

If you read my first blog in this year long journey of getting out of our own way, and kicking SERIOUS ASS, which was about ACCEPTANCE and goal setting,  this little bit of acceptance on the current state of things may be hard to take.  But do not be discouraged. Instead get inspired by those who are making strides towards becoming fantastic (women) leaders in entertainment. Get inspired by Alexandra Boylan, who describes her journey in gorilla filmmaking in this fantastic Ms. in the Biz Blog. Or, find your own inspiration in the people you are working with. Find those women leaders and learn from them, soak up all the lessons you can from those brave women around you who are striking out on their own, taking on leadership roles on set and breaking down barriers in the entertainment industry.

Just days after reading the article, I had the chance to work with the fabulous director, Joy Millana on the set of a promo television project, Four Years. She thoroughly impressed me with her command of the set, her compassion, her decision making, and her ability to work with actors of all levels and experience. So I asked if I could interview her and share her words of wisdom after a decade of experience directing in the industry. Luckily for us, she agreed.  Joy works mostly in commercials and wants to move into television directing. She is known for ads that tell a story, and has worked with high profile clients such as Coca-Cola, Gibson Guitars, and Budweiser.

Here are some of the gems from our interview.

Joy Millana Pic 2Madeline:  Will you tell me a little about yourself and why you wanted to become a director?

Joy:  I’m a female minority, I grew up in Ohio, so it’s kind of a cliché but I wanted to grow up and go to Hollywood. At first I wanted to become a 3 dimensional animator and I got a full ride to a local arts school in Columbus, but I got carpel tunnel in my wrists, so I switched my focus to computer animation, and then I started having eye problems. I also realized that I liked people and interacting with them. My major was communication studies, so I switched my focus. One of my electives was a storyboarding class, and I found a mentor in my teacher, Linda Thornbourg, who was directing and producing a film 9 years in the making and she was looking for interns, so I ended up coming on as a storyboard artist. She asked me to come on set, where I worked as a Production Assistant. Then I got the idea of being a woman film director. It’s almost like saying, I’m going to be the first woman president or an astronaut.

Madeline:  Can you tell me a little bit about how your forged a path to become a director?

Joy:  Networking, just being available in the beginning, even at my own expense. I’m willing to work for free to forward myself in the industry. I don’t just talk the talk, I walk the walk.

Madeline:  What kind of challenges have you had to face as a female director?

Joy:  Actually, you might think this is weird, but I have not had any challenges per se as a female director, in terms of being domineered by the male gender in the industry. I always reassure people that they are equally as important as me. They know what they’re doing or they’re supposed to know. And I trust everyone to do their job.

Being a female director is actually a positive for me. Because of my sensitivity towards certain screenplays or scripts, a love scene or a rape scene and my ability to communicate to a female actress to get them to convey visually the story or the emotion I need them to express.

Madeline:  You are great at working with actors, can you tell me more about your philosophy as a director and your work process?

Joy:  Once I get a script, I request as much information in regards to the talent, so I can decipher how to approach each individual. If they have classic training vs. improv, etc. so I can plan to communicate to each one individually so they can respond to my direction. It’s more like motivation. I am their leader or teacher, and actors are the canvas. I allow them to interpret how they feel their character is supposed to be and I work with them and I give them motivation. They are students with different ways of working. Some are more visual, some work with memory. I allow them to be free on camera.

Madeline:  What assets do you think women directors bring to the table on a project?

Joy:  I believe that women bring nurturing to set. We have more patience compared to our male counterparts. I think that has to do a lot with the difference.

As a director I’m worried about people’s well-being, safety, and you have to respect other people in order to get respect. I love the art of film making but we are also human beings. I started off as a PA so I know that you have to respect people from the lowest position up. You have to respect people, not as their roles, but as human beings.

Madeline: How have you overcome obstacles in your path?

Joy:  I’m the type of person that even with my personal life, whatever I go through, I believe things happen for a reason. I try my best. I believe in the laws of attraction, if you believe in something so much, if you surround yourself with positive energy, or if you know something is telling you not to do something, don’t do it. I’m a human being and I have to know who I am and my priorities. I surround myself with positive energy and positive people, that’s how I get over my obstacles: I create, apply for jobs, and rely on my network to move forward.

Madeline:   Where would you like to be in 5 years as a director? What stories do you care about telling?

Joy:  I’m currently non-union so I would like to be DGA. I would love to do episodic television. I love good writing: I love shows like Breaking Bad, The L Word, How to Make it in America, The Walking Dead, Californication. Feature films are great, but I have such an appreciation for the writers that make telivision shows great.

I want people to be entertained: I like the story where people aren’t so cliché in their characters. I like people with dimension. I like character growth and development in stories.

Madeline:  What has been your favorite project you’ve worked on so far and why?

Joy: You’re as good as your last project, and there are so many different reasons why I really liked working on Four Years. I didn’t have to produce. Normally I am a producer, director and writer. When I’m working with corporate, I do it all. I like wearing all three hats and being an auteur, but I also love when I have the freedom to just be the director.

Madeline: Can you provide any advice for other women who want to direct, and to creative women in the industry in general?

Joy: I recommend that you find female mentors in the industry, writers or producers and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Even when I get that “do you have any questions?” question in interviews, I always want to know how they meet challenges in front of them. If I meet a writer in a job interview, I’’ll ask them how they overcome writer’s block. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, don’t be afraid of stopping learning and know who you are as an artist. That’s my advice.

Madeline:  Anything else we should walk away with to inspire us?

Joy:  Never give up and surround yourself with positive people and energy!

I must say, getting to meet and work with Joy was a huge inspiration for this month. I encourage all of our readers to take her advice. Find a mentor, stay positive, ask questions, surround yourself with great people, and know who you are as an artist.

So now what? Get inspired!

Madeline Merritt

About Madeline Merritt

Actress, Freelance Writer - Madeline grew up on stage and has loved telling stories her whole life. From the Bay Area, California, Madeline received her degree in Theatre and Political Science from Northwestern University and moved to Los Angeles in 2008. She recently spent a year in Paris, France but missed the city of Angels and the entertainment industry here. She cares deeply about social issues, including women’s rights, indigenous rights, poverty and the environment. She feels the role of storyteller through entertainment is very important in opening dialogue and creating change in the world. You can see her in The Guest House (available on Netflix, Itunes, Amazon and Time Warner on Demand) and the soon to be released American Idiots, coming to a Redbox near you in June 2013. She is thrilled to continue her journey of collaborating with women in film and television through Ms. In the Biz.