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Raise the Tide

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Emily DellI met David O. Russell at a party once. Yes, this anecdote could go a lot of dubious directions but we simply exchanged a few polite words. I was in post-production on my first feature and he was also in post on a film (later unreleasable) and he smiled, sighed, and said “isn’t it a damn hard thing to make a good movie?”

Every aspect of this industry is hard – being under a microscope as a woman, lack of opportunities, mentorship and a system that seems constantly stacked against us – but what we overlook is that sometimes the hardest part about this industry is the work.

Newsflash: This is not a piece about gender politics. It’s a piece about being good at our jobs. And yeah, there’s gender politics in every aspect of Hollywood. But at the end of the day, no little girl says she wants to get into making movies because she wants to break glass ceilings. First and foremost, she gets into making movies because she wants to make really f-ing great movies.

It’s a huge amount of work to make a movie – agony over budgets and locations, back-breaking production days and nail-biting test screenings – but the work doesn’t push our equality forward, in fact the work doesn’t mean anything except as an educational exercise, unless it’s good.

“Nobody tells this to all of us who do creative work… for the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good”  ~ Ira Glass

Ouch. That’s the bad news. It is a damn hard thing to make a good movie. Film School will give you skills and your beautiful brain will give you creative vision but making that vision into reality will be a disjointed, ugly, sausage-making process. And you may look at the sausage at the end of the day and say “bleah”. I do all the time.

So what’s the good news? We can all get better. How? Look around. Hopefully you see people. Other filmmakers (If you don’t, check out any of these organizations).

We are our own greatest resource. Together we have attended every film school, seminar, trade show, made every mistake in the book and learned from it. That is knowledge we can share.

We as artists in a technical profession need to learn from each other, teach each other, shadow and mentor each other so that we collectively raise all of our games and produce friggin’ amazing product. “A rising tide lifts all boats”. Sounds great, right? Just wait 12 hours and up you go! No, it’s not that easy. Together we need to raise our own tide.

Here’s the takeaway: Are you filming anything, anytime, ever? Welcome people to shadow you. Ask your friends and colleagues if you can shadow on their sets, meetings, scouts and pyro days (woo!) Be respectful and try to learn as much as you can. I am 100% not joking when I say to my friend Jen McGowan that I will hold her coffee on a tech scout, just to see how she runs a tech scout. Because I could learn something.

I may be preaching to the choir (“stay on beat, people!”) but other creative fields can equally share their insight and tradecraft for the benefit of all. Hollywood is woefully devoid of mentorship; we have to build that for ourselves.

Whatever knowledge I have gained about how to do this I will happily share with whoever asks, as long as he or she shares their knowledge with me. Be the moon, ladies and gents – pull the tides up with you and the rest of us will return the favor. And when we are all f-ing great at this the gender issues will fade, I truly believe that.

Emily Dell

About Emily Dell

Emily Dell directs and writes feature films, shorts, webseries and more, stories with action and energy. Her Hip-hop film B-GIRL airs on Netflix, Showtime and Starz and won “BEST FEATURE” at the LA Femme Film Festival. Action short THE COMPASS ROSE won “BEST ACTION” at the Buffalo Film Festival. She is under contract to write/direct “THE RULES OF BUSINESS” for The China Film Corporation (The Karate Kid, etc). With sister/Producer Elizabeth Dell, they are featured in the National Women’s History Museum in Washington D.C. She is a member of The Writer Guild, Film Fatales and the Alliance of Women Directors. Currently she can be found in Los Angeles finishing post-production on a$$-kicking webseries SUBJECT 5 and BLACKWELL SUMMERS MYSTERIES, writing the comic book “ROMEO AND JULIET AND GUNS” for imprint Emet Comics and not preparing for the apocalypse. Not even a little.