Finally! Having been entrenched in a male-dominated industry since the first movie image was committed to celluloid, thwarted female filmmakers everywhere have grown tired of “Play by MAN’s-rules and maybe you will break into the big leagues” and are instead embracing the attitude of “Eff the institutionalized patriarchal system — I’m going to make my art regardless!”
Dismantling the boys club is no easy feat, but one way to get there more quickly is to search out and meet like minded artists… and RUN towards the big C-word: COLLABORATE. I am doing just that and let me tell you — glass ceilings are being dynamited with the drive and determination that all us ladies share… especially when we work together!
One of my favorite collaborations to date is with the formidable Miranda Sajdak. I am producing her latest project, an action-thriller titled No Trace. I am having a blast working with Miranda and want everyone to keep an eye on this fearless filmmaker. So, with no further ado… Meet Miranda!
Tell us a little about yourself!
No pressure! Ok, good question. I’m originally from the East Coast and always knew I wanted to make films. I went to Columbia undergrad to study film, and then worked in production before moving out to LA and working in development. I’ve pretty much worked in every on-set department at some point, and I love being involved in the TV and movie business. Since coming to LA, I’ve been focusing more seriously on directing, writing, and producing.
When did you realize you wanted to be a director?
I decided to become a director after seeing the film A League of Their Own. It was the first live-action (non-Disney animated) film I saw in theaters, and I left knowing I wanted to make movies. I was inspired by seeing the female friendships, which felt relatable to my life at the time. Once I saw that movie, I knew I wanted to direct, and haven’t changed my mind on that since.
Did you experience early on any discriminations or prejudice for following your path to becoming a female filmmaker or did it come later in life?
I think I wasn’t really aware of how bad it was till later in life. I saw and have seen any number of people from my graduating class who have had great success – but they’re mostly men. So it definitely was something that came more into focus as I got older and became more aware of the statistical divide. I’ve still managed to make most of my projects come to life, but it’s definitely always uphill.
Did you experience it more from men or women?
It’s been a mix. I’ve had female producers tell me they don’t want to put women on director lists, and I’ve had men not take me seriously as a writer/director for no reason I can fathom other than that I’m not a dude. So – it’s really not ingrained in one gender or the other – the problem is definitely systemic and exists from really any gender.
What do you think is the biggest hurdle women are facing from their own gender, or why it’s so difficult to get more work in the industry?
The biggest hurdle… that’s tough. It’s so circular. Some of it is representation – not having agents or not having the right agents or managers or lawyers. I’d say one of the biggest hurdles is just financing access. That goes away after festivals, pretty much, and even when a woman does get a studio film, it’s usually at a lower level of financing than male directors. So you’re really cut off from money in a big way.
What attracts you to action/thriller genre the most out of the other genres?
For me it’s the ability to tell an entertaining and engaging visual story while also keeping the emotional stakes high. I’ve been a martial arts practitioner for most of my life, so it’s something I connect with on-screen. I’m also big into mystery and stories slowly unraveling/revealing surprise twists, and I think these genres really play to that.
What can you tell us about your new film No Trace?
NO TRACE is a short film I’m preparing to direct this fall. It stars James Kyson from HEROES and Pia Shah from GREY’S ANATOMY. The project follows an undercover cop who robs a bank for the mob, only to find herself on the run from her former partners. There’s a lot of big announcements coming down the line as we get closer to finishing our fundraising process – we’ve got exciting people involved at basically every stage of the filmmaking process – so my big plans are to get it out there into the world, make it entertaining, and hopefully be able to showcase some really fantastic actors in surprising roles. A big area that matters to me is using art for social change, as I was first influenced by a film that was highly entertaining but was definitely about a time of social change in America. I think art can do both those things – show you worlds and cultures you might be unaware of while still being entertaining. So that’s something I hope NO TRACE is able to do, as well. But the first thing is always – be fun, and tell a good story, and share it with the world!
Tell us about your crowdfunding process. What are the pros and cons you are experiencing?
The pros have really been just the vast support system that’s come out of my friends and family, as well as social media and the internet world. I have so many people who are friends and family who have donated and supported, and many of them are people I’ve never had the chance to meet! It’s so exciting and such an honor to have people get engaged with the story’s idea and the storytelling process. I can’t wait to get to show them the finished product. I haven’t really had any cons – there was a minor setback early on when my producer had to drop out for a fellowship – which I’m really excited about for her! – but it meant she had to leave town for a few months, so it was just me running things for a while. So, I feel good about where we are now, and it’s been thrilling to have found an awesome new producer who’s kicking ass with me on this!
What are the differences you have noticed between West Coast filmmakers/artists and East Coast filmmakers/artists?
Great question. It’s really different worlds, for sure. West Coast filmmakers definitely have an expectation of monetary compensation on a bigger scale, because the business really runs LA. So they tend to treat it like the business that it is. On the East Coast, I found more collaborators who were more open to low/no-paid gigs, more as a hobby. But I think people are really engaged in making good material on both coasts, it’s just a bit different in terms of the expectation of it as a full-time business/job vs. sometimes being seen as more of a hobby or less serious creative outlet on the East Coast, as New York isn’t run by Hollywood the same way that LA is. Though there are definitely very serious filmmakers in both cities; it’s just a matter of finding them. I got very used to specific ways of doing things out there (certain rental houses for instance) whereas there are more options for rentals and crew out here, which is great – but can also be daunting. Both areas have pros and cons, though, and I definitely love filmmaking on both sides of the country.
What female filmmakers are your inspiration and why?
So many! Okay, well, Penny Marshall to start with, as my first inspiration to make movies. Claire Denis for breaking boundaries and constantly pushing the envelope in experimental ways. Lexi Alexander for always kicking ass and bringing great character arcs to her often action-packed stories. Debra Granik and Reed Morano for showing real women the way they really look on a real day without overly sexualizing them. Ava DuVernay for being a genius storyteller and telling captivating stories while managing to keep her activism alive (this is incredibly hard to do simultaneously!). Gurinder Chadha for her pure entertainment value and great insight into her characters. The list goes on – point to a female filmmaker, and I’m probably inspired by her in some way.
What book do you suggest all filmmakers should read?
Two of them – one is Roberta Munroe’s How Not to Make a Short Film, which has great lessons for all filmmakers, and the other is Nick Proferes’ Film Directing Fundamentals, which is great for starting out directing.
What advice would you give an aspiring filmmaker/film student that she typically wouldn’t know from reading a book?
I’d say – network as much as you possibly can. Promise yourself you’ll go out at least once a month to an industry event of some kind. It really makes a difference.
If you could be anything other than a filmmaker, what would you be?
That’s a great question. I’d probably be doing something involving writing – or go into psychology.