• Athena Film Festival

     This weekend, the Women's Film Initiative had the honor of attending Athena Film Festival held at Barnard College in NYC. This was a truly unique opportunity for us as Athena shares our message of celebrating women and leadership. The weekend consisted of screenings of feature films, documentaries and shorts that highlight women's leadership in real life and the fictional world. It also included panels with women who are experts in the industry, leading conversations about their experiences and how to spark change in the future of filmmaking.

    Over the course of the weekend, we sat in on four panels and each one delivered a very important message to the audience. I could write a novel on what I learned there, but I'll try to keep it to some concepts that stuck with me that I'd like to share with you all. 

    The pipeline. Inspired by Lake Bell's film In A World, This panel discussed a concept I've been struggling with ever since I joined WFI, and I could never find an answer. There are so many talented women studying film right now, so where do they all go? Where do they keep falling off the grid between college and big budget feature films? And every year, we're regressing a little bit more! It certainly can't be lack of talent. 

    In order for anyone to get a job in this industry, they need to be on a list. A highly exclusive, diligently maintained list compiled by executives and agencies that tell you who are the best in the industry to hire for a certain kind of project. One of the panelists mentioned she had gone a full year without seeing ONE women on that list. When confronted, people often make up excuses and reasons that so-and-so didn't fit the bill, because excuses excuses excuses. There is no excuse. 

    USC Professor Stacy Smith mentioned she had conducted a study at Sundance that asked people in the industry what qualities make up a good director. Not surprisingly, most of the described traits were considered "masculine" traits. They have to be assertive, agressive, rally the troops, perhaps this means it has nothing to do with talent, rather a distorted vision of gender roles. 

    In the last panel on Sunday afternoon, we talked about something that's been big in the media lately - the Bechdel Test, which grades movies on a pass/fail scale based on whether that film contains at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. As you can imagine, many movies fail. One of the things that's important to mention is that this test is NOT meant to be a definitive measure of film quality, since there are many great films that protray women in a good light, which do not pass. Rather, it should be used as a lever and grounds for a serious discussion. The panelists response? "We have statistics, we have evidence, do we have a plan?" 

    Many suggestions were made by both the panelists and the audience members - approaching it from the makers side (directors, film students, newcomers, indie films...), or changing the critics expectations  of "female movies", but the panelists all agreed that no matter what our approach is, we must remember that we have to get this to be a humanity issue, NOT a gender issue.

    Lessons learned from the trip? Support women. A lot of them. Many women are a part of these organizations, go to events, but then go back to work and don't HIRE women. The panelists mentioned that female executives don't fight for them perhaps because they fear being known for it. In such a male-dominated industry, many just want to be assimilated into it. But we constantly have to remind ourselves, as Film Marketing Consultant Paula Silver reminded me, that "movies are a megaphone for changing the world" and if we want to start seeing differences, we have to start MAKING them in every small way we can. 

    Director Neema Barnette left us with a great message that I will leave you all with - "I don't judge myself by the standards other people set for me - I judge myself by the standards I set for myself."

    Don't let other people pave YOUR way. It's time for us to get out there and start using our megaphones! 

  • WFI Returns!

    After a long winter break, Women's Film Initiative is back and rolling ahead at full speed!

      We started off the semester strong with a meeting on Tuesday that laid out the groundwork for another action-packed year, including some special presentations by our very own members and an exclusive event that will be revealed next week...

    Not long after this meeting, we were invited to participate at Berklee's Club Expo where we met a new group of lovely members, who are all very inspired and motivated to support our mission! 

    Finally, this past Friday we got a chance to meet up with our friends over at Emerson's Women In Motion and spent the afternoon eating burritos, talking about film, and discussing upcoming projects together. Their President, Jess Doherty, and I will be co-hosting a special Skype interview with a very successful woman in the industry coming up this month, so stay tuned for more details! 

    Can't wait to see what the rest of the semester has in store for WFI! 

  • Go For Sisters Premiere!

    This past Friday night, the Women's Film Initiative was invited by Variance Films to take a trip out to Landmark Kendall Square Cinema for the premiere of Go For Sisters, a new movie by two time Academy Award Nominee, John Sayles. 

    As Callie Chang, a representative from Variance Films, said perfectly, "Go For Sisters is not just a border thriller by a master storyteller, but also a refreshing take on the nuances of female friendships and relationships that defies typical Hollywood conventions in its focus on sharply written female leads, excellently portrayed by LisaGay Hamilton and Yolonda Ross."

    The story follows Bernice (Hamilton) and Fontayne (Ross), who grew up the closest of friends, but time sent them down different paths. When Bernice’s son goes missing and his friends turn up dead, they reunite to enlist the help of disgraced detective Freddy Suárez (Edward James Olmos) to find him before he meets the same fate.

    After the film, we were lucky enough to have director, John Sayles, speak with us and answer questions from the audience. One particular answer he gave struck home for WFI! When an audience member praised him for his strong female characters, she asked him his thoughts on the lack of female roles in the film industry, and he answered very frankly. "I think quite honestly in the mainstream film industry it's lack of interest. Most of the people who run that industry are men and they're just not that interested - unless it's the girl in a very traditional genre kind of when they get those scripts, it just doesn't seem like a real movie to them." 

    And therein lies one of the big problems in the industry. Fortunately, Sayles thinks quite differently about his movies, and hit the nail on the head with his response.  "When I get to make a movie...I'm just interested in whats going on in the world - and there's half the people in the world." 

    He also spoke to the fact that detective Freddy Suarez (Olmos) was specifically written to NOT swoop in and save the day. He wanted all of the characters to be on a level playing field, working together.

    John Sayles gave WFI great hope for the future of the film industry. One can only hope that more directors will follow in his footsteps! 


  • The Soundtrack: Collaborating with Film Composers

     This past Wednesday, the Women's Film Initiative had the unique honor of speaking to Emerson's Women in Motion on film scoring and effective collaboration with film composers. Four WFI Members -  Jess Disraeli, Zoe Lustri, Joanna Pane, and Jesica Yap - covered a range of topics including film scoring lingo, overcoming vocational "language" barriers, the importance of the score, technology of a film composer, and the difference between student and professional collaborations. We got the chance to talk with many eager filmmakers and answer their questions about the composing process and how it ties in with their post-production process. 

    This was an especially important presentation not only for WFI, but for all the students who joined us. Although the Emerson and Berklee curriculums do an incredible job of covering the fundamental and necessary material for their students respective crafts, bridging the gap between filmmaker and film composer is generally not at the top of that list. We feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to begin closing this gap! 

    WFI is greatly looking forward to our continued collaboration with WIM!

  • WFI and WIM's first joint meeting of the semester!

      Tonight, a group of WFI ladies headed over to the beautiful Emerson building down the street to join Women in Motion for a sound design workshop. WiM has lead the charge for womens' equality in film production, one of their primarily objectives being to value "individuals based on their talent and work ethic, not for their gender." 

    At tonight's event, we learned all about the importance of sound in film - which as composers we know all too well! - along with the processes of ADR, foley, and even which microphones to use for what. 

    We can't wait to start planning our next joint event this semester! 

  • Skype Interview with Laura Engel

     Last Tuesday, The Women's Film Initiative hosted a Skype interview with co-owner of Kraft-Engel Management, one of the world's leading representatives of film and theatre composers, songwriters, and music supervisors, Laura Engel. Laura stressed that the film industry is all about connections and relationships, and emphasized that aspiring film composers should get involved with as many different projects and people as possible when looking to start their careers. She also pointed out the importance of having a unique and memorable reel that showcases a diverse group of styles and acts a sort of "music trailer" when meeting with industry professionals.

    To watch the whole interview, click here!

  • WFI's First Meeting of the Semester!

     A few days ago, the Women's Film Initiative had a busy evening! We had our first official meeting, fully equipped with tea and scones, and discussed all of the exciting events happening this semester. It was a treat to see so many eager faces fill the room, some familiar and some new. Future events, favorite scores, as well as personal experiences in the classroom and in the industry were among the topics we covered, and our community is ready to start learning and making a difference (while still having some fun of course).

    After the meeting was over, several of our members headed out to Cambridge for a networking event with Women in FIlm and Video - New England. We met some great women in the industry, shared our passion for filmmaking, and enjoyed a fun night away from school projects and deadlines. 

    If there's one thing that became apparent from just this first meeting, it's that when a group of bright and ambitious women get together, only great things will follow! 

    Until next time,


  • Building a Career - A Talk with Penka Kouneva

     Just a few days ago, on September 17th, Berklee students gathered into the Media Center for a Skype interview with renowned film and game composer/orchestrator, Penka Kouneva. Her nurturing and warm personality made this interview particularly special as she shared incredibly valuable information on her experience in the business and offered advice to budding composers. 

    Raised in Bulgaria, Penka arrived in the US with $130 in her pocket and a Duke University graduate fellowship. She shared how difficult it was to form connections in the business (some took four years to develop) and work her way up. She wasted no time and connected with Emmy award winning TV composer, Pat Williams - another Duke Alum - and Bruce Fowler, Hans Zimmer's orchestrator, almost as soon as she moved to LA. Despite her productivity, it still took four years until Bruce Fowler began giving her jobs, and ultimately, introduced her to Steve Jablonsky, who provided her with multiple opportunities to take his themes and compose music for Transformers (film and games), Gears of War 2 and 3, and Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands. Many young composers come out to LA hoping to find work within a year and when they don't, they leave disappointed and defeated. Penka persisted and was determined to make her music heard.  She worked hard and got the job done. Aside from her incredible drive, what was most striking about Penka was how easily she was able to make such a fluid transition from emulating other composers, such as Steve Jablonsky, to writing her own music in her own style, which can only be described as a unique combination of classical orchestral/eastern european/electronica. Though it's a long process to find your own voice, she assured us that it develops over time and with practice. 

    WFI wasted no time in getting to an important issue though. As eager as we were to find out about her experience and challenges as a woman in the industry,  she was just as eager to share it with us. She revealed that even though she tried to act "oblivious" to the issue at times, she always felt she had to work about 10 times as hard just to get noticed and be taken seriously. She always acts very professional, and is not one to use humor to win over her colleagues. Although she doesn't have quite as difficult a time now, she highlighted that persistence is key and continually reaching out and making sure your name is on the radar does pay off eventually. Penka described herself as a nurturer, which was apparent from the start, and she feels this quality has helped her immensely in her career. When she got the call to work on the blockbuster, Elysium, she attributed it partly to the fact that she is a natural teacher and was the perfect person to be teamed with a new film composer. Aside from her incredible track record and even more impressive talent, she got the job because of who she is as a person. Throughout the interview, she continually stressed the important of being a good person and learning how to promote yourself without sounding pompous, which can be a fine art in itself. 

     A big topic of interest for us was also how she balances her personal life with work life. Somehow she manages to be a full-time composer, wife, mother, and she even makes time for her own personal projects, such as Odyssey of a Warrior, which is a great album that truly showcases her compositional prowess. The balancing act is not easy, she told us. WFI was lucky enough to get a delightful and unplanned inside look at how she manages her life when her young daughter came over to say hi and introduce us to their dog. Shortly after, she returned with a handwritten note to kindly forewarn us that "if you hear barking, that's the dog." 

     As we closed the interview, she was very adamant about making sure we treat our careers as a small business. Self-promotion, branding, and people skills were just a few of the essentials she stressed. We all walked away with endless amounts of new tools to use in our careers and tons of advice that will stick for a lifetime. It was truly a pleasure and an honor to speak with Penka Kouneva. She is a brilliant composer and orchestrator, and a remarkable woman.

    If there's one thing to take away from Penka, it's that we, as composers, are part of a team. Though we may feel like we're running a lonely one person business, tucked away in our composer's lair and hidden behind our screens, there is a huge amount of communication and collaboration that goes into these projects. To realize our dreams as film composers, we must be able to communicate effectively - sometimes our words must speak before our music can! 

    Click here for more pictures and a brief recap of the event! 

  • Welcome Back!

     Last Friday, all of the Berklee clubs and organizations got together to welcome in the new freshman class at the annual Welcome BBQ. Several members from WFI were there to spread the word about Women's Film Initiative and we were lucky enough to meet and talk with dozens of amazing young women who are so eager to join us and learn more about women in film! Together, we talked about our favorite movies and scores, enjoyed the sounds of the hundreds of musicians around us, and chowed down on a whole lot of great food. 

    Though we only spent a few brief hours there, it was easy to tell from the start that this is going to be a fantastic semester.


    So welcome back to all of our old members and a big, warm welcome to all the new faces we saw last Friday. I can't wait to spend the year learning with you.

    Until next time, 


  • Skype interview with Pinar Toprak

    Last month as the summer semester was coming to a close, Women's Film Initiative members, Leah Dennis, Elisa Rice, and Jessica Disraeli, hosted a Skype interview with film and game composer and Berklee alumna Pinar Toprak. Having scored over 30 feature film credits including The Lightkeepers and The River Murders and game titles such as Xbox 360's Ninety Nine Nights, Pinar Toprak has earned two International Film Music Critics Assocations awards and a Best Revelation Composer nomination alongside Trent Reznor and Daft Punk.  During the interview Toprak talked about her experience at Berklee and decision to major in Film Scoring, breaking into the industry, working with Hans Zimmer at Remote Control Productions, and scoring her first game and movie.  During a Q&A with the audience she gave valuable advice about getting scoring gigs from cold calling, ways to deal with the hectic schedule of a film composer, and how to handle the stigma associated with being a female film composer.

    To find out more about the event and see the full video of our interview, click here!