A Gal’s Guide to Making a Movie is a new weekly written series by Erin Bagwell. To view the whole series click here.
Part Seven: The Crew
Looking back, making the video to accompany the Kickstarter campaign was a nightmare.
It started out well enough. I met the two women I hired to produce the video on Feminist Wednesday. They were super talented young feminists, who had been making movies for their own production company. I really liked them, and hired them to help me film three interviews for the Kickstarter trailer. Let’s call them Joyce and Barbara.
Our first day on set was a disaster. We were interviewing Christen Brandt, the co-founder of She’s the First, and she was almost six hours late. She got into a running accident that morning and sliced her hand open. She had to go to the hospital to get a bandage- which means we got on set early (a cool loft apartment I borrowed for the afternoon from a friend) and set-up all the lights, audio and camera gear only to wait around for hours.
It was not a pretty picture. For some reason I also remember Sal’s dad being on set with us waiting. I asked Sal’s sister Liz to come take some behind the scenes photos of us on set so in the middle of fielding calls and trying to convince Christen to join, I was stress talking to Sal’s dad about how great this all was.
After a few back and forth phone calls, I finally convinced Christen to come to Greenpoint, which was amazing, except for the fact that there was some construction happening outside. So even though we just waited six hours for Christen to join us, we were again delayed, and at the mercy of the jackhammering happening next door. My brain felt like it was going to explode.
At one point I climb out the window to yell at the construction workers, “JUST GIVE ME 15 MIN PLEASE!” I screamed.
In between the jackhammer noises we got the clips we needed and Christen was super fabulous for coming out after such a stressful afternoon for her (and is super fabulous in the video).
But wait- there is more!
When I got home to look at the footage- footage we had spent all day waiting for, and that I lost my voice over, I discovered that yes, some of it was unusable. But the iris was set too high on the main camera and the shot was overexposed. We couldn’t use the main, straight-on shot of her (which is why you only see her side shot in the trailer). I was crushed.
I texted my two production gals to ask them what happened. They kind of just shrugged it off, which was very perplexing. Was this my fault, I thought? Would this happen again? I was really upset. Aside from pouring my soul into this campaign, I’m also pouring my life savings into making it happen. This was not good.
To be proactive about the situation I emailed a couple of friends to ask for videographer recommendations, and one of my friends sent me a list of about eight gals she usually works with. On that list was a gal named Mary Perrino- and her work was gorgeous. The footage she shoots has this romantic hue about it and somehow feels both crystal clear and personal at the same time. She also had a gorgeous eye for color, and I loved how unapologetically feminine her shots were. I thought it would be a cool juxtaposition for her to shoot really powerful women in a soft style, not compromising any of their femininity.
Mary and I met for coffee and aside from liking her work, I just liked her. She was super warm and easy-going. She was right out of NYU’s film program and hungry to work in the film industry. I hired her to work a job with me alone (we filmed the little girls from the Kickstarter trailer) to see how we got along and everything went great.
I decided to bring Mary on set with Joyce and Barbara as the unofficial technical lead. I thought if Mary was there to oversee their footage, we could just all work together and work it out. However, my being indirect about who was doing what just made being on set together uncomfortable. Because I never formally told Joyce and Barbara what they did wrong they ended up retreating and isolating themselves from Mary and I, and working felt awkward.
I kept trying to engage Joyce and Barbara in our mission, but it wasn’t working. The two of them had also been so close that it was hard to connect to either of them, and I was starting to feel ganged up on. I wasn’t able to articulate my vision and in the end I just don’t think we were a good fit- they had both been used to working together on their own projects and directing their own work. I don’t think they felt like it was a good use of their time to be doing something they love for someone else.
Before the Kickstarter campaign ended I emailed them to let them know I would be paying them for their services but that we would be parting ways if we made the funds to make the film. To be honest with you, I don’t think either of them thought I had a chance in hell to raise the money.
Mary, on the other hand, became a full conspirator in my dream. Sitting in a coffee shop in Brooklyn we sketched out the budget for Dream, Girl. We made three budgets: making our goal ($57K), going over the goal ($80K), and doubling our goal ($100K). I was confident in our idea and wasn’t shy about voicing my dream to make $100K from the Kickstarter. I’m not sure she totally believed me either, but once we made the money I felt like her energy towards me shifted. I could have told her we were going to the moon and she would have followed me there.
Mary was also a good fit for Dream, Girl because she made me a better director. I wasn’t afraid to be myself around her. With Joyce and Barbara I felt like I was an outsider in their show. They were both big personalities and because I felt small around them, I wasn’t able to fully lead our team. When I hired the rest of the Dream, Girl crew I was really thoughtful about not bringing on people whose energies would overpower mine or make me feel inferior.
One time while I was interviewing people for the film I got on the phone with a woman whose energy was so strong she badgered me into trying to hire her and just to get her off the phone I told her I would be in touch and I never contacted her again.
Be weary of people who try to control you or bring baggage into your project. This is your dream- and if you are putting it all on the line to make it happen you need people who see and uplift you. They need to support and elevate you. They don’t always have to agree with you, and you should have different skillsets but your main goals should be the same.
So moving forward I only hired really talented women whose energies mingled well with mine. They let me lead, but they were also super collaborative. They all cared deeply about the film’s mission and it was a joy to bring them together.
Through online job boards, friends, and recommendations I weeded through about 30 resumes and hired my all girl gang to make the film:
Victoria Ng, a really mellow and effortlessly chic chick as camera operator, Daisy Zhou an over-the-top talented lighting engineer who also produced her own short films and went to school with Mary, Sharon Mashihi my audio spirit sister whose conversations would ground me on set, and Francesca Kusta- the most hard working gal from my hometown of Buffalo, New York who would be our production assistant (which means she did like 10 jobs on our little set- everything from logging and securing our footage to being an extra pair of hands).
Francesca and I would stick together after the interviews were filmed to help me edit the first cut, and I would convince her to quit her part-time job to work full time with us on the film. A couple months later, when our editing together was complete, she would land an incredible editing job with one of the most famous documentary filmmakers today. Encouraging her to take the leap and watching her blossom is still one of my favorite things about our journey together.
However there was one more gal who would join Dream, Girl- part time at first, but then would come on to be one of the most important women in my journey.
My co-founder. My sister. Komal Minhas.
Join us next Wednesday to hear the next part of Erin’s story. Or sign up for Feminist Wednesday’s newsletter to get it right to your inbox.