January 17, 2007

Cinematic Arts Women

SCA Alumnae Network Boosts Awareness and Access

By James Tella

From reporting the latest industry news to the hottest entertainment gossip, reporters have continually stirred a plethora of reactions and measures over what they’ve written amongst industry professionals. And in 2005, following the publication of a New York Times article entitled “Hollywood’s New Old Girl’s Network,” a group of USC women turned something potentially damaging and depressing into something exponentially rewarding by forming the Women of Cinematic Arts group.  
Helping to increase women in the industry is a focus of more than just groups like the SCA Cinematic Arts Women as evidenced by this 2006 billboard.

 “We saw that article as a challenge for us to band together,” said 2005 M.F.A. production graduate Phoebe Shackeroff, who along with fellow graduate classmate Chen-HSI Wong moderated a meeting with Dean Elizabeth M. Daley that brought together over 50 female students to address the Times' piece. Shackeroff seized the opportunity before her and cultivated that group into a network that has ballooned into a current roster of over 260 members. 

“What started out initially as simple networking emails, has grown into a phenomenal avenue of communication amongst USC women who want to share what they’ve learned and what they know,” said Shackeroff who also ran the group’s initial board meetings.  Creating awareness of women in the cinematic arts program and of those working in the industry is one of the key goals of the group. With their numbers growing, the group focuses on everything from helping with jobs and advice, to promoting their work, to using the forum for information ranging from such topics as vendors and post-production facilities, to questions and advice on how writers can sell their scripts.

Eschewing the standard networking bar venue, the group’s first event was a picnic at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles with 50 people in attendance. That number grew even greater at the group’s sophomore meeting, a panel featuring recent female SCA alumni, organized by senior M.F.A. production student Jules DiBiase entitled “Breaking into TV.”

“It was tremendously inspiring,” added Shackeroff, who found one of the meetings, set against the backdrop of a tea party that was conceived and organized by 2006 M.F.A. production graduate Soo Hugh beyond her wildest imagination.  
"This group gives me some great role models," said Tess Ortbals, producer of The Lost Journal of Vice Marceaux.

“We wanted the day to be a fun afternoon, and that’s exactly what it was,” said Hugh. With the “casual atmosphere a refreshing change” from the formal awkwardness of cocktails where cliques of friends tend to congregate and stick together, participants came prepared to first and foremost introduce themselves and share their need with each other. “That was important, because in the end, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, then you won’t find it,” added Hugh. 

Building upon the success of these non-threatening events and environments, the group held last fall’s popular brunch meetings, which spanned nine different locations on various weekends in November and early December, including one in New York City.  

Combined with the leads gleaned from the “Got Career?” series sponsored by the school’s Office of Student-Industry Relations, the group also helps current students stay true to their voice and vision, said senior writing graduate Kate Powers. 

“I think there’s a perception out there that women have to write in the same voice and style as men or else we’re going to have a harder time finding audiences,” Powers said. “That’s not true and being part of this group enables me to avoid caving in to that temptation.” 

Production M.F.A. Phoebe Shackeroff '05 moderates the Women of Cinematic Arts group.
Women of Cinematic Arts is also about more than just making movies.

 “In other situations, no one talks about topics like having a family in this business, and we are different from men when it comes to subjects like that,” said 2003 Stark graduate Jennie Yamaki. “There’s a reality to being female that needs to be discussed, and it’s easier to talk to women who are in that situation.”

Tess Ortbals, producer of The Lost Journal of Vice Marceaux and M.F.A. Production candidate who is in “that hiatus space between intermediate and advanced student,” agrees.

“It’s hard to think of the bigger picture when you are overwhelmed by the day-to-day work of graduate school, and this group gives me some great role models,” she said. “Their answers to my questions have come back and been immensely helpful. That’s a resource you just can’t put a value on. ” 

Despite the focus on women helping women, the group shares a common link with its male counterparts: In the end, true success comes from an individual’s talent, drive, and smarts. 

“You hear a lot of talk about women in the industry, and what you learn is the ones who succeed are the ones who are well informed, have the training, and are anxious to move up,” said B.A. Production graduate Betsy Megel ’03. “If you want success, you can get it. You just have to prove that you want it more than anyone else and work as hard as anyone else to achieve it.” 

To join the Women of Cinematic Arts, currently moderated by Shackeroff, send an email to phoebephilms@hotmail.com.