Two-time Emmy-nominated producer Debra Martin Chase told aspiring filmmakers at the 11th annual Harvard-Westlake Film Festival to “learn your craft and do it.”
She spoke to an audience of over 400 people at the ArcLight Cinerama Dome in Hollywood March 14.
“Because of the changes in technology, and the access to distribution via the internet young people are starting younger and younger every year and the more you do the better you are, no matter what it is,” Chase said.
Chase is the first African-American to speak at the event, and she highlighted the difficulties of being an African-American woman in the entertainment industry.
“Behind the scenes, women and people of color are underrepresented, and it is changing some, but we still have a long way to go,” Chase said. “In terms of depiction, it just depends on the product. There are some shows, some movies that are very insightful and accurately reflected…so we’ve made advances, but there’s still a long way to go.”
Chase also spoke about the specific jobs of a self-described producer.
“I really do everything from A to Z,” Chase said.
Chase was on Ebony Magazine’s list of 150 Most Influential African-Americans in America in 2007, 2008 and 2009. She produced “The Cheetah Girls,” “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and “The Princess Diaries”.
She was the executive producer of “Cinderella,” which was nominated for seven Emmys and won for Art Production. She also produced “Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream,” which was nominated for Outstanding Information Special. Her work usually focuses on tweens, women, music and dance, according to a biography by Martin Chase Productions. The festival showcased 25 student films from all over California, including seven films by Harvard-Westlake students or participants in the Harvard-Westlake film summer camp.
“It’s a really cool experience because you never really get to see it on that scale until it’s up there and in your face,” Danielle Stolz ’15, who had two films exhibited at the festival, said. “Everything really jumps out at you, and your film comes to life like never before.”
The event had a record- breaking 215 submissions this year by filmmakers from 14 different film programs from around California.
“I heard from many, many people that this was the strongest line-up of films that we’ve ever had,” visual arts department head Cheri Gaulke said. “People seemed truly moved and impressed at the high quality of the films as well as how many of them had something to say.”
“The film festival was a fantastic event that brought the community together,” film festival head Molly Cinnamon ’14 said.
Cinnamon said she was impressed with the range of films shown.
“I think that more than any other year, the films were an emotional rollercoaster — some made you cry, some made you laugh and others left the audience shocked,” she said. “It was incredibly hard work for both the directors and the amazing faculty, and I’m proud that we pulled off an event enjoyed by so many.”
“Epitaph,” the story of a narcissistic boy obsessed with death, won overall favorite from the judges, and “Trampons,” a social commentary on female virginity, won crowd favorite.
“I was particularly excited to see strong female voices,” Gaulke said. “Hopefully that signals a shift that is happening in the industry. And the range in the work by women was astounding, from hard-hitting docs about female trafficking, homophobia and war (“International Boulevard,” “Freedom From Fear,” “The Lingering War” and “Wings of Peace”), to playful and adventurous experimental works (“Anaerobe,” “You and Me”), to powerfully moving statements about human relationships (“A Mon Pere”). And I was delighted that Trampons won the Audience Award because it’s a bold and funny statement about female sexuality.”
The student filmmakers were also invited to The Day After event on campus March 15. The event gave students a chance to mingle with one another and exchange ideas.
Dreamworks CEO Stacey Snider (Katie Jones ’15, Natalie Jones ’17), spoke to students about the business behind film and stressed the importance of knowing film history.
Students could also participate in various workshops in screenwriting, visual effects, acting and cinematography all led by industry professionals.
“It was really interesting to learn about everything from screenwriting to visual effects from people who do this for a living,” Shannyn Schack ’16, who attended the festival and The Day After event, said.