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Writing Your Way to Success: Wisdom From the Women in Entertainment Summit

December 13, 2018
3 min read time

The fourth annual Women in Entertainment Summit united all-star creatives to share their expertise on such topics as finding one’s voice, diversity in story, and approaching an investment, production or distribution company.

Marvel’s Victoria Alonso, Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman and filmmaker Maggie Gyllenhaal were among those leading panels on driving engagement and storytelling, the power of money and inclusion and media.

In a traditionally male-dominated entertainment industry, it takes effort to advance female talent into leadership roles. No one knows this more than Alonso. At the summit, she provided insight into the success of Marvel (the franchise that helped her launch her career and earn credits as executive producer for Iron Man 3, The Avengers and Black Panther).

To begin, she expects to see female candidates during staffing proposals, she said.

“It’s really important that you see it because if you see it, you will believe it … [My mother] said, ‘if some woman’s done it, you can do it … If it hasn’t been done, you have to do it.’”

For women in entertainment, Alonso represents hope; a fact she acknowledged while speaking.

“I can tell you this … if you listen to your voice and if you stop living somebody else’s life, if you are who you are — because that’s what makes you awesome — there is hope,” she said.

“You create your community and you get out there every day. You have the privilege of trying to create a difference.”

Creating community is something we do even when we’re by ourselves according to Kauffman, who discussed the intimacy of inviting people who you want as friends into your home through television.

Her current work, the Emmy® and Golden Globe®-nominated show Grace and Frankie stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as two women who no one would not want to have as friends.

Her advice for getting your stories heard in a sea of overpowering, male voices? Elevate your work to empower those around you to do their best and don’t overlook diversity.

“We need people in power who want to tell diverse stories,” Kauffman said.

“I look at The Handmaid’s Tale and I think, ‘thank god there’s a show like that on TV.’ But, there still aren’t so many. People are watching it, [but] there still aren’t so many TV shows that have a female-centric story … It’s about time we do that because people will watch. Watch and vote.”

On the financial side, Good Deed Entertainment COO Nikki Justice offered practical advice for approaching investors and distributors.

“If you’re looking at something that’s in the higher budget then all of the ideas have to be high concept,” she said.

“You have to be something … we can identify a very clear and underserved audience for so we know from a marketing standpoint … the target.”

Almost automatically, Justice passes on films that are “for everyone,” according to their creators.

“Because it’s not … you don’t even know your audience [if that’s what you say] so don’t say that,” she said.

Claudine Cazian, head of entertainment partnerships at Instagram and VP of programming and brand partnerships for On Air with Ryan Seacrest and American Top 40, said intention and self-worth guide her decision-making processes.

“There’s a really pivotal moment in your career when you need to stop and take stock of where you’ve been, where you are and where you intend to go,” she said.

For Cazian, that moment came during the original series finale of American Idol.

“I feel like I realized my worth,” she said. 

“I realized what I had contributed to this moment; what I learned, the skills that I developed. I realized that it was time for me to take all of those things … where there was an opportunity to build again.”

In Maggie Gyllenhaal’s closing fireside chat, she shared stories about her evolution from actor to producer, writer and director. Finding courage is a big step in her current goal of adapting Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter for her debut as a screenwriter and director, she said.

Several of the project’s challenges relate to financial support, or a lack thereof.

“It’s going to be hard to get the money for this; it doesn’t have a hook, it doesn’t like, check the boxes,” she said.

“And actually, a few people that I really respect said this is not the time to think about that. Write your movie that you want to make for you, from you.”

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