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Gavin's Underground

Utah Women In Film

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2012-01-20 -
Yesterday, the film festival season kicked off, and as is tradition on this blog, we'll be talking about a film-related project that has nothing to do with any of it. Utah Women In Film was founded just over a year ago by a group of determined individuals involved with local filmmaking, with a focus on helping women learn an array of skills in the field and giving them more opportunities to grow in ways that aren't afforded by many other groups.
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Today, we're again visiting our old friend Taunya Gren, who currently serves as president of the organization, about forming the group and its initial start-up, current programs and classes UWIF is involved in, and plans for the future of the organization.

Taunya Gren
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Gavin: Hey, Taunya. How have you been since we last chatted?

Taunya: Oh, dear ... that's kind of a big question considering it's been a couple of years. Had some big changes in life in that time.

Gavin: Just to catch up a bit, what projects have you got in the works at the moment?

Taunya: Have a post apocalyptic film in pre-production right now called Diablo's Crow, which is a treatise on race relations and humanity that is being directed by Ali Barr. Also raising funding for Raising Kayn -- Season 2, now that it's been released by the powers who had it tied up for a year. And Raising Kayn -- Season 1 is going through some sound retrofit for release through iPhone/iPad subscription. The rest of my projects right now, well ... they are seeeeeeeecret.
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Gavin: Getting right to it, how did the idea for UWIF come about?

Taunya: It was a three-step process, really. Sally Myers had started a Facebook page called Utah Women In Film for us ladies to network. Then in November of 2010 I made a short film, The Threshold, with an all-female crew and really got an eye opener as to how few women were being given the opportunity to really grow and progress in this industry in any role beyond makeup artist or PA [production assistant] . So, remembering Sally's Facebook page, and my membership in LA Women In Film, I called a meeting of the ladies in the industry here back last February. Thirty ladies and three men showed up. Marshall Moore spoke, and has been a big supporter this whole time, and then I got up and asked the ladies if they felt starting an actual organization would help them. The vote was unanimous to do so and the rest is history.

Gavin: With the various film committees and groups in town, what made you decide this was so important to start?

Taunya: When I shot The Threshold, it was really brought home to me that women sometimes require different things to learn and grow and be encouraged than men do. The other film organizations don't have that focus. So the women are left facing the same status quo as always. We felt they needed a bit of a leg up -- a place to be given an opportunity to learn, to grow and to show the rest of the film community what they could do.
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Gavin: What was the process like in setting up the organization, and how did you decide who to bring onto the board?

Taunya: The initial board of directors was voted on by the women and men in the community, since we weren't set up for memberships yet. There have been some changes in the board since that initial vote, and the subsequent changes were voted on by the board of directors itself. For the initial setup, we voted on the board, and then the board began meeting and setting in place our bylaws, our programs and our plans for the future. It's not been quite a year, but I feel right now that the board we have is amazing and perfect for the jobs they are doing. We've had a LOT of progress in less than a year.

Gavin: What made you decide to turn the group into a nonprofit right from the start?

Taunya: Because we are doing this not to prosper only ourselves, but to prosper the women in film here, and secondly, the entire Utah film community. Being a nonprofit makes it clear from the start that that is our focus, not power or money. It also makes it easier to get support and funding from the community when they know it's not about us, it's about them. Our entire board, who has put in literally thousands of hours to this, are completely volunteer. They receive no pay at this time but do this out of a passion for our mission. To give them a shout out, the board is: Sae Sae Norris as VP; Lynette Widdison as CFO; Julie Abubo as director of marketing and publicity; Susan Phelan as director of education; Sparks Chelee-Phillips as director of deaf media; Trudi Bockoven as treasurer; myself as president; and this last year, Marlys Miller-Fladeland has been our Web administrator, although she will be retiring from that position in February. We are currently looking for candidates for our director of resources and director of development.
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Gavin: As has been stated on the Website, the goal is to empower women and the community in all aspects of film production. In what specific aspects do you believe this needs the most work?

Taunya: Education and opportunity. I've been surprised sometimes by how many women and men in this industry with incredible talent and vision just needed someone to say, "You can do this." And then someone to say, "This is how you do this." In this last year, I've seen some incredible female talent begin to gain both respect and work in nontraditional roles -- director, director of photography, editor, etc. And in most cases, they just needed an opportunity and a little faith. Within the community, both men and women have begun to receive the benefit of our both our workshops and our networking sites and events. When they are educated in what they need to do to be professional at what they want to do, they gain respect. When they gain respect, they gain opportunity. When the whole industry here gains respect and opportunity, we all win.

Gavin: The group itself says it provides an assortment of resources. What resources do you provide, and what kind of a challenge is it providing those?

Taunya: The challenge is the footwork and the time taken out of everything else we are called upon to do to negotiate those resources. We have a resource directory we are building, with lists of who can do what and who owns what within the women of our community. We have, and continue to negotiate, discounts with local vendors for members of Utah Women In Film, as well; everything from food catering to film equipment rentals. I've been pleased at the support of the community so far. We have a monthly networking opportunity, The Schmooze, as well.
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Gavin: Speaking of, one of the events you hold is The Schmooze, a networking event held once a month. How did you come up with this idea, and what kind of progress have you seen from those attending?

Taunya: We thought of it when Sue Rowe took a hiatus from her Utah Film Makers meet and greets to shoot White Wings. A lot of people commented they were really feeling the lack of a local networking event so we picked up the hat and began our Schmoozes to fill that void. When Sue started her UFM meet and greets back up, the feedback we got was that there was room for two networking events here. They are very different from each other and each fill a needed niche. From The Schmooze, we've seen some really beneficial hookups for local film people. One girl came and got on the radar and through us was able to get a wonderful camera internship on a pro-level show. Others have been able to find resources they've needed in producing, costuming, directing, writing, acting, etc. This industry is about networking. If you don't do it, you won't succeed as quickly as you would if you do. Ours is also a family-friendly event and several younger members of the film community -- in acting, writing, editing and directing -- have received both help and exposure through this.

Gavin: I noticed you also provide workshops for the hearing impaired. What made you start those classes up, and what exactly do you teach in those workshops?

Taunya: I've actually gotten involved with the deaf and hard of hearing film community, both in feature film and commercials. Don't say hearing impaired, they hate that. My production company actually made two ASL commercials last year. I found out that the deaf film community is bigger than you may think. There are entire stores of feature films made specifically for the hard of hearing and deaf community. One of my contacts there is a wonderful female deaf film maker named Sparks Chelee-Phillips, who has come onto the board of UWIF to represent that side of the Utah film community, as well. ASL and deaf culture are different than English and hearing culture. To do a film that is accessible to that audience, you have to know what those differences are. The workshops we've had so far are in writing for ASL, and directing and editing for ASL film.
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Gavin: What's the long-term plan for the organization, and what do you hope to achieve in years to come?

Taunya: The long-term plan is to become a powerful resource for the film community -- women first, but the whole community secondarily. Because when the community prospers as a whole ... well ... we all prosper. The numbers right now for professional filmmakers across the country who are women are dismal and haven't changed appreciably since the 1960s. Ten percent of pro directors are women, only 2% of pro DPs are women, etc., and yet in film school the numbers are closer to 50/50. I'd like to see us really identify and help remove the obstacles that are limiting the ladies here, whether it's in the skills of the ladies themselves or in the culture. Something we are looking at for the first time, now, is becoming an active and vocal advocate for the ladies in professional and government circles.

Gavin: For those interested, how can they get involved with the organization?

Taunya: You can go to our Website and sign up as a member there, or in person at any of our events. Membership is limited to women-only at this time; however, involvement is not. Men and women can serve on our various committees and attend most of our workshops and events for a small fee, or for free, depending on the event. Support for our work is wonderful, and happily and thankfully accepted; whether in hours spent helping, or in financial donations.
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Gavin: What can we expect from both yourself and UWIF over the rest of the year?

Taunya: We have some wonderful workshops coming up this year, on everything from professionalism for women in film to advanced producing and raising funding. We will have our second screenplay contest starting in March, the winner of which will be produced by UWIF. We have tours of local film facilities coming up, as well as increased vendor support. Our first year was about fine-tuning the organization. This second year is about offering the very best programs we can. Schmoozes will continue each month, sometimes with film screenings and Q&A. It's going to be an amazing year. For myself, my personal focus is to keep us on the right track. It's an easy job with the board members we have.

Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Taunya: COME TO OUR SCHMOOZES! You will not regret it. Also, check out our workshops. You may be surprised at what you find. And if you feel inclined, please donate to Utah Women In Film! For myself, invest in my films! And thank you, Gavin. It's always a joy to talk with you.


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