Recent college graduates often find the Hollywood film industry to be fast-paced and constantly evolving. That can make it hard to adapt, but programs like the BIPOC Next Gen Mentorship Program, an initiative of Women Wednesdays, have helped some Emerson alumni find their footing.
Annie Huang ‘19 and Raz Moayed ‘20 both participated in the first year of the program, which pairs mentors with young professionals entering the industry who are interested in development, production, or representation. Maddie Breeland ‘12 was a member of the steering committee.
“[Women Wednesdays] sort of started out as a newsletter whose main focus and purpose was to highlight female filmmakers,” said Breeland, director of development at Anvil Pictures.
Women Wednesdays was launched in 2019 by Carly Kleinbart, the director of development for feature films at Mandeville Films, and Lizzie Frieder, a development and production coordinator at Little Stranger. Each Wednesday, they would send out a newsletter highlighting emerging women filmmakers, links to short films by women, and screenings of movies. It was a way to find, share, and empower the voices of women filmmakers. However, once the COVID pandemic hit and racial justice protests sprung up in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, it became even more apparent that there was a need to support women of color entering the industry. This sparked the idea of the mentorship program, which began in 2020.
“It was honestly quite purposeful, especially as someone who just graduated college and didn’t know where to go,” said Moayed, an assistant at Anonymous Content. “Going from ‘Wow I am living my dream in L.A.!’ to ‘There’s a global pandemic,’ to ‘I graduated in my room,’ to ‘What am I doing with my life?’ because there’s nothing going on. I think Women Wednesdays provided a really special reason to get up in the morning.”
“This isn’t a large organization. It’s small, but very mighty,” said Huang, a development assistant at WarnerMedia.
A total of 100 mentees and mentors were involved and assigned to each other based on similarities, ranging from race or interests. Finding mentors sometimes proved to be a tough process.
“I think ideally going into it, we wanted to have more BIPOC mentors because obviously, they’re going to be able to speak more authentically to the experience of being a BIPOC in this industry,” said Breeland. “But the whole reason why this mentorship exists is because there isn’t enough of them.”
“I was paired with someone who was working in film development and she’s very open and helpful, and she introduced me to a lot of different people. Especially at companies that I would want to work at,” said Huang.
The program’s emphasis on building connections was also useful for Moayed.
“The takeaway is the fact that I was networking, and it did feel like there was an infrastructure for networking,” she said.
Her mentor was a motivating factor for her to communicate with other professionals within the industry.
“I would tell prospective students [to consider it] if they’re looking for another community and a safe space to really be able to ask questions and fumble the ball and do informational interviews,” said Moayed, who feels practicing interviews is crucial to improve chances of success in the industry.
There are plans for Women Wednesdays to return. The program recently had a switch in leadership. Breeland is unsure if the steering committee will continue to be around, but she believes the feedback received from the program will help improve it.
“Literally it was our first year doing it. But I think the second year will be much better because [I hope] it will be less remote,” said Breeland. “For me, the hardest part was having it be virtual…when I was getting started, it was so much more fun to do mixers and get people in front of other people.”
Members of the steering committee invite guest speakers to share their experiences and insight each month. Past speakers have included Jennifer Kim, senior vice president of International Originals at HBO Max, and Tamara Hunter, head of casting at Apple TV+.
Despite the virtual aspect of the program, both Moayed and Huang recommend it because of what it offered and taught them.
“The best part about Women Wednesdays was the fact that it gave me insight into how you speak to execs…and how Hollywood itself likes to talk,” said Moayed.
Huang said meeting different kinds of people who work in various fields in the industry helped her decide what career path she wanted to take.
“For me, I entered this program from a whole different career field. I was debating … wanting to enter into film development,” said Huang. “That’s why I joined this program and through [it] I was able to learn everything I know in order to pivot in that other direction.”
For more information about programs and opportunities like Women Wednesday’s BIPOC Next Gen Mentorship Program, check out resources found on the Emerson Career Development Center’s IDEAS (Inclusive, Diverse, Equitable, Accessible, and Socially Just) page [link to: https://careerbuzz.emerson.edu/ideas/]. Started in June 2020, the IDEAS career development campaign is designed to surface and promote inclusion-focused communities and opportunities.