We say goodbye to Her Film in 2013 as we launch our new and improved (and expanding) website for Her Film Project, a global project to support women filmmakers and help build audiences for their films. Her Film needed to grow, so that’s exactly what it’s doing. We’re adding a lot of things in the new year, so head on over to find out what’s new! We now have a new blog, the Her Film Project blog, but will maintain this website of her-film.com as the official Her Film Archives of blog posts from May 2010-December 2012.
Thank you to all the readers, guests and supporters of Her Film since it began in May of 2010. We hope you will continue to engage with us on our blog and social media, as well as help us support women filmmakers from around the world.
When we started Naveena, a women’s show (daily) in 2006 on TV9, a 24 hour Telugu news channel in Hyderabad in the state of Andhra Pradesh (South India), we were flooded with ideas from various quarters for producing makeovers and for introducing cooking and diet concepts. As we struggled to put across our vision and wriggled our way out of the suggestions being offered, people around found us strange and difficult. It was because through our show we chose career over make-up, women’s news over fashion and ordinary women’s inspirational stories over sensational coverage. Of course it took us a little while to be able to effectively package our show. But we did succeed against all odds and Naveena evolved into a daily program in the afternoon band focused on empowering women with information on their rights and questioning the discriminatory norms against women. What motivated us towards developing this kind of show was our disappointment and anger with the stereotypical portrayals of women in Indian films, television soaps, and news coverage in the mainstream media as a whole. Women in soaps were being portrayed both as victims and wrong doers, home makers and home breakers! In films they were sex objects conscious about their looks, but also vulnerable, sentimental and easy to tears. There was a clear gap between women’s everyday lives and the exaggerated representations of them.
Still from the show “Naveena”
Regional television in Andhra Pradesh had already defined the women’s show as a “homemakers” show. The shows were, and still are, about makeup, lifestyle products, and about how to be perfect housewives. What was interesting was that some chat shows also focused either on women’s traditional domestic roles or showcased them as achievers. Then there were also the weekly chat shows on current issues. Through their treatment of the subject matter, the broadcast media seemed to reconfirm traditional gender roles and promoted unrealistic ideals of chastity, passivity and dependence by women in a way that reinforced a patriarchal outlook.
TV9 “Naveena Song”
The “everydayness” of women’s emotions and aspirations as they went through their personal and professional lives were missing from these programmes. And this is where Naveena stepped in to fill the critical gap. For example, Naveena focused on gynecological problems that many women face on a routine basis but for which they do not seek help. When it came to economic independence, we informed our audience about how to execute simple things like opening a bank account, getting a driver’s license or a PAN card. We aired episodes on the legal rights of women whether it was maintenance, property rights or the effective procedures through which domestic violence could be tackled. Naveena took up various campaigns like “Eve Teasing”, “Dark is Beautiful,” “NRI fraud marriages,” “Unknown Faces in Sports,” and “Marital Rape.”
“Illegal Hysterectomies” episode of Naveena:
While the first year was dedicated to the campaign mode, in the second year we moved to a magazine format where we introduced the viewers to women’s news and careers, discussed nutrition for girls and women, and also included a segment on cooking that was addressed to men. In the third year we got into a more interactive mode where women (either by being present in the studio or through phone-in’s) shared diverse kinds of problems in their personal or professional lives, and through Naveena, we tried finding solutions to their problem. We also brought in experts to directly talk to our viewers on breast cancer, career counseling, and mental health. Apart from these segments, we incorporated investigative stories focused variously on women prisoners, joginis (servants of Gods driven into prostitution) and hijras (the third gender), and also on issues such as security concerns women face in the public domain during nights.
Naveena managed to distinguish itself from other women’s shows not only in terms of its content but also through its packaging. Where most women’s shows opted for a softer look through their use of pastel shades, Naveena’s look was bold, making no concession to received wisdom about what women’s show should comprise. The music used for the show was strong and made even more so through the use of hard-hitting bites. The promos for the show provided telling statistics on the subject that was being discussed and the Anchor of the programme was portrayed as a strong and modern woman. The idea was to create a new image of the contemporary woman who was self-sufficient, confident and bold about voicing her opinion. We also included toll free numbers of different help lines on our show. When women approached us for help we directed them to our regular panelists of guests who were lawyers, activists, feminists, counselors and doctors. I am proud that Naveena took up issues that no other programme had done, whether at the regional or national level in India. For instance, we did a series on breasts: right from the correct bra size to campaigns on breast cancer. On air, we talked about marital rape. We did episodes on problems women have if their partners suffer from premature ejaculation. And in a lighter vein we also had a cookery show for men, which was called “Superman!” I wish to emphasize here that the range of issues we tackled and the impact we were able to make would not have happened without the regular inputs from every member of the team All the persons associated with the making of Naveena owned the programme completely and worked as a team right through.
“Domestic Violence Act” episode of Naveena:
On January 2006, Naveena introduced its own contest — the Naveena Mahila Contest. Fed up with beauty contests in the country we decided to honor women from the grassroots level who had shown extraordinary courage. The Mahila Contest was an effort to showcase the struggles of these women and also to share with the public their inspiring stories. The awards were instituted for three categories: i) fighting for one’s right; ii) fighting against a social evil and iii) showing courage in any situation of their life. Beginning with 2006, the contest has honored women on March 8th on the occasion of International Women’s Day every year.
Still from the show “Naveena”
In the context of mainstream television where stereotyping of women and sensational journalism, sans ethics, easily takes over, I strongly believe that a program like Naveena is important. And while I accept the criticism on behalf of my news channel for perhaps being a part of the breaking news genre, I would also like to say that no other channel could have sustained Naveena every day for three years. It occurs to me that a show such as Naveena was only to have been expected from a channel like TV9 that has the line ‘For a Better Society’ as its motto. In fact, this tagline was my inspiration when I joined TV9 as a reporter. It continues to motivate my work with the organization.
Thinking back on the journey that Naveena has been, I have also realized that when one breaks norms, does something bold, unmakes or redefines something, there are many hurdles. For instance, we were branded feminists when we talked about domestic violence, as men haters when we spoke about marital rape and lesbians when we spoke of same sex love. We however continued to take up topics that mainstream society would find uncomfortable but that would eventually help vulnerable women navigate their lives better.
Winning the Ramnath Goenka award (the highest award for journalism in India) was hugely encouraging because the fight can get lonely at times. However, when the same work gets recognition, its worth is reconfirmed. Such recognition is especially important for us within the broadcast media because of the immense pressure exerted by the system of TRP’s [Television Rating Points]. The awards become that much more significant because unfortunately we in the mainstream media have not developed a method of measuring the impact of a show focused on social change in ways that can counter the pressure of TRP’s. Naveena is a show about our lives, our struggles and our aspirations as women. Though social change in a patriarchal society is slow it is sure to happen. I believe that this fight of ours for social change will succeed when it takes place in diverse spheres. The mainstream medium of television is one such critical domain and my location here enables me to contribute to the many efforts that seek to redefine the world.
Shital Morjaria has done her Masters in Mass Communication from the University of Hyderabad. Shital started her career in media with creative writing and television reporting and has made many documentaries on social issues. Presently she is working as the Executive Producer for TV9 a television channel which is based in Hyderabad. In 2008 Shital won the Goenka, the highest award in journalism in India for her show Naveena, based on women’s issues from a gender and rights perspective.
Launched on 8th March 2006, Naveena started as a daily show on contemporary women’s issues. After being on air for three years every day Naveena’s format has recently changed to a weekly chat show.
Naveena takes up subjects that are taboo in the society and often dismissed as controversial issues. Naveena believes in questioning discriminatory norms for women through many debates and campaigns. For many a woman’s show has meant a make over show, a beauty contest, a recipe-based program however these are the very definitions that Naveena has tried to keep away from. Priority has been given to career over make up, women news over fashion and women inspirations over recipes.
Naveena’s goal has been to initiate a small revolution through mainstream television on women issues from a gender and rights perspective. Naveena has also tried to create a network with activists, lawyers and NGOs for women who have approached it for help.
Director Torey Byrne and screenwriter Mahogany J. Slide, who made the new scifi short film Extract: The Ghost Complex earlier this year, did a video interview together this Fall since my webcam was on the fritz. Many thanks to them for taking the time to do this. (Due to length and some audio problems, parts of the interview transcript below have been truncated.)
UPDATE: Byrne’s film Extract will be taking on a new form soon (work is currently being planned), and news about the direction the film will be taking will be posted on the film’s Facebook page at the beginning of 2013.
The entire interview can be viewed on the Her Film YouTube channel or by clicking on the video below. (Total running time about 33 minutes.)
[I]f you ever want to work with me,
you have to watch ‘Firefly’ first.
Extract: The Ghost Complex tackles a huge philosophical question: “are we really only defined by the things we know?” And the main character is under existential threat! Can you give a brief background on the story and talk about what inspired you to write the film, MJ?
Slide: [Inaudible] Well, I guess it was one of these things where I have this thing, it’s basically a library of ideas I’ve come up with that I just haven’t had any time to be able to do anything with, and — long story short — Torey wanted to direct something and she was like, ‘Oh, I need a writer,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m a writer.’
Byrne: Are we really gonna talk about this? [laughs]
Slide: I’m a writer. So, I basically gave her access to the dropbox folder with all the ideas and she picked one she really liked, and we went from there. I just have a crazy obsession with information and data. I think it was sort of the concept, that we were both captured by the idea that society has gotten to a point where everyone and everything is defined by their digital footprint in one way, shape or form, and it doesn’t even have to be just your digital footprint. Information in itself is everything because it also is who you are, and the things that you choose to do and your personality, and all of that. And is there a way to take that and simply strip it down to its rawest form and it just be data and things you know about you and things you know about other people and the world around you, because everyone and everything is sculpted by one’s interpretation and perception. That’s why I found it interesting.
Byrne: I wanted to, I had a campaign, that I wanted to direct my own short film, and we had a plan and that sort of fell through. So I was on Twitter one day and I was like, you know I really kind of want to direct something, I need a script. And that was the whole ‘I’m a writer’ thing from MJ, and she asked me a stupid question, and she was like, ‘Okay, do you want scifi or drama?’ What kind of question is that? Of course I want scifi. So, I don’t know, we made a scifi film. It was awesome.
Slide: She’s just so darn eloquent, folks.
Byrne: Shut up.
Slide: [laughs] So, yeah, that’s pretty much — I wanted an excuse to finally get to cut my teeth on writing or seeing one of something — [groans] speaking of eloquence! I wanted to be able to cut my teeth on something that was science fiction based because that’s the genre that I love the most and it’s one of those things that’s relatively hard to tackle in a short film and just in independent film in the South. We chose something incredibly high concept which has been an entirely interesting journey in itself. So that’s been a fun process.
How did you become involved in the project, Torey, and how have you approached the material as a director?
Byrne: I met MJ on Twitter, was it April? Not too long ago! [both laugh] We haven’t known each other for as long as most [people] think. We just sort of clicked. I stepped off of the bus in South Carolina and it was like we were instantly best friends, it was weird. But I wanted to work with her for a really long time and I finally got the chance to fly out there and meet them about a film that was called Those Lighter Fluid Days and I was cast in that. So, we’d been working together and we had a couple of really awesome opportunities for that, so it [Extract] was pushed to the next spring. So, we have been trying to film and we decided that we were going to make another film! [laughs] We had originally planned on making this back to back with Lighter Fluid Days when I was out there which would have been insane.
Slide: Just a [inaudible] [laughs]
Byrne: That would have been crazy. We were exhausted by the end of the two or three days. But, I don’t know, [inaudible] it was really this small couple minute-long short film just to give me the chance to direct something of my own. And after Lighter Fluid Days was pushed, we decided this story and the universe that the story takes places in — we needed to give it the chance to be what it could. We needed to give it a chance to grow and become something that we originally hadn’t planned, because everything was there, all this information was there, so we had numerous really long phone calls. [laughs] We were up until five in the morning, six in the morning, and we’re in two different states. So there was a time change…
Slide: And then you were in California.
Byrne: I was, I did go to California for a couple of weeks for a couple auditions and to go to Comic-Con, which was awesome. And so that was — is it three hours?
Slide: Three hour difference.
Byrne: So it’s already difficult for us to find time to do this ‘world-building,’ as we called it, but that was even more difficult. But we did it! We did it. This story is its own world. It’s just really insane, it’s really awesome what we did. [laughs] I’m really proud of us because we turned something that was, well, just an idea that you had into a living universe.
Slide: Yeah, and I think it’s deliciously ironic with the whole concept of the film, and I don’t want to give a whole lot away, but the fact that we’re doing, like, predominantly, most of our collaboration has taken place online, is — you will understand the irony once you see the film and see how it all comes together. But it’s been a very, very interesting process. It’s just something that any writer or any person who has a massive love for scifi understands and has the desire to be able to create a world from the ground up.
Sci-fi’s such a popular genre, but the production of a sci-fi film isn’t typically considered an affordable process. How have you put together this film to portray the world and characters of the story in a way that you feel is believable, working with a less than astronomical budget? What were your biggest challenges?
Byrne: Am I taking this one, or are you taking this one?
Slide: You’re the director.
Byrne: Obviously, it was difficult. MJ is so talented that any time that she writes — [laughs] — and I’m [inaudible] to do this now and I’m quite proud of myself, but any time that she’d write something I would want to film that. I don’t want to change anything, I don’t want to do anything to it. I just want what you wrote. And that’s not possible a lot of the time! [laughs] So I’ve started in this next film we have on the docket, I started to [inaudible] to do that, but we basically went line by line and was like, what do we need for this? Do we need special effects for this? Is it something we can do in wardrobe? Is it something we can do in the art department? Which was us! By the way, if any of you are wondering —
Slide: We had a fabulous art department.
Byrne: People were like, who did you have for costuming and art, and, that was us! Basically we went on Etsy and found everything cool that we could.
Slide: Pretty much.
Byrne: There was a little more planning.
I’m really proud of us because we turned something that was, well, just an idea that you had into a living universe.
Slide: [inaudible] The thing about it is this is where the seven plus hour conversations every couple of days came in and everything that we decided that the characters ended up wearing and that were portrayed was very, very purposeful because the two leads are, like, they’re polar opposites physically, but there are so many things about their characters that are oddly similar that we wanted to sort of create that contrast but let the audience pull together the similarities to how they actually are as individuals and how they play off of each other. So that was all very purposeful. Like any indie film, you spend the money you have and you make it happen and you make it work. There are always sort of surprising expenses, but we had a movie on our hands, and we had a film that we absolutely adored and we wanted to see come about and happen, so we made it happen. It was cool because there was like — we needed bikes — so we had a local bike shop, we called them up and were like ‘hey, what can we do to get a bike for free?’ And that all worked out and people were being incredibly supportive of the film, and I think they’re kind of surprised with, like, by the way, two 19 year old chicks and we’re just doing this film for it, and there’s just something refreshing about the whole situation and there have been a lot of people who’ve just signed on simply because first of all, they love the genre, they love our take on it, and they want to see cool films happen.
Byrne: And that’s my favorite part about the whole, the entire indie film community, and I’ve said that from day one, the fact that everyone is so incredibly supportive. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, if you’re making an independent film, another person from the independent film community will come and help. That’s how our entire crew — I talked about this in my director’s statement — we didn’t know each other. With the exception of you and I, and you and Rebecca, none of our crew knew each other, we just, we talked with them on Twitter all the time.
I’ve seen more than a few mentions of “world-building” and creating a “world” for this film on your film’s facebook page and MJ’s blog. What does that process entail and how are you going about tackling such an enormous task? You also have to create a world of the film in terms of social media — for fans — so how are you going about doing that for Extract?
Slide: I think, hilariously, now, I think part of it we do unconsciously because we’re so darn excited about the story. So many people ask me ‘what’s your mentality for promotion?’ And I’m like, ‘Um, I just think it’s really exciting so I tell lots of people about it.’ I say that, but it’s obviously a lot more complicated. But as far as the world-building goes, there aren’t any questions that you don’t ask. That’ where we got, like half, wow, more than, more like three-fourths of the things that we concluded will never end up on screen.
Byrne: Oh my gosh. We know way more about this world than we should.
Slide: And scenarios, and it’s sort of, I actually posted an article on Extract’s Facebook page about sort of, Steven Spielberg did an ‘idea summit’ for Minority Report, and Tim…our graphic designer actually linked me to it. I read the article… and basically he just got a bunch of intelligent people in a room and started asking them questions about what they felt the future would be like. And that’s pretty much what me and Torey ended up doing, where fashion, art, culture, how would the [inaudible] of the McGuffin in our storyline affect…world economics and all of that jazz. Those were the kind of conversations we had, and we started off with a very large view and then pull it down to how does that affect the characters’ mentality, the leads and all of that? So it was really like, as a writer, it was really the greatest process ever. They were these ridiculously long conversations and there goes all of my sleep, but I was okay because my brain was happy.
MJ stated in a video posted on YouTube about the production, that “a lot of the inspiration for the process and the approach has come from Joss Whedon’s ‘Firefly,'” Can you explain what you mean by that?
Byrne: When you watch something that is done, you don’t question the universe that he created, and the universe that the characters live in. And it’s because of all those details that normally people don’t think about, you know what I mean? Like the fact that they speak another language, because that’s probable. That’s probably going to be the case in the future that there are brands everywhere, things that you don’t pay attention to, it’s all art department and things like that, but it brings that to life. And we tried to do the same thing, so we created brands, not that would exist in the future, but that would help us bring that to life. We had slang that people would use.
Slide: That was fun.
Byrne: We talked about culture a lot and where we are headed in the future. We actually, originally it was in 2097, [but] we pushed it back to 2067, just to close that gap. That would give us —
Slide: Primarily because technology moves so quickly, I was just just thinking about, 1957 was the technical birth of the internet, and what, it’s 50, 60, 70 years later and we have all of this. So it was, it was one of these things, like I tried to talk Torey into bumping it to 2036 but we had already, like, made stuff official. It just is the opportunity to interpret something that is, that doesn’t exist but could. I think that’s the allure, playing with the familiar and making it unfamiliar but approachable at the same time. And it was empowering, it was a lot of fun, because who else goes to work, serves ice cream and then comes home and builds a world on the phone with some person in Oklahoma? It’s like, we love our lives and we love our jobs because it’s absurd and fantastic… Joss Whedon is kind of my hero. It’s funny…if you ever want to work with me, you have to watch ‘Firefly’ first.
Byrne: I had to do it.
Slide: She did.
Byrne: It was great.
Slide: She did.
Byrne: Really good.
Slide: Yeah, and just to sort of gather the mentality, because it’s really, it’s why I write. Like, ‘Objects in Space,’ final episode of ‘Firefly,’ probably one of the best hours of television ever. And it’s like, I just sit around and I’m like I’m just gonna write that good one day, like, that’s the goal, to get to the ‘Objects in Space’ level.
Shiva Rodriguez has a long history of working in costumes, makeup, set construction/dressing, and prop-making for theatrical productions, but, her greatest love has always been for horror and splatter FX, a generally male-dominated occupation that she fought tooth and nail to get into. She and her husband D. Duckie Rodriguez founded Siren Productions in 1997 and began producing photography series and stage shows. Shiva’s primary responsibilities for these productions were building sets, costumes, & props and executing any practical FX or casualty makeups when needed. In 2008 she made the switch to working for film and video productions primarily as FX / makeup artist and has since become a familiar face in the Central Florida independent film scene. Recently she’s been involved with the feature films Dangerous People and Rough Cut, as well as the live-action comic series Moonie VS. the Spider Queen.
Shiva Rodriguez (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)
The story: Field researcher Kyle Reading believes that the terrible bear attack that he is investigating is actually the work of something far more sinister. Acting on his suspicions, he reaches out to the only survivor who is beginning to display some very unusual behavior.
But someone is also watching Kyle… someone who sees an advantage to having a stranger in town who cries “werewolf”.
Predatory Moon is a very old-school style horror film geared toward fans of the genre. This production will be shot on location in Florida in 2013, utilizing a talented cast and crew of local film-makers, natural locations, and 100% practical effects.
Campaign goal: $7,476 goal (At the time of this post, the campaign is about 14% funded)
Campaign ends: January 2, 2013
Photo of Shiva working on FX for “Dangerous People” in 2012 (Photo by Richard Anasky)
From the director:
This will be my first time sitting in the director’s chair.
Predatory Moon is a feature-length film that was written to be an extremely challenging project…I expected many of my friends in the industry to think that I’d lost my mind when I decided that I was not only going to take on a werewolf story, but also feature an elaborate on-screen creature transformation without using any computer-generated effects.
…I still have a few more hurdles to jump before I can yell “Action!” for the very first time…
One of the perks for donors:
Artwork by Daniel Byrd (Image courtesy of Shiva Rodriguez)
“Blood Drive” video, part of the fundraising campaign. A plea from the First AD to give money to help them kill a zombie!
Synopsis of Predatory Moon:
Kyle Reading is a zoologist who has been studying wild animal attacks across the country in hopes of finding ways to prevent them. When a young boy is allegedly killed by a bear in Florida, Kyle launches his own investigation. He quickly turns his attention to Dean Clout, the child’s uncle, who somehow survived the vicious attack.
Dean, infamous for being the town drunk, remembers very little about his brush with the bear. Found unconscious in the woods, he only recalls that he and the boy were left there by a friend who went to run an errand and never came back.
But in the weeks following the attack, Dean begins to drop some of his bad habits and pick up some strange new ones. Kyle is convinced that Dean was actually attacked by a werewolf and wants to help him deal with his new condition while keeping the rest of his family safe. He knows that the lycanthropic disease runs in a twenty-eight day cycle and that Dean is running out of time.
Unfortunately for Kyle, there is someone who has been keeping a close eye on him. Someone who sees an advantage to having a stranger in town who cries “werewolf”.
Photo of Shiva with some of the crew of Predatory Moon during filming of the “Blood Drive” (Photo by Richard Anasky)
Shiva Rodriguez (Writer/Director/FX Supervisor)
Virginia Jasper (Producer/Casting Director)
Garith Pettibone (Director of Photography)
Daniel Byrd (Creature Designer)
Dee Dee Seruga (Makeup)
Garo Nigoghossian (Co-Producer)
Daiv Russell (Unit Production Manager)
Jeremey Westrate (First Assistant Director)
Connect with this filmmaker and learn more about this new film: