Wednesday, July 1, 2015

REAL Hollywood at Etheria Film Night

If you happened to read my previous post, then you know I traveled to Hollywood, California last month to attend Etheria Film Night at the Egyptian Theatre, a festival that showcases the best emerging female directors in film. 

I was invited to cover the event and help interview the recipient of the 2015 Etheria Film Night Inspiration Award, Jane Espenson, the iconic TV writer of such hits as Once Upon a Time, Game of Thrones, Torchwood, Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica Husbands. (To see my interviews, click here.) 

Jane Espenson (left), Diane J. Reed (right)

Naturally, I was beyond honored to attend, not only because it's a common fantasy in our culture to "walk the red carpet" for a bonafide film premiere, but because it allowed me the opportunity to peek behind the magic curtain of the Hollywood film industry and meet the kind of people who actually create powerful works of cinema and television.  

What I discovered took me by surprise...

By attending this event, I stumbled across the REAL Hollywood. Not the glossy version we buy tickets to see in giant-screen movie theaters, but the hardworking, rubber-meets-the-road Los Angeles populated by people who labor day and night to make the best visual media they can--and who encourage others to do the same. 

During the interview with Jane Espenson, for example, I did not encounter a hatchet-wielding network diva but rather a very humble and gracious woman who is brilliant beyond ordinary human parameters. I honestly wonder if she's a fairy godmother sent to earth to remind us of the depth and complexity of the human spirit through her magical wand of creativity (she's particularly known for writing damaged, multi-faceted characters). Jane Espenson even wore a shimmering blue gown, reminiscent of the Blue Fairy from the TV show she writes, Once Upon a Time. 

Why was this such a twist? Because somewhere in the back of my mind (in spite of my fangirling giddiness) I was expecting Jane Espenson to bear a heavy weight of soul armor. It's hard for me to imagine competing with the "big boys" of Hollywood to write television scripts for so many years without becoming gruff, defensive, or downright aloof (is it any secret how tough this glittery world can be?). Yet the exact opposite was true: Jane Espenson came across as kind and even vulnerable, an individual who carefully examines the intricacies of the human heart before she writes. And this is where her inspiration and true artistic power lies: She's never lost touch with the deepest and often most difficult emotions, no matter how arduous the road might be, which is why the iconic characters she's molded (such as Buffy Summers, the female Starbuck, Mr. Gold/Rumple, Nathan Fillion, and Cheeks) resonate so strongly with American audiences. When asked if she's drawn to writing these "renegade outsiders", she replied in a thoughtful way that pointed more to their wounds, saying,  "Absolutely. Strong characters that overcome obstacles and triumph, despite internal damage. I mean, these characters aren't just beleaguered, they're internally damaged. Starbuck has a lot of damage in her, even Buffy has a lot of damage in her. I think one of the reasons Amber [Benson] was asking me about why Buffy has resonated so much more than other projects is because people see themselves as a character like that. People don't see themselves as a perfect hero or heroine. But every little boy or girl can see themselves as Buffy." 

The imperfect hearts we all have in common.

What I find the most beautiful about Jane Espenson's writing is that she embraces the conflicted, hidden place inside all of us that feels hope, pain, courage, alienation, bitterness--and yet still dares to dream. It's no wonder we clamor to see her TV episodes, because she writes about US, our frailties and strengths, in a way that makes us feel more validated than reviled (even if her characters do sometimes wear futuristic clothing or possess otherworldly powers). To me, this cuts to the heart of her particular brand of magic. 

Similarly, I was bowled over by the kindness, creativity and artistic integrity of the female directors I met. Prior to Etheria Film Night, I was invited to go to lunch and dinner with several directors, and they were incredibly down to earth, yet highly passionate about their art. These women are graduates of top film schools who work in studios by day as experts in editing, sound, special effects, lighting, 3D technology, and of course, as film-project directors. But by night and weekend, many of them crawl over glass to make their own independent films, hustling for funding, hiring fabulous cinematographers and actors, and directing projects that artistically match the highest bar of cinematic vision. 

Stacy Hammon & Kayley Viteo

And I must confess that this blurry picture above (blame my bumbling photography skills) is one of my very favorites from Etheria Film Night, even though they rolled out the classic red carpet for stars to stroll upon while flashing sparkly smiles. Why? Because it features Stacy Hammon and Kaley Viteo in an intriguing hazy darkness, two women in film who are also organizers of the event. Stacy informed me that she likes to think of herself as the Wizard of Oz, one who prefers to remain behind the curtain (or camera) where no one can see her, rather than absorbing all the limelight. And damned if it wasn't nearly impossible to snap her picture! All night I felt like I was attempting to catch a butterfly, for Stacy was constantly on the move and reluctant to draw attention, preferring to generously showcase the talents of others. Below is a better photo of her in her natural element behind the camera (from Katie Wallack's terrific article "I Don't Like To Be Scared, But Maybe I Should Be" for the online magazine Ms. In The Biz). 

Stacy Pippi Hammon, 15 Till MidnightDisciples, Model Hunger
(Photo credit: Wolfgang Meyer, used by permission of Stacy Pippi Hammon)

Likewise, it was difficult to capture Heidi Honeycutt as well, another organizer of Etheria Film Night, who was so elusive I felt like I was trying to photograph a snow leopard for National Geographic. Heidi, Stacy and Kayley darted to and fro with almost supernatural speed throughout the event, making sure everyone was happy and ready to view some of the finest films directed by women all over the globe. I finally caught Heidi and strong armed her into this selfie below, where she graciously talked to me for a few minutes about her excitement over the films. 

Heidi Honeycutt, editor of MovieMaker Magazine (left)

Once again, these are women who prefer to be in the background creating and promoting fantastic cinema, to the point that they even fashioned Kayley Viteo buttons with her picture on it for people to wear, since she managed to be as stealthy in her monumental support of Etheria Film Night as a shadow-seeking phantom.

Anyone who manages to spot Kayley Viteo at 
Etheria Film Night gets a special prize... ; )

So what did I think of the films that debuted at Etheria Film Night

Pardon me for gushing, but they were stunning!! 

One of my favorites was Shevenge, directed by Amber Benson of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. It hilariously chronicles the slumber party of embittered wives Sam, Taylor and Charley as they empower themselves by plotting outrageous revenge upon their inadequate and/or malicious husbands. It had me snort-laughing so loudly I began to worry about being carted away from the Egyptian Theatre for disturbing the peace.   

Another film I adored was Sheila Scorned, written and directed by Mara Tasker and featuring fantastic actress Laine Rettmer, whose gritty portrayal of a psychopathic stripper bent on survival rivals the best films of Quentin Tarantino. Honestly, this movie left me screaming "SEQUEL! FRANCHISE PLEASE!" because I could watch Sheila navigate and dominate her grim underworld with enormous guilty pleasure for at least 4 more installments. You go, girl...

And talk about gritty, I was completely unprepared for the gore and mayhem of Gigi Saul Guerrero's El Gigante, which to me made Texas Chainsaw Massacre look like a Sunday picnic. Yet I couldn't help loving this film! Okay, so maybe it made me dead bolt my door, lock all windows, and check under the bed when I got back to my hotel room that evening. But this over-the-top, ghastly film left audiences nearly wretching in fear, and it was directed by a genre-bending woman! Who says chicks can't make horror films? There are no nuances here--just an all-out, carnage-filled bloodfest, but the director magically made the audience sympathize with her main-character Armando and his tragic, bloody plight to protect his family.

Don't let the pretty face and pink heels fool you--
Gigi Saul Guerrero of Luchagore Productions
can direct horror movies that will scare you witless

But by far my favorite film of the night was Godel Incomplete, an exquisite time-travel movie directed by Australian filmmaker Martha Goddard and featuring luminous actress Elizabeth Debicki in a delicate, highly-nuanced performance. This cinematically lush film, about a brilliant contemporary particle physicist who, through her scientific experiments, meets with physicist Kurt Godel at various points in time, nearly brought me to tears.  The core of the story here is Godel's Metric which was left unfinished in his lifetime (1906-1978), but which points to a theory of "timeline curves" that might allow for the possibility of time travel. As the characters slip in and out of time, yet deeply connect, I found myself utterly transported by this ethereal and wonderfully-crafted film, wishing it could go on all night.  How filmmaker Martha Goddard created this kind of alchemy in only a 15-minute movie proves to me, beyond a shadow of doubt, that magic is real . . .

During the film festival, I was able to snap pictures of a few of the multi-talented individuals who attended Etheria Film Night below. If you have a minute, do yourself a favor and click on the links at the bottom of each photo to see some of their gorgeous filmwork or to learn more about their contributions to the world of cinema.

Director Celine Tricart, 3D specialist, author, 
& creator of opulent & magical award-winning films (left) 

Rebekah McKendry, college professor of film, 
podcaster for Killer POV, staffwriter & marketer for Fangoria

Morgan Faust of BroSis PicturesFaust Films
award-winning director of the enchanting fantasy Tick Tock Time Emporium 
(showing off her pregnant glory--gotta love the motorcycle boots ; )

Actress Kelly Stadum (lead role in Breaking & Entering), 
& Benjamin Friedberg, producer of the award-winning film Speak Now 
& co-founder/president of InkCrayon Pictures (right)

And what was my final impression after Etheria Film Night? Does Hollywood indeed represent the boulevard of broken dreams, as has often been claimed, or can it really be a place to create art that stirs the soul? What the women filmmakers at Etheria Film Night taught me is that when you put yourself in the driver's seat to tell stories that truly move others, the road inevitably leads to the shadowy chambers of the human heart, where great beauty--and often great terror--lies. Whether or not these directors become world-famous will never change the fact that they make films that linger in their audience's minds (and quite possibly their dreams) long after the last credits roll. And when you least expect it, they might even make you see the "real" Hollywood (along with other fascinating "realities") in a whole new way...

And that's pure magic.

Photo credit note: All images on my blog are either my own or were gleaned from pictures in the public domains of popular social networks like tumblr, facebook or pinterest. If you own the copyright to any of these images & do NOT want them used publicly, please contact me & I will take them down immediately! : )


  1. Oh my goodness! What an amazing experience this must have been, Diane! You've described it so well, I feel like I was there with you. Absolutely terrific post! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Lana! It was a bit overwhelming, but everyone was so kind & generous that the good memories will last a lifetime :D

  2. Incredible!!! And reading about these women makes me want to put my pen to the grindstone, so to speak, and work even harder to succeed.

    1. Oh, I totally agree, Lori! They are an incredible inspiration <3

  3. Diane - I love your post and the insight you share about your trip. Particularly it was amazing to hear about Jane and what a beautiful soul she has - it makes me understand even more why I love the shows she writes and the characters she creates. Hope you keep these memories with you forever and they inspire your own lovely writing!!!

    1. Aw, thank you Michelle! And for reading about my journey <3

  4. What a great article, Diane! and what an amazing experience for you! You did a wonderful job of capturing the feel and the essence of the night and recreating it in your article to make us feel as if we were right there with you! glad you had fun and thanks for sharing it with us! :)

    1. Thank you Jennie & thanks for visiting my website!

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