Get to Know the Archive Committee
Have you ever wanted to sit down face to face with one of your film or television production heroines, to learn more about her life and absorb some of her wisdom? That's exactly what members of NYWIFT's Archive Committee do. And, in the process, they preserve the thoughts and memories of women who have made significant — if not downright enormous — contributions to the business.
Davidoff (left) currently runs her own production company, Sante Communications, with a long list of clients that has included the United Nations Development Fund, the Anti-Defamation League and The Learning Channel. She's also a founder of Washington DC's Women in Film & Video.
Setlow runs Setlow Media Inc., a strategic marketing and development firm, whose clients have included McNeil/Lehrer Productions, several public television stations and the National Health Sciences Consortium of Science Museums. She's also a past president of NYWIFT.
Recently, NYWIFT's VP of Special Events, Janet Stilson, exchanged e-mails with Setlow and Davidoff to find out more about the Archive Committee. An edited transcript of their e-interview follows.
Take me through the process of what archive committee members do.
The committee has developed a list of women we would like interviewed for the archive. Also, individual members select additional women they'd like to personally interview.
We want interviews with all kinds of people in the industry — from executives to makeup artists; from grips to those who finance features. It can be distributors, publicists. You name it.
Those who are interested in conducting an interview contact our member Ellen Zalk to obtain the list. They let her know the person they've chosen, then go ahead and book the interview and produce it.
Members also help formulate our procedures and advise on steps to ensure the ongoing success of the committee.
One next step is to digitize all the interviews for the Web. Another is to find an appropriate institution to house the interviews, as well as the NYWIFT archive of photos, programs and letters gathered since the organization was founded. This effort may require fundraising, so we value those skills as well.
What's the procedure for actually going out and interviewing someone? And what kind of experience do interviewers need in order to qualify?
It usually involves a team of two, with perhaps an assistant. One shoots; the other conducts the interview. One of the two also serves as producer.
The person shooting needs to know how to use a digital video camera. Members find someone who can shoot with either her own equipment or NYWIFT's camera. The producer has to book the interview and set up the location. The committee has developed a Producers Guide with full instructions and a set of questions that must be asked in every interview. (Plus you may ask the questions that are on your mind, too.) The Producers Guide makes the whole process very easy.
People at all levels of experience can enjoy doing these interviews and make a contribution to the archive. If you're less experienced, we'll team you up with someone who is more so.
What kind of time commitment is involved?
Actual interviews take about three hours. That includes travel time, setup and the 45-minute interview. Of course, contacting the interviewee and setting a date take time, too. And the committee meets for about two hours every two or three months.
What personal benefit do you get from working on the committee?
We both find interviewing people in our industry particularly exciting and gratifying. We feel we are leaving a legacy.
When you know that young people will turn to these interviews for ideas on how to succeed in their careers, it feels great. Conducting interviews has kept us in touch with skilled pros we can turn to for our own projects. Perhaps some will seek us out to collaborate.
Who's the most exciting person you have interviewed for the committee, and the most insightful or fascinating comment they made?
Davidoff: There have been so many thrilling moments — and such riches and wisdom in all the interviews — that it is hard to say. I have interviewed a former boss who I felt was a mentor. That was Yanna Brandt, the Emmy Award-winning TV and film producer.
Yanna spoke about the importance of teamwork and collaboration. No matter what your role on a production, you have to realize that what you do matters and can affect the product. "One person on a shoot can affect 50," said Yanna, "so be sure to do your job right."
I have interviewed women I wanted to get to know better. Cinematographer Dyanna Taylor talked about her strong preference to work on nonfiction. She feels people get much deeper into the subject matter that way, by getting to know more intimately the people they are filming.
Ellie Bunin, an artist and graphic designer who designed the openings for shows, ultimately through her own company, offered advice about the importance of being both good and quick: coming up with ideas and sketching them out.
Setlow: I have produced two interviews, with Red Burns and Lenore Dekoven, both fascinating women. Red is a visionary in the field of interactive media. She founded and chairs the Interactive Telecommunications Program in the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
Lenore is a director, producer, author and professor who has moved back and forth among theater, television and academia. She teaches now at the Columbia University School for the Arts and has written a very good book called Changing Direction: A Practical Approach to Directing Actors in Film and Theatre. She is also a founder of NYWIFT.
Both these women are pioneers in our industry. I chose them because I knew I'd learn from them, and I did. They told me about the roadblocks they faced as women and talked about how hard they had to work to succeed. They also expressed incredible joy and excitement about the work they've done and continue to do.
I came away from both these interviews with a heightened sense of what it means to have a life well lived. They were very inspiring.
If you'd like to learn more about the Archive Committee, or join its ranks, please contact Davidoff and Setlow at NDavid7336@gmaill.com or Msetlow@aol.com.
NYWIFT programs, screenings and events are supported, in part, by grants from New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
Last updated: Sep. 29, 2011