As summer heats up, New York Women in Film & Television gears up for the start of our new year – and with it, new faces join our leadership team!
As a 501(c)3 non-profit, NYWIFT is governed by an 18 member Board of Directors, elected by the membership in late Spring. This diverse, accomplished group of women are at the top of their game in TV, film and digital media. They steer NYWIFT in advocating for equality, providing unique professional development opportunities, funding women filmmakers, and celebrating women’s achievements.
This week, we sit down with Kathryn O’Kane.
New NYWIFT Board Member Kathryn O’Kane
Tell us about what you do outside of NYWIFT.
For the last 15 years, I’ve worked as a nonfiction producer and director for television, web, and advertising. I’m proud to have crafted narratives as diverse as Mission Juno, which documents NASA’s ongoing mission to Jupiter and San Quentin Film School, a six-hour documentary series for Discovery Channel, which followed nine prisoners during the first ever film production class in prison. I also direct television commercials and regularly film behind-the-scenes of The Walking Dead for AMC. Carving out a career by making connections with people and telling their stories is what keeps me fulfilled as a storyteller.
In this capacity, I draw inspiration from the subjects themselves. A few years ago, I did a show for OWN, which focused on life lessons of accomplished people. One of the episodes was an autobiographical profile of Dr. Maya Angelou. During our interview, Dr. Angelou said, “you can only become great at the thing you are willing to sacrifice for.” I’ve taken this lesson to heart and applied it to my work. I strategically choose jobs with subject matter that I am curious about and where I can further hone my craft.
O’Kane directing on the set of Mission Juno
What is your fondest memory of working in the entertainment industry?
I probably got into this business as much for the behind-the-scenes stories as the ones rolling in front of the camera because it never ceases to amaze me what can be pulled together in a short period of time. I can pinpoint the moment I officially caught the “production bug.” I was a PA on the set of Errol Morris’ short film opening the 2002 Oscars. The film was a celebration of movies by folks from outside of the movie business. I was the runner for the talent, greeting people and then escorting them through a labyrinth of stairs and corridors to the greenroom where they waited their turn to be interviewed by Morris. What sounds like the beginning of a joke, is in fact true; at one point the greenroom filled up with Iggy Pop, Donald Trump, Walter Cronkite and Mikhail Gorbachev. It was definitely one of those days when I thought, “I can’t believe I get paid for this.” You can read the details here.
How did you first get involved with NYWIFT?
My colleagues and I used to commiserate about the lack of directing opportunities for women and often felt alone in our ambitions. When my friend Annetta Marion became a NYWIFT board member, she invited me to join the organization because in her words, “it’s an immeasurably good thing.”
Why do you love NYWIFT?
I learned a long time ago that nobody hands you anything in this business. You have to make your own opportunities and run with them. At the same time, filmmaking and television producing are collaborative industries, and I believe that to get the best work out of people, your crew must feel invested and appreciated.
I love NYWIFT because the inclusive nature of the organization is an extension of that philosophy. Our membership is made up of some of the most talented and generous people I’ve ever met. There are many ways to make an impact in the organization. NYWIFT connects talented women so that no challenge feels too great and trains members from within to give them a competitive edge.
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The most recent commercial O’Kane directed (for SAP), which ran during the NBA finals.
Inequality in film, television and digital media has been a hot topic in the media lately, and righting that imbalance has always been a big part of NYWIFT’s mission. What are your thoughts on the problem? And how should it be solved?
Decisions in the film and television industry are driven by tight budgets and tighter deadlines, and there’s rarely time for a long vetting process when crewing up a production. People most often hire who they already know, or through word of mouth. So if the playing field is already imbalanced, that hiring process feeds an existing lack of diversity because women can’t even get in the room.
I believe that more women can break this cycle if they have the right training, experience, and networks. By developing greater name recognition with a solid reputation, body of work, and web presence, we can get in the room. And if we can get in the room, we can get the job.
What’s the best TV show/movie/web series you’ve seen recently? Why?
I love the visual storytelling of Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick, a master class in economical narration. From the way Soderbergh sets the stage and creates this world as if it has always existed to the pacing and the anachronistic soundtrack, every single choice matters and informs the story. I’ve watched the first episode maybe 20 times.
What are your plans for the summer?
I’m taking some time off to write and hang out with my new dog that I adopted from the set of Fear the Walking Dead at Baja Studios, Mexico.
Learn more about the rest of NYWIFT’s 18 member Board of Directors on our website. And stay tuned to the blog this summer as we get to know the newest additions!
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Kathryn O’Kane on the Emmys, Jeff Goldblum, and the Challenges of Pandemic Productions
When NYWIFT Board Member Kathryn O’Kane headed off to direct season two of The World According to Jeff Goldblum for Disney+ it was, in her words, “the worst of times” – the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, before vaccines were available and film production felt particularly dangerous and fraught. But the difficult work paid off, and has led to the best of times! Season two of the docuseries, which follows the beloved quirky actor as he pulls on the thread of a familiar topic to unravel a world of fascinating secrets, has been nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Hosted Nonfiction Series or Special.
We checked in with Kathryn to offer our congratulations, learn more about the filming process, and discuss what’s next for her.