By Katie Chambers
When I saw that Alicia Eastes, the founder of Women in Film & TV Austin, recently joined New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT) as a Dual Member, I had to know more! What followed was a wide-ranging email conversation with Alicia and WIFT Austin Board Members President Laura Annalora and Vice President Chiara McCarty about the Texas film industry, the pandemic, and what it’s like to build your own Women in Film & Television organization from the ground up.
Alicia, what inspired you to found WIFT Austin?
Alicia Eastes (Founder): In my personal experience, the launch of my creative professional career happened to coincide with my motherhood, and unfortunately, in our world, that created a barrier for me. I completed my MFA in Screenwriting in August 2014, interned with Rick Linklater in Spring 2015, that led to a documentary film project with a local team about Rick, Linklater: Dream is Destiny, when I conceived my daughter in Summer 2015. Women in Film seemed like the natural next step, since Austin is the indie film capital of the world but we didn’t have a chapter of Women in Film. Why not? That question kicked off the founding effort.
What is WIFT Austin’s mission and main focus?
Alicia Eastes (Founder): I founded our chapter to connect, support and empower female identifying creative media professionals in Austin and Central Texas.
Laura Annalora (President) and Chiara McCarty (VP): Community is at the heart of what drives Women in Film and Television Austin. Our mission aims to bring Austin’s robust female identifying creatives together as a collective who value and foster alliances with each other.
We actively support and empower our members and each other through professional educational programming, networking events, development opportunities, creative collaborations, and mentoring. This allows us to realize the greater vision: to foster a creative and collaborative culture of conscious opportunities that allow us to advocate and impact the type of equity for women across the industry.
How has the organization grown and developed since its first meeting in late 2018?
Alicia Eastes (Founder): Austin Film Society has been our key supporter for getting established, and since we hosted our first meeting at Austin Public before Thanksgiving 2018, we’ve arrived! There was immediate response to the very clear need to fill the gap for Women in Film that AFS is not able to provide for female specific professional support, and that community of amazing women formed our initial founding board. Elizabeth V. Newman became my founding co-president, and Kristen Benitez became our founding VP, as well as the list of our other key board seats and Advisory Committee members. Betty Buckley, who founded Women in Film Dallas when I was born in 1983, has been my mentor for founding WIFT Austin, and we launched, built a presence, and elected our first new President and Board in September 2021, when everything turned over.
Laura Annalora (President) and Chiara McCarty (VP): At the end of 2018 the seed for the Austin chapter was planted and not long after, we were able to formalize the chapter’s existence. It was a blur of logistics and before we knew it, COVID hit. That put our very small and very new chapter into uncharted territory. Before COVID we had only had one in-person program, and suddenly we found ourselves in need of figuring out a pivot that would still allow us to support and connect members through this unplanned and difficult time. Our Board of Directors worked tirelessly to create virtual opportunities. We kept the wheels turning and didn’t give up. We are so grateful to our inaugural executive leadership, BOD, and our members, their endurance and perseverance kept the chapter alive.
This last year has been a massive leap forward for our organization. Our new executive leadership and BOD spent the year ushering in growth and focus – in less than one year, the organization went from 75 members to 234 members, and we just keep growing!
We hit the ground running in October 2021. We held our first annual Member Showcase. Our friends and supporters at Austin Film Society donated one of their theaters, and our members got to see their work on a big screen, with an audience. We invited the entire Austin creative community and even opened the screening up to anyone who wanted to come out and support us. It was free to all. It was the first time our members were together in person in almost two years.
It should be noted that our Executive leadership team and entire Board of Directors are all volunteers. They dedicate their time, passion, and skill to running the organization. That means not only are we governing the organization, but we are also managing the day-to-day workflow to bring members amazing opportunities. In the last year we facilitated a handful of tasks to help the organization become effective, streamlined, valuable and impactful. On the administrative side we categorized our membership levels according to individuals’ tenure in the industry, honed our mission and vision, rebranded and launched a new website, switched to a CRM platform, updated our federal and state legal filings, and much more.
For our members, we have organized and held seven professional programs: from how-to slate for self-tapes to navigating legal entertainment issues; finding investors for projects to our weekly writing room. We have hosted a handful of events, including our annual Holiday Party, our SXSW mixer, as well as our first Lunar New Year event and our very first fundraising event. We’ve secured valuable community partners like Onion Creek Productions who offered members exclusive access to job opportunities, Castleview who provide members with access to studio space and equipment, Indie Meme and Austin Public, just to name a handful. This past winter we launched a job board in our members-only Slack. It’s a place where members can post jobs they may be hiring for, gigs they may have the inside track on, and any other paid work opportunities that members can bring their skills and creative prowess to. It’s been a massive success. Members have been hired at companies across Austin and on freelance gigs, [including] voiceover work, commercial directing, location scouting, sound mixing, etc.
In July of 2022, we launched Season Two of the WIFT Austin Podcast. The second season is geared towards Texas female filmmakers who are dedicated to educating and inspiring Austin-based female-identifying community. We interview film, TV, and media professionals that can offer guidance, insight, and resources on topics specific to Austin. It’s our goal to provide our members, no matter what level they are at, the knowledge necessary to facilitate growth and success in their careers.
We realize that to create the type of lasting and positive change for women in our industry, we need the support of our non-binary and male allies, as well as the support of people who may fall outside the scope of our creative industries. And with that, we created a new avenue that encourages allies to be involved in the organization.
Admittedly, we are just elated to be able to be together, in person for programs, events, you name it. It’s made a huge difference on what we can offer and the type of impact we have for members. More importantly, it’s allowed us to work towards building that community WIFT Austin strives for.
How has the pandemic impacted the organization?
Alicia Eastes (Founder): As a barely baby chapter when the pandemic hit in March 2020, when I was three months postpartum after the birth of my son, we all clung for dear life to keep the developing organization together through the pandemic. Virtual shifts actually worked in our favor in some ways, because we became more accessible, but networking is a primarily in-person thing. I have to credit the strength of our community and our membership with the commitment to seeing us through the pandemic to the next phase of WIFT Austin.
Laura Annalora (President) and Chiara McCarty (VP): The pandemic was difficult for the organization and our members. WIFT Austin officially launched just before the pandemic and then lockdowns hit. That struck down our planned events and programs, but the real impact was felt across our membership. With so many in the Austin creative community out of work, including members and some of our own Board. It was a stressful time. We made a concerted effort to move our events and programs to a virtual platform and vowed to make each and every one of them free to members.
Alicia Eastes (Founder): Personally, although the pandemic was a struggle for WIFT in many ways, on many practical levels sustaining through the pivots required, this organization kept me sane! As a very recent mother to my son, my second child, co-leading WIFT Austin with our awesome founding inaugural Board of Directors was an occupation that allowed me to keep my focus on my long-term independent film career goals, and not only survive, but thrive. I made it through the postpartum haze of the pandemic only with the help of my sisters in WIFT. The community of Women in Film and Television Austin that took shape in the pandemic is my special pandemic baby. That saved me, in many ways.
Tell us about your members! What are some of your favorite success stories?
Laura Annalora (President) and Chiara McCarty (VP): Our members are amazing! From producers to editors, actors to choreographers, directors to sound mixers, and so much more, our members have a wide range of professional experience. We’ve created a Member Directory on our website that lists all of our Professional Members so that anyone can connect with experienced professionals and find the help needed for their next project.
This Fall, we hosted our second Annual WIFT Austin Member Showcase. There are so many festivals in Austin, but this one is by far the best (slight bias). There’s no messy application process, no fees to submit your work, all you have to do is be a member of Women in Film and Television Austin. And once again, thanks to our friends and huge supporters at Austin Film Society, our members will be showing their work on the big screen in front of a huge audience of members, supporters and fans for free. We are so grateful for their continued support of women in Austin’s creative scene. It’s one of our favorite events, and such a wonderful opportunity to not only see the talent that exists within our member base, but also an incredible opportunity to lift each other up and build community and shine a spotlight on women–on screen and behind the scenes.
There are so many awe-inspiring success stories with origins in our chapter and a lot of these success stories are of members teaming together to see their work realized. A short film that will hit festivals soon (written, directed and produced by two talented members who met through WIFT); a documentary series teaser which is being pitched to prospective networks/streamers; a short-form dramedy series starring a member and written and directed by two other members; countless scripts that have been polished and finished with the help of sisters in writing; and so much more. Not to mention the number of members who have found jobs through our job board.
Tell us about Third Thursdays! And your mentorship program?
Laura Annalora (President) and Chiara McCarty (VP): Third Thursdays is a new flagship monthly networking event. Every third Thursday of the month WIFT Austin members and allies get together for a networking session. These informal get-togethers are a place where creatives connect with one another and help each other accomplish their goals. A handful of the creative collaborations mentioned above germinated and blossomed right out of our Third Thursdays.
Our Mentorship program was created by our inaugural Programs Co-Chair Teresa Seale and we are thrilled to launch our third round of the program this month! Our Program serves to uplift Members by offering them the opportunity to pair with industry leaders (who are also members) to discuss career objectives and strategy. The goal is to support and develop our members, and provide them with the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the local industry, business practices, culture, focus their efforts, and hone skills. Mentoring is an essential part of the WIFT Austin mission, and helps ensure that new generations of women in the film, television, and new media businesses are able to take advantage of the experiences of those who have gone before them.
Alicia Eastes (Founder): I was able to be a Mentor and a Mentee this year, and it was awesome! My Creative Producer/Mentor for my current documentary project, Amy Martinez, came to me through the WIFT Austin Mentorship program, which feels so rewarding.
Alicia, what brought you to New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT)?
Alicia Eastes (Founder): I came to NYWIFT seeking NYC-based collaborators for my documentary project in production, currently. I found fellow documentary filmmaker Samantha Alvarez, who is amazing, and I’m thrilled to be able to work with her to produce interviews this month.
What are some of the similarities and differences you’ve noticed between the media industry in Austin vs. in New York?
Alicia Eastes (Founder): Media in New York is BIG, while Austin is comparatively small-medium sized. While we’re on different scales, entirely, we all need to collaborate in this industry, and we all rely on the networking support of WIFT to make that possible.
What’s going on in the Austin media industry right now? What are some of the challenges and opportunities?
Laura Annalora (President) and Chiara McCarty (VP): What is unique about Austin is how diverse our creative landscape is. In 2015 Austin was the first (and only) city in the United States to get a “City of Media Arts” designation from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). This is a testament to the multi-disciplinary media arts scene bustling in our city. We are a hub for creative collaborations of all kinds– films, documentaries, video games, animation, music videos, digital experiences. Not to mention festivals like SXSW, and the outstanding music scene.
With all of these various media disciplines come the vast pool of creatives making these things happen and happily putting their creative chops to work. We have become a magnet for productions of all sizes and all types, and because of that incredible talent pool mentioned above, we are able to offer the human power to make all the things. Austin is a rad place, and people want to be a part of it, and because of that our creative resources continue to grow.
Austin has always fostered creatives who dance to the beat of their own drum and bang the drums themselves. That is easily seen in the long line of folks who got their start in Austin and still invest in Austin’s multimedia scene– Kat Candler, Vicky Boone, Anne Rapp, Rebecca Campbell, Matthew McConaughey, Richard Linklater, and our very own Sandra Adair, Heather Page, and Elizabeth Avellan.
The challenge we face in Austin stem from the quick pace of growth. Ensuring that there is enough work to keep all of us busy and also preserving the kind of rebel creative zeal that a lot of Austin creatives are known for. And for WIFT Austin specifically, it’s making sure that as the creative landscape grows, we still find ways to build on and strengthen the female creative community here.
What is next for WIFT Austin? What do you hope for the organization in the coming years?
Laura Annalora (President) and Chiara McCarty (VP): In this last year, we found our footing, we know who we are and what we want. Now, we are figuring out how to get there. We are a new chapter. We are still in the early phases of building our community and finding ways to keep us together, engaged, growing, learning, sharing, and creating. That will always be a goal, short or long term.
We live in an unpredictable world. Nothing is a better example of that than COVID. With that, our Executive Team put together a two-year plan. The biggest focus is expanding our membership, establishing lasting and impactful community partnerships, and raising funds to keep us going. The BOD and our members are doing a tremendous job expanding our membership. We are working hard to keep building that community and a big hope is that more seasoned female creatives will become involved in the organization. There’s no doubt their meaningful impact will be a huge value.
Our BOD has also made great strides in bringing on community partners to the organization. Considering all that we do and all that we offer, it’s crazy to think that we run on a shoestring budget. Which makes finding fiscal sponsors a huge goal for us. It will not only ensure that we can continue to offer a range of useful and helpful programs and events to members, but also allows us to realize additional avenues of support to our members – internships, grants for their projects, cost of living support funds. At the end of the day, we are here for our members, our community, so making sure that what we offer is of value to them will always be our guiding light. And the more we can offer, to members and members to each other, the more impact we have for positive change.
And what is next for you, Alicia, in your life/career?
Alicia Eastes (Founder): I’m publishing a recovery memoir, Waking Up to My Superpower, and producing a related feature documentary film, which is my personal investigation into the restorative power of pregnancy, Liminal Space.
Connect with Alicia Eastes at her blog on Medium, on Facebook, Instagram, and her film website www.liminalspacefilm.com.
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