NYWIFT Blog

NYWIFT Talks Tribeca 2024: Remember Your Joy

By Stephanie Okun

Sometimes it’s necessary to be reminded why you do what you love to do the most. We don’t stop to do this enough, and I realize this is often what happens at a NYWIFT community event. Whether it’s virtual or in-person, NYWIFT Talks have the same impact.

On Zoom, roughly 200 viewers gathered to catch board member Okema T. Moore’s chat with three current Tribeca filmmakers this year. The filmmakers were director/producer/screenwriter Geneva Peschka of The Solace of Sisterhood, archival producer Lauren Wimbush of The Debutantes, and production designer Kristi Zea of Daddio. They all had enlightening ideas, were very generous with their experiences, and shared wonderful stories. I’m a documentary junkie so I loved listening to Lauren and Geneva; they both had empowering documentary stories to tell about women and how we’re coming of age and banding together in a new era.

 

Still from Daddio (Image Courtesy of Tribeca Festival)

 

However, as a playwright/screenwriter/director getting my start, I was compelled by Kristi’s experiences working in narrative, specifically on this highly-anticipated indie project Daddio. Writer/director Christy Hall initially intended for the film to be a play, since she is predominantly a playwright and the whole film takes place in a taxi. The film is mostly dialogue; it rests on the actors’– Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn’s – abilities to convey the subtleties in their characters. The two build a special connection in the stillness and isolation of the taxi.

Zea’s account of Hall’s journey to production inspired me because most of my experience is as a playwright. In my transition to screenwriting, I get self-conscious about the fact that sometimes I write a lot of dialogue in my screenplays too. I’m learning to register when it’s too much versus when to embrace it as just my style, and – now that I’m getting a lot more practice – it is often just my style. And great dialogue is essential! Seeing filmmakers like Christy Hall own her use of dialogue and make the transition from playwright to screenwriter/director makes me feel more confident in my abilities too. I appreciated how Zea embraced the uniqueness of her director’s path as well. Sometimes a strong script speaks for itself and Zea articulated that this was the case when she decided to take on Daddio.

Kristi has worked in the business for over thirty years beside greats like Martin Scorsese and Barry Levinson, but she elaborated on how there was something special about working on small productions like this one. They all had to problem solve and work on their feet together. With no time to sit around like they might on a larger-scale set, everyone there was being utilized and inherently valued at all times. Zea emphasized that the crux of everything was good storytelling, which all lies in the little details that she helps bring to life with her precise design and her team.

Still from The Debutantes (courtesy of The Tribeca Festival)

 

Lauren went into her work as an archival producer, saying that many people think her job is uncreative and purely research-oriented. However, there’s a lot of storytelling and creativity in the footage that she strings together. Never underestimate the power of each cog in the storytelling machine, where it’s clear that no one person is truly “at the top.” Without Lauren, there would be no The Debutantes, and everyone on the team is an essential player.

Each filmmaker described how many things had to fall in place for their films to take off and come together in real time. Every little puzzle piece was crucial in shaping each of their films, from execution to their ultimate success. Some of it was good fortune, and a lot was about gliding over the bumps that appeared in the path. One of Geneva’s cameras broke down and they lost tons of footage, causing her to lean more heavily on interviews than anticipated. Kristi’s editor was stressed about the perfect timing required to create the illusion that Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn really were in this car driving through the city in real time. However, they needed to take these hurdles and get to the finish line no matter what. They had to make something anyway and push through with their vision, purpose, and joy in mind. They all said that it’s never going to be perfect, but you have to accept that and let it go.

My takeaway from this discussion was Geneva and Okema’s point that the story you tell in your film never truly belongs to you. It’s never your story to tell because the story is going to tell itself. Geneva feels this strongly, specifically in her and Lauren’s world of documentary filmmaking. She loves leaning into the collaboration and creating a healthy, respectful, and loving set so that everyone can do their part. As an artist, sometimes it’s hard to trust and let go of your baby, but – like board member Yvonne Russo told me when we got coffee a couple of weeks ago – it’s important to remember your joy. Why do you want to tell this story and put it out into the world? Why do you want to share it? Geneva said to keep working with people you love to make things that you love. She said to keep a warm, open, and neutral energy so that everyone can thrive, because everything will feel easier from there.

Still from The Solace of Sisterhood (Courtesy of Tribeca Festival)

 

To wrap up the talk, Okema got real and told us how difficult it is to get work in this industry post-strike. We are still recovering and many of us still need work, but it doesn’t make us any less artists if we don’t all have projects right now. She and Geneva emphasized that there is no shame in doing whatever else you need to do to support yourself because the business is in a state of disarray. Sometimes this happens and it’s out of our control. You are still an artist and you still have purpose no matter what else you do. We all need to work and feed ourselves, but it is just as important to remember our joy.

This phrase – “remember your joy”– kept coming up throughout the panel and Yvonne’s words echoed through my mind every time they did. Remember your intention, take care of yourself, and fuel yourself however you need – even in times of struggle. At the end of the talk, I felt so grateful to be part of a community of women who always bring it back to the heart. It’s important to stay grounded and keep going in times of stasis, decline, and also in victory.

Congratulations to Kristi, Geneva, and Lauren – and to moderator Okema who also has a film tied to Tribeca this year – and thank you for reminding me why we do what we do!

Learn more about these four panelists here, and check out the list of all of our NYWIFT artists in Tribeca this year here.

PUBLISHED BY

Stephanie Okun

Stephanie Okun Stephanie Okun is a screenwriter and recent grad from Wesleyan University. She is currently working on a feature film script set in the Kentucky horse racing world and another script that she started at Wesleyan. She is excited to join NYWIFT to make her first steps as a professional in the world of film and television.

View all posts by Stephanie Okun

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