Posted by: Michelle Mitton | October 17, 2008

Glamour Reel Moments: Stories about Women by Women

Glamour Reel Moments Leslie Russo, Kiwi Smith and Francesca SilvestriFour years ago Glamour Magazine dreamed up the idea of sponsoring a film festival to promote women in film, not merely as actresses but as directors and storytellers where real women across America could have their stories told by women in Hollywood who, up until now, hadn’t had the chance to step behind the camera.

Since then Glamour Reel Moments has produced 14 short films and provided the directorial debuts for such A-list actresses as Kate Hudson, Bryce Dallas-Howard, Kirsten Dunst, Jennifer Aniston, Rita Wilson, Gwyneth Paltrow and now Demi Moore, Courteney Cox and screenwriter Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith who has written the screen plays to Ella Enchanted, Ten Things I Hate about You, She’s the Man, House Bunny and Legally Blond.

Each year Glamour Magazine, the largest women’s magazine in the country and reaching 1 out of every 10 women, asks its readers to submit short story ideas describing an event that changed their life—a turning point or “Aha!” moment that reflects who they have become.

Glamour then asks three women working in the film industry to choose the story they would like to tell by turning it into a 20-minute short film to be screened at the annual Glamour Reel Moments film festival in Hollywood sponsored by Suave whose campaign to help women bring out their natural beauty has fit perfectly with Glamour’s goal of producing stories about women by women.

Working with Suave to cover the event I sat down Tuesday morning to brunch with Bill Wackerman, Senior Vice President of Publishing at Glamour Magazine and Leslie Russo, Associate Publisher who worked together to dream up Glamour Reel Moments, along with Francesca Silvestri of Freestyle Productions, the production company in charge of the three films being shown which can be viewed at the Glamour Reel Moments site and Kiwi Smith whose debut film The Spleenectomy was premiering that night at the Director’s Guild of America.

[To Leslie Russo] Can you tell me about how Glamour Reel Moments came about? How did you get the idea?

Glamour Reel Moments 2008Glamour Reel Moments stared four years ago and came out of the fact that Glamour Magazine is a fashion and beauty magazine that has always had this empowering message for women. We reach one in every ten women in American every month and get these amazing stories from women that are truly inspiring and we thought “How can we get these stories told?”

We kept hearing in Hollywood how there were too many things blowing up on screen these days and not enough true stories about women so we had this idea that we would reach out to our readers to have them tell their real life stories then bring them to the Hollywood community to see if women would want to turn these stories into short life films and share these stories with other women.

The first thing we heard was “It’ll never happen” and “No one will do it—no one will want to participate.” But what we found was that there was this amazing group of women, writers like Andrea McCulloch and producers like Francesca Silvestri who really started reaching out with us to women in Hollywood who wanted the opportunity to direct, who really wanted to step behind that camera and to help tell those stories. Here we are, four years later, 14 films later, and the stories are incredible.

[To Kiwi] What was the experience of directing for the first time like?

Writing is solitary process much of the time so directing was a challenge in terms of getting everyone to work together. It was very empowering just to be able to dream up something then to see it through to fruition and be able to make tiny little adjustments to actors that you never would have been able to do if you were sitting there watching something that you’d written being directed by someone else. But it’s a lot more work than writing is . . . [with a laugh] you have to get up a lot earlier!

One of the things that are different for me—as a writer when you go to a premier you’re just there to have a great time, you know the movie, you love the movie but if people don’t like it you just say “Oh it’s the director.” Now I can’t say that.

Was it a nervous experience? Were you confident? How did Glamour help shepherd you into film?

I had Francesca and Kevin [Chinoy] who had so much experience—they were experts in being able to guide all of us but I was totally nervous. I’m totally nervous for tonight! It’s going to be the first time it’s shown to the public! I hope you guys like it—please laugh!

What was your inspiration? As a little girl did you imagine yourself a screenwriter, sitting alone in a room staring at a blank screen?

Well I was always a writer and I worked in video stores when I was little I liked movies so much and then I was an English major. I then came out to L.A. and I was going to be a poet but [with a laugh] I realized you don’t earn a lot of money doing that so I decided that being a screenwriter was a much better option.

I was thinking about it earlier, tonight is kind of a dream come true. I’d always wanted to direct a short film for a long time but I hadn’t quite got it together until I found out about this grant that Glamour was offering for first time directors—non-actors—people that were in the business and aspiring to be directors. The environment for female directors is kind of non-existent—only 7% of directors in Hollywood are female so it was a highlight for me and tonight will be another highlight.

[To Leslie] Tell me more about how the program works.

The program was very organic in its inception and it was difficult to get people to sign on at first but what’s happened is that this incredible community of women have come together, women at the top of their profession like Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Kirsten Dunst or Kiwi and what’s amazing is that every year more and more women apply.

Less than 7% of the DGA [Director’s Guild of America] are female directors so this program is really changing the face of Hollywood because all of these gals are using this is as an opportunity to direct for the first time, gain confidence from it and now they’re all working—whether in television or in directing features and I think that’s one of the most rewarding things about this.

Also, one of the nice rub offs from this project that we’ve seen at Glamour is that you don’t have to be saving the world to have a story that’s inspiring to people. The stories that come into Glamour Reel Moments are from women of all walks of life, some are really funny, some really deep, some are really light-hearted but these women have really put themselves out there and have been brave to share their stories . . . and the flip side is that these women in Hollywood are really putting themselves out there, opening themselves up to critique to tell these stories on the big screen and do this for the first time.

It’s really becoming this wonderful network and it’s great to have something that’s a grass roots event, something that just feels good, and I think the circle keeps widening for women to participate and support each other with this project Just thinking about it, Francesca Silvestri knew Andrea McCullouch and brought her on the second year to write then Andrea brought her friend Jen Aniston on the next year to direct. Now this year Jen sent out casting calls and her friend Courteney Cox is directing—women connecting with each other and wanting to support each other. All of these women through the process come back each year to support the other women

[To Leslie] Can you explain the grant process?

We really beat people’s doors to participate in this project the first year but as it became more and more successful we had tons of people coming out of the woodwork to direct. But what we didn’t want was for people who already had a lot of opportunity, who were massive A-list names, we wanted to support women who were working in Hollywood but didn’t have a $20 million movie coming out.

So last year for the fist time we launched a plan where we had three slots for directors but we only had two slots which we filled—Courteney Cox and Demi Moore—we left the third choice up to our alumni. So we took out an ad in Variety, we advertised that we had one slot left for a woman working in the film industry whether she was a cinematographer or a writer but somebody who felt like they wanted the opportunity to direct. We got hundreds of reels from women who wanted to apply for the grant so we were democratic. We selected four finalists and in Oscar ballot style we sent out of the final four reels to our directing alumni and they voted for who they thought should direct.

Kiwi was selected by her peers and they all have very good taste because she made a fabulous movie.

[To Kiwi] Why this story? What attracted you to this particular story?

Fran gave me a list of one-sentence descriptions of 50 the stories that she thought would be good and there was a little one-sentence description that said: “Community theater actress has a very bad day.” Though the first thing I did, I ran over to Anna Faris’ house with the list saying, “Let’s just go over this list because I need you to star in this and I need you to pick the character that would be the most fun to play.” We ended up agreeing that a community theater actress that was enthusiastic but not so talented was the best one—she was just perfect for that so that’s how I made my choice.

Are we going to see you doing more feature length?

[With a laugh] I’m developing my slate as we speak

[To Leslie] How are the stories picked?

We get thousands of stories and Kevin and Francesca will work with a variety of script readers who will categorize the stories and put them into a log and then we weed them out, some are very long and would be good in a feature-length film, some don’t play well to the short format. Then once we get our list of a hundred or so that we feel would fit well within the short format and within our parameters—something that has to be shot on, say, five continents really wouldn’t work so we narrow down the list more then we meet with potential directors.

We ultimately leave it up to the directors, giving them the opportunity to have one of the stories resonate with them so that the director really picks the story that they want to tell and feel like thy have a connection. We want the reader’s story to be told by someone who has that connection.

[To Kiwi] How responsible do you feel to stick to the original stories?

Well the original story was a launching place—I took vast and willful liberties with it. There are many things in the film that are different from the story but the woman who wrote it liked it.

[To Leslie] How will the broader public see the movies?

They run on the Glamour Reel Moments website for a month then they’ll do a stint on itunes where they can be downloaded—I think they’re the only short films available besides the Oscar nominated shorts and the Pixar shorts. It’s been a huge success for itunes. Going back to people never thinking it will happen, at our first meeting with itunes I’ll just say that they hung up the phone very quickly but then they called back and now these short films have been some of itunes’ most heavily downloaded short films.

[To Leslie] How soon do you start thinking about next year’s entries?

By January or February we generally know who the directors are though we don’t announce it until they start filming because everyone donates their time and sometimes someone really wants to participate but has to be out of the country for a couple months of filming. Normally we start really hard core work in January and then it literally goes right up until two weeks before the premier. No matter how early we start we use all the time.

[To Francesca] Where does the money come from? What about the hard costs of making a film?

There’s a very small stipend that goes to the companies to cover hard costs for cameras and sets but it’s incredible—technicians are mostly doing it for nothing because the films are so good and because the people that are involved are really excited to give women these opportunities.

A lot of companies have enjoyed working with women directors—it’s kind of a nicer, kinder, gentler softer way and sometimes the women bring in treats and baked good and they all smell really nice—this is the kind of feedback we get from the companies helping us to make these films.

[Bill Wackerman:]

I’d have to add here that there really is a reality of thousands and thousands of dollars of hard costs and none of this would happen without Suave. So for Suave to say “We want to help you tell these women’s stories” is a huge show of support for us and they deserve a lot of credit.

[To Leslie] Are the readers involved in the process at all?

Basically what happens is that we let them know that they’ve won and that we’ll be developing their story, they don’t know whose directing and they don’t know who’s on board. They came here Sunday when we slowly started to unveil who’s involved, what the stories are about. Then they saw the movies this morning and they’re over the moon.

In a previous year we had one winner—Colleen—and she was set to be on a segment of Oprah but she had no idea why she was there, she thought it was for a show about nurses. Suddenly she’s meeting Oprah and Jen and finding out what’s happened to her story.

Here’s Colleen, she’s this single mother of two amazing daughters and she brought them out to the premier and to this day she still sends us emails every year. For her it was an amazing experience because it totally changed her relationship with her daughters, they suddenly saw her in this new way.

[To Francesca] How do you define success and what inspires you?

I would say a sense of fulfillment, of gratefulness, of happiness—those are the things that I define success by today. Stepping outside of your comfort zone—this whole program changed our lives in so many ways and every year we step out of our comfort zone and learn something. That’s how I define success. As for what inspires me: women inspire me and that’s why I feel a responsibility to tell their stories.

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