ICON SPOTLIGHT on Deborah Kampmeier

AWD Icon Members work extensively in feature films, television, commercials, music videos, and/or new media. They have not only shown exceptional skill and/or received substantial acclaim, but are also advocates for AWD’s mission for parity in the entertainment industry.

This month we shine a spotlight on AWD Icon Deborah Kampmeier, who burst into the indie film zeitgeist with her feature films VIRGIN (2003) and HOUNDDOG (2007). She continues to write, direct, and produce shorts and features while also directing episodic television. Deborah helmed her first episode on “Queen Sugar” and has since worked on numerous shows, including “Star Trek: Picard” and “The Gilded Age.”

Deborah spoke to AWD about how independent filmmaking is a great training ground for episodic directing, what she believes is the solution to achieving gender equality in the Industry, and what’s turning her on right now!

AWD: You did several indie features before directing episodic television. How did you make the transition and do you feel there are different skill sets involved for these varying mediums? 

DK: I actually think that Indie filmmaking is an incredible training ground for television. They are both so fast. And as an indie filmmaker I had to learn about all of the departments and how they function.  So then, for TV, I can bring a great deal of understanding to the problem solving when some minor, or major obstacle occurs and we need to make a quick shift.  

At the end of the day it’s all the same thing in terms of what you are actually doing, the teams you are working with, the structure of your day, the way you bring a story on the page to life on the screen. But what I love so much about television is how much closer I’ve been able to get to what’s in my imagination because of the budgets we have, because of the tools and toys we have, because of the crew we have.  I feel like I really get the opportunity to lean into my vision in a way that I’m not able to with a $250,000 budget, which was what we had on my last feature. And that is thrilling. 

As the film industry evolves, what changes or developments do you hope to see in terms of gender equality and representation, both on and off the screen?

We still need radical total change. 

We have all seen the Annenberg reports that Stacy Smith puts out and how the numbers just don’t substantially change. The activism and shadowing programs haven’t really moved the needle. Even the partial Annenberg reports for 2023 that just came out show that the numbers for female-identified leads and co-leads are the lowest they’ve been in ten years, dropping from 44% in 2022 to 30% in 2023.  

To me the solution is financing. The change I would like to see is for women filmmakers (directors, writers, producers, actors, etc) to receive as much money as the men.

As a director, what do you believe is the responsibility of storytellers in influencing societal perceptions and promoting positive change?

Media is the way we as a society currently sit around the fire and create our myths. Myths heal, myths make sense of our lives, and myths create our future. 

Year after year, decade after decade, 89-96% of the stories shown in films are being made by white men. Because of this we are in a chronic state of maintaining a patriarchal world culture that continues to harm women. 

Storytelling is a powerful tool for transformation because the stories we tell today will define the future we live tomorrow. It’s going to take a lot of new stories to shift the culture and paradigm of society. 

It’s mentioned that your storytelling passion is unearthing ancient myths and creating new myths that honor women’s deepest truths and set women free. Why is this important to you?  

We as a global society don’t even have the ears to hear women’s stories. Because they have been silenced for so long, not only can men not hear our stories, we can’t even hear our own. In a culture where 92% of the films are still made by men, telling our stories and our truth is a political act, and in and of itself creates new myths. And it’s not just about the things that have happened to us directly, but the experiences in our lives that have impacted us through our sisters, mothers, daughters and friends. The moments our own hearts have cried out silently, knowing the old myths, and narratives are harming us, and that it’s time for something new to emerge. 

Could you share some key milestones and highlights from your directing career that have shaped your journey in the film industry?

I don’t really experience my life in milestones and highlights, but I do feel that having my daughter on every film set, and many of my tv sets, informs deeply who I am as an artist, a director and a filmmaker. I love being a female filmmaker. I know a lot of women want to be simply called a filmmaker. But my identity as an artist is so connected to my womanhood and the entirety of the experience of being a woman in this world.

Is there a specific pivotal lesson that you learned during your journey as a director which you believe played a crucial role in propelling you towards success?

I just remind myself that everyone is going to die.  So why would I let other people’s opinions of me determine my choices and my future?

As an Icon Member of the Alliance of Women Directors, how do you see your role in supporting and promoting women in the field of directing?

It’s important to me to inspire and encourage women to speak their truth no matter what. Whether that means they whisper it, scream it, vomit it, just get it out.  We need women’s voices.

Are there any upcoming projects or collaborations that you are excited about and would like to share with your audience?

I’m so turned on to be creating a film fund to finance films by female-identified filmmakers.

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