Interview with Melanie Wise of Artemis Film Festival

In honor of our partnership with the Artemis Women In Action Film Festival, we spoke with co-founder Melanie Wise to learn more about this “kick-ass” festival.


Can you talk about how the Artemis Women In Action Film Festival became a reality?

I met Zac Baldwin, writer/director (also co-founder of the festival) who wrote female action leads long before it was popular or cool. Zac actually encouraged me to get into acting. So I did. As an actor, (and being a very tall female of athletic incline) I learned very quickly I could not sell a very good victim no matter how hard I tried. It wasn’t for lack of talent – I was just not physically believable as one. I was hard pressed getting jobs and auditions were not plentiful – though I did get many auditions for the dumb jock – another tiresome trope. Theatrically, I was always asked to read for producers, but generally I did not get the job. My guess, after lots of auditions – it was my height; I was taller than the men. I am glad I never got to play a victim of any kind … you’d have to be an idiot to cast me as the weak chick wringing her hands in fear!

Zac encouraged me to take a more active role in my own fortune by producing content and not waiting for the phone to ring. So, I did. Zac has been writing for, …. gosh 40 years, directing for 30, did stunts and stunt choreography for all kinds of live action and films, worked in almost every crew capacity to learn filmmaking inside and out. And the two of us worked our butts off to create content with physically and emotionally strong, empowered women in lead roles for a long time.

In having attempted to create and put out into the world female strong projects for many years, and truly failing miserably, it finally came to our awareness that if we wanted to see more of these kinds of films, creating a space for them to play was needed. And the festival was born. Our first year, we were concept to execution in 6 months. In a two-month submission period, we received about 200 submissions from 25 countries, which proved to me that the type of content we’d pushed so long and hard for was something people around the globe were incredibly interested in.

How has the festival evolved since its inaugural event?

We’ve grown and expanded every single year – moving into larger theaters, expanding the number of screens, expanding our panels and workshops. This year, we are teaming up with Kaylene Peoples, founder of Bella Composers to include music; we are accepting submissions for musical compositions, scores, songs, theme songs in any genre that is created by female composers, female lead bands, and female solo artists.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is our mission: to celebrate female action and empowerment heroes. Our aim, from the day we started, was to put together a program that showcased as many corners of strength and power as possible to break down the rigid parameters of the cultural role women are ‘supposed’ to play. I want people to see women doing everything and anything because it stretches the paradigm of what is believed to be possible. My greatest hope, when people visit our festival, is that they can walk away with the idea that women can do anything they damn well please.

What have been some of AWIAFF’s most popular panels or workshops? What’s in store for 2019?

One of my favorite panels is The All-Stars of Stunts which is a yearly collection of some of the most badass and legendary stunt performers. The panel is always filled with amazing perspectives that allow people to get an idea of what these stunt folk do, have gone through, with stories about performing stunts on specific films. It’s really a fun, amazing view into their world.

The other panel that I absolutely adore is our Warrior Women Panel. From historians, to women in combat sports, female WWII pilots, female filmmakers in battle zones, female entrepreneurs – we host an incredible variety of people who step way outside the bounds of what ‘normal women’ do. And for 2019 …. we are still working on that. We’ll be offering a couple panels that we’ve never done before. I’m excited and I really hope we can pull of a panel/workshop focusing on writing strong female characters in narrative – and another that focuses on effective branding/marketing of films.

Beyond the festival, you also launched the “#WomenKickAss library” and “#WomenKickAss forum” on Can you tell us more about these two endeavors?

Library first: Let’s face it, we have 4 – 5 decades of films and tv with amazing female leads. And if you try to search for films or tv that have empowering or action based female leads, you’ll find a few lists where people have simply put together their top 10 – 25 female led favs. There is literally no place to easily search for and find that content.

In contemplating creating it, I really wanted it to be very searchable, and I also wanted it to be a resource on several levels. Primarily, I wanted to be able to offer a space to indie filmmakers (for both shorts and features) whose content fit the library’s criteria, to earn revenue for their content. I am a huge fan of self-distribution – it’s a means by which to level the playing field. I do feel, however, some of our common self-distro options leave so much to be desired. I also think, for the audience that is looking to imbibe content that is in our wheelhouse, they’ll find the library an excellent place to find LOTS of that entertainment.

The #WomenKickAss Library features studio produced films, tv, indie films, books, and self-empowerment videos – and all content there features women in leading or co-leading roles who are …. well, badass. Self-empowerment videos are there to help women take a more empowered stance in their own life. All delivered on demand. There are about 400 entries in the library and we haven’t even yet added the Erin Brokovich’s or Norma Rae’s of the film/tv world yet.

The library is searchable by content type (categories listed above), genre, creator gender (which is a very interesting search, btw), title, cast and then some. Also, we rated each film on three standards: Action Rating – that’s pretty self-explanatory; Empowerment Rating – Artemis’ opinion regarding the empowerment messages in the film; Visibility Rating – the literal amount of time women are onscreen in kick-ass or empowered roles.

The library is currently in its infancy – we only launched about one year ago. We are always looking for new indie films to add to the library. We offer non-exclusive digital licensing to all indie film producers. It is our hope to be able to provide this type of content to a very hungry audience that is worse than under-served, as well as be a space where indie filmmakers can earn with their creations. By bringing similarly themed content into the same house, I do believe it is much easier for filmmakers to find their ‘audience.’

The forum: This is a space for bloggers, writers, vloggers and the like to pen stories or opinions about all things #WomenKickAss, be it in film, life, history, distribution, men who support women, and film reviews, both indie and studio. The topic range is wide, and the focus … like everything we do – places women front and center. The forum is also very young. We are still seeking contributors on this front as well.

For those who aren’t social media savvy, what is the Artemis #WomenKickAss Twitter Party?

For about three years, we’ve done a weekly, themed #WomenKickAss Twitter party, which is a live conversation on Twitter at a specified time, and each week, we pick a topic. Subjects range from badass women of film to female comics or musicians, the Olympics, women in the military, women inventors, women in history, kick ass writers who pen kick ass female protagonists, and parties in support of crowd funding campaigns that fit into our paradigm. We bounce around lots, but the topic always celebrates some form of female empowerment – physical, intellectual, or emotional.

All those who wish to participate in the party use the hashtag #WomenKickAss in their tweets. By using the hashtag, all of those tweets form a ‘conversation’ that can be funneled into a running conversation by doing a hashtag search (on, you guessed it! #WomenKickAss) on Twitter (right in the average search field). All the tweets with the hashtag show up, and the conversation happens. It’s certainly a Twitter experience that is like bending the time-space continuum for answering and reading the myriad of lightning fast tweets flying all over the place. It’s very lively, fun, funny, inspiring, and many times, amazingly educational. Who knew you could use Twitter to learn?

Since our last edition (April 2018), we have not yet returned to our weekly ritual. It’s the first break we’ve taken since February of 2015 when we started them. The twitter parties are quite a bit of work and prep – I think they went over so well because we spent lots of time learning subjects, preparing graphics, and then forming that into a base for a conversation to occur. I do hope we can find the resources to return to them as they create a wonderful space for community on Twitter.

Many of our members are interested in moving into the action genre. What do you think makes a successful director-stuntperson/coordinator relationship?

Since our Co-Founder Zac Baldwin has much more experience on this subject, I asked him to answer this question. And Zac says:

“Obviously, every director is different. Some like storyboards, some build miniature versions of a potential set, others just like to talk about the vision and let DPs, actors, stunt coordinators, be inspired to create that vision. Some follow the script while others think it is just a springboard. Some like to collaborate and inspire while others prefer the ‘just-do-what-I-tell-you’ method.

Ultimately, however you work, it is a similar relationship as with the DP – the director communicates the overall vision to the DP; the DP then collaborates with technical expertise to bring the vision to life. And you must choose your DP with care. The same holds true with your stunt team.

The trick is to look at it like any other production piece being used to create the film (the aforementioned DP, costume designer, set designer, etc.) and focus on getting the stunts to have the impact (pun intended) desired.

I have suggested to newbie directors that taking acting classes, writing classes, etc., helps one be more well informed, aware, and empathetic of the jobs they are tasking others to do. Specifically for directing action, take some basic stunt classes – basic falls or stunt driving will help. While you may not have any experience at a 30’ high fall, you’ll still have the proper respect for the stunt. If you have no experience with stunts, you’ll have no idea of what you’re asking from your stunt performers and/or coordinators or proper respect of the risk involved. You really have to build a team where the communication is wide open. Stunts are dangerous and must be incredibly well planned.

With stunts, I like to work with coordinators who want to make things look fantastic while keeping the danger factor as limited as possible. Trust, open communication, and being comfortable asking them to go beyond, yet not too far. Also, be comfortable with the fact that what you see in your ideal vision may not be possible with the scope of resources set for the project. Sometimes the gag is just not possible to do safely without proper resources, and sometimes it’s just not safe to do. And as a director, you’ll be tasked with coming up with another way to do a particular action sequence to get the emotional impact you’re seeking to deliver. Easy as inhaling a piano, but a hoot to try and the results are worth it.”

What are some common mistakes first-time action directors make? Any advice on to avoid those mistakes?

With the idea that creating is a film a double tough task, and then if you add the challenge of creating that film with a low, micro, or no budget resource base, you’re asking for the moon. It’s truly a miracle that indie films get finished. If you’ve put one in the can, consider yourself blessed.

I do see lots of avoidable mistakes. And I’d say these are the most common:

If you’re an indie filmmaker, when you craft your budget, it should contain more than the costs for creating a film. Finishing a film is not the finish line. Go further to include a budget for entering film fests and marketing your film; consider your vision for where you think your audience lives and have the resources (capital) to find them. Always have a contingency line item – there will be something you don’t think of (no matter how much you plan) and you’ll have the more means to get it done.

ALWAYS have excellent poster art; shorts are no exception. Poster art is the ‘face’ of your film. It’s called poster art – not word art. Dispense with too many laurels, get rid of extraneous text, and make sure you have compelling art (not just a screengrab from your timeline unless you have some truly stunning, high concept screengrabs) and a great title treatment. The poster should grab your potential audience by the lapels – it MUST communicate something and be high concept enough to create interest. Don’t come to the fest run table without a fantastic poster.

Specific to fight action: camera angles are critical to fight scenes. You can have perfectly performed stunts that just don’t sell because the camera angles are not well chosen. When stunts are eroded by poor camera placement, you rudely kick your audience out of the story. In terms of low budget action, most will have fight scenes as they are more doable stunts without a mountain in resources. Those scenes must be choreographed and rehearsed to a T long before you’re on set. We’ve gotten really great films and the action sequences just didn’t work. They planned the hell out of every aspect of their film, save the action. And that shows in the final product.

On the marketing front, social media is an indie filmmaker’s P&A. If you make a film but find you don’t have the time or interest (perhaps you should reconsider being in film if this is the case) to go find your audience and you haven’t budgeted for marketing it (being able to pay someone to do the job), you’re pretty much dead in the water. Before you shoot frame 1, you really need to dissect and identify who you think your target audience is, why they’ll be interested in your film, and how you’ll grab their attention – and your target audience will NOT be ‘everyone ages 18-45.’ By the time you get to needing or wanting distribution, you’ll be well poised to conquer this hill. Film is a business. Creating a film is a creating a product. You can have the very best product on the face of the planet, but if you don’t plan for marketing and distributing it, it will have no business life (success). In our current climate, distributors expect filmmakers to have built their own fan base. Many times, having a good, solid fan base will be the difference between getting distro or not.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers/members to know?

Oh God!! I’ve already said too much!!!

We can be found here:

Twitter:  @ArtemisPics
Facebook: @ArtemisMotionPictures
Instagram: @ArtemisMotionPics



About Alliance of Women Directors

Alliance of Women Directors fosters a community of professionals to advance the art, craft and visibility of women directors in film, television, & new media.

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