Hollywood is changing, says Sheila Schroeder, associate professor in the University of Denver's Media, Film and Journalism Studies Department, who uses her academic post to promote inclusivity in the film industry.
The white-boys' club that dominated the industry has been giving way to women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community, who have been garnering Oscars and Emmys this past awards season, in unprecedented numbers.
“For me, we reached the tipping point about four years ago, and we're not going back," says Sheila Schroeder, associate professor in DU's Media, Film and Journalism Studies Department, who uses her academic post to promote inclusivity in the film industry.
Schroeder spearheads Project DU FILM, a mentorship program bringing together faculty, alumni who work in the industry, and students interested in careers in film and television. One of her goals with the program is to provide a platform for diverse voices, "to change the face of film, both in front of and behind the camera."
That includes making movies in collaboration with students. “The stories we’re telling are about the broad spectrum of life we see around us every day," she continues. “I reached out to various students, making a conscious effort to be inclusive of women, people of color, LGBT students.”
The project’s first film was a short, titled "Happy F’ing Valentine’s Day," written by Schroeder and her partner Kate Burns, a story loosely based on real-life events of Valentine’s Day 2015.
After writing the screenplay, “I thought, how I am going to gets this made? And I thought, DU could help with the project," Schroeder says. So she organized the collaboration with students and alumni. “They’re getting work out of it, they’re building a network, and DU students are becoming well known and well respected for being creative and conscientious filmmakers.”
"Happy F’ing Valentine’s Day" premiered last year and has since garnered six awards while playing at more than twenty film festivals across the country. “My students of color, LGBT students and female students are having opportunities that they would not necessarily have in an industry that is skewed straight white male,” she says.
What lessons were learned from this first project? “The best lesson we learned from 'Valentine’s Day' was to surround yourself with good people who share your creative vision and who can enhance it,' Schroeder say. "I was able to hand the script off to the crew and see everybody add their ideas to it, to see this film be such a collaboration, to move away from the auteur theory and to see everybody touch it in a way that makes it better – it was such a gratifying process.”
“It’s my job, both as the producer but also as an educator, to create an environment where people can feel comfortable and collaborate and learn.... It was an amazing learning experience on so many levels for me as a producer/writer," she continues. “I come from the world of independent documentary filmmaking, where you shoot, edit, produce the whole thing." Making fiction movies, which is by necessity a group effort, "has been that collaborative process that I’ve always wanted to be a part of.”
Schroeder and the rest of the Project team are currently in post-production on "Scary Lucy," aiming to finish it by Christmas. They’ll target Colorado festivals, LGBTQ festivals and women-centric festivals with the goal of getting as many students as possible to these events.
In addition to the short, the DU community also produced a documentary about the making of "Scary Lucy."
"The plan is to release that as well. It will be used partly as a marketing tool, but also as a way to show our supporters what it takes to put a film like this together,” says Schroeder.
Schroeder views Project DU FILM as a challenge to the traditional, white-male industry.
"There are audiences out there starving for this content, and we need to keep providing that for them," she continues. “The interesting thing is that research shows that the more diverse your film is, the more money it’s going to make.”
As an educator, she's just as interested in the impact of the project on her students: "The fact that our students and alum are getting work and growing a creative community is hugely satisfying to me.”