Byline: Mandy Ellis
Jumping from atop buildings, kicking the tar out of superheroes, and setting herself on fire, award-winning filmmaker and stuntwoman America Young still finds time to run The Chimaera Project. The co-president and founder works alongside Shana Betz and Cheryl Bookout to craft creative programs to empower filmmakers who identify as female. She encourages leadership through an inclusive model, and awards funds to women directors and organizations that power up parity and diversity.
EMINUTES, who recently donated to The Chimaera Project’s To Get Her program, spoke with Young about how one-of-a-kind panels, workshops, and script readings can make a difference in Hollywood, why they fight for filmmakers who identify as women and inclusion, the critical nature of finishing funds, and the landscape of women in action films.
Since 2012, The Chimaera Project has been working hard for changes for filmmakers who identify as female. What shifts have you seen in film in the last 10 years, and what changes do you want to see in the next 10?
The shift I’ve noticed is just in the last couple of years, people have really put their money where their mouth is and outwardly made statements like, “We’ll be hiring 50 percent women or people of color,” and been sticking to it. The awareness has been there, but the shift in perspective that it’s wrong is new. Everyone’s always known that there haven’t been a lot of female directors and not a lot of women making these movies.
Because, unfortunately, it’s the ideas that women don’t make movies, women don’t write, don’t do comedy, don’t do action, don’t do Sci-Fi, don’t direct. And it’s only been in the last maybe five years where people think, “Maybe we should change that.” There are studios making a concerted effort right now to hire as many women as possible, and the hope is the momentum continues and we get to 50 percent parity.
In what direct ways does The Chimaera Project empower and support filmmakers who identify as female?
One of the things we’ve noticed that’s most lacking is the amount of money that’s given to women or female filmmakers for their projects. Our main goal is to give them money and the best resources we possibly can to help them. We’ll be fiscal sponsors who are raising money, which isn’t necessarily giving them money, but helps them raise more money. We have a Sci-Fi incubator we’re working on, which not only develops the Sci-Fi and comic book IP created by women directors, but also gives them a calling card to show that they’re able to work in that space.
Our hope is to fund women so they have calling cards, start funding films to help women get their projects made, and help get them on platforms so they’re seen. Everything we’re doing is to get them in the game and have everyone to see their work.
Walk me through the opportunities for women in action projects. What do you have that shows the growth of women in the action sector or how much room there is for females to claim film spots there?
There has been a bit of change, but very little. There’s Patty Jenkins and the woman who directed The Old Guard. It’s a really small number, especially when you’re talking about big budget films. We did a workshop that was action for female filmmakers, with women filmmakers and stunt coordinators. And we talked them through all the language, what to expect, how to shoot a fight, how to talk to your stunt coordinator, how to maximize things so they can feel the confidence of having worked with it. We’re doing whatever we can to help women feel comfortable saying, “Yes, I’ve had some training in that space.”
How do your core projects change hiring practices in Hollywood? How do the panels, screenings, and gender-flipped screenplay readings make a difference for the film world?
It all starts with the conversation and I’ve been in the room when hiring practices have been on the table, and I’ve said, “Oh, could that be a person of color playing that role? Could that be somebody with a disability? Could that be somebody who is of a fluid gender?” And those questions, the more you talk about them, the easier they are to ask.
Something like Flip the Script, the reason we love that so much is it’s really fun. Everyone loves to see their favorite scripts read, but we’ve found the conversations that follow are eye-opening. Like we did Flip the Script with an episode of Supernatural at Comic-Con where all the main series regulars are blonde hair, blue eyed, white dudes; they’re supposed to be brothers, which is why it works. But it was shocking, even to me as someone who’s trying to make change, how uncomfortable I was when it was all women or women of color reading because I’m not used to it. And it offered a fascinating conversation.
How does The Chimaera Project specifically fight for diversity, equity, and inclusion? What initiatives have you put in place to ensure you’re helping underrepresented voices?
We always ask the question, “Who are we not seeing?” When we’re looking at our semifinalists for To Get Her, we see who’s not there. We’re trying to widen our net as much as possible. Diversity and inclusion are some of the most important things for us, but our main gemstone is those identifying as women and diversity is part of that. So our first question is 50 percent female parity, then what are the levels of diversity?
We have a mandatory requirement that whoever we’re helping, the films have to have a 50 percent female crew. And we hope to have women in front of the camera as much as possible, but our main focus is the women behind the camera. When we’re going through submissions, we’re thinking how many people of color are in that crew? How many people see color in front of the camera? How many women? It doesn’t matter how good someone’s movie is. If it was an all white crew with only 10 percent women, they don’t necessarily get our funding.
How do your mentorship and finishing funds help female films, and female action films, get made? What do they provide that filmmakers who identify as female can’t get elsewhere?
The most important thing about the finishing funds is that so much crap happens in the course of making a movie and post production. And what’s so surprising is a little money goes a long way. The stamp of approval by an organization helps them get their calling card and with festival submissions.
One of the filmmakers we helped with finishing funds is one of the most visionary filmmakers and after she got it, she said, “I’m so grateful to you because my only option left was to pillage my kids’ college funds and we’ve already done our house’s second mortgage.” And her film was breathtaking and groundbreaking and it wouldn’t have gotten made because she had to put a line in the sand for her family and would have had to wait on finishing.
In terms of mentorship, we’re going to be launching a one-on-one program this year almost like a matchmaking situation where a certain number of mentors and filmmakers can apply. Mentors will select the ones they feel they match with most, then mentees can sign up for a certain number of recurring meetings and conversations.
Our hope is finding busy, incredible filmmakers who are willing to mentor and get them to sign up, then we’ll do introductions. The other reason why we’re creating this pipeline is so we can find people who maybe aren’t Steven Spielberg level, but are working. They have amazing feedback and experiences, and can still relate to your struggles and give you viable advice.
Why is it important to support programs like The Chimaera Project?
There’s that saying, “You can give someone a fish or teach them how to fish.” I think we should do both, and through entertainment, that’s the way you can make lasting deep change. Entertainment is a luxury, and that’s why we have the power to make the most change is because people don’t realize they’re being taught something. People don’t realize they’re being, hearing, experiencing a different world. They’re watching a fun show about political intrigue with a female president, but they’re starting to get used to seeing a woman in the Oval Office. The power of entertainment hasn’t always been used for good, but that’s where we come in.
How does the EMinutes sponsorship impact The Chimaera Project? Any upcoming plans for the sponsorship?
It’s going to our most prized program, To Get Her, because it’s where we’ve seen the most concrete, powerful change. The films we’ve supported have gone on to be on PBS and one filmmaker got a docuseries while another won the LA Film Festival and was hired for another feature. And yet another filmmaker used their film to get into a directing program for TV.
We’ve been collecting those stories so we could help support filmmakers and also brag about how we’ve been able to help them; we’re so proud of it. That’s what the partnership is going toward is To Get Her so that there’s a concrete way of seeing the improvement that this money can actually make.
When you’re not “kicking the crap out of superheroes,” performing stunts, setting yourself on fire, or working on film and video game projects, who are you and what are you doing? And what’s your favorite film you’ve directed?
Shana and I both have three-year-old girls who every time they see each other are best friends and both have incredibly amazing supportive husbands. We’re moms. And my favorite film that I directed that you can watch is, The Concessionaires Must Die! I love it because it’s an homage to comic books and loving comic books and films.
It’s executive produced by Stan Lee. But what I really love about it is we made it for very little; it was one of the scrappiest, I-can’t-believe-we-pulled-this-off-with-that-amount-of-money productions. It’s a fun slacker comedy and I watch it and think what we could have done if we had a budget. And we could have done more visually, but heart wise, I don’t think we could have done better; I’m really proud of it.
What film, program, workshop, event, or panel are you most proud of?
We’re really proud of the Action for Female Filmmakers program. It was a day long, sold out workshop, everyone was thrilled and it was cool to see women get charged up and feel empowered. And they’ve stayed in contact with us for referrals so I’m able to refer other stunt coordinators that I know will take care of these women. I’m able to promote female coordinators and amazing male coordinators who were supportive of women and get them jobs.
What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers who identify as female?
Do it anyway and don’t listen to them. Ignore that imposter syndrome voice; that’s definitely happening in your head.
BIO: America Young is the co-president and founder of The Chimaera Project, which works to empower filmmakers who identify as female to create and lead, and inspires change with an inclusive model, in Los Angeles, CA. She belongs to Women in Media, the Directors Guild of America (DGA), and Glass Elevator, and won multiple awards including the Humanitarian Award from UCSD for The Chimaera Project.