For 'When We Grow Up,' female filmmakers call the shots

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GHENT, N.Y. — Far from a Hollywood reeling from sexual misconduct allegations, a few female filmmakers have taken matters into their own hands by making their film with an all-women crew.

Motivated by the lack of opportunities for women in the historically male-dominated movie industry, they are determined to change the picture. And they have chosen upstate New York, next door to the Berkshires, to make their mark.

In an old stone house in Ghent, N.Y., perched high on a hill overlooking the Hudson Valley, producer, writer and actor Grace Hannoy found the perfect location for her feature film "When We Grow Up."

Hannoy shot her film — it's in post-production for a 2018 release — in August with an all-women crew — a rarity in the mostly male movie milieu.

"When We Grow Up" is about siblings from a multiracial family — each facing a personal life-changing decision — who return home to console their bereft mother (played by Catherine Curtin of "Orange is the New Black") after the death of their beloved family dog.

The cast and crew from New York City and Boston included several area hires, plus one star-struck local puppy, Luna.

Hannoy, a 2014 New York University graduate, had observed as an actor and writer that women's roles were few and frequently one-dimensional.

"I was tired of asking for permission to work," she explained, "and I decided to give myself permission to do it myself."

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Working closely with producing consultant Molly Pearson, she began developing a script from her own original story. A year later, when the first full draft was complete, Hannoy asked her good friend, Simone Stadler, if she "would be crazy enough" to come on board and co-produce the film. Stadler agreed.

"I was really excited about the idea of us creating our own work and having autonomy over [what] we were doing," Stadler said.

Producing the film themselves meant they could participate at a high level and not wait to creep up the ranks, she explained.

The two met in summer 2014 at the Atlantic Acting School, on Stadler's third day in town. "[Hannoy] was my first friend in New York City," Stadler recalled. "We were both pursuing our own independent professional paths but had a lot of similar frustrations with the availability of working roles for women."

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Both women co-produced, acted in and raised money for this $35,000 micro-budget independent film. Hannoy opted early on to use an all-women crew and creative team, knowing from research and personal experience of the dearth of women in front of and behind the camera.

"It was like, `Where are we?'" she said. "There are so many really talented women."

Often, women are not hired because they lack experience, she contends, without being given opportunities to gain that experience. Additionally, most film crew positions have few female role models to encourage career path choices.

The production received support and encouragement from UPWIFT, the upstate New York chapter of WIFT (Women in Film & Television), a global advocacy organization of female filmmakers.

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Their first hire was Zorinah Juan, making her feature film directorial debut after directing her own short film and documentary projects. As a script supervisor for 15 years on numerous features, Juan could "count on two hands" the female directors she has worked with.

There are assumptive female roles such as script supervision, hair and makeup, she noted, but highly creative, above-the-line positions are dominated by men, with few female heads of departments like electrics and camera.

With her first all-women crew, Juan found the atmosphere of the small team of young women working long, productive days less competitive and assertive. "[They're] doing the jobs of three people with grace and humor," she said. "It's inspiring to me."

Citing her Filipina heritage, Juan noted the project's diversity, from its multiracial cast to an international crew that included Canadian line producer Miranda Plant and Russian Elizabeth Rakhilkina (nicknamed "Rasputin") on sound.

The close-knit neighboring communities of Ghent and Chatham welcomed the filmmakers with open arms, Hannoy said. Melania Levitsky provided her country home as the principal shooting location, and Judy Grunberg opened her Blue Plate restaurant for filming, while Debbye Byrum and Jenn Schober offered accommodations and invaluable local connections.

Many other residents and businesses contributed housing, food, beverages — including locally brewed beer — along with transportation, clothing and set decorations. Flower Blossom Farm even created an elaborate funeral floral arrangement for a deceased dog — it's the film's central premise — complete with paw print-embossed ribbon.

"It's unbelievable how the towns have rallied to support us," Hannoy said, appreciatively.

When the finished film is screened at Chatham's historic Crandell Theatre, area audiences can see for themselves the fruits of that support — and the accomplishments of women on a moviemaking mission.


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