Q&A: “The Side Project” Creators on Women in Film & Labors of Love


Side projects: who doesn’t have one, am I right?

The creators of The Side Project, a Los Angeles-based screening series that features the side-projects, personal work, and “labors of love” of both established and emerging filmmakers, would seem to agree. Founded by Alison Williams of Raconteur and Joe DiSanto of Therapy Studios, The Side Project is approaching its fourth happening: an evening mixer, screening, and panel discussion on “Women Behind the Camera: Female Creativity in Film.” (The list of panelists is impressive, including the likes of Elizabeth Kilpatrick, VP of Development, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; Maggie Chieffo, General Manager, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls; and Destri Martino, Director/Editor and Founder of The Director List.)

Whatever your particular brand of hyphen may be (writer-director, cinematographer-editor, or any other combo you can dream up), Side Project offers the opportunity to submit, show, or view new work including short films and music videos (there are no genre restrictions,) and to meet and collaborate with other open-minded creatives. In a town where everybody’s hustling a side project, and entrée into legitimately thoughtful and welcoming industry events is hard to come by, the Side Project’s mission feels unique.

We corresponded with Joe and Alison via email about the impetus behind The Side Project, closing the gender gap in filmmaking, and why side projects are characteristically free – both financially and artistically. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


BUILDING BLOCK by Georgia Tribuiani | A short fashion film which will be shown at the forthcoming Side Project
BUILDING BLOCK by Georgia Tribuiani | A short fashion film which will be shown at the forthcoming Side Project

CINEMA THREAD: Side Project began as an informal screening, and has evolved to include, in this next installment, a number of very esteemed panelists. How has side project evolved since its inception? How important is it to you to introduce emerging voices to established professionals? 

ALISON: When Joe and I first developed Side Project, we were both invested in showing work that hadn’t gotten a lot of—or any—attention, mainly because the creators had other primary jobs. (Hence, The Side Project).

Traditionally, talent has been slotted into one box or another: you’re an Editor, or a Director, or a Producer, or a Writer. It’s easy to put people into boxes; it’s harder to break out of them.

We wanted to show work that we knew that wasn’t being seen, both for those people to feel fulfilled creatively, but also with the intention that work-begets-work, that these “side projects”—most of which were personally funded—would translate into actual jobs.

JOE: Our first event was informal. A couple of people at our shop, Therapy Studios, and a few other director friends, had recently completed some shorts. We wanted to have a night where we could get together and watch them. In addition to the people involved in the projects, we decided to invite other clients, friends, and industry folks. The turnout was great, and we realized is that it’s actually pretty difficult for filmmakers to screen their work to a group of industry peers in Los Angeles. There aren’t that many outlets. So we decided to do another one and invite people to submit their films. The response was great. It’s about the community aspect, and supporting fellow filmmakers, as opposed to simply throwing an “event” that showcases talent, but it’s also interesting for the series to evolve and, as in this next one, to include industry dialogue.


CT: I love the Side Project tagline, that so many of us don’t “just head home after work – we’ve got a side project.” Do you think there’s something about “side” projects that free their creators up to make more interesting work?

JOE: I think being freed up to do interesting work is the reason anyone does a side project. Becoming a full time filmmaker is obviously very difficult, so you make a living assisting other people’s work, or doing commercial work. Side projects keep your own passion alive. Often the hope is that your side project will become your primary project at some point.

ALISON: It just takes time to develop a career. There are so many reasons for this—cost, opportunity, developing your craft, and finding your people. I think that, in part, Side Project serves to address the “finding your people” piece. We’re saying, “Try it out on us, we’re interested. We want to see what you made.”

That being said, the work we’ve showcased over the past three events has varied, but it’s all been interesting. Some of it has come from people just starting out, some from better-known directors such as Chris Milk or Kahlil Joseph. Our criteria is that the work revolve around the theme, make a bit of a statement, or engage in parts of the process that might not normally get a ton of attention, like the last event on “Music, Sound, and The Moving Image.”

The audience at TSP's third screening series
A recent screening | The Side Project

CT: I’d love to talk about the theme of the upcoming Side Project. The idea of juggling multiple roles, projects, jobs, responsibilities, and creative callings feels particularly relevant to “Women Behind the Camera.” (The idea of going home after work to work again on a side project has something of a “lean in” feel.) Can you speak to why you decided to have a Side Project devoted to women behind the camera, and what you hope this event will achieve?

JOE: The conversation around the gender gap in the entertainment industry is finally becoming more audible. It’s obviously a critical issue, and one that Alison and I felt strongly about including in the Side Project. Beyond the politics surrounding female representation in film, we also wanted to simply showcase female perspectives in storytelling.

ALISON: I’ve been working in this industry for over a decade now, promoting and talking about all kinds of content with all kinds of companies. And since the very beginning, one of my main questions was, “Where are the female directors?” You look at production company rosters, and they’ll have 30 directors, and 2 of them will be women. That’s not true of all companies, but you still hear female directors say, “I had a meeting at so-and-so company, and the EP said, we love your work, but we already have a female director.” A single female director. That just seems really off to me.

With Side Project, we have the opportunity to showcase female directors and to urge professionals and companies to invest in their talent—that’s what matters. Look at the new initiative from director Alma Ha’rel’s #FreeTheBid, which directly attends to the discrepancy in the bidding process for commercials, or Destri Martino’s The Director List, which is a list of over 1000 professional female directors. [Martino is an upcoming panelist.] Making people aware of the resources is more important to me than just talking about an issue forever. I hope screening some great work and having a conversation with people who care can make a difference.


CT: Wow, #FreeTheBid is incredible. You both work across platforms: can you speak on the underrepresentation of women not only behind the camera in film, but in the advertising industry? 

ALISON: The past few years have really started to bring to the forefront the reality of the gender discrepancy in the industry.  Cindy Gallup has been pivotal in speaking her mind, most recently calling out Saatchi Chairman Kevin Roberts for some unfortunate comments made in a Business Insider article, and the diversity initiative “See It Be It” at the Cannes Lions is a great example of forward movement. There are more organizations and voices than ever before calling out areas of improvement and requesting real change. I feel a very positive momentum that is not about complaint, but rather about acknowledging a problem and taking steps to rectify it.

JOE: I’ve always worked in post-production, so while a large percentage of our work is advertising based, I can’t speak on what’s happening in the agencies or production companies. As far as post-production goes, I think the lack of women in creative positions is often [due to] sexism and stereotyping—men putting other men on the technical paths that lead to the artist positions, and putting women in client service paths that lead to producing. Maybe it’s not deliberate, but it’s definitely a pattern.


CT: What are your criteria in choosing artists/work to feature in Side Project? What can we look forward to seeing at the upcoming screening?

ALISON: Joe and I had a real conversation about what the content was going to be for this next screening—because it was female filmmakers, did it have to be work that focused on “women’s issues”? The answer was no. We want good work, period. Some of the work is from seasoned pros, some is from newbies and a bit raw. Interestingly, though, much of the work does skew towards a more “female” narrative, a female experience. But that raises an interesting question: Will the images and content that we see change as more women are behind the camera, telling stories from their points of view? We’re excited to see.

JOE: To jump off of Alison’s point about a more “female” narrative being present, it was really interesting to watch work within the context of only female directors. The work runs the gamut: darkness, comedy, strangeness, love, sadness…all of it, but I guess assembled together, they create a greater statement. And I think that’s the point. The female perspective needs to be present everywhere for an essential balance to exist in art, commerce, politics, war, peace, everything.


The next Side Project, “Women Behind the Camera” will be held at We Work in Culver City on October 6th. RSVP for entry: http://www.thesideprojectseries.com/events/


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