Listen to this article
Welcome to the Financial Times live web chat with Mary Mazzio who features in our Ten Questions Q&A.
Mary Mazzio, film maker in residence at Babson College in the US, will answer your questions on Thursday, 22nd March 2012 between 14.30-15.30 GMT.
Post your questions now to firstname.lastname@example.org and they will be answered on the day on this page.
What inspired you to get into film making and why did you decide to join Babson College?
I have always been inspired by the power of film – ever since I was a little girl. I remember watching Carousel and finding myself crying, not sure why I cried (I think I was five). Film can be so moving and inspirational and it was for this reason that I decided that if I wanted my work to have impact, film might be the way to go. The other avenue I was considering was a life in politics, which was not particularly appealing…
My first attempt in the film world was writing. I had written a couple of screenplays which featured strong women – women that are not typically portrayed on the big screen (funny, annoying, big-thighed, smart, brash). A couple of those screenplays bounced around Hollywood but were never produced.
That is when I naively thought well, maybe I will just make this happen myself (this thought was the impetus behind my first documentary film, A Hero for Daisy, which chronicled the women’s rowing team at Yale University in 1976, who protested the substandard conditions for female athletes).
As for why Babson? I am so delighted to have been invited to be film maker in residence. My relationship with Babson started when the college commissioned me to produce a film called Lemonade Stories, about fabulous entrepreneurs and the impact their mothers had on sparking entrepreneurial spirit.
Babson is a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity and I jumped at the opportunity to be on the Babson campus and interact with such dynamic students and faculty and staff. Plus, I am a big fan of Len Schlesinger, the president of Babson.
How do you decide on the topics for your films?
Before I start any film, I try to determine what is missing from the marketplace or discussion - what is fresh and new, or what is a fresh and new angle. We have been really fortunate to also time some of our topics to dovetail with a national conversation. For example, A Hero for Daisy, which came out in 2000, addresses Title IX and women’s inequality and a particularly wonderful instance at Yale which had never been told from the vantage of film. No one really knew about this incident – myself included. And my thinking at the time was well, if I didn’t know about this, I’ll bet other people didn’t know about this and might love something to inspire their own daughters to have a voice and to stand up for what is right. Because the story was new, the film attracted lots of press attention.
Our last film, Ten9Eight, featured inner-city kids learning skills to start small businesses (with the net result that those very kids stayed in school because all of a sudden math became relevant, English became relevant, as did all of the basic building blocks of education). The film came out just as the US secretary of education, Arne Duncan, was creating a serious initiative to overhaul the national educational system to prevent the escalating rates of high school drop-outs. Because of this, the film was able to play into a national discussion.
Our current film, The Apple Pushers which is about food access and obesity, is coming out at a time when journalists and thought-leaders are focused on health and the obesity crisis.
But all of the topics for our films are topics which I try to make sure are timely and which can have an impact. Some of the topics I choose and others are topics that others will bring to me and say “what can you do in this area that can have an impact?”
What advice would you give to upcoming film makers?
I would echo what a professor once said to me – for your first film, make that film about something that you care passionately about. The process of making a film is long, hard and expensive – and if you are working on something that is not desperately important to you, the end result might be mediocre.
The second piece of advice would be this: surround yourself with people who can help you, start building relationships with those you can learn from and be prepared to work hard for someone who gives you an internship or other entry level opportunity. If you are asked to get the coffee, make sure to ask who needs cream, what kind of sugar – this may seem ridiculous, but if you are diligent and attentive and detail-oriented and throw yourself into the work, good things will happen.
Finally – never take no for an answer. No is no for that minute, but not forever.
There has been a lot of coverage in the US recently on the lack of inspiring role models in media (I’ve been following the MissRepresentation campaign: www.missrepresentation.org) - what are your thoughts on this? Have you struggled as a woman working in media?
There has been a lot of coverage in the US recently on the lack of inspiring female role models in media (I have been following the MissRepresentation campaign). What are your thoughts on this? Have you struggled as a woman working in media?
Our project, A Hero for Daisy was made to create new role models for a new generation of girls, exactly to your point – that there are very few portrayals of women in the press or media that are positive. A Hero for Daisy went viral (even before Facebook) as that film came out in 2000. It is now in thousands of classrooms across the country and we are delighted that it has been incorporated into curriculum at the high school and collegiate level.
Symposia and events were hosted around the film when it came out, including the NCAA and hundreds of thousands of girls have now seen that film. And anecdotal reports have come into us from girls, from their parents, teachers, coaches – stories which have reduced me to tears. A team, which was struggling with gender equity issues within their own athletic department, wrote to me after I met with these women and their parents to talk about the film and a strategy for creating social change: “We want you to know that Daisy does not just have one hero. She has 45. Here is what we did after seeing your film…”
The day I received that email from a college senior, my hair stood on end – that our film could inspire that sort of action was magic. We also saw dads write in: “My daughter and I have been unable to talk for about two years due to teenage angst. But after seeing your film together, a conversation erupted.” And another: “My overly tall daughter who is on the heavy side saw your film and as she was leaving, we saw her stand up straighter – no longer slouching.”
The real challenge is that so much of what we see in advertisements, in film and television and in the media, paints a two-dimensional portrait of women, largely based on beauty (or someone going nuts-to-the-wall crazy). There is fractional coverage of women’s achievements in business or sport and the women that are heralded are those who are held up for their beauty or looks (most often). On the other hand, magazines that tried to balance the equation (Sports Illustrated Women) went out of business due to a lack of subscribers.
That being said, I have a project in development to continue to address this issue. It will be the next generation of young women who will demand equal coverage in media; equal pay – because it is all about self-esteem and if the next generation can be more confident and assertive and stand up for what is right, we will all be so much the better.
As a woman in media, I have not struggled because of my gender. But that is because I learned a lot of lessons earlier on in my career about how to not be afraid. Feel free to contact me for a longer discussion on this point.
Get alerts on Work & Careers when a new story is published