March is Women’s History Month, and as the Georgia film industry continues to grow, it is becoming clear that it is not just a man’s world. One Savannah organization, Savannah Women in Film & Television (SWIFT), is blazing a path for women to not only break into the film industry but to thrive in it.
SWIFT is an organization of professional women working in the entertainment industry and is a chapter of Women in Film and Television International (WIFTI).
“SWIFT was started by Beth, Karla, Marian, and me over a glass or two of wine,” chuckled Judith More, president of SWIFT.
The organization began 10 years ago with More, a costume designer and wardrobe supervisor, Beth Nelson, the former director of the Savannah Regional Film Office, Marian Green Hofstein, a stunt coordinator and producer, and Karla Walker Schindler, a set designer.
“We decided we needed to bring the female filmmakers of Savannah together to showcase what we could do. We had all experienced the disdain of Hollywood crews,” said More.
Not only has the group been showcasing what they do to the group, but they have also been showcasing it in the workforce.
“I joined for networking opportunities, and the dues were affordable. Being a mother with six kids, some of the groups and unions cost a lot more. SWIFT was a way to network with other women and learn from the film industry,” said Genevieve Hawkins.
Hawkins is one of SWIFT’s board members and has served in various production roles over the course of her career, including most recently as Location Coordinator for ARRAY’s “Origin,” the project directed and written by Ava DuVernay. She is currently holding the same position for the upcoming TV show “Clean Slate.”
SWIFT meets once a month on the third Sunday of each month. The meetings are used to network, catch up on projects people are working on, and receive knowledge and advice from industry professionals from different departments in the film industry.
“We have had the magnificent Sandy Powell, who is one of the best costume designers in the world. We’ve had a fantastic unit production manager Cyndi Brenner speak, and we’ve had the brilliant Deborah Riley Draper, who is the writer and director of a film called ‘Olympic Pride, American Prejudice’ and more,” said More.
Meetings are open to working crew members in the film or television industry. You do not need to be a SWIFT member to attend your first meeting, but they ask that by your second meeting, you become a member.
“When I first moved here from Los Angeles, I knew there was a lot of talk about Savannah becoming an area where movies and TV shows were being filmed and produced. When I first looked into it, I didn’t have anybody to reach out to gain this information,” said Nikki Green, a SWIFT board member.
Green, a director, writer, and producer and owner of Cali Reign Production, also recently worked on “Origin” and is now directing the feature film “The Eighth Round.” Green found SWIFT after a Google search and reached out to the group before attending her first meeting.
“It doesn’t matter what your position is, whether you are a production assistant, whether you are a costume designer, whether you’re a producer, as long as you have two professional credits, you are able to join,” said Green.
Even those who do not have the experience just yet can still join SWIFT as a junior member. This way, it gives all women new to production and interested in production the opportunity to explore it while receiving training and mentorship.
“Film is very much a word-of-mouth industry. We offer mentorship on how to do your resume, different departments in the industry, how to get into the union, finances or do investing, retirement, and more,” said Hawkins.
Earlier this month, on March 8th, International Women’s Day, filmmakers, producers, entertainment executives, and government officials gathered in Savannah, Georgia to celebrate International Women’s Day and honor the organization SWIFT.
The theme was ‘Embrace Equity,’ and the Savannah Regional Film Commission, Savannah Film Alliance, Georgia Production Partnership, and Georgia Entertainment News joined together to honor women in entertainment at the event held at Collins Quarter in Forsyth Park.
“We were very honored to have stakeholders in the industry from all over Georgia and as far away as California attend this very special event,” said Randy Davidson, President of Georgia Entertainment News.
Speakers included Judith More of SWIFT, Charles “Bo” Bowen, founder of the Savannah Film Alliance, LaRonda Sutton, co-president of Georgia Production Partnership, and Bert Brantley of the Savannah Chamber of Commerce.
“I was on the board of Women in Film and Television US at the time when Savannah asked to charter its chapter. The fact that there’s an opportunity for women in film here in Savannah is great because it is a booming market, and Georgia is the number one place to live and work in terms of filming entertainment, and we want to keep that,” said Sutton, who was happy to attend the event honoring SWIFT and their work.
Beyond the film work, SWIFT has also been giving back in other ways to the community. At the event, More spoke about their initiative to support Union Mission’s Parker House, including recognizing board members in attendance.
Union Mission’s Parker House is Coastal Georgia’s only facility solely dedicated to providing emergency housing and comprehensive services for unaccompanied women experiencing homelessness.
“Parker House is one of our latest partnerships. Every year we try to give back to a nonprofit organization or some type of female-based organization that is supporting women. We’re putting together something for them to support the good work they are doing in the community,” said Green.
Many at the event also honored Erin Fraser, the recently appointed Executive Director of the Savannah Regional Film Commission who passed away unexpectedly on March 3.
Fraser, a veteran in the entertainment industry, got her start in entertainment production as a senior assistant to Lorne Michaels, creator of “Saturday Night Live,” where she helped in the development and launch of “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” as well as working on “Wayne’s World 2,” “Tommy Boy,” and “Black Sheep.”
Memorial services in Savannah and New York will be announced at a later date.
With the support of the Savannah Regional Film Commission, various unions, and other organizations, SWIFT is continuing to grow its roster and the workforce of women and anyone who identifies as a woman in the film industry. Nurturing many to take on an industry where equity has not always been balanced.
You can find out more about joining SWIFT at savannahwomeninfilm.com