Let’s Just Talk About the Craft
Stop focusing on being a “female director” and start focusing on just being a director. A Conversation with Alia Ashkenazi.
Alia showed up on my discovery Instagram page about a month ago. Alia is a very fashionable human, and being a fashion enthusiast myself, I wanted to follow her. It was a pleasant surprise to find that she was also someone involved in the film industry.
Alia Azamat Ashkenazi wasn't always involved in the silver screen business. She is first and foremost a writer. Her first writing job in her mother country of Russia was at age 12 creating columns in a sports magazine. She remembers when she submitted a piece to her Editor, who barely changed a bit of the text. She was thrilled and when she received her check, she celebrated like any kid would; she bought three burgers, big thing of fries and a coke at McDonalds.
A bit later down the road she became a published poet. She had a fan base, and even had public readings on a few stages. In her poetry she found herself focusing on "what happened" and "what's the conflict" rather than going all William Butler Yeats on all her poetic work. Making her more of a storyteller. She entered the industry in 2008 as a writer-director for the United Nations in Moscow.
When she moved to the States in 2014, our Anna Akhmatova found herself wondering what she was going to do to earn a living in a country that she was just starting to master the language of. Enter Screenwriting. She saw it as an opportunity to still tell her stories, and get paid to do so.
A job Alia found herself in a lot, as well was Script Supervising. She loves it and has worked on many sets doing so. She believes it is the most under-appreciated position on film sets, the job receiving little respect from other crew members based off of them not know what a Script Supervisor does.
The word respect, this leads to what I reached out to talk with Alia about: sexism in the industry towards women. How she responded turned the article on its head and her reaction started a new conversation.
"I’ve never encountered misogyny or sexism myself, but I’m a lucky person. I’ve seen some filmmakers being dismissive towards women on set, but I think in those particular instances it came from them just being ungrateful assholes, not sexists. That doesn’t cancel other women in [the industry's] stories of course... all I wanna say that it’s always about balance. You have to surround yourself with people who believe in you, be that men or women. I was fortunate enough to work with men who always uplifted me, always supported me. Any filmmaker must find those people, and hold on to them. Just do your job well, the right people will appreciate that," Alia told me.
She then expressed to me that she believes people need to stop focusing on putting the "female" in front of all those jobs. Female director, female writer, female grip, and so forth and so on.
"Kathryn Bigelow is a filmmaker who tells stories few men have balls to tell. She makes the most honest and brave films, and the last thing I care about is her being a female. I wish the time will come, when we wouldn’t highlight a director being a woman, and judge them as a filmmaker first."
She wishes people would talk about the craft more.
"Let's talk about the craft. Let’s discuss creative decisions, the ways to learn more, and elevate our skill levels. Let’s analyze mistakes and successes. Let’s be hard on ourselves, for that is the only way to grow."
I am based in Atlanta at the moment, and I have found with other women that they see the film industry still a boys club. The entertainment industry in general can be seen as that. Go all the way back to the Elizabethian era. Though their monarch was being played by a Queen on the world stage, on the wooden one, women acting was seen as inappropriate and was illegal for a long time in England. Female roles going to prepubescent boys.
"The dry numbers do state that the majority of people working in film are men. I see that imbalance on some sets, and don’t see it on others. It’s about how you adjust to it. Joining the boys' clubs was always compelling to me, as I like disruption in general," expressed Ashkenazi.
Alia then had some thoughts on the accusation that women are being oppressed more than most in the industry.
"People are oppressing people in this industry. Film business is harsh, it breaks you very quickly. I would say it’s more about your personality and less about your sex. If you’re cut for this, you’ll survive and make it, if not—it’s not JUST because you’re a woman."
She sees that since the creation of the #TimesUp movement, there was an uptake in numbers for more production companies to be willing to hire more females. Alia is a tiny bit wary of this. Thinking this surge may be more due to trendiness, she waits to see if it will keep up two years from now.
"I do not think the gap in the independent film world is that bad, I think the big gap exists in a commercial and studio world. There are not enough female professionals getting hired for highly paid positions like Directors or Cinematographers. For some reason people with money still don’t trust women. I absolutely love and support what Alma Harel does with Free The Work. Let’s just start getting paid for our hard work, right?"
Alia is making her debut as a [ narrative film ] director, she just wrapped up filming Esther's Choice, which she also wrote and produced. The film stars Emma Orelove, François Arnaud and Mary Leest and explores love, artistry and inspiration. When she isn't working she loves exercising, walking, cooking, and meeting new people. "I never stop my research and other people are my strongest inspiration source."
She believes that New York crews are what really makes the TV show and film industry the best in the never-sleeping state.
"New York crews. They mean business, they do not whine, they just do it. In New York, you sit at a coffee shop, and you see an architect, a student, a banker, a dancer, a criminal, a teacher, and a spy… in LA, everyone is “in the business,” every cat on the street is SAG, which makes people lazier in my opinion. In New York, a good crew member is highly valued and appreciated."
Alia encourages all to talk about the craft and not what gender of the human welding it is, and to always "Protect your vision."
To keep up with Alia’s film please follow the instagram @estherschoicefilm