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Women Making History, Part 2

Panavision’s interview series continues with a focus on the best advice the participants have received.

In this installment of Panavision’s Women Making History interview series, the conversation turns to key advice that has helped guide the participants as they’ve navigated their career paths.

Read the rest of the series here:
Part 1: On the impact of Women’s History Month

Part 3: On mentorship
Part 4: On career highlights
Part 5: On inspiration

Kim Snyder (President and CEO, Panavision): What’s the best advice you’ve received? How has it helped you on your journey?

Polly Morgan, ASC, BSC (cinematographer): I think in the early days, I was hungry and determined and wanted to achieve so much so quickly. I remember Haris Zambarloukos [BSC, GSC] telling me one day, ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint.’ These words helped me back then and still help me today.

Cinematography feels like my life's work, and as I grow and evolve as a human, my work gets more complex and layered. As a storyteller, it's my years living that always inspire my work, and now, being older and having children, I feel like I have grown and changed so much. When you are young, you want everything in a hurry, and now that I am older, I see that as I grow my work grows also.

These words have given me encouragement during difficult times. When you are starting out as a DP, it is hard to find an agent, hard to book the right jobs and work with the right people. It takes time to nourish a career in cinematography, and when things have taken longer than I might have liked, these words have given me support. It is not a career that happens overnight, and it takes tenacity and dedication to stick with it and keep believing that you will make it in the end.

Polly Morgan, ASC, BSCPolly Morgan, ASC, BSC (photo by Manny Duran)

Alice Brooks, ASC (cinematographer): My producing professor at USC said Hollywood is like a massive brick wall. The goal is to get to the other side of the wall. You spend day after day throwing rocks against the wall, trying to break through. It will probably take many years or even decades. Much of the time you will want to give up. But one day you will see a small hole through to the other side. No matter how small the opening, that is the moment you can’t give up and must be more determined than ever. You must throw more rocks even harder because you are closer to breaking through than you think. 

Whenever I feel like things are too challenging or I can't go on, I remember this lesson. It keeps me in the game.  

Victoria Emslie (actor; founder and CEO, Primetime Network): Having always had a very singular mindset and approach to my vocation, I resonate deeply with 'not if, but when.' There is no rush, despite the ever-pressing ageism within our Industry. I know that if I have worked before, I will work again. This belief has helped weather many storms. Also, having a busy mind to carry out other impactful projects in this space has allowed me to stay connected and contributing in a diverse plethora of ways to creating an industry which I am proud and excited to be a part of.

Victoria Emslie
Victoria Emslie (photo by Matt Hass)

Kira Kelly, ASC (cinematographer): There are two quotes that I consider two sides of the same coin: 'Life is a race you run against yourself,' and 'Comparison is the thief of joy.' It's so easy in our industry, especially with social media, to constantly be looking at someone else's career to measure yourself against. That can really do bad things to your self-esteem and blind you to all of the progress you have made and are making in your own. I try to focus on my journey and acknowledge how much I’ve grown as an artist in the last year, in the last 5 years. I then look at where I’ve been stagnant and try to spark something in those spaces. This is by no means easy, and I often do find myself in comparison mode, but I always try to gently nudge my way back to focusing on my own path.  

Amy Vincent, ASC (cinematographer): As a cinematographer: When Bob Richardson, ASC kicked me out of the nest, he told me, 'If your lighting gets too complicated you are f***ing it up!' As a human: Say yes to everything!

Laura Merians Gonçalves (cinematographer): Ellen Kuras, ASC told me a long time ago that it’s a long game, so stick with it. And to always wear a dress on jib days.  

Sandy Ferguson (chief human resources officer, Panavision): I’ve had some great advice from leaders, and I’ve passed this on over the years. Key things like ‘know your audience,’ ‘everyone has a confidant,’ ‘lead by example,’ ‘operate with transparency,’ ‘perception is reality’ and ‘always be prepared’ come to mind. In my role, these have helped me over the years as it is important to remain objective and also to be able to see things from multiple perspectives.

Sandy Ferguson

Sandy Ferguson

Mandy Walker, AM, ASC, ACS (cinematographer): The best advice I received was to follow your passion and don’t be discouraged when someone’s concerned or not used to a woman being the director of photography. Also to be respectful and kind to other crew members, and that the best experiences come from the successful collaborations of all departments.

Terra Bliss (managing director, Panavision UK and Ireland): A few bits of advice I fall back on: Never make a big decision until you’ve had a vacation. A clear mind typically points you in the right direction. Don’t be afraid of making a mistake, there is always a lesson to be learned in there. It is better to be fair than to be right. When someone says something can’t be done, don’t believe them. And ask for help — you can’t do it alone!

Patti Lee, ASC (cinematographer): 'Be a good listener.' When I first started out as a set lighting technician, I learned how to anticipate what was needed by paying attention and listening to the director and DP talk. When filming documentaries, there is no script, and listening informs your shooting. You ‘listen’ with your eyes as well as your ears because you also read body language. It’s made me a more compassionate person and keeps me present, too. I strive to use that advice every day on set and in life, but I’m not always successful.

Patti Lee, ASC

Patti Lee, ASC (photo by Bill Inoshita)

Michele Channer (business development director, Panalux; managing director, Direct Digital and Island Studios): It’s hard to give a specific ‘best’ advice as I’ve received many good pieces over the years. Looking back, I’m thankful and grateful to my father for gently pushing me forwards time and again, and for letting me be heard. My opinion mattered. I had a voice and he encouraged me to use it. His guidance certainly gave me the confidence to put myself forward.

Other good pieces of advice: Change is inevitable. Keep being observant and curious. Listening is an underrated skill, and it's not always the loudest person in the room who has the most important thing to say.

My own advice: Enjoy what you do. Sort out the givers from the takers as work and life are hard enough without carrying others. Most importantly, be true to yourself and your own values. To lead, you need broad shoulders - we don't always get the decisions right, but we are prepared to make them. For that alone I am proud. 

Chris Wairegi (cinematographer and camera operator; founder, 600 Black Women): Don’t lie about what you can do. Someone told me to undersell and overdeliver, and that’s what I try to do. I try not to talk too much about what I’m going to do and just focus on getting it done. I was taught to earn the trust of the people I work with, and that trust is critical to accomplishing any job.  

Mara Morner-Ritt (general counsel and chief compliance officer, Panavision): If you think you understand the problem and the solution, be sure that you can explain them to anyone. If you can’t, you don’t. This has helped me solve problems by ensuring that I break them down into their component parts and don’t overlook anything by relying on jargon or assumptions. In addition, it helps me to communicate the solution effectively to those around me.   

Mara Morner-Ritt

Mara Morner-Ritt

Johanna Gravelle (managing director, Panavision Canada): A wise woman once advised me to always think about the ‘worst-case scenario’ of any given situation, and if you are okay with it, move forward. If you can’t accept that worst-case scenario, make a change. I’ve worked like this my entire career — much to the frustration of some who claim that I overthink — and I believe it has helped me navigate many difficult situations. Sometimes you have no control over the worst-case scenario, but by thinking about it and planning for that outcome, at least you are prepared.  

I also really like 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.' A manager said these words to me when I was in my first management role and, while painful in the moment, it is so true. Some of my most challenging experiences have provided me with learnings that I never would have had without those difficult situations.

Quyen Tran, ASC (cinematographer): My mentor told me, ‘Story first. Always focus on the story. Is it good? Does it speak to you? If so, it's the right project for you.’ Ever since being gifted this sage advice, I've always made it a mission to prioritize story above all else. It has helped me to curate my career by choosing projects that I've connected with in some manner, and by making creative decisions based on story. A project may come along that has an excellent budget, or actors, or producers, but if the story isn't there, it's hard for me to say yes. The opposite is also true, and I'm proud to say that some of my most meaningful projects have been those with tiny budgets but powerful stories.   

Lesley Kantor (chief marketing officer, Panavision): Decision-making is always a hard part of any job. I love the advice I have received around this topic, which is to think through the worst thing that can happen as the result of the decision in front of you, and if you can manage through that outcome, then you will navigate through. It helps take away the feeling that you carry the weight of the world sometimes. It brings decision-making into grasp and allows you to put one foot in front of the other with more confidence.

As a mother, sometimes I also find that the advice I give to my children is the same advice I need to give to myself: No one is perfect. Mistakes are important and give you the gift of clarity. Mistakes remind you that you are human, not a robot. Robots are boring.

Laura Borowsky (vice president, business development, Light Iron): Never take criticism personally, and use it your advantage. Often people hear the cliche ‘constructive criticism.’ These two words can help when it’s being given or received. It can elevate us to be better and conquer our fears in the workplace.  

Autumn Durald Arkapaw, ASC (cinematographer): ‘Believe in yourself more than anyone else.’ If you have confidence in yourself and your ideas, you can achieve your goals. My mother always taught me I could achieve anything with hard work and belief. 

Autumn Durald Arkapaw, ASC

Autumn Durald Arkapaw, ASC (photo by Parisa Taghizadeh)