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In Focus: Women Behind the Camera

Commissioner Katherine Oliver speaks to (from left to right) Jendra Jarnagin, Sabine Krayenbuehl, Ellen Lutter, Iris Ng, and Linda Haftel-Taylor at "Careers in Entertainment: Women Behind the Scenes."

March 12, 2009 - Katherine Oliver, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting took the stage Wednesday, March 11 at the Brooklyn Public Library to moderate a panel conversation on “Careers in Entertainment: Women Behind the Scenes.”

Presented by the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting in conjunction with New York Women in Film and Television, the panel featured Jendra Jarnagin, director of photography for Split Ends and “Puppy Love,” a web series; Ellen Lutter, costume designer for movies such as Paul Blart: Mall Cop and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan; Sabine Krayenbuehl, an editor for several highly acclaimed documentaries, including Mad Hot Ballroom; Linda Haftel-Taylor, script supervisor for “Naked Brothers Band,” “Life on Mars,” and “The Unusuals,” among others; and Iris Ng, electrician for films like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Enchanted.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the panel highlighted the careers of these women, and in the words of moderator Katherine Oliver, “put the spotlight on some of the real stars.” The panelists shared the variety of backgrounds, skills, and avenues they took to arrive at such success in the traditionally male dominated fields of the entertainment industry.

Ng was en route to earning her MBA after working as a stockbroker for several years. On a whim, she took a summer film class and, as she describes it, “it was love.” Other panelists knew they wanted to pursue careers behind the scenes from a younger age. Both Jarnagin and Krayenbuhl recognized their passion for film early on and attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts to earn degrees in Film and Television. Jarnagin graduated and worked nearly a decade as a gaffer and electrician while building her career as a director of photography; Krayenbuhl invested her time post-graduation working for established film companies, eventually working her way up to editor.

For Lutter, “collaboration is everything in this industry.” When she realized costume design was her calling, she enrolled in classes on costume design to build her skills and began work as a wardrobe supervisor. In 1998, she began working with Adam Sandler for the movie Big Daddy. This collaboration lead to eight additional Adam Sandler films, including the recent NYC-shot film, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. Collaboration, teamwork, and networking are just as important as the skills you bring to the table, though “it isn’t all about ‘who you know’,” she added. “It’s about making the people you know the people you want to know.”

In keeping with the spirit of Women’s History Month, Haftel-Taylor noted how her job as script supervisor is ideal for women—“because it’s all about the details,” she joked. Haftel-Taylor's work as a script supervisor takes her between the director, the director of photography and editors, working to express what she calls “the language of film.”

Working in a traditionally male dominated field presents some challenges and the panelists were all eager to offer advice. Confidence in yourself, your skills, and your goals are what people in the industry will remember you for. “You just have to get yourself out there and get known!” said Jarnagin. In some cases, all you need is a little perspective to see where you really want to be going. It’s hard, but sometimes “you have to take one step back to take two steps forward” advised Krayenbuhl .

Additionally, they seemed to agree with Ng, that “it’s not necessarily about gender. It’s about who you are as a person.”
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