Los Angeles, June 24 – Leah Romond has proven herself to be an unstoppable force after making a full transition from litigation to film production. This shift in her career was brought on by a brain injury that affected her work as a full-time litigator in a major Los Angeles firm. Romond is now a successful film producer as well as an attorney. Her latest project, Best Summer Ever, was slated to premiere at SXSW 2020 before the global pandemic hit. Despite this, the film rightfully earned the SWXSW Final Draft Screenwriters Award.
Romond spoke to the newest incoming cohort of Respectability’s Summer Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities during an information session on Physical Production led by RespectAbility’s Senior Production Advisor Nasreen Alkhateeb, as well as Marissa Erickson, both of whom are alumni of the 2019 Lab. Erickson, who worked for Disney as a production assistant for several shorts that premiered on Disney+ earlier this summer, also worked on Best Summer Ever with Romond as a production assistant. “Networking is the key,” Erickson told Lab participants.
Alkhateeb, who opened this session, is an award-winning filmmaker whose work amplifies under-represented. Most recently, she served as the lead cinematographer for Kamala Harris’ VP campaign, and created content for NASA, the United Nations, and the Women’s March. She has interviewed many Lab alumni to create a toolkit on universal design on set. Alkhateeb shared how the Lab community helped her embraced her disabled identity and stressed the importance of relying on your community.
“These are your peers,” she said. “These are the people who will be hiring you. These are the people who are going to grow with you, give you feedback on your content and remember you and pitch you to other people when you cannot physically be in the room. This is the community that is critical to your growth.”
Romond also emphasized the importance of collaboration, speaking about how finding partners can help us all be more successful as filmmakers.
“I had Andrew [Pilkington, writer and producer of Best Summer Ever] as a producing partner, and he could pick up the ball when I dropped it, so it wasn’t a big deal. Working in collaboration is huge in anything that I’ll ever do for the rest of my life.”
Romond knew she was not the same after her injury, which led her to find the support of peers whose strengths matched her weaknesses. Romond emphasized that it is okay to ask for help, especially in this competitive industry.
“Andrew has cerebral palsy, and he is great at all the things that I’m not great at. Like he’s great at using computers and organization, and I’m better at getting people on board, and explaining the goals of the film, and working with the lawyers, and knowing what had to be done, so it was very roundabout.”
Collaboration is especially vital within the disability community as we are forced to overcome many more external obstacles than our nondisabled counterparts.
Romond is fully committed to her work in amplifying disability representation on the big screen. Her dedication to the disability community shows as she continues to pour into the emerging class of filmmakers trying to find a way through this industry. “My one piece of advice about producing is to treat every project like it’s going to be a blockbuster.”
RespectAbility’s third annual Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities brings authentic and diverse portrayals of people with disabilities to the screen by creating a pipeline of diverse professionals with disabilities behind the camera. Participants include people with physical, cognitive, sensory, mental health and other disabilities ranging in age from people in their 20’s through their 50’s. Lab alumni from 2019 and 2020 currently work for a variety of studio partners including Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures and The Walt Disney Company, as well as in writers’ rooms for Netflix’s Mech Cadet, CW’s 4400 and Showtime’s Dexter, among others. Others have had films featured at festivals such as SXSW and participated in additional career track programs including with Film Independent and Sundance Institute.