Los Angeles, CA, August 13 – Physical Production, often overlooked as a less glamourous part of filmmaking, is a cornerstone of creating in film and TV. Based on feedback by alumni of prior cohorts, a new one-of-a-kind session was held as a part of RespectAbility’s third annual Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities this summer. Barriers abound for disabled creatives craving a career in production, so opportunities to speak about how to form and break into production crews is a special treat.
Participants first welcomed Lisa Peters, a Physical Production Executive for Documentary Features, Shorts, and Limited Series at Netflix. Peters previously has managed projects for BET, TLC, Discovery, BBC, and Oxygen and is on the advisory board of Hue You Know, a community for BIPOC people in media. Starting her journey to television through news at World News Tonight with Peter Jennings as a desk assistant, Peters spoke about her evolution in the world of production after realizing, “news isn’t really it for me in terms of no one looked like me that was telling the stories. No one cared to hear about the stories that I wanted to tell.”
Changing who is in the room to tell stories is a pivotal role that Peters has been able to create across the industry. “One of the most brilliant things about TV, in this industry you don’t have to have a set background to be successful at these jobs at all,” she said. “It’s more so about, you know, your tenacity and how quickly you learn and are you inquisitive, as opposed to, oh, I have a degree in this thing.”
For disabled individuals, atypical educational and career paths are common and often intersectional. Not only recognizing but validating unique experiences and individual stories is where Peters sees the industry growing. Regarding her own experience watching the Small Acts series on Amazon and its honest portrayal of Caribbean and West Indian people, she said, “There’s so many things that we are seeing now that people talked about for years and they didn’t think would ever happen and they’re happening. Like you are seeing things that are amazing.”
Stressing that the finish line is not here yet and “we have work to do,” she left participants with a call to action. “I really believe that the world is opening up in different ways and unless we’re keeping to it, we’re never going to see it. Like here for everyone doing your thing and really just putting it out there and being proud about it.”
The Lab then welcomed Director of Photography, Julie Kirkwood. Kirkwood’s journey into film and TV began with her first film, Come Nightfall, a selection at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. Her work since has been shown at festivals around the world. She is known for cinematography work on the dark crime film Destroyer starring Nicole Kidman, the horror film The Blackcoat’s Daughter starring Emma Roberts, and on an upcoming series called Archive 81 at Netflix, and Yellowjackets at Showtime.
When she is not onset, Kirkwood works with eight mentees from the #StartWith8 Hollywood program, which focuses on advancing the careers of women of color in the film and television industry. While she enjoys mentoring, she stressed the importance of relying on collaboration with peers as well. “I can help guide you with things,” she says regarding those mentorships, “but the people who are starting out with you are just as valuable, in different ways.”
Collaborative peers are the heart of the production side of the industry for Kirkwood, encouraging participants to always be looking for them – especially when coming from an underrepresented background.
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.