Lisa Giles of Richmond Film Network: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker
Be “in the world.” People tell me all the time what they want to do, then don’t do anything to get there. They don’t go to film festivals. They don’t submit to auditions. They don’t go to networking events. They don’t attend workshops. They don’t practice their craft. They don’t immerse themselves into the world that they want to be in. How do you expect to be “in the world” if you don’t put yourself in the world?
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lisa Giles.
LISA GILES is the founder of the Richmond Film Network — a database of visual media creators who connect via app and at in-person events to support each other’s goals and projects — and its flagship Short Film Series, which brings together innovative, independent storytellers and discerning audiences for its monthly program of short films, compelling moderated filmmaker Q&As, and intimate engagement between artist and audience. Lisa is also the producer of the Richmond 48 Hour Film Project, part of an international filmmaking competition that takes place in over 100 cities around the world, and the Richmond 48 Hour HORROR Film Project. Giles has been a juror for numerous film festivals including Lunenburg Doc Fest (Nova Scotia), First Glance Film Festival (CA), Red Rock Film Festival (UT), and the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival (NM). She has been an acting coach and talent manager, and has also produced commercials that have aired in the Richmond market. She is an active member of the Virginia Production Alliance and has served three terms on its Executive Board of Trustees. She is also the founder and former producer of the Virginia High School League Film Festival, Virginia’s state championship in film.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
I grew up in Ohio in a family who loves the arts — a grandfather was a professional saxophone player, a father who also plays sax and piano, and a brother who plays sax and piano as well. My sisters sang in the choir. So, I was always around music, and every one of us loved to sing. Ours was also the only house that I knew of that had a VCR player for the longest time when they first came out, so movies were also big in our house. I have been enamored with cinema from the time I was very, very young. And like most of us who dream of being in cinema, the most visible access is through acting. So, high school theater was how I was inducted into the world of entertainment.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I quickly realized in high school that I didn’t have what it took to be an actress. I didn’t have the personality. I didn’t have the discipline to study. I didn’t have the bravery it takes to truly be vulnerable in front of others. Most of all, I didn’t want to be a starving artist. So, being the practical person that I am, I pursued more practical endeavors after high school. Sure things. Things that’d pay the bills. One of those things was being a paralegal for a law firm. Then one fateful day, one of the partners told me he needed to get commercials made. What I did know for certain about myself was that I’m a doer. I know how to get things done. Even things that I’ve never done, I’m very good at figuring out how to get from start to finish with a better than average result. So, I made the commercials. I wrote the scripts. I found a production team. I recruited actors. I found locations. I directed the shoot and post-production. I didn’t know those would my first credits in any of those roles. I was just doing what I was asked to do, and had great fun doing it.
I left the firm to teach high school English where I could be closer to my love of literature. My school had no forensics team, so I started one and coached the students. My strong suit, of course, was literary interpretation (acting) versus the oratory, and that’s where my students excelled, easily capturing local and regional titles, and qualifying for state.
Later, some of my former students weren’t ready to give up on performing and asked for my help. So I became a talent manager of four young adults for a short time.
I left teaching to take a position as the state director over forensics, theater and other arts and academic activities at the state championship level. Several years into this position, seeing a need to create a new state championship in the arts, I took on the challenge of creating, developing and producing Virginia’s state championship in film, only the third of its kind in the United States at the time. One of my guest panelists in the first festival was the woman who produced the Richmond 48 Hour Film Project. A couple years later, she was ready to give up the 48 and asked if I’d take it over. I did and still produce it six years later.
The 48 is a major catalyst for getting new filmmakers from hobbyist to independent filmmaker. And year after year, I am inundated with referral requests for different roles in film — editors, gaffers, audio, camera operators, and of course actors. It got to the point that I felt I needed a database of this talent so I could be more effective with my referrals. So I created the Richmond Film Network to act as that database and hub for collaboration. Seeing also a need to keep this network engaged with opportunities to connect in person, I created the Short Film Series where filmmakers have monthly opportunities to submit their films for screening consideration, meet the official selection filmmakers, and have meaningful interaction afterward. The first season of the Short Film Series screened 44 films from around the world over seven months.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
I don’t have many funny stories. My interesting story is one about the detractors — those who attempt block you from your goal. Or how the machinations of politics come into play. There will always be forces that attempt to deter you from your course. When this happens, you have to stay focused on the work that you do, those you do it for (including yourself), and those who benefit from it. That’s what keeps me motivated. There are people who count on me. There are people who need and benefit from the work that I do, the opportunities that I create. Why give energy to the haters?
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I don’t know that I have individual stories about interesting people, because they’re all interesting to me. Curating a monthly Short Film Series gives me access to many creators and many films. I am always inspired by their ideas and how they execute them. I am always stunned that none of them seem to know how good they are, how impactful their art is, or how much power they have in their storytelling. And I think that’s why I do what I do… to ensure that those stories get told and those impacts are made.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I think it’s so important for people, especially young people, to be encouraged when they show interest and aptitude in a given area. Consider toddlers who make adults laugh with their antics. When that happens, the toddler keeps doing the behavior that generated the laugh because it makes that toddler feel seen and appreciated and loved. One person who always encouraged me and made me feel seen was my high school English teacher, who was also my forensics coach and theater director, Donald Hitt. Mr. Hitt always presented me with opportunities. All of them. And if I felt one of them wasn’t for me, he showed me others. My experience with him is certainly why I became a teacher and coach, and later state director of activities.
These days, I’m grateful for the brave artists who participate in the 48 Hour Film Project, who submit to the Richmond Film Network Screenwriters’ Labs, and who submit to the Richmond Film Network Short Film Series. They all bravely expose their inner selves through their art and share in ways that I never was able to. They inspire me and solidify my purpose as an arts administrator.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My life lesson is that, “It’s never too late to be what you might’ve been.” All my life, I’ve felt like I was too old to be this or that. Even when I was a teenager! Or I was too introverted. It’s kept me from pursuing goals that I would’ve been expert at by now! People will probably be surprised to learn this, because I am someone who goes for it. And no one sees me as an introvert. But there are definitely dreams I haven’t pursued.
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
In our first season of the Short Film Series, we honored 44 films from around the world. Eight films represented countries abroad from: Iran, India, Norway, France, the United Kingdom and Australia. Here at home, we showcased 17 films from Virginia & DC, six from California, five from New York, two from Colorado and one each from Florida, Tennessee, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Georgia and North Carolina. Nine were by women. Sixteen by creators of color. And six from the LGBT community. We believe in providing a platform for creators across regions, genres, ethnicities, gender and orientation, and in doing so, hope to increase the diversity of future submissions so that all audiences see themselves — and representation of the real world — in our programming.
If diversity is not represented in our media, then whatever is represented is wrongly perceived as being THE thing. THE gender. THE race. THE sex. THE standard of beauty. That only perpetuates hatred for others and for self when you’re the one that’s different.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I just wrapped the Richmond 48 Hour Film Project, to be followed by the Horror Project. Along the way there are Richmond Film Network Screenwriters’ Labs, then in the fall launching season two of the Richmond Film Network Short Film Series.
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
Giving voice and audience to creators makes me proud. There is so much talent that goes unseen, and being in a position to read and give notes on a script if it helps make it blossom makes me proud. Screening a film to an audience that’d otherwise never see it makes me proud. Conducting a filmmaker Q&A and introducing those filmmakers to new audiences makes me proud. Giving an award to a deserving filmmaker makes me proud.
The filmmaker who won Best Screenplay in our first season of our Short Film Series told us that he’d been writing for 10 years and that the award was so gratifying because it was affirmation for all of the time he’d put into his craft. So what, he didn’t win Best Film. He really wanted Best Screenplay!
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Network. There’s a reason why people say in this business it’s who you know. You never know who has a connection that can get you to where you want to go. Go to that event. Introduce yourself to others. Show your work.
2. Stay Grinding. It’s very easy to get “distracted” from your art by work that pays the bills or obligations to the loved ones in your life. Make time for your art. Make it part of your lifestyle, that way it remains a priority.
3. Don’t compare yourself with others. Your journey is your journey. You set the standard for what you want to achieve. If you’re not there. Keep working.
4. Do free work. Sometimes, the most gratifying work comes from free work. Sometimes the paying gig comes from a relationship you built doing a free gig.
5. Be “in the world.” People tell me all the time what they want to do, then don’t do anything to get there. They don’t go to film festivals. They don’t submit to auditions. They don’t go to networking events. They don’t attend workshops. They don’t practice their craft. They don’t immerse themselves into the world that they want to be in. How do you expect to be “in the world” if you don’t put yourself in the world?
When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?
I’ll edit this question to fit me. When I CURATE a film, the stakeholders that have the greatest impact on the selections I make are myself first, and my audience second. If a film doesn’t resonate with me and my artistic vision, then I can’t properly promote it. And it’s incumbent upon me to have a wide range of taste so that I’m accommodating my audience who also has varied tastes.
I once programmed an LGBT film when I knew many members of that particular ticket buying audience were going to be conservative viewers. I could assume that they’d be offended. Or even refuse to attend. But it was a great film that had little to do with homosexuality and more about learning to love yourself. Not only did I program it, but I also featured the artwork — two men kissing — on the event poster. It was an important subject, and the graphic was visually stunning! Needless to say, no one walked out. No one protested. And the film won Best DMV (DC, Maryland Virginia) film for tackling intimate subject matter in such an honest way.
I don’t think I’ve ever even thought about critics or financiers. Good art is good art.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My ultimate dream is to create a space in my community where creators can create and have their creations developed, tested and seen. So, I guess this looks a bit like an independent production company with a theater attached to it. I’ve met so many amazing writers, cinematographers, actors, composers — all looking for their next opportunity to collaborate and create. The positive energy that is generated from creative projects is absolutely invigorating. It’s contagious. One shouldn’t have to go to Los Angeles or Atlanta to find this kind of opportunity, because the seeds are right here in Richmond.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Oprah? Tyler Perry? Of course, they’re legends and a force in the Industry. Reese Witherspoon is kicking ass as a producer these days. Issa Rae. Gina Prince-Bythewood. I love that each of them tells the stories they want to tell and are successful at it. Teach me your ways!
How can our readers further follow you online?
You can find The Richmond Film Network at richmondfilmnetwork.org, on Instagram, and YouTube. And the Richmond 48 Hour Film Project at 48hourfilm.com/richmond and also on Instagram and YouTube. And I can personally be reached at email@example.com.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Lisa Giles of Richmond Film Network: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.