Now in its 40th year, the AFI Directing Workshop for Women continues to provide opportunities for industry women to become well-versed in the world of directing, and is expanding its program to include episodic development, business education and for the first time, an executive circle of advisors to workshop participants.
“We’ve united all of these studios to help in this mentorship program, and that’s one of the things we’re trying to look at differently,” says Patty West, workshop director, above. “We’ve been trying to set some new ways to get in the game and make change.”
Established in 1974, the workshop “came out of a pretty obvious need at the AFI,” says West, “and thanks to the tenacity of a few women they got started.”
The program selects just eight women each year from a pool of applicants who submit scripts, essays and letters of recommendation for review. The selection process, West explains, is “incredibly hard,” but a necessary factor in looking for applicants who are committed to their careers.
“It’s very competitive when you’re only taking eight women,” she adds, “so we really want people who are continuing to grow.”
“They’re finding people that would cut off their right arm before they’d fail,” says Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, an alumnus of the program. Shapiro has gone on to pitch the film she completed in the workshop as a television show, “Un-real,” which was picked up by Lifetime for 10 episodes.
“It’s been pretty incredible,” says West. “It’s been exciting to grow that and provide more opportunities to keep these women working and supported as they build their careers.”