Alumni working in the entertainment industry dicuss Quakerism's influence on their careers.
When the global pandemic swept the nation last year, the entertainment industry was hit hard. As millions quarantined, movie theaters, studios, and productions shuttered. While artists, producers, filmmakers, and writers continue to face daunting challenges, they have found ways to adapt through digital performances, streaming platforms, and safety protocols to get projects back up and running.
For Alumni Week(end) 2021, a week of virtual events held from May 10-16, GFS hosted a panel, “From Page to Screen,” with several graduates who are helping shape the entertainment industry by adhering to Quaker principles. Moderated by filmmaker (and GFS film teacher) André Robert Lee ’89, the virtual discussion included Polly Auritt ’99 (head of development at Unicorn Island Productions), Reiss Clauson-Wolf ’09 (writer), Katie Low ’08 (animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios), Dan Shotz ’95 (TV/film writer and producer), and Willa Slaughter ’08 (assistant to Lorne Michaels).
When asked how the Quaker testimonies show up in their work, the panelists had an intriguing array of answers, from diversity and inclusion to storytelling and interacting with coworkers. Shotz, who has worked on films like National Treasure and the television shows Black Sails and Jericho, discussed the ability to listen, a skill he learned during Meeting for Worship. Slaughter talked about her time working as Lorne Michaels’ assistant at Saturday Night Live. “On SNL, it takes a lot of people to make the show happen. The idea of finding the Light within each person correlates directly to my work. Every single person has equal importance in putting the show together and everyone needs to be appreciated and treated with respect.”
Writer Clauson-Wolf approaches the testimony of integrity from a storytelling perspective: “When you’re writing characters, some of them are going to be villains. You need to be able to feel empathy towards people whom you don’t agree with and tell their story fairly. GFS teaches that from a very young age: see things from others’ perspectives.”
The panelists also acknowledged a shift in diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism in their field. “At Disney, I’m proud that employees strive for authentic representation,” said animator Low. “Disney has a long way to go with job opportunities, especially behind the camera. For the first time, our studio recently hired external directors from Iran, South America, and the Philippines. It’s great to see that dedication to getting new voices in the room.” Low has worked on projects such as Frozen 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet, and volunteers with Rise Up Animation, a movement focused on increasing representation and helping diversify talent in the animation sector.
Part of the need for diversity comes from the stories themselves. Shotz recently worked on the television series See, starring Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard, which he produced for Apple TV. The show’s premise involves humans who have lost their sense of sight. “We wanted to be sensitive stepping into this world,” he explained. “How do we cast authentically? There aren’t many actors who are blind and, too often, they don’t have casting opportunities. Blindness has been portrayed incorrectly in film for a very long time. We wanted to make this essential and have inclusion. You have this intense responsibility to represent people correctly.”
Auritt ’99 agrees with the continued need for authentic and inclusive representation in the industry. “It’s been interesting to see this huge push for diversity in Hollywood. They finally realized there’s such an underrepresented audience out there. The industry is catching up. There’s still a lot of tokenism, but we’re trying to break that.”