The Empowerment Project: A Film Igniting A Generation Of Girls & Their Futures

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If you have been following GTHQ over the past 9 months you will be familiar with The Empowerment Project. If you haven’t, here’s your chance to catch up! The Empowerment Project is a new documentary currently screening around the country. It was started by filmmakers Sarah Moshman and Dana Cook, two best friends from Chicago who were sick of working in reality TV and wanted to create some positive content for girls.

Sarah quit her job as a producer on Dancing with the Stars (she did 10 seasons!) and Dana took a break from the reality TV show she was working on in Chicago. They decided to launch a kickstarter to raise funds to make a documentary. The idea was they they wanted to create a documentary that would empower other women, and be an antidote to all the rubbish that we see far too much of in the media.

They exceeded their limit, and recruited an all-female crew consisting of Italian documentary filmmaker Vanessa Crocini, popular Youtuber and DP Alana Fickes, production company development manager Ashley Hammen, and Sarah and Dana.

During the month of September 2013 the girls hit the road and traveled across America (from Los Angeles to New York) interviewing 17 women from different industries who are pioneers, role models, activists and inspirations. While they were filming, we were lucky enough to host their on-the-road blog diary which you can read if you search ‘The Empowerment Project’.

Today the film is done and the girls have screenings booked around the country already! Indieflix is their distributor, which means schools, colleges organizations and companies can book through their website and have Sarah and Dana come to speak about the film in person. Before they head out on the road again, we got to chat with Sarah Moshman about the journey of making this film, the Kickstarter process, some surprises that happened along the way, and why this film is going to be important.

Here’s our latest interview:

Give us an update of where the film is at right now?

Well I’m proud and honored to announce that The Empowerment Project documentary is complete! We just finished the film, and I can’t believe it is all done. A year and a half in the making! From Kickstarter, to being on the road for a month, to 6 months of post-production, all somehow fits in the palm of my hand in the form of a DVD. I think I’m still letting it all sink in but it’s such an amazing feeling and accomplishment for everyone involved.

A few cool things happened to you personally and collectively for the film while you were filming, can you give us a brief rundown?

Yes it really felt like all the stars aligned for us when we were on the road, I think all 5 of us were meant to be in that minivan during that month. So many amazing things happened while on the road but two stand out the most. We acquired distribution through Indieflix within the first week of our journey, after meeting with our fabulous Executive Producer Lynn Webb and the CEO of Indieflix Scilla Andreen.

I had made a vision board in a Bettyvision workshop and I put the Indieflix logo on that board because I knew they were a company I wanted to be aligned with. They are so supportive of filmmakers and have a track record of distributing films that really make an impact. And very cosmically, Dana Michelle Cook (producer of the film) and I found ourselves sitting at a table with Scilla, the CEO in San Francisco! We cut together a trailer of the footage we had so far and now we are set to distribute this film with their help and empower girls and boys all over the country and hopefully all over the world.

The second thing that happened was when we were in the last week of the trip en route to Charlotte, NC, to interview the founder of Girls on the Run, an incredible organization that encourages young girls to be their best selves. Dana and I had made a short documentary about GOTR previously and we found out we were nominated for a Chicago/Midwest EMMY AWARD for that film! It was so awesome to be able to share that news with Molly Barker, the founder of the program. And a month or so later, we ended up winning that EMMY with Molly by our side.

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Vice Admiral Michelle Howard was one of the amazing women featured in the film, what did she achieve since you filmed with her?

We chose to interview Vice Admiral Michelle Howard because not only was she the first African-American woman to command a naval ship but she was also the first African-American woman to achieve three star in the United States Military. She speaks so eloquently in the film about the deepness of that responsibility and what it meant to her to be a pioneer and a role model. Her words will stick with you, I promise.

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Michelle has since achieved four stars in the United States Military! She is now the first woman in Navy history to attain the rank of full admiral. We are so excited and honored that we were able to interview her, and we owe that to David Holmes of the Navy and Ashley Hammen on our crew for her persistence and passion!

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People are not only going to see a group of incredible pioneer women across America in the film, they will also see what happened behind-the-scenes with your crew. Why did you choose to include this element?

The idea came from our backgrounds in reality TV, as well as the current social media landscape and how everyone essentially has their own channel. We also knew this would be such a transformational journey for us. Dana and I knew each other for many years and have a strong friendship but Ashley, Alana and Vanessa we barely knew and asked them to take a month out of their lives to take this journey. So it was great to see how our friendships evolved and how each one of us was affected so differently in meeting these women.

All of us brought our own story and experiences to this film, which truly elevated the whole thing. It wasn’t easy to be on camera all the time since we are used to being behind the scenes, but I’m so glad we did because our story and our journey to re-define empowerment in our lives is really the glue that puts the whole film together. Even if we never pressed record on any camera this would have been a life-changing journey, I’m just glad we get to re-live it now for the rest of our lives and hopefully some people find inspiration in our stories, our struggles, and our honesty along the way. It’s a vulnerable thing to do to include ourselves in such a raw way, but I know the film is better for it.

You worked on 10 seasons of DWTS as a producer, successfully raised money on a Kickstarter and are now an Emmy award-winning filmmaker. Has that all sunk in yet?

Yes and no! I think that staying modest and hungry is what will keep me going in this business. It’s of course important to stop down and reflect on your accomplishments which I definitely could use more of – but I want to have a long, full career in television and film filled with ups, downs, awards, premieres, etc and part of that I think is always feeling like there is a new level to hit. Every project I’ve done is infinitely better than the last so I’m excited to see what I can pull off next.

Stepping out of my comfort zone and doing things that challenge and change me have yielded the greatest rewards so far in my career. I take all the great things that have happened to me, and I can see the pattern that hard work and self-discipline has led to all of them. So more than anything, I take accolades as fuel for what’s next and validation that I’m on the right path.

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What advice do you give other women who are stuck in jobs they hate but want to pursue their passion and are maybe afraid?

 That’s the big life question isn’t it? I think we all struggle with this, and I think there’s a different answer for each person. It’s very rare to be able to work full time doing what you love to do and make money doing it. For me it’s all about finding that balance. I can’t work on a show or project I don’t believe in in some way, because I know how much I care and how hard I will work to make it good. I want something in my life to keep me up at night because I’m so excited to wake up and get back to making it happen, and that’s what this film was for me.

Through all the stress and anxiety that comes with making a film, I had a blast living my dream! I think it’s okay to work somewhere you don’t love to support yourself and find your passion outside of work, or on the side. But if it’s a job that absolutely isn’t serving you, isn’t challenging you, isn’t going to lead anywhere you want to go – don’t be afraid to give yourself a chance to see what you’re capable of. You’ll always regret it if you don’t.

The quote that helped me drum up the courage to make this film happen was “Sometimes you climb the ladder of success to find it was on the wrong wall.” And also, the tagline of our film, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail?”

What do you think is the secret to a successful Kickstarter campaign?

Well Kickstarter will always be the most difficult part of making this film, but also one of the most rewarding. We had 404 people donate, and raised over $28,000 in 60 days. We learned so much about marketing, PR and social media – it was a stiff learning curve. I don’t think it’s a secret but if your campaign has a cause and has clear passion you have a much better shot. Products and video games do well because people can buy the item right then and there, but when it comes to something more abstract like a film, or book, etc I think it’s valuable to have a cause associated with it.

When we were on Kickstarter it wasn’t just about ‘Hey give us 10 bucks so we can go make this movie’ It was: ‘Help us empower women all over the country through making this film, which we can’t do without your 10 bucks.’ It’s about helping people see the connection between their donation and the end result. Every campaign is so different, and there is so much noise now when it comes to crowd funding it’s so important to have your messaging set and to think outside the box when it comes to promoting. Find new ways to present the same information – and go out into the world to raise money don’t just sit at your computer. If anyone needs KS tips, I have some typed up and I am happy to share!

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The stats about women in Hollywood is quite dismal, what are your thoughts or suggestions on reaching equality in the industry?

I think there are two parts to this. There is the conscious and unconscious sexism that exists in Hollywood which causes women to not be hired for upper-level positions like director, producer, writer. Hollywood is a boys club and it’s hard for women to break through. I think women have to start to make their own projects that can’t be ignored. I think more women need to write good stories with strong female characters because all content starts with the script. I also think major studios need to establish better mentorship programs as well as make a conscious effort to hire more women especially when it’s a female-driven project.

The second aspect of this is up to us. We need to take more control and recognize the power we have as women. We are half the population and often times more than half of the audience, and statistics show women have the majority of purchasing power in the home – we have to stop supporting projects that don’t help or encourage women. TV and film are completely motivated by ad dollars as well as ratings, clicks, views, and ticket sales. Programs are produced based on audience habits and interests.

Since the beginning of time stories have been told from the male perspective and so as women we are comfortable and used to watching male protagonists and enjoying it. There are so many stories about women that still need to be told. We deserve better than being sexual objects, catty and competitive over a male lead, or ignored all together. So the system needs to shift but also we as women need to take responsibility for our power and impact.

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What are your biggest hopes for this film and the people who will see it?

I hope people who watch The Empowerment Project leave the experience feeling like they can be anything they want to be. I hope it encourages people to be their best selves, that they are enough, and that they can achieve any dream. The film features 17 incredible women from such diverse backgrounds, as well as our journey as 5 female filmmakers, so there is truly something in it for everyone to be inspired by in some way. I can’t wait to see what impact this film will have on peoples’ lives, that will be the greatest reward and glory is to know that what we created can illicit positive change in someone’s life. I also hope this film ignites conversations all over the US regarding women in leadership roles, feminism, empowerment, sexism, and more. I truly want this to be the kind of film that sticks with you, and causes people to examine their own lives.

Which three quotes from the film which have stuck with you?

Vice Admiral Michelle Howard told us, “When you’re in a minority group, you don’t have the luxury of being average.”

Denver Chef Mary Nguyen told us “You don’t necessarily have to find passion in your work, you just have to find passion in your life. But know that if that passion is your work it becomes your life.”

Chicago Architect Katherine Darnstadt told us “Be bold and naïve”

Why should both men and women go and see The Empowerment Project?

I think the lack of female role models in the media is something that affects us all. Young men need to see strong women in leadership roles just as much as young women. The fact is, what we are seeing on TV, in magazines, and hearing in music paints an overly-sexualized image of what women are today and this film does the opposite. It praises strong women for being leaders of their lives. Gender norms and stereotypes start very young, and simultaneously so does the negative messaging regarding women’s roles. There is something in this film for everyone, men and women. I hope this film is a much-needed peak into the lives of women from all walks of life.

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After working in reality TV and now making the film of your dreams, how would you describe feminism and why do we need it today?

We need feminism today simply because we haven’t quite reached equality yet. I think every woman has to define what feminism means to them, and there is no one size fits all. The word feminist holds a lot of weight and meaning, and carries with it a lot of history. But at its core it asks for equality at a human level, and that’s what it means to me – that women deserve all the same opportunities as any other person. It’s never been about men vs. women, it’s about how can we all be on the same level and thrive together. Let’s lift each other up instead of putting each other down.

What’s next for Sarah Moshman and TEP?

For The Empowerment Project, we are now embarking on a new journey – to empower people all over the US with the film and also speaking alongside the film in schools and organizations. I can’t wait to be present for the ‘lightbulb’ moments that will happen along the way and to hear peoples’ reactions to the film.

For myself, the experience of making this film has been an incredible one for my own personal growth and it has taught me to push my limits and believe that anything is possible in my life and in my career. I plan to make many more films – documentary and narrative, all with my female empowerment spin on them. I hope to have a long career in television and film directing, producing, shooting and editing – challenging myself and having new experiences that encourage growth and being able to use film as the medium to do it is the greatest gift.

Where can people find more information about booking a screening?

We are doing some SNEAK PEAK private screenings in LA that we would love to invite your readers to –

MAY 10: http://bit.ly/1hApvwV

MAY 11: http://bit.ly/1heM2US

And any person, school, organization, etc can book a screening of the film in their community by going to http://indieflix.com/empowermentproject and help us spread this message of empowerment!

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