Moira Griffin is a total hero of ours. She has spent her career nurturing the careers of others through her work running diversity and inclusion programs at 21st Century Fox and the Sundance Institute, where she has helped countless aspiring and experienced filmmakers and writers develop their projects, refine their skills, and expand their networks. She developed the Ethiopia Film Initiative to support Ethiopian filmmakers and the development of an Ethiopian film industry. On top of all that (and much more that we don’t even have time to get into), she is an accomplished producer, with several award-winning projects under her belt.
We sat down with Moira to get some insight and wisdom.
What’s the best piece of advice you can offer to aspiring writers and filmmakers who are looking to network and make industry relationships?
The best piece of advice would be to follow up. It doesn't matter how many how many people that you meet, what matters is how you follow up. You don't have to be persistent, you do have to show that you are dependable. Also, if someone does take the time to sit down with you make sure to do your research and have an ask that you have prepared. Finally, trust is hard to come by in this industry so you need to maintain your integrity and core values, it keeps you honest and out of the fray.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers and filmmakers who live far away from industry hubs and have limited local networks?
Use the power of social networks to connect to like minded creators in communities around the world. There are great local organizations and grant-makers like the Knight Foundation that are geared to support communities outside of NY/LA. You need to connect to those people so they are aware of your work. I met a filmmaker from Virginia who made a point of connecting to the film commission. When a big TV production from LA came to town he became and assistant. Being on that show gave him access to high level talent and they supported his first project. He is now working consistently and is about to do his second feature. I appreciated how he was able to make the most of his limited access to grow a network that most directors in LA could only dream of.
Many in our community have a specific story they want to tell but have not made the leap to writing a screenplay or treatment. What advice would you give them to get started?
Read, learn, watch, and hone your craft. There is no way you can write the perfect anything the first time around, but you can keep writing and get better. The goal is to be the best writer you can be, and that comes by reading screenplays or books on screenwriting, watching movies and tv- even watching things you don't like so you know why it didn't work. You don't have to go to film school to learn how to write a screenplay, but you can go to your local library and check out all that you need. Also, the best part about the internet is all the information you have at your fingertips. There are sites where you can download screenplays, treatments, tv pitch bibles, and podcasts where you can learn about the film industry or get tips on writing. There is so much to access that you don't have to go the traditional route to understand how to be a great storyteller, we no longer need to be limited by the financial resources it takes to go to film school.
What are some common mistakes and/or bad habits you see when working with emerging talent? How can our community get ahead of those problems?
There are a lot of common mistakes so many artists make no matter who they are or where they live- being stubborn, not listening, not doing their research, not keeping up with the business side of entertainment, not doing their taxes, not being a master of their craft, not keeping deadlines (whether internal or external), etc... But the biggest mistake I have found giving into fear. Giving into your fears can be the biggest mistake an artist can make, it keeps you from trying again when you are rejected for a grant or when someone doesn't like your project. Instead of improving they sit on their hands and give in to that devil in the back of their mind that tells them they aren't good enough or that they are so good that people are too jealous to let them succeed. That is all fear and overcoming it can be a challenge, but the only way to get ahead is to deal with that fear head on and then keep trying. Keep getting better- it's as if you are daring the world to take a chance on you. Find happiness where the reward might not be an Oscar or millions of dollars, but it can be respect from your peers and the industry at large.
What’s one industry myth you can debunk?
Many creators think that if they aren't successful by 30 that there is no hope. There are few examples of people who can claim that they made it by 26 and continue to have a thriving career 20 years later. The reality is that the average age of a working director is 43, not old but not straight out of college either. You need that much time to put in the work to be great at what you do.
We’ll be checking with Moira from time-to-time. If you have questions for her, leave them in the comments.