As a new editor of the NYWIFT Blog, I thought my first NYWIFT Member Spotlight interview should be the voice of NYWIFT, Amanda Lin Costa. Amanda serves on the Board of Directors of NYWIFT and is the Vice President of Communications and Committee Chair.
Amanda calls herself a “little engine that could”, which is remarkably apt. In addition to her energetic commitment to making NYWIFT an active connection point for women in film and television, she writes, directs and produces documentary and narrative films and transmedia content.
When did you join NYWIFT and why?
I have to go look that up. It was a while ago. I was working in the vanities at the time and was always impressed by Designing Women and the recognition that NYWIFT gave to women in my field. I already knew that I wanted to get behind the camera as a filmmaker and saw NYWIFT as a great opportunity to network. Ironically, my first filmmaking experience was a documentary and I ended up traveling for most of a year and didn’t get to go to any events, panels or screenings. I’m making up for that now.
Your work seems to focus on human resilience. Your documentary, The Art of Memories, deals with 9/11 memorials and I have to say I was truly affected by your recent article, “Confessions of a Suicide Survivor”. Do you think it helps in this industry to have a theme or angle that is specific to you as an artist?
Screenwriters are always getting pigeon-holed into a genre. That can happen to filmmakers as well. Choosing resilience wasn’t conscious or an attempt to create an artistic identity for myself. Resilience and rebuilding speak to me as an artist. I feel especially rewarded by stories that personify our human weaknesses and display the strength it takes to overcome them. I learned a lot shooting The Art of Memories about the power of will it takes to move past a tragedy to help others in spite of heartbreaking grief. Researching the suicide survivor article brought me right back into that place, being humbled and at the same time elevated by the human ability to reach out through personal pain to help lift the burden for someone else. Those are stories that need to be shared.
What are you working on now?
I have a project in development that is the adaptation of a book
about the first woman to go around the world on a bicycle, Annie Londonderry. She was a bit nutty, always exaggerating her adventures and pretending she was someone she wasn’t, but I think that is what helped her accomplish something impossible for a woman in the 1890s. Londonderry wasn’t worried about what anyone thought of her or that what she was trying to do might be impossible. She started and she didn’t quit. Suddenly, it was possible.
Do you have any advice for NYWIFT members interested in documentary filmmaking?
Yes! Don’t bring your preconceived notions to an interview. I’ve heard over and over from documentary filmmakers when they were asked how they got their subject to open up and speak so candidly, they said it was because they were often the only person who asked and then actually listened. I say, “Ask the hard questions.” Do it with respect for the subject and what they have experienced; but don’t be afraid of that pain, don’t try to tiptoe around it or avoid it.
You write about transmedia and digital initiatives for PBS, do you see that as the future of the entertainment industry?
I hope good storytelling is in the future of the entertainment industry. I’m amazed by what new technology can accomplish. I love the interactive blending of gaming, comics, and filmmaking. They’re all forms of storytelling. I’ve interacted with a lot of cross platform projects online, as well as at film festivals and museums; the ones that rise to the top always have an engaging story or interesting characters at their core. If you are interested in producing in the current entertainment industry, you have to stay conversant on new technologies and trends because so many of them offer opportunities for additional sources of income or crossover into marketing. There will always be a place for the lone writer in a room creating a story that keeps an audience on the edge of their seat or sobbing into tissues. I don’t think that will ever change.