Idaho might not be the first place you think of when it comes to filmmaking, but the rapid growth of the local film industry in Boise is challenging that narrative with new paths and experiences for female filmmakers.
Stephanie Cullen is a film producer in Boise and is the CEO and founder of #OMGFemaleFilmmakers, a local production company that creates content for nonprofits.
Since 2015, Cullen has found her passion within helping others tell their stories. Her focus is on creating narrative short films and documentaries for nonprofit organizations such as the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights.
Cullen traveled to Cambodia with the organization in the spring of 2018, an experience that Cullen says deeply stuck with her.
“This experience changed my life and who I am as a filmmaker,” Cullen said. “[It] made me understand the importance of education and human rights, and the role I play in sharing these stories.”
This trip was part of the Wassmuth Center’s Pedals and Packs program, where they give bicycles and backpacks to local students in need.
Cullen also films her work locally in Boise and has found struggles related to the business side of local filmmaking. She has a production company space of her own called “OMG Studios Boise” and has found that not many people understand what exactly she does.
“Everyone I talk to [asks], ‘Wait, photography?’” Cullen said.
However, Cullen has also found value in others’ confusion of her craft. She shared that creating locally comes with benefits for the filmmaking process.
“The beauty of it is, because it is such a small place, you’re not out on the streets shooting a movie and then 5 feet away there’s another Hollywood production going on,” Cullen said.
Cullen’s studio space provides artists in the area with a place to make their content since there aren’t many places like these for production opportunities in the area.
Elizabeth Findley, another local filmmaker, shared that she has struggled to find opportunities in the industry as well.
“There’s not as many opportunities to be on professional sets, so you’re doing a lot of indie work and not getting the experience you need if you want to pursue it full time,” Findley said.
During her education, Findley would often take any opportunity she could to turn her school projects into videos, including those for her science class.
“I did the i48 in 2017 and started liking the narrative side from that [point on],” Findley said.
The i48 is a competition in Idaho where filmmaking teams have 48 hours to create an original short film between three and six minutes long. It was during the i48 contest when Findley started taking her filmmaking work more seriously, turning it into a profession.
Findley has worked on projects such as music videos and short films. Findley’s favorite thing about storytelling is sharing messages about topics that people don’t often discuss with one another.
“Even when I do horror films, I do more psychological horror films that talk about issues within relationships and how that can affect people, and [I ask] what gets someone to flip the morality switch,” Findley said. “I think people are more terrifying than creators.”
Findley believes stories that prompt discussions stem from good collaboration with other filmmakers — a part of the storytelling process she shared she enjoys the most.
“The pre-production process is my favorite. Those are the stages where you’re trying to make [the story] come to life and when something works really well. It’s satisfying,” Findley said.
After participating in film competitions throughout Idaho, Findley noticed at times that she was the only female director within the competition. Because of this, Findley tries her best to bring women crew members onto her sets.
“I think women have a different eye at times, and it’s good to collaborate with different perspectives,” Findley said. “Being a woman in film, I think you can bring a different background to a project and more people should recognize that.”
Findley’s goal is to direct a feature film someday and have her work seen by larger audiences. This excitement is something that makes local communities different from larger cities.
Catrine McGregor, a former adjunct professor in the film department at Boise State, noted that local filmmakers and community members in Boise are not “burned out” yet.
“You’ve got a lot of enthusiasm. People are interested in growing the industry here, and [it’s] a real positive thing,” McGregor said. “The local community is still pretty excited about having films made here. I’ve had experiences where we’ll be filming somewhere and you’ve got neighbors bringing freshly made cookies over to the crew.”
After early experience on larger sets, McGregor emphasized the importance of film opportunities in Boise and making sure those new to filmmaking are aware of what’s required on a set.
“We don’t get enough studio or professional films in for people to learn, so [they] have no option but to make films on their own and figure out how to do it on the fly,” McGregor said. “But it’s growing and there are more and more professional people coming in.”
McGregor praised Boise State film professors on their ability to incorporate some of the experience that only comes with working on film sets.
“There’s something about the reality of not only what is the job, but everything that goes with it,” McGregor said. “Those are things that are really hard to learn when you’re just in a school setting, so I think there needs to be both and Boise State is moving towards that, which is encouraging.”