GET TO KNOW: SuperWomen HQ – Part 1 ‘Alice Smith’
The rise of the Super Women by Leonie Watkins
Alice Smith is one half of the team behind Super Women; a new platform dedicated to giving opportunities to women in the filmmaking industry. A filmmaker herself, and typically for her profession, Alice is a storyteller. But she is also a seeker of extraordinary tales… not to mention a tour de force in her own right. With a pragmatic approach and hard working ethic, Alice has worked her way up through production companies within Broadcast TV over several years, gaining experience in a traditional format, through practical experience and commitment. Now breaking out from TV and leaving her many impressive credits behind, Alice is looking to move to film full time, and to carve out a name for herself as a documentary filmmaker, in what has typically been a male dominated business. Super Women is about empowering women from all walks of life and encouraging a new confidence, by presenting a series of neatly executed films for public consumption. In leading the charge, Alice finds herself truth busting on a quest to satiate our thirst for histrionics but mainly, to bring us stories of the future and of extraordinary female trailblazers. As she puts it, “I’ve never really subscribed to the specific “feminist filmmaker” thing, but I just like making films about women. While I was making a film about lesbian pioneers in Manchester, I was totallly drawn to doing something else with a female focus and it was so obvious that no one else was doing anything like that. But why not? It’s such a simple idea! Female trailblazers in traditionally male dominated spheres.”
I ask Alice about her creative objectives for the Super Women project, the topics selection process and those strident female subjects. As Alice explains, “We wanted to broaden out the questions we were inevitably inviting by bringing out these films, so we started looking at different fields and who was doing interesting things in those areas. For example tech, business and politics came into focus. It was important to pick women who were doing things to push theirs forward, so a leader in that field but also, women who were helping other women. That quickly became what we were looking for.”
““I’ve never really subscribed to the specific ‘feminist filmmaker’ thing, but I just like making films about women.”
A career of experience
Representing women of the moment has become increasingly important to Alice, who has found that in her chosen industry and throughout her working life in general, not enough has been done to see talented women get ahead, or progress enough to allow them to shine. Alice has learnt much throughout her years in broadcasting, and working on film sets. I ask her about how this has shaped her point of view, did she often feel in the minority? As she notes, “often people will say how great it is that you’re at a production company. There must be lots of women! Which is true, but they’re not doing the technical jobs, the editing or directing and that’s what needs to change, really. Without doubt, women are pigeon-holed into certain roles. Even now, I’m constantly scouted for producer roles.”
But this didn’t put her off? Clearly, Alice felt confident enough, armed with a particular set of skills and capable of doing more for her female peers and those she mentored alike. With her mostly male colleagues by her side, she began noticing a pattern, that women weren’t putting themselves forward without adopting the characteristics of the men around them. “I think that has always been something women have felt they needed to do. To take on these more male traits, to be really aggressive and bossy and fight to be heard. And actually, I think that’s the wrong way to go about it, that’s not the way to do it. We should embrace our femininity, our differences. There needs to be a space for women to bring their uniqueness to the field because with those differences, there comes an alternate perspective. We’ve so much to offer.”
The Super Women Filmmakers
I ask her how, by making these films with the help and engagement of women new to the industry, has altered her perception of the process. “For me, one of the things that’s been really encouraging is seeing all the footage and working with the editors including looking all my own mistakes along the way and being harsh and self critical. It’s great that we encourage each other that way. We wanted to make sure we were telling the story each time, and I think the rest of it is about having a space where you can play and experiment and not feel like there’s too much pressure to be perfect. The whole style of the films is that they are quite DIY. That’s their whole aesthetic, they’re not super slick with loads of toys and gimbal and all that jazz. It is what it is – women, trying stuff out, creating content and not being afraid to give it a go, that’s the basis of it. So we’ve got editors that we’re working with and we’ll send them a worked through script, a paper edit of each of the films. Because we aren’t paying them their full rate, it’s still a favour, it’s as much for them to have a play, to put their mark on it and to use it for their own experience. It’s all very collaborative in that sense.”
Alice is looking ahead to big projects on the horizon. As she says with integrity, “for some time, there has been a conversation around women in those generations above mine and beyond not being necessarily connected to one another, or necessarily helping other women and the echo of this generation now, wanting to do something different. Maybe that’s the way things are initially going to change, by helping each other. Certainly for me there wasn’t any one thing that was triggering, like, ‘I’ve got to change the system!’ but it’s just so obvious that this is what needs to happen.”
Alice is fiercely proud of her work with the films. She and her co-collaborator, the music journalist and radio broadcaster, Georgie Rogers, handpicked women for the modest sized Super Women crew from all backgrounds who were looking for their break into the film industry. The focus is to give women an opportunity they might otherwise not have had exposure to. The project gives students both the tools and confidence to pick up a camera, to learn the craft and to leave at the end with something tangible to show for their time and efforts, giving them a leg up onto the first rung of their career ladder.
“I’ve got to change the system!’ but it’s just so obvious that this is what needs to happen.”
Alice considers the prospect of furthering the fold she and Georgie have created so far into a full blown academy. “Women are perfectionists a lot of the time, and also as a society, our culture that we work in where men are often promoted based on their potential, for women it’s their experience. So we’re conditioned to believe we can’t do something until we’re an expert in it. And I think that’s wrong, I think that’s what we are trying to show [with Super Women]. You might make something badly but you are making something. And that’s the point, so just try it.
You learn more from your failures more than your successes, so just getting out there and doing something is the best thing you can possibly do. It’s all about taking that first step. Often courses don’t teach you much beyond the camera menu! It’s crucial therefore that we demonstrate how to create content and what to shoot, how to interview, how to cover a scene… A short course, but with something at the end. It’s so necessary. It’s a first step for them to go out into the world with that in hand.”
With a no nonsense attitude and such clear ambitions, I wonder who influenced this pioneer growing up and across the course of her career thus far? Alice smiles. “Honestly, I don’t think I know anyone who has the career I want, male or female! There’s different elements, but I’m a bit of a weird hybrid because I work in broadcast TV but I also make independent films and I also want to run a production company, so there’s no one really doing all of those things. There are lots of people I’ve looked up to as directors, unfortunately not many women that I’ve worked with they’ve mostly been men, and it has also been men that have really helped me in my career. I’m out there trying to do something a bit different, 3 people’s careers in 1! The most inspiring women I’ve come across have been in this [SW] series. And while they may not be involved in industries I’ve worked in I can still take something from them and that’s what we wanted the films to illustrate. You don’t have to be into motorbikes or coding, whatever it is, you can take something away from it.”
The first 3 Super Women films, ‘Elspeth Beard: the first British woman to motorbike around the world’, ‘Catherine Marks: award winning record producer’ and, ‘VC London: female motorcycle collective’ are available on Super Women’s YouTube channel. The remaining 5 are to be released in coming months.
Alice lives in East London