Months away from exiting my teen years I can't help but think of the astute Britney Spears quote, "I'm not a girl...not yet a woman." Growing up, I always thought I was one of the lucky ones; one of the very few who knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life.
My name is Leah Starr--for God's sake--and my baby announcement read "A Starr is Born." I was destined for stardom, for sure, but what kind?
I started out dreaming of being an actress. It was all I wanted. I began practicing my Best Actress speech in the mirror from the moment I saw Halle Berry accept the esteemed prize. I love performing, but Long Island was an oppressive environment for creatives. Acting was never viewed--at least by the people I surrounded myself with--as an appropriate, prosperous path. Honestly, I didn't have the balls to subject myself to the judgement of my peers. So, in my mind, I desperately wanted to be a Hollywood starlet, but in practice, I vocalized more acceptable passions like writing, politics, and journalism.
Once I got to college I felt a tremendous weight disintegrate from my shoulders. I suddenly knew I needed to be in the film school and that was what I would do. After being bombarded with the prestige of our highly selective film school at various admissions meetings and from online research, I applied. With an acceptance rate comparable with Harvard Law School, getting in on my first try felt like a statistical anomaly. Opening my acceptance to the then Bryan Singer Division of Cinema and Media Studies in the Americana parking lot was truly the best moment of my life. In the absolute corniest way possible, it felt like the stars had aligned and I had finally found my place in the universe.
Writing this application now feels ungrateful to the many who have not been admitted to the best film school in America, but I just cannot help it. When I originally applied to SCA, I chose CAMS because it made sense for me at the time. I wrote a lot of film analyses and the thought of making a short film for an application was far too daunting to attempt. Then, like the revelatory moment in Clueless where Cher Horowitz realized she loved her step brother all along, there was CTPR 290.
Sure, Josh was obnoxious and more out there, but at the end of the day, he was still Paul Rudd. To truly milk this metaphor for all it's worth, Production is the louder brother of CAMS that I simply cannot resist. A class that many consider a chore and a punishment was the best experience of my life. I discovered an entirely unknown passion for editing and directing. I spent full days with no sunlight, food, or companionship in the editing dungeon and—I swear—I could hear the bells. I truly loved every minute of it. So much so, that I felt compelled to apply to production. The thought of graduating having only taken 290 is simply unacceptable. I need 294, 295, and 310. I had a taste of fast-paced production schedules and rushing to meet deadlines which has snowballed into an insatiable, greedy craving for more. Life is a journey of discovery and college is a microcosm of that journey. Mine has gone from journalism to cinema studies and now, hopefully, cinema studies to production. I know what I want and I have been tremendously validated in my pursuit thus far.
I can certainly appreciate the timing of my professional discovery. Being a female filmmaker during the Time's Up and Me Too movements is an indescribable feeling. I'm so lucky that Hollywood is looking for people like me. My point of view matters and is why I create stories that feature strong female characters and design an aesthetic that is beautiful, feminine, and powerful. Representation is so important and I feel like real change is upon us, but the only way to continue this momentum is to ensure that the right people are in positions of power.
I've had the opportunity to be a production assistant on many sets where I have been the only female. Regardless of the fact that I consider myself a strong, independent woman, I am still only nineteen years of age. Being on the cusp of womanhood makes me vulnerable to unwanted advances from men of more authority and while we have a movement that encourages people in my position to speak out, it is impossible to speak without being labeled as that girl. Hypersensitivity makes some men uncomfortable to be themselves and somehow that has become the fault of women. In reality, if their normal behavior is deemed as too inappropriate in a sensitive Hollywood climate, then it is their responsibility to change it.
Ultimately, I want men, women, and everything in between to work together to make this industry an amazing, collaborative force for good. Right now, however, all of my heroes are men; Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Richard Linklater, Jean-Marc Vallée, and Christopher Nolan. As an industry, we have the opportunity to give women more prolific platforms, so we can be the biggest and best directors in the world. I believe that with the proper education, training, and experience, I will be able to affect positive change. In other words, “all I need is time, a moment that is mine.” It is my sincere hope that SCA will give me another shot to prove my worth and carry the mantel of excellence into the future.