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Tag Archives: women calling the shots

Hollywood Hills from The Line Hotel, Los Angeles, November 2020. Photo: Busy K

I’ve been reflecting a lot on the nature of production during the COVID crisis.

When it became clear that our show Parenting Without Borders wasn’t coming back anytime soon, I relocated to northern California to stay with family while the worst of the virus raged in my beloved New York City.  Many of my friends and colleagues were discovering that they had COVID or were recovering from it. The executive director of New York Women in Film and Television was living in the epicenter in Queens surrounded by the steady scream of ambulance sirens, which we could hear during on-line board meetings. Another friend had a mobile morgue unit parked on her block in Brooklyn. And then in April 2020, two people I know died within a week of each other – one in NYC and one in Milan.  The scope of this virus is devastating.  And those deaths have influenced everything I’ve done since.

In May I got a call about a commercial project for a big tech company.  They were planning a shoot with crazy numbers: 10 directors and 300 crew members to make 200+ short films in 4 weeks.  I was both apprehensive and excited to get back to work.  Because this was a client that would follow strict safety protocol, I felt comfortable committing. Read More

On March 24, 2021, New York Women in Film and Television (NYWIFT) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) presented the panel discussion “Representation Matters: Ensuring Inclusive Leadership in Politics and the Media.”  Originally planned to be hosted at the United Nations in March 2020 as part of the Commission on the Status Women Forum, the event was postponed and viewed online this year. 

Thanks to the vision of NYWIFT’s executive director Cynthia Lopez, and NDI’s senior associate & director for Gender, Women and Democracy Sondra Pepera, we  organized this incredible panel to discuss the importance of representation and strategies for equity at the intersection of politics and media.

One of the highlights for me was getting to hear from H.E. Hanna Tetteh, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union who left us with some closing thoughts: 

“Media needs to help the public believe that women are where they belong. Lupita Nyong’o said, “No matter where you are, your dreams are valid.” 

Own your ambition.  Men have been doing that for centuries.”

This partnership holds special significance for me because my first job out of college was with NDI, where I helped organize workshops for women in politics in Argentina and Jordan all the way back in the 90s. 

Being virtual made it a truly a global presentation – from 4 different time zones.  Our participants were in Los Angeles, New York City, Stockholm and Addis Ababa and our audience tuned in around the world.  You can read more and watch the recording of the event at the link below.

Clockwise from top left: Journalist and Moderator Natasha Del Toro, Birgitta Ohlsson (Director of Political Parties at the National Democratic Institute and former Swedish MP), H.E Hanna Tetteh (UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union), Tanya Saracho (playwright and television writer), and Sheila Nevins (Executive Producer at MTV Networks).
Up and at ’em at 6am when the panel spans 4 time zones: California, New York, Sweden and Ethiopia!
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Thank you NYWIFT for profiling me in the new column “What’s in Your Toolkit?”  Entertainment publicist Margarita Sophia Cortes asked me…

What is the one thing you can’t live without in production?

I LOVE a wipe board.  Worlds are created on wipe boards. Recently I went to a meeting at Viacom, and the conference room had an entire wipe board wall. My fingers nearly tingled as we covered it in color-coded ideas by the end of the brainstorm session. Read More

Death Row Stories explores the fallibility of the ultimate criminal penalty, capital punishment. Told by current and former death row inmates, each episode of Death Row Stories seeks to unravel the truth behind a different capital murder case and poses tough questions about the U.S. capital punishment system. Sundays at 8pm, ET/PT on HLN.  My episode “Body of Evidence” premieres June 30.

I directed two episodes of the series for Jigsaw Productions. This was my first foray into the true crime genre, which I’ve been following as a growing phenomenon over the past few years.  Studies show that women consume the most media about true crime.  There are many theories about why: whether it’s escapism or it’s a way to interact with our worst fears, many people are looking for reasons to why bad things happen. Death Row Stories premiered in 2014, and has since been at the forefront of true crime’s popularity exploring capital punishment in a way that’s more palatable for people who might not think they’re interested in social justice issues.

On the set of “Death Row Stories” for CNN.

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Happy Women’s History Month!

This year Mellini Kantayya and I focus on women making history in our series for New York Women in Film & Television.  Check out these inspirational women!

 

Ai-Ling Lee.  (Photo credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Ai-Ling Lee: first Asian woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for sound editing for her work in “La La Land.”  She was nominated again this year for “First Man.”
 
“Ask for what you want because sometimes people may not be aware of what you are capable of.”
 
 

Ruth E. Carter.  (Photo credit: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Ruth E. Carter: first African American woman to win an Academy Award for costume design for her work in “Black Panther.”

“Women still have to fight to show people that we know what we’re doing. That change is still in the works, but at least there’s more of us.”

Rachel Morrison.  (Photo Credit: rachelmorrison.com)

Rachel Morrison: first woman nominated for an Academy Award for cinematography.

“I try to see what is at the heart of the story and the character at a given moment, and let story and emotion be the factors that inform the technique.”

 

Jessie Maple.

And back by popular demand…

Jessie Maple: filmmaker, director, editor, producer, writer, cinematographer, and pioneer.

Maple is the first black woman to join the union of International Photographers of Motion Picture & Television (IATSE) in New York.

“You can’t stop progress. You can hold it up for a minute, but you can’t stop it.”

2018 Muse Honorees: Ellen Burstyn, Tricia Brock, Maysoon Zayid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lisa Nishimura. Photo by Flor Blake Photography

For 38 years,  New York Women in Film and Television has organized the Muse Awards annual gala holiday luncheon to celebrate women of vision and achievement.  And each year, remarkable and accomplished women are honored with this prestigious award.

Backstage lineup: NYWIFT Board Members Margarita Sophia Cortes, Rachel Watanabe-Batton, and KOK with honoree Lisa Nishimura of Netflix. Photo by Rowena Husbands

It was my great pleasure to accompany one of the honorees, Lisa Nishimura, Netflix VP of Original Documentary and Comedy.  With the success of “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” on Netflix, this was a full circle moment for me.  We hadn’t yet met when I greeted Lisa at the entrance, and her first words to me were “Congratulations on the show!”  What a classy lady.  Also attending on behalf of Netflix was Zana Lawrence, who played a big role in our series as an EP.
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UPDATE: Thank you to everyone who came out last month to hear Annetta Marion and me talk about show running and directing. We had a blast sharing our stories with you.  Thank you New York Women in Film and Television for supporting women calling the shots!  Special thanks to Roz Murphy and Duana Butler for organizing the event at such a lovely space.

KOK and Annetta Marion, October 25, 2018. Photo: Katrina Medoff


This Thursday, October 25, I’ll be speaking with my friend and colleague Annetta Marion about directing and show running for nonfiction television.  For more information, see below.  It’s nearly sold out!

This intimate conversation between director/showrunner Annetta Marion and director/producer Kathryn O’Kane will highlight the unique roles and creative inspirations of directors and showrunners who bring stories to life on screen.  The discussion will give a behind ­the­ scenes look at the craft of filmmaking, explore culture and creativity in their body of work, as well as allow these producers to share their passions for the work, both on and off the screen. Read More

Becoming the Showrunner of a Netflix Food Series

Host Samin Nosrat and DP Luke McCoubrey. Liguria, Italy. 2018.

When I was 13 years old, part of my allowance came from preparing dinner for the family once a week.  This corresponded to my mother returning to work that same year, so it helped her to have a night off.  I loved it, in part because it meant that I didn’t have to do the dishes, a loathsome duty for the rest of the week.  That summer I also had a steady babysitting gig. The oppressiveness of Tidewater heat and humidity made it impossible to stay outside for very long, so the kid and I were often cooped up indoors with the AC on and the shades drawn. But the mother had a stack of Southern Living magazines filled with beautiful photos of recipes both traditional and fancy.  From those each week I’d develop the menu and add ingredients to my father’s grocery list, which he bought without question. My mother remembers the first dinner – meatloaf roulade with a swirl of broccoli and cheese.  Armed with Jacques Pepin’s step-by-step illustrated cookbook, La Technique, I tried my hand at choux pastry, and voilà, my first cream puff swans were born.
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This summer Mellini Kantanyya and I created #SummerHours, a series about fun books, movies, and television shows by or about women.  The series is running all summer long on the New York Women in Film and Television blog.  Below are excerpts of my TV picks, and you can click on the links to read the full postings.  Be sure to check out Mellini’s picks in her category “Book to Screen…and Back Again.” Read More