Film Courage: Where did you grow up? What was life like at home?
Melanie Wise: I was born in Detroit, MI and raised and in South Alabama on a farm by my father. My sister Malissa and my father made the core of our small family unit. We raised quarter horses, had dogs, cats, a raccoon, several goats, a few cows, and the neighbors chickens. I grew up in a very small town called Silverhill – the city limits were a mile square and the population was 500. We didn’t appear on most maps.
Film Courage: Were you active in sports in school?
Melanie: I’ve always been physically active. From climbing trees, to riding horses, to playing sports. My mother tells me that my sister and I were always into something! I spent a couple of years in gymnastics even – and I really sucked at that! I starting playing team sports by the age of 10. I played the standards – softball, basketball, track and field, tennis. I was involved in some sport year round. I made the varsity basketball team in the 9th grade and was the starting center by the 10th grade. Basketball was probably the sport I excelled in the most.
Film Courage: Did your parents lend more support toward athleticism or creativity?
Melanie: Athletics were very encouraged. Not so much on the creativity front! Where I grew up, in the south, in the country, on a farm, life was just more geared to practical matters. Creative endeavors aren’t squashed so much as they are just out of the line of sight in an environment like the one I grew up in. I knew at a very young age (about 7), I wanted to be in entertainment. Shortly thereafter, and until about the age of 14, I’d completely ‘forgotten’ about it. And when I was 14, I just knew I was moving to Los Angeles. I moved here right after I graduated from High School.
Film Courage: What were your plans after high school?
Melanie: School and learning came very easy to me. During my period of forgetfulness about entertainment, I’d thought I go to college, and do all the ‘more normal’ life stuff. There was also a very good chance of a basketball scholarship. And then I came back to my senses!!! …. or maybe not! I came to Los Angeles, found the standard ‘horrible job,’ and bounced around for a couple of years. I modeled for several years as well.
Melanie: I was 3′ tall by the age of two, 5′ tall at the age of 10, and 5’11’ when I played basketball. I didn’t stop growing till I was about 21, and that’s where the last inch showed up … I think! I’ve gotten all kinds of reactions to my height. I was called stretch, amazon … all the standard names for being taller than normal. I’m glad I was never really self conscious of my height. People always suggested modeling (though not while I lived in the south), and getting asked if I played basketball was also very common. I had many experiences of people being intimidated by my height, though I can’t say I really understand this perception. It’s just a length, nothing more. And I’ve seen people much shorter than I be very intimidating. One of the most common things people used to say to me is, “I’d hate to get into a fight with you!” Right out of nowhere, people I’d never met, would say that to me. It took me a long time to understand that what they were reacting to was not just my height, but my physical presence. I think if I had to nutshell, I would say most people react to my presence, not my height.
Film Courage: Can you recount a time when you were doubted on a film set or in life in terms of perception of strength or stereotype? How did you turn the situation around?
Melanie: I don’t recall being doubted for my strength. I do recall agents, managers, and the like wanting to fit me into more common female stereotypes! Most of my life, people have been trying to get me to be more of the stereotypical feminine woman. And while I was auditioning, I didn’t do very well fitting into more ‘standard’ female roles, and I finally stopped trying. I can’t sell ‘victim’ or ‘weak’. I can’t make those characters believable. I never thought of myself as not being feminine for playing sports, being a tomboy, or wearing men’s clothing. None of those things made me less of a women in my eyes. And to be honest, I’m not sure I turned that around, but rather allowed world views to catch up to me. I’ve stuck to what I know to be authentic to me, and I am quite delighted to see the paradigms of what femininity is perceived as is changing, growing into broader bandwidth that includes physical strength and power.
Film Courage: What prompted you to begin Artemis Film Festival with your co- Founders Zac and Sean?
Melanie: Strong female action leads have been our focus for quite some time. And we’ve been working hard to push that out into the world long before it was popular. In early 2014, we’d finished creating a promo short for an episodic project called The Legend of Johnny Swann. We finally realized that if we wanted to see more women in action, we’d have to create a space to celebrate that. So this is our effort to do just that.
Film Courage: Why are you turning to Indiegogo to raise funds?
Melanie: Honestly, we never thought we’d get sooooo many submissions – we were planning a very intimate festival. We opened subs, and got beat over the head with really incredible material. In looking at the material, we wanted to do our best to give it a really good spotlight. It can take a year or two to gain sponsorships. We’ve been on a very short timeline to bring it to life, and we thought it would be the most productive effort on the front of raising capital. We are still seeking sponsors right now. And it is most likely that our search now will land us something for next year. And another sad part of the truth is, any event dedicated to women is more prone to be overlooked. And it will continue to be overlooked until our large businesses and studios acknowledge there is major profit in it. That shift is starting to occur … you see it in the fact that, for the first time, studios are announcing women led action franchises and in business, in the coined term ‘femvertizing’.
Film Courage: How did you determine your target goal?
Melanie: Our ultimate goal is to celebrate images that empower women and spread that message as far and wide as possible. In a nutshell, we are still at a point in society where successful films with female action leads can still be considered a fluke. By bringing together a collection of films that spotlight powerful female images, we have a greater chance of making a loud roar on the front of empowering women. Our filmed entertainment is a major influence in how women are seen in culture. Our images in film and TV are the fast track to empowering women the world over if we only take that responsibility on and make it a priority. With a decently backed festival, we have more leverage to get press and media attention, and those two things are the key to further empowering women.
On a more practical level, we priced theaters all over the place and chose a venue we think best. We also factored in marketing costs, admin costs to run the fest, costs for venues for opening and closing ceremonies, costs for space for panels and demos, costs for awards, catering costs, costs to provide our IndieGoGo rewards, costs for IndieGoGo, and our 4% pledge to Girls on the Run LA. In looking at the myriad of places we can rent for the festival, our first choice is the LA Live downtown for it’s accessibility and premium theater space. In an out of the way theater, on a smaller budget, making that loud roar to further empower women will be more difficult. At this point, all our staff is voluntary. We have over a dozen people making tremendous effort to bring this festival to life …. and they are all doing it as a labor of love.
.Film Courage: Once you committed to doing the Artemis Women In Action Film Festival, what were the next steps?
Melanie: Working 24/7 to raise capital! And organizing the festival. Both are amazing undertakings!!!
Film Courage: What is your definition of a Kick Ass Woman? How can one determine if they’re one, too?
Melanie: I think Kick Ass Women come in many shapes and forms! I’ve even seen some men who make amazing Kick Ass Women!!! If I had to hit the nail on the head, I would say that anyone who has a dream and then has the courage and stick-to-itiveness to push that snowball uphill is a Kick Ass Woman. Any one who has the courage to overcome past scars and traumas kicks ass. When we start becoming the action hero of our own life, we kick ass. When we can have mercy for our faults and failures and continue to reach for more within ourselves, we kick ass.
Film Courage: Favorite female action hero and why?
Melanie: Tough question … I have so many of them. Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2. Her character showed the most amazing dedication, commitment and passion to achieve a goal. Those two qualities, juxtaposed onto an amazing physical form and presence that was totally believable in an action role, made her character galvanizing. My two cents on why she was so believable is this: her physical form was very congruent to her mental fortitude – on both levels, she was tough, prepared, practiced, trained. And her character touched a lot of lives.
The other stand out is The Matrix. This is one of the very first films I can remember where there was no ‘difference’ in what the male and female characters could physically do. The women were just as physically capable as the men. Gender didn’t seem to be a consideration in how the characters were written. In other words, the women were not treated as physically less because they were women. I think our very last bastion of racism shows up as sexism. And it was truly amazing to see a lack of sexism in The Matrix films.
.Film Courage: In your opinion, what films are the best depictions of strong women and the worst?
Melanie: Off the top of my head (and I’m sure there’s standouts that I’m missing) the best depictions are: Terminator 2, Aliens, Matrix, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Red, Guardians of the Galaxy, Salt, Best non-action films: Erin Brokovich, Good Wife, Scandal, Thelma and Louise, Madam Secretary. In all scenarios I see women depicted with amazing fortitude, in the action examples, amazing physical power, as well as depicted with a powerful feminine sensibility. I have my ideal of what I think is the ‘best depiction’ of a female. I believe in portraying women as strong because there is an innate power there that has not been tapped in ages. I believe it’s important to tap it because we have no concept of what resource that power can be in shaping a world more beautiful for everyone.
I really do have a huge dislike of films where the only value a women is given is through sex – characters and situations where they only get what they want by leveraging sex. I also dislike films where only the women are the victim or weak or nude.
Film Courage: How much exposure has your Indiegogo campaign brought to the festival?
Melanie: Gosh, I’m not sure I know the answer to that one! Dennis Haysbert gave a very generous contribution to the campaign.
Roseanne Barr, Sean Astin, as well as other celebs have shown support via twitter. Just three months ago, we didn’t have a Twitter feed and now we have hundreds of people using our official hashtag #WomenKickAss daily. Our team, including our campaign manager Leah Cevoli, social media manager Jackie Hesley, and outreach coordinator Sonja Isabella have been instrumental in spreading the word about the festival. The exposure has been phenomenal and I am blown away by the support of communities such as yours, and the indie film community in general.
Film Courage: Best advice for keeping your mind and body fit?
Melanie: Exercise and physical movement is practice that prepares one for discipline. It teaches us that if we can mold our physical forms, there is no limit to what we can mold for ourselves in life. I learned early on in training women, once they blew past what they thought they could do physically, the horizons of what they thought possible for them personally broadened greatly. The whole point, whether one exercises or not is to have a wide open potential of possibility on a mental level as possible.
Find the physical activities that you really love and do them! When we are in physical motion, we are more grounded and more present. I find it is easier to choose direction and make choices from this place. And regular exercise gives us practice at remaining grounded and present.
Make an effort to find the food that agrees with your body the most. Evidence that your food may not agree with you: allergies, insomnia, issues with PMS, acne, weight gain, etc. There are a pile of ailments that we accept as part of living and never understand that the body is sending messages that something is out of balance.
Film Courage: Best advice for staying determined and upbeat while living in Los Angeles?
Melanie: I think the more fit we keep our bodies, the more fit our minds are. That sounds like total pablum until you really start looking at what happens to bodies when they are well exercised. Our brains produce more seratonin and dopamine (these are dubbed ‘the pleasure drugs), and when our bodies are producing more dopamine and seratonin, we are just happier! Simple!
Film Courage: Who are your judges for Artemis Women In Action Film Festival?
Melanie: We have Action Chick Flick Katrina Hill, UK writer, director and actress Helen Oakleigh, action star Rileah Vanderbilt, acclaimed film critic Dennis Cozzalio, and film festival creator Pat Battistini (All Sports Film Festival)
Melanie: We have several stunt women who’d love to do a panel discussion re: women in stunts as well as demos, several film historians wanting to discuss the history of women in action in film, and several athletes that would love to do demos. One of our filmmakers wants to bring in several women who box and give a demo for that as well. We are lining up several celebrities to present awards, we have an Entertainment Weekly reporter who would like to moderate our panels and Q & A’s.
Film Courage: When was the first time you watched a female action or stunt woman?
Melanie: I can’t remember! I’ve always loved women in action … it’s my sweet spot. I grew up doing lots of sports, so I saw women in action regularly in real life. I grew up with some very tough female athletes and I just remember having so much admiration of them and their physical mastery.
Film Courage: What’s the submission price for Artemis Women In Action Film Festival?
Melanie: For shorts, it ranged from $40 – $55, for features, from $70 – $85. The range in cost depending on submission date.
Film Courage: What types of films and lengths are you looking to screen?
Melanie: All films feature a women in a leading or co-leading role as an action character. We also have many documentaries from sports to aviation featuring women doing the most amazing real life action. We even have animated shorts. Our short category is under 40 minutes and our feature category is 40 minutes and over.
Film Courage: Is it too late for filmmakers to submit their films?
Melanie: Our submissions are closed.
.Film Courage: How are you working with Girls on the Run, Los Angeles County division?
Melanie: This is GOTR’s 10th anniversary. We wanted to help them celebrate it because they’ve dedicated so many years of teaching young girls, age 8 – 14, self value through the discipline of physical action and exercise. We are donating 4% of our IGG proceeds to GOTR.
Film Courage: Who is receiving an honorary awards at the Artemis Women In Action Film Festival?
Melanie: Linda Hamilton will receive our very 1st Action Icon Award, venerated stunt women Angela Meryl will receive our Stunt Unsung Heroine Award, and stunt woman/stunt coordinator Maja Aro will receive our Stunt Warrior Award. We have additional honoree announcements coming.
CONNECT WITH MELANIE AND THE ARTEMIS FILM FESTIVAL
An accomplished actress and stuntwoman, Ms. Wise has been acting professionally for over a decade. As lead actress of the award-winning horror-action film, Hanah’s Gift, Ms. Wise won best actress at the IndieFest Film Festival. Her character was so popular with young women that it spawned two fan clubs in Southern California. Standing six-feet tall, a former basketball standout and licensed physical trainer, Ms. Wise possesses a presence and charisma that is groundbreaking in feature films—More Clint Eastwood than girlfriend-next door. Ms. Wise is also an accomplished producer having overseen the production of three indie feature films as well as multiple shorts and commercials. She is an adept video and sound editor, graphic design, 2D motion graphics, and specializes in polishing troubled projects.
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