I didn’t go to film school. As a girl growing up in the ’90s, most of my favorite heroines on the big and small screens were in productions mostly led by men. The Oscars, the Golden Globes, and the Emmys used to be my favorite nights of television, eagerly practicing my acceptance speech while holding a can of hairspray. The issue was, I continuously saw only men being awarded for their work behind the camera, while women were only being awarded for their work in front of it. Even at my high school film festival, I was the only female director submitting content, and the only women who won awards won in acting categories. I had been acting in the Sacramento area since I was a child, so I decided that if I wanted a successful career as a storyteller, I was going to drop the idea of making films and focus on training as an actress. I thought I had found my calling.
Several years later, post-acting school (a dreamy waste of borrowed money that left me with staggering debt and few connections other than my fellow confused classmates), I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t booking the roles I wanted. I wasted years and money on “pay to play” classes and on “coaching” that left me feeling just as lost. At the time, I realized the roles I wanted weren’t going to magically end up in my lap. Even more disheartening, the roles I wanted weren’t even being written. So I quit. I had died in my underwear enough times on screen to realize maybe that was all my career was meant to be. During this brief hiatus, I realized how unhappy I was in a world where I couldn’t express myself, so I started writing. I wrote the kind of characters I wanted to play and the kind of women I wanted to see on screen. Many of my first drafts (hell, even my second and third drafts) were terrible, but I kept writing until one day I wrote a script that I was proud of. With the finished script in my hands, I had absolutely no clue where to turn next. Who would make this phenomenal work of art I had written? Who would produce it? Who would direct it? Who would star in it? The answer to all of those questions was ... me. I would do it. I would teach myself how to hold a fundraiser and crowdfund. I would ask my friends who were making movies, many of whom I met as an actor, if I could jump on their sets. I started as a PA and slowly worked myself up to Script Supervisor, Line Producer, and 1st AD. With all this newfound experience, I set out to make my first film and it was ... ok.
My first taste of failure was bleak. I wanted to crawl away and hide. I’d put my heart and soul into making this film, and nobody wanted to watch it. I was about to throw in the towel when a friend who had helped edit my film reached out about a concept for a series she was sitting on. She was looking for a producer, and wondered if I was interested. That series went on to be Project:Girl. We've been featured in the Huffington Post, HOWL Magazine, Babesfest, and were an official selection at ITVFest 2017. From there I’ve gone on to write and direct other various narrative projects, from short films to music videos. My pilot presentation, Stripped, went on to have a successful premiere at the Wythe Hotel Cinema and opened to positive reviews at 2019 Coney Island Film Festival. The success of Stripped also led me to signing with my current agents, which after being out of the business for as long as I had seemed impossible.
I used to let not going to film school get in the way of my potential for success as a filmmaker. I used to let my lack of experience and connections determine what I was suited for. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself it really was ok to fail. Failure didn’t mean the work I was creating was bad, it meant I was learning how to create something better. Where you are right now is exactly where you are supposed to be. So write that script, and fuck having the correct template. I’ve written scripts on my phone while commuting to work. Film that short, and fuck having the fancy equipment. I’ve shot some quality films on my phone with lighting found around my apartment. Imposter syndrome is certainly real, but all I can say is YOU DESERVE TO BE HERE. Your stories are meaningful and important and I can’t wait to see them. And if you don’t know where to start, I’m here for you. Art should be attainable for all people, not just for the people who can afford it. Creating art should be the same.
photo by The Emma Experience.
Stephanie Bonner is an actress and filmmaker who lives in NYC. In May 2020, she conceived, wrote, and distance-directed a short film via Zoom.