SUMMER 2020 NEWSLETTER: Member Spotlight TREVITE WILLIS
A COLLECTIVE VISION
We are in a cycle of creative transformation, and as artists it is our TIME TO SHINE!
This summer, WIP celebrates the first year anniversary of our official Executive Board. But with just half of the year over, we found ourselves reflecting from the backdrop of a pandemic, and a state of unrest. Following the uprising demands for an end to systemic racism and social injustice, Hollywood – every industry – has been put on notice that diversity, equity and inclusion are not merely good talking points.
From PUA to PPP, Zoom to IG Live, regardless of the trending topic, we look to see what the new normal will be as on-set productions and movie theaters slowly come back to life. So, what does this mean for Producers? Everything. Whether it is how we will finance our projects or how to keep the craft service table Covid-compliant, Producers haven’t stopped working behind-the-scenes. Continuing a collective vision to support, collaborate and champion our WIP members, our virtual monthly meeting soirees have taken on an even more empowering purpose. The advantage of this new normal is being able to expand our reach to producers outside of New York and getting real time engagement with production hubs around the world. And so WIP continues to evolve feeling inspired by the possibilities before us.
With a recent inclusion and highlight to the resource page catalog of the Sundance Institute and Women In Film project, ReFrame, WIP is excited for the upcoming initiatives we have in store. In addition to continuing our wellness support, a few programs include establishing a creative capital funding partnership with a banking institution, led by WIP member Julie Crosby, and an Associate Producer mentor fellowship led by WIP Board Member Jane Applegate. Other membership expansion is being led by WIP Executive Team members Lauren Avinoam for Los Angeles, and Katie Mustard for International Alliances.
Speaking of Katie, she along with dynamic producers Lisa Cortés and Mynette Louie were our featured producers for the 2nd episode of our conversation series TALES FROM THE SET, moderated by WIP Board Member Rachel Watanabe-Batton. Moving from a live audience to a virtual platform took nothing away from this candid discussion, as these producers shared some of their courageous and outrageous stories on bringing their projects to the screen. Understanding the impact of sharing, our panelists broke the fourth wall and generously answered real time questions being asked of our almost 200 attendees. Whether you are a new, mid-level or a seasoned producer, there is always some insight to take away from these battle and victory journey talks. And if you missed it, a playback will be posted on the WIP website including our first episode in the series featuring incredible WIP members Aliki Paraschis, Jenette Kahn, Shruti Ganguly and Trevite Willis, moderated by Jane Applegate. Stay tuned for our next Tales event slated for late November.
And finally, as we embrace our season of collective vision, WIP can’t think of a better member to spotlight than Trevite Willis. At the height of the pandemic and following the explosive Black Lives Matter protests in Atlanta, she was not only in the middle of a production on her documentary BLACK VOTERS MATTER, but was figuring how to host the 2nd annual Southern Fried Film Festival she co-founded in Huntsville, Alabama. Whether it is called balancing or pivoting, she made it happen because that’s her job… and we applaud our WIProducer.
Define the vision for the dreams you desire!
Onward and Upwards…
Adetoro Makinde President & Co-Founder Women Independent Producers | WIP
Member Spotlight: Trevite Willis
by MK Chambers and Erin Mae Miller
The saying goes that “Everyone has to start somewhere.” Rarely is the road predictable. For WIP producer and owner of Southern Fried Filmworks, this is certainly true. Trevite Willis laughs, “I started out as an EP, not knowing I was an EP…cause I paid for everything!”
Trevite still remembers her first project—a music video filmed in Atlanta, Georgia. To pull the production off, Trevite and the filmmaker, her then boyfriend, implored all of their contacts in the area and industry to build a cast and crew. Trevite bought the props and paid for the catering, earning a reputation for “best craft services" (which goes a long way in production).
As it so often does, life changed course for Trevite, taking her to New York and to graduate school. But it was while temping at a bank, she realized how much she loved independent film. “I think I want to be poor and do independent film,” spoken with the straightforward sense of humor and honesty of a producer who knows what it means to pursue film professionally.
It was Trevite’s second feature that put her on the map. Children of God, a gripping LGBT drama by Kareem Mortimer, won an astounding 17 awards and has been received at festivals worldwide. The film sparked conversation about the LGBT community and movement. Even Trevite’s mother, a southern minister with a degree in Theology, was compelled by the film to challenge her own way of thinking. To this day, the film remains one of the most meaningful pieces of work Trevite has produced. “We were the opening film of a lot of LGBT festivals and it was on Showtime. They picked our film to be one of two pride films. That’s one of the reasons I am a fierce advocate of the LGBT community. Two gay men trusted me with their story.”
Though the journey is rarely without difficulty or detours, some of this difficulty is rooted in the nature of the industry itself. While progress has been made in efforts of diversity in film and Hollywood, the challenges remain ahead. “Even with Children of God, we didn’t get funded for the next film for seven years. There was a time where, as an African American director, it was incredibly hard to get your next film.” She continues, “It’s hard to get in the door to even talk about our projects. That’s what this fight is about from a black film producer’s perspective…We have a story to tell. Let us tell it.”
With an arsenal of creativity, last month Trevite successfully hosted the 2nd Annual Southern Fried Film Festival which she co-founded in her hometown of Huntsvile, Alabama. She currently, has multiple narrative features and documentaries in development, including a documentary about the impact of voter suppression on the black community, and a narrative feature comedy. Though the latter is in contrast to Trevite’s usual projects and body of work, she says, “Not everything has to be a drama or be intense…there’s room for Black joy!”
Trevite reminds herself and others, “Stay the course. Making film is not easy in the first place—throw in being an African American female producer in the workplace. I like the change that we’re seeing. I like where we are and what we’re fighting for right now. It’s worth it to keep fighting. That’s what 2020 is. Keep fighting. Whether that’s a pandemic or racism.”
Fifteen years later, Trevite is still producing films and telling powerful stories that connect with audiences all over the world.