ALUMNI FEATURE: Interview – Elizabeth Bohinc & Kate Zabinsky

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By Piera Van de Wiel and Kara Lawson, Fusion Alumni Relations.

September, 29th 2015: We spoke with Elizabeth Bohinc and Kate Zabinsky, Fusion Film Festival alumnae who recently put together a panel in LA for industry professionals to talk about women in the film and television industries.The panel was two years in the making.


What was your process in creating the panel?

Having been co-directors of the Fusion Film Festival during our time at NYU, we have a history and particular connection with these themes. After graduation we both moved to Los Angeles and began our careers. We continue to be involved with NYU alumni events as well as with other industry professional organizations. Through our experiences, we noticed that there was a dearth of high-level conversations about women working in this industry. There was the standard fare about balancing work and family life or breaking in. There weren’t examples or conversations about mentorship or how to grow your careers once you are in the door (if they manage to get themselves into the room in the first place). We are women in entertainment. Ultimately, we wanted to hear the opinions and advice of people who have careers we’d like to emulate. We thought back on our experiences at Fusion and realized, with the help of NYU, we had the power to put all these people in a room to foster this conversation. So that’s what we did.

Who was involved?

The two of us [Elizabeth Bohinc TSOA ’10 and Kate Zabinsky TSOA ’11], Joanna Puglisi from Tisch Alumni Relations, and Lauren Nisenson from Gallatin Alumni Relations. We had actually previously worked with Lauren on Fusion in 2010 for our first ever alumni panel. Drew Uriarte, Assistant Dean of Tisch, helped get it off the ground. Thania St. John (Gallatin parent) moderated the panel. Thania is a TV Writer/Showrunner, WGA Board Member, and the Co-Founder of the League of Hollywood Women Writers.

The panelists included: Rachel Brosnahan, Maryam Keshavarz, Toni Graphia, and Campbell Smith.

Rachel Brosnahan graduated from Tisch with a BFA in Drama in 2012. After several guest TV and theater roles, she broke out with a guest role in House of Cards, eventually leading to an Emmy Nomination for Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series for “Rachel.” She is also a series regular in WGN’s Manhattan. In addition to her acting work, she works as an Ambassador for Global Citizen.

Maryam Keshavarz is a producer, writer, and director. After graduating from NYU’s TSOA MFA program with a major in Film & TV, she shot her independent feature Circumstance, which explores homosexuality in modern Iran. Circumstance went on to win several festival awards including the 2011 Audience Award. Maryam teamed up with Academy Award nominated producers Anna Gerb, Neal Dodson, and JC Chandor (A Most Violent Year, All is Lost, and Margin Call) and will be directing her sophomore feature, The Untitled Oliver Diaz Story, in February 2016.

Toni Graphia is a television writer and producer, currently serving as Executive Producer on Starz’s hit fantasy drama Outlander. She has been working television for over twenty years, starting as a researcher on China Beach and working her way up the writing ladder on shows such as Roswell, Grey’s Anatomy, and Battlestar Galactica. In 2005, she won a Peabody Award as part of the writing staff for Battlestar.

Campbell Smith is the Head of Television for Carousel Productions. After graduation, she moved to New York, eventually landing at The Daily Show for six years where she met Steve and Nancy Carell (both correspondents at the time).  After writing and producing a number of shows, she teamed back up with the Carells to form Carousel Television. Campbell Smith serve as an EP on TBS’s upcoming comedy series Angie Tribeca.

How did the event go? And how was it received?

The event went incredibly well. The panelists were so dynamic; we could have let them go for hours! We were able to convince UTA (United Talent Agency) to donate their theater for the event. They were very impressed with the event and offered their space to make it an annual event. We plan to do just that.

The audience responded very well. The questions during the Q&A as well as the conversation that continued during the reception were high level, intelligent, and productive.

How has Fusion impacted your careers, and what lessons did you carry over into the business?

Kate: First, actually working for Fusion, organizing logistics and personnel, taught me as much about how to work in the industry as my film classes did. Learning how to collaborate, problem solve, and meet deadlines is just as important as creative instinct once you enter the professional world. As far as thinking about women in the industry, I think Fusion helped me learn to verbalize my questions and concerns. That is to say, I am a woman and I work in film, so it would never have been something I didn’t know about or didn’t think about. But, because I had the experience of Fusion, I am able to look at the challenges that exist and approach them in more productive ways because it’s a conversation I’ve been having since I was a freshman at Tisch.

Elizabeth: I can’t agree more with Kate about Fusion preparing me for the professional world, but I also will say it helped me develop a shorthand with a group of professionals I truly trust to this day. Kate and I obviously work very well together because of our Fusion experience. [It’s the] same with Lauren Nisenson and I. We just know how to collaborate, problem solve, and get it done. Fusion also made me more aware of female industry professionals, which always helped when a development team had to make a list of episodic female directors or writers to staff a show. It’s good to just have a list of diverse, interesting voices in the back of your head at all times. I learned that from Fusion.