Executive in Charge - San Francisco
Industrial Light & Magic
When you got into the industry, did you have any mentors or support networks that helped push you forward? Were any of those female role models?
When I came to ILM, almost as soon as I started, I realized what an amazing talented team of women there are, especially in our production teams, and how much everyone on those teams looked out for each other, and also of course looked out for the larger teams that pull together that create the shows and company itself. I've had so many mentors along the way, but of course Lynwen Brennan is a huge one. And Janet Lewin is another one who really inspired me and helped me become I think a person that I wouldn't recognize if I went back in time 20 years. They've helped me grow so much.
How do you feel about the current state of the VFX industry or Hollywood and its inclusion of women and diversity?
I welcome it [diversity and more women], I think it's incredibly important. I hope that it's not just lip service. If you look at the films that are made, and that the studios are banking on becoming hits, they are all fairly safe. They are all known characters, there's a lot of remakes and sequels, and I don't see those, I see a lot of unique casting in the directors, but I don't necessarily see a lot of diversity in those casting decisions. I think that we are fortunate to be in a part of the world where there's a lot of support for smaller indie films, and there's a lot of opportunity for diversity, and diverse perspectives, and of course that's what indie films do, they bring unique perspectives. But it makes me sad that it's not a mainstream thing, I wish there were larger budgets to support really emphasizing the unique stories and unique storytellers out there.
How do you plan to help advance the idea of more women in the industry and as company?
We have a unique structure in ILM where we are very fortunate that we have many strong women who have been in leadership roles. I honestly feel we live in a bubble, where that's okay and not questioned. It doesn't matter if we go to unique or different job fairs, because if we don't start much much younger, and inspire children to take risks; to study math, science, computer science, and technology, and think about this career from a much earlier age, we will never get diverse candidates in because there is so much emphasis on one type of white male talent. When I have conversations with different groups across the company, especially with the Disney teams because we're fortunate to have their support, they need to be educated about ILM and visual effects. So I spend a lot of time talking about the need for education, and the need for much earlier, younger, targeting of kids, so that they have the opportunity to come in with some of the skills early on, and train up on them.
Were there ever times where you felt like being a woman may have impacted your career, or have you ever felt professionally excluded because of it?
Over time, I took that [being excluded for being a woman] as a challenge, to try to be my best, but to also not to conform in the way that there are classic feminine and masculine traits. I was able to demonstrate that even though I might have those classic feminine traits, I can be just as effective [as a man can].
Any words of advice you have for future generations of women interested in VFX?
It's a tough industry for everyone, that's partly what attracts people is the challenge. It's an industry you pour your heart into, no matter what you do, we work hard. You have to believe in yourself to be successful in this. This industry involves constantly taking feedback, working for folks who are outside our company, taking direction, and working really long hours. We have a company full of the highest overachievers in the world. But the camaraderie and the team spirit, and the people you get to learn from, are so inspiring. I think it's a wonderful career to consider, but it's a hard career.
What was your favorite project?
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and my recollection of that project was sitting in dailies room and watching men in green tights walk back and forth as centaurs. It was one of the most short compressed schedule, but the camaraderie we built because we were brought in as a 911 and we didn't know how to do what we were being asked to do was rewarding. It was really a fun project, a trial by fire kind of project. But that one stands out to me as one where we just had to laugh all the time to get through it.
Learn More About Jessica!
Years in Visual Effects: 17
Education: Colby-Sawyer College - BA, English; Writing & Literature
Hometown: New London, New Hampshire, USA
Favorite project: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe