Interviewing Wimberly Meyer: Women in Filmmaking

Maryam and Nivaal Rehman | Toronto, Canada Article first published on our Perspectives Column for Women of Influence| October 21st, 2020 In our fourth interview for our Perspectives column, we interviewed the incredible Wimberly Meyer. Wimberly was our mentor and such a big support in our journey when we were filmmakers in Disney’s Dream Big Princess Project. In this interview, we speak about her incredible journey starting her own production company, Summerjax, what it was like being the production company leading Disney and the UN Girl Up Campaign’s Dream Big Princess project, and her hopes for the future of this field, and her own company. Wimberly has led creative and production for brands such as Disney, Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, ROXY and Vans, working on innovative and impactful projects like Dream Big Princess, and Hollister and Khalid’s “Sit With Us” anti-bullying campaign, which won a Billboard Live Music Award. Our first question for you is what inspired you to become a filmmaker? I think there’s a lot of different things that inspired me to become a filmmaker. When I was in high school and college, filmmaking wasn’t my dream. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I really knew what I wanted to do. And it wasn’t until I had, had a few different types of careers and had many different jobs, and entered my professional career following school, that I realized production and filmmaking was something that I could potentially really enjoy and like. I started having conversations with people who were in the field, and who had been doing it for years, and just asking questions and digging. That’s when I met Lauren Franklin, who is my business partner now, and we just started talking and we said, “Well, why don’t we try it out? Let’s just go for it and see if this is something we can do and make something out of it.” And then from that, it was like, love at first sight. I never looked back again. I don’t want to say necessarily that that’s dumb luck, because I think that a lot of the things that I had done previous to filmmaking were actually getting me ready and preparing me for the career that I have now. A lot of those have actually been things that I would never do again, and I’d call the worst job you’ve ever had in your life, but you’re so grateful for it, because there’s an element of that experience that you can draw on, and is actually helping you today. Some of those experiences in my past, that had nothing to do with filmmaking, actually have made me a much stronger filmmaker and a much stronger producer today. What was the biggest challenge that you faced when you were starting your filmmaking career and how did you overcome that? The biggest obstacle was that I had never done it before. So I was trying to figure it out through trial and error, and figuring it out as I went. I did not go to film school, so sometimes there can be some bias and judgement around that. But I didn’t let that deter. People always say, “Don’t take no as an option. Don’t take failure as an option.” Yes, you can fail and you can learn from your failures, but don’t let it keep you down. You have to keep moving, you have to keep going. And in that moment, when you’re so passionate about something and you’re loving what you do, you never even consider stopping. It’s not even an option. You just keep going. So I don’t know if those were obstacles, I think in hindsight now, looking back, we were moving so fast, and I was learning so fast, and I was learning every day, something new was happening, and I’m still learning. We’d had Summerjax for seven years, and every day, something new comes and you go, well, we’ve never dealt with that before, so let’s go figure it out. And I think that’s the awesome thing about filmmaking too, is, you never stop learning. It’s constantly changing. If you are a person that could easily be bored, this is a great career for you, because everyday is different. And everyday is exciting, you’re talking to new people, there’s new challenges. You mentioned that you started Summerjax with Lauren, and we know that you were inspired to go into the filmmaking journey there, and what has your experience like with the company, and could you describe that journey? It has been fast! It’s like being on a freight train that just doesn’t have a speed limit, you’re just going as fast as you possibly can. Lauren has two children and I have two children. So, when we started the company, we each only had one, so we both had two since and I feel like we’ve been raising our families and our kids have very much been a part of that journey. Jax is her son, and the company “Summerjax” is named after him. And it’s really important to us. Family is really the root of what we do, and why we do what we do, it’s for our families. But that being said, it’s a balance, right? Because we’re travelling a lot, I mean, not now during the pandemic, but before that, we were always on planes, we were always gone, we were always away from our families. So trying to find that balance, and Lauren and I supporting one another, like, “You go this time because I need to be back with my family, and I need to make that the focus right now.” And then, I would go another time and then she would stay back for the same reasons. There’s been really, really good highs, and good moments, working with you girls and all of the Girl Up girls. Doing that program with Disney and Girl Up was probably one of the biggest highlights of my career, something I’m so proud of, and I would love to do more of that. And then there’s been really low moments. Moments of, “Wow! We didn’t see that coming, and that’s not great.” Sometimes you have to have really difficult conversations with people and as a business owner, you have people that work for you, and that need your support and leadership and you need to be there for them. You have clients that are sometimes wonderful, and sometimes not wonderful. And so there’s relationships and conversations that you have to learn to navigate through. And so all of that is, I would say, on day one when we started, I never would have been able to tell you that those things would be where we are today. I never would have been able to say, we’re going to have children, so Lauren’s going to be out on maternity leave, and calling from the hospital and still working, and I’m going to be making sure my kids get to school to Kindergarten, but also jumping on a plane and taking a red eye to go see this client. I think you take it day by day, and you make the best decisions that you can for the company and for the creative that you’re trying to get across that finish line. But it’s a wild ride when you have a company, and when you’re leading a company. It’s a really wild ride but it can be so much fun if you let it be. Just really enjoy the moments, and like I said, there are really great memories. We call them the “Remember When’s.” Sometimes they can be really crazy moments, like we’ve evacuated out of hurricanes before, we’ve evacuated out of major storms, there’s just an endless amount of stories that you have that, I think when you set out as an entrepreneur, you don’t know what those stories are going to be, and that’s the excitement, that’s the chase. Absolutely. That sounds amazing, and it’s so great to hear that there have been moments when it might not have been the best, but it seems like the journey itself, you’re enjoying it so far and it’s so great that you’ve had so many accomplishments as well to accompany that, and it’s a testament to the hard work that you all do in putting this company together, so that’s awesome. On that topic of different projects that you have worked on, what is one project that was the most memorable for you? The Disney Dream Big Princess project with Girl Up was by far the most memorable. That experience, of being able to mentor all of the girls and make those connections. To see what you’ve all gone on to do in the last three years — I still get chills talking about it, and start to tear up because I think there needs to be more programs like that, and more girls need to have opportunity in this industry to know that it exists. That it’s an option for them, and it’s fun, and you can be successful, and you can enjoy what you’re doing, but you just need to be exposed to it. I was never exposed to it as a young woman or a young girl, so I had to find it later in my life, and that was my journey, so that’s okay, I’m grateful for that. But, I think that if we can expose more girls to filmmaking and other careers, it doesn’t just have to be in filmmaking, then we’re all going to collectively be better off. If I could go back and do that project every day, all over again, I would. It was just so fun! Talking to you girls, talking to Maud in London, and I was on a twenty four hour clock that I was working on and it was so much fun talking to Brazil, and Argentina, and Malawi, and China, and India, and just hearing what you were all doing. It was really interesting, and I didn’t know this going into the program, that you girls are all living in these different areas of the world, but you all had a similar thread. You were all trying to do something. It didn’t matter what language you spoke, it didn’t matter what your family background was like, where you were in school, or what stage of life you were in, you all shared this passion for wanting to learn something new, and that to me, was so cool to see. It was like, collectively, it truly is a small world, and it felt like that when I was working on this project. And then of course being able to see all of you in New York, and just the excitement of it, I was so proud. Yeah, it was amazing! And I think going off of how similar our mindsets and everything was, it was so surprising to see that out of all the applicants and everything, how Disney had chosen the girls, and we didn’t even mention much about our interests and things in our application, but there were so many similarities, and so much overlap. And we look now at people in general, even our political ideologies or our opinions about world issues, they were so similar, even though, you’re right, we’re all from so many different parts of the world but when we talk about something, anything that’s happening in the world, we all have a very similar stance on it. And it’s really amazing. We’re still connected with all of them, and we’re all friends still, and we have this one group chat that we all started before going to Washington and it’s still going like two years now, so just that connection was so special. And all the connections we made with all of you, it was just a mindblowing project, it was awesome. We loved it. Yeah, I think that has definitely been a major highlight in my career. Definitely. Our next question, it can be related to any company, how is working in a female-led company, and you lead Summerjax, different than a company that might be male-led or might have more men leaders than women leaders? I could get in trouble for what I want to say about that. I think that I’ve worked with some really great female leaders, and I’ve also worked with some really great male leaders. So, I think personally, I’ve been very lucky and blessed in that way. Summerjax is female-led and our internal support is predominantly female. When we go out on set, and the contractors that we work with or our freelancers, and our creatives external of Summerjax, there’s a lot of men involved. Just by nature of our industry, it’s a very male industry, but obviously there’s a lot of females involved as well. I think what makes a really successful company is that you have to have everyone represented. It can’t just be one way or the other. It’s kind of like the Dream Big Princess project, you know? Everyone brings something different to the table. We all have different experiences in our past, and if there’s five Wimberly’s sitting at the table, that’s going to be really boring. Because you’re going to just go around the table and hear exactly the same thing. That doesn’t solve problems, or make anything interesting. You have to have male voices, female voices, and you have to have different perspectives on everything else, not just male and female. People from around the world, and around different backgrounds, from across the spectrum. You cannot exclude any one group. I do think that the women that I’ve worked with, have been able to bring a lot of compassion to their leadership style, and I appreciate that. I think that the other women and men that we work with, when we can bring compassion in leadership, even in difficult conversations, even if it’s something that we know is going to be a difficult subject to talk about, if you can bring compassion to the table and really talk it through, then everyone’s going to be stronger and better on the other side. That’s something that I think I’ve personally experienced with great female leaders. That’s such a great insight, and I think you’re right it’s so important to have men and women, and also people of diverse backgrounds represented. Not just in companies, but in every leadership position that we see, even in terms of our governments, or schools and things like that. It is so important because when people do bring different perspectives to the table, you’re able to make much better decisions that are reflective of the people that you’re serving as well. What are your goals for Summerjax in the future, and where do you see the company going in five years or maybe ten years? About a year and a half ago, we started getting into documentary work. And that’s something that I would love to continue and push into. I think there’s a lot of stories out there to tell, and people want to hear those stories. Now more than ever, especially in this pandemic where we all feel locked down. In January, I was in a plane for the entire month. And by March, I was in my home not leaving, not moving my car, very much on lockdown. So you’ve got two very extreme spectrums. And my point in saying that, is when you’re travelling and going out into the world and seeing new things, and you’re having new experiences, it’s wonderful. It’s stimulating, it helps you inform yourself. When you’re locked down, you have less of that. You only have what is in your little bubble. Through documentary filmmaking and storytelling, you can bring some of that experience into a home, and into places that people don’t have access to go out and experience in the world themselves. And I think that’s powerful. That’s amazing! And as documentary filmmakers ourselves, we think you’re absolutely right. When we create documentary films, and even the films we created for Dream Big Princess, you’re able to tell the stories of people that are in real life. Fiction films are great as well, but I think with documentaries they’re real stories and people can really connect with that. So it is an incredible journey and it’s so great to see that Summerjax is looking into that as well and the Dream Big Princess project was like a lot of mini documentaries that you already worked on, so that’s amazing and we’re really excited to see what you all produce. What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers and storytellers? I would say just don’t give up. I know that probably a lot of people say that about a lot of different things, but filmmaking can be very difficult, it can be very tedious, there’s very long hours, there’s a lot of challenges within filmmaking and within this industry. But don’t give up. If you truly love it, and you are truly passionate about it, there’s going to be a million reasons, and a million times when you want to just walk away from it, and when you want to say this isn’t good enough, or somebody says something about the piece that you have made, and that’s the thing, with filmmaking, it’s out there. So people can see it, which means they can judge it. And you can’t let other people’s judgement dictate what you’re going to create and what you’re going to continue to do, or not do. So be true to yourself, and if you have made something, you are successful. You made that, and that is something that came from you that no one can take away, and you should be true to that and keep going, keep moving. Absolutely. Thank you so much, this was really inspiring and we absolutely loved hearing about your journey and your advice, so thank you so much!

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© 2020 by Maryam and Nivaal Rehman