In Conversation With: Girls In Film's Nikola Vasakova

Since founding Girls In Film in 2016, freelance producer Nikola Vasakova has gone on to host eight stand alone events encompassing talks, workshops and screenings highlighting female talent and wilfully shifting the conversation around gender bias in the industry towards positivity and inclusivity.g

Looking to challenge the lack of female representation both in front and behind the camera the next event Who Rules The Roster will offer practical tools on how to get yourself in the room when it comes to commercial work and how to survive in an industry which is predominately male. 

Working alongside the Young Creative Council it features a who's who list of heavy hitter speakers including Emma Reeves from Free the Bid, Zaiba Jabbar director and creator of Hervisions, Julie Seal - Creative director at Facebook's creative agency and Juliette Larthe - EP & Co-founder of production company PrettyBird.

Along with some great advice from those in the know in a supportive environment, GiF events are also an excellent opportunity to network, spot breakthrough talent and find yourself in the right place at the right time with the right people for any potential job opportunities. 

We sat down with Nikola to find out more about the great work GiF is doing to affect change in the industry and how putting your own creations out into the world is less difficult than your mind may convince you it is.

Join the Who Rules The Roster? event here.

So, Nikola, tell us a bit about Girls In Film.

Girls In Film is a network for bold female voices in the film industry. That means we focus on women who are bringing new angles and new ways in story telling or visual style into film making.

It started as an events series but I’m also building an online platform which will focus on championing current short form films from across a number of disciplines like documentary, animation or music videos. Hopefully I’ll be finishing that by the end of the month. But I’m building it on my own so it’s long!

What made you start it?

It was for a practical reason. I wasn’t trying to ‘join the revolution’ and disrupt the industry or whatever. I’d been thinking about GiF for about two years. I work as a freelance producer and so I get hit up by my friends about various crew that they need for their films and so I end up linking people up as the nature of my job anyway. I know so many people in the industry now and a lot of them are women and I didn’t really see the connection between them. I thought, wouldn’t it be great if they could all meet under one roof and then I don’t have to do all the linking up!

It was more just to get my friends together, starting very small and then if I made it beyond one event that would be a success! I put it online after much debating about the name and other things then after you break the mental barrier and say “fuck it, i’m just going to do it” what’s the worst that could happen? No one will come? Well big deal. But once I put it online it sold out in a day. 150 tickets!

It really shocked me that there was that sort of demand. It’s fascinating because it’s not a new thing. Women getting together is not a new concept and neither is it in the film industry. There’s an existing network called Women In Film & TV

 

How did you get into production yourself?

By necessity I think. I studied Magazine Publishing at LCC at the time when magazines went from print to digital and most of them collapsed! After I had done a few unpaid internships, I was like, I can’t do this anymore. I started my BA a little bit later, so I was 26 when I was still at the intern level so I really needed to do something else. I thought I might be quite good at production because I’m quite hands on and organised. I did an internship at Vice for a few months and the rest is history.

I’ve worked at some really amazing companies that were a pleasure to work in and I had a some luck to get into. It’s been a really good experience overall. I can’t say I started Girls In Film because I had some sort of vendetta against the industry. I’ve had a really pleasant working experience. I think everyone has their own story, their own negative experience. I’ve worked on sets as the only woman for a number of months and it wasn’t very comfortable all of the time. With these sorts of things I think this shit needs to change but I wouldn’t put myself as an activist on the forefront of change. I’m just trying to do my thing and offer an opportunity for women to present their work. I guess that could make me an activist but I’m still just caught in the moment of the whole thing.

What kind of barriers have you faced and is there a common challenge the women in your network have experienced?

The gender bias is a very recognised problem in the industry but I try not to focus on the negative experiences. It’s important to acknowledge them throughout the industry but at the events I don’t encourage the sharing of the sob stories about how we have it really hard. We know that we have it hard but I want to focus more on the positive things on how to elevate people rather than support this common mindset that we are being discriminated against.

From my experience and a lot of other women’s experience there is a lack of role models. Not seeing role models in whatever position it is you want to take is quite hard because you don't have that encouragement seeing “if someone else has done it, I can do it.” If you want to become a camera operator or a director or a gaffer there are very limited role models you can see that are widely known. That’s why I really love the initiatives that have sprouted over the last year like Illuminatrix which is a collective of female DOPs (Directors Of Photography). Now people can’t say there aren’t any female DOPs because I can just send them to the website and you can see there are loads of them. 

I think changing the visibility is a huge task and something that is really being addressed at the moment. Changing the mindset is going to be a lot slower process. On set I still get, not necessarily sexist but, comments that could be considered quite ignorant towards women. 

Maybe in the last year or so, because I have been more involved, I notice it more but I definitely feel there has been a palpable change in the industry. Whether it’s the activists who are more on the ground like GiF and other initiatives and there are plenty which is amazing. Things are changing, it’s a good time to be a female film maker at the moment.

And tell us about the Who Rules The Roster event.

I think this one is going to be really good, especially because we have an amazing line up of speakers who are really quite senior and experienced in the industry. It’s a really quite intimidating line up for me as I’ll be chairing the discussion.

I hope by inviting people from the industry and also young film makers that people will have the opportunity to mingle and perhaps some job offers will be made. You never know. At the first event someone from Vice came and recruited someone on the spot. That’s another thing I’m trying to encourage. I think especially, production companies and creative agencies are really hungry to find the next great director while they’re still growing. Events like this, and yours as well, I’m sure, will be really valuable for people in the industry. Not just for the people who are up and coming either; this is a two way street where everyone can benefit.

Have you found people to be supportive?

I’m connected with a lot of the female initiatives that are running at the moment in the UK. From UnderWire Festival to smaller cinema film clubs. We all support each other. If there’s anything that someone has out, we all promote it, repost it on socials. There’s a really great camaraderie between us.

In terms of industry, yes definitely. I think the more established names like BFI really want to listen to what’s going on. In a way I think they realise that as a big institution, they are perhaps not as in touch with the younger networks as they would like to be. Also, they’re aware of tackling the inequality. So far I’ve had a really good response from people I’ve been talking to. I’m really glad I started doing this, it’s fun! I just regret it’s taken me two years! In your head you’re like “oh no what will people think." It’s so dumb. They’ll either think “good on you” or they won’t care. Unless maybe you’re doing something controversial, no one is going to be like “fuck off, what are you doing”.

How big is the GiF team?

I create and run the events, do the social media, the talks. I do everything but I definitely have people who are amazing that help me with the website or writing articles or on the door and things like that.

I’m really hoping to grow the team soon to include an editor for the written pieces, and a video editor for the film stuff. Then I can focus on growing the production presence. The long term plan is to start creating films with the women in the network we have and publish our own content online. That’s where I want to go. From the more passive representation to the active involvement in the industry.

Lastly, do you have any recommendations for films that we should see or people we should check out?

That's going to be a tough decision - there is so much talent out there, women that are pushing the boundaries of traditional film formats and visual storytelling, bringing in subjects that are not part of our wide conversation...it's impossible to choose and I applaud every woman out there making work, keeping busy, being creative and generally smashing it.

Come back to check girlsinfilm.net at the end of the month, when we relaunch with focus on a lot of new films and will keep this platform as a go-to place for contemporary short form film practice across genres. Sorry, I really can't point a finger on one particular film! But I'm looking forward to see Bad Batch by Ana Lily Amirpour, she's a badass.