In honor of Women’s History Month your friends at Lunacy will be posting content celebrating the contribution of women to the film industry. This week we catch up with Meta Valentic, who spoke to us recently about the challenges of indie filmmaking. She’s back this week to tell us how she got her start in the industry and how she balances her personal and professional life.
About Meta Valentic
Meta Valentic has worked as an Assistant Director on films like Avatar and on television shows like Bones, Castle, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. She was nominated for two Directors Guild Awards for her work on Lost. Meta has also produced multiple independent features, such as the critically acclaimed Urbania, which was seen at Sundance and Toronto film festivals. She serves as a judge and panelist for the annual Austin Film Festival and works with the Producer’s Guild of America’s Women’s Impact Network, whose goal is “to promote gender equality as part of the PGA’s larger vision of diversity.”
Meta is currently executive producing the comedy web series The Donors with Kevin Hart’s LOL Network.
Lunacy: There are many ways to get into the business. What’s your story?
Meta Valentic: After graduating college, I got into the Directors Guild Training Program. Thank God, because I was waitressing at the Old Spaghetti Factory and probably would have continued doing that, not having much connection to the industry. The Training Program staffs you on high level TV shows and feature films. Then on the weekends we went to seminars to learn more about the business. After 400 days, I was in the Directors Guild. It was a fantastic way for me to get my foot in the door.
LU: So it’s all about juggling?
MV: Definitely. Working on TV has afforded me the freedom to only work on the independent stuff I’m really passionate about. Of course that’s usually the stuff that takes the longest to get made. But it works out, because while I’m working on television, I have a bunch of things going on the side. That’s the short version of how I’ve run my career. I also think a big key with working in independent film is that you kind of have to do a little bit of everything. I know how to budget and how schedule, and now I have the connections to hire actors and crew. Learn as many skills in the business as you can, because you never know when they will come in handy.
LU: Talk about how you balance being an independent producer, AD, wife, and mom.
MV: I have a lot of thoughts on that subject, because I went through my whole twenties and most of my thirties really focused on my career. I married my awesome husband along the way, but I delayed having kids. Throughout my twenties, I scattered my time everywhere. It was definitely a time to throw everything at the wall and see what stuck.
As soon as I had my daughter I got super focused with my time. Suddenly there were actual consequences to saying yes to everything. There’s my family who needs me for X amount of time and you don’t really have wiggle room when you add in work and cleaning the house. It’s been an interesting progression for me and has actually really helped, because I’m the kind of person who will say yes at the drop of a hat. But I can’t do that anymore. It’s helped me focus my work outside of the job and in my job I’ve had to really refine the people that I work with. Before having a family, I didn’t always have such a great radar on that.
I’ve been really lucky as an AD. It’s hard to be a female AD, to have the job and the family. A lot of times this is the point where the women just drop out. You are working 14, 16 hours a day every day on a set. When are you going to have time for family and be able to have any kids? But I found alternative AD jobs where I do 2nd unit, or jobshare, or work off the set, and those fit with my work / life balance.
LU: Do you ever feel pressure to move sideways or that as a women you’ve lost out in the industry?
MV: Oh yeah 100%. When I was pregnant, I was working on season five of Bones. I had been there since season one and worked my way up to First Assistant Director on their second unit. I ran all the inserts, any additional photography needed, stunt units, really anything. When I got pregnant we had just started season five. Then my daughter decided to come out six weeks early. I had literally finished my day on set, went to sleep and woke up at night with my water breaking…anyway I’ll spare you the details. Point is, I gave birth and the first person I called after was my Unit Production Manager to tell him, “I’m not coming in on Wednesday.”
We had loosely discussed the plans of when I was going to take maternity leave assuming that my daughter had a nine month incubation, but obviously those plans went out the window. I had told the UPM (Unit Production Manager) “I would like to come back in four months in exactly the same capacity. I got a nanny. It’s all going to be fine.” It didn’t go as planned.
All I know is that my job was not there for me when I came back. Someone else had taken over for me, and the show wanted to stick with that person and slot me in a lesser position. I didn’t come to terms with that for a while.
LU: That must have been a really tough blow.
MV: Yeah, it was very unfortunate. You know, if you’d laid it out in those very specific terms, I don’t think they would have said they discriminated against a woman who had had a baby; no one wants to think of themselves of doing that. The UPM just was doing what was best for his show at that time. And that was apparently what was best for the show at that time. Fortunately I put the word out that I was looking to move on and that’s when I got Castle, so you never know what will come next.
LU: And that was a better fit for you?
MV: Definitely. On Castle, I rotated my job. I jobshared with another person, so I worked eight days on; eight days off. Basically I was able to fit both work and a home life in. That’s rare. The other ADs, the female ones specifically, who I know are able to have kids and stay in the business are the ones who work on sitcoms. The production schedule is a little bit more forgiving. Then there’s the ones who made it to a higher level where they can delegate and not be on set. But if you are on set and are full time on a show, it is very, very difficult. So a jobshare situation works out great.
LU: Any lasting advice to take home for making it and finding a balance like you’ve done?
MV: Join a union or a guild so that you can always work for a good rate and have health care. Then do your passion projects on the side. At a certain point, hopefully, your passion projects will become your paying job, and that’s the pinnacle of professional success in my opinion. And if you can build a solid family life along the way, that makes it all the better.