Producer Amy Hobby busts down walls for female filmmakers as Executive Director of the Tribeca Film Institute

Amy Hobby is a part of the group in the film industry I like to call “the changemakers”. These are the people in the film industry who use their platforms to bring more opportunities to female filmmakers and people of color. Like Hannah Beachler said in my interview with her in October 2019: “We aren’t just taking down ceilings, we are busting down walls. Because you take out a ceiling and the building will stand, but if you take out the wall, it will fall. My whole thing is take out the wall and redesign the building. That’s what I’m trying to do.”  Amy Hobby, like Hannah, is a wall-buster.

Amy is a producer of a boutique production company called Tangerine Entertainment that is dedicated to producing work by female filmmakers. Along with her production company, Amy is the Executive Director of the Tribeca Film Institute, not to be confused by the Tribeca Film Festival, where she is creating and supporting a community of underrepresented filmmakers. I met and interviewed Amy Hobby at Sundance last month, and I am so happy to share her journey and more about the good work she’s doing for female filmmakers. It’s women like Amy Hobby, along with individuals like Anna Serner, Geena Davis, Thuc Nguyen, and Ava DuVernay, that I feel change is possible. It is the work of these people that is bringing in a more diverse and inclusive industry to the forefront, and I’m so excited to see all of these sexist and racist walls to be busted down and redesigned by these changemakers.

REBECCA MARTIN: Your work as a producer is amazing. Your line-up blew me away. One of the more recent ones you produced, “What Happened, Miss Simone?” I’ve never seen such a personable and effective way of telling a story. It blew my mind.

AMY HOBBY: Thank you. I got to spend a lot of time with Nina.

MARTIN: That’s amazing, yes you did her justice. Thank you for that.

HOBBY: I’ve been producing for a while. I started this production company called Tangerine Entertainment around 2007 with my producing partner Anne Hubbell. We are a boutique production company that only works with films made by women, so all female directors.

Amy Hobby with producing partner Anne Hubbell, Tangerine Entertainment

MARTIN: That’s great to hear.

HOBBY: Yes, so we only work with female directors, it doesn’t have to be a female story, but it has to be a female lens on that story. It could be a kung fu movie. It doesn’t have to be anything in particular. The projects are primarily scripted, we did one doc, but we mostly work with scripted projects.

I had been producing for a long time, and then I got a call from Tribeca Film Institute, asking if I could come in and run their artist programs. I wasn’t really looking for a job, but that sounded kind of cool. Just producing one film at a time wasn’t moving the needle enough. You know what I mean? If I could do something more systemic, or be part of something bigger, that could put thirty underrepresented filmmakers into the mix. 

MARTIN: That is fantastic.

HOBBY: I started the position of leading the artist programs at the end of 2015, and then at the end of 2016 the Executive Director left. Jane Rosenthal, who is the co-chair, asked if I would step in. Then I was like ‘this is a real commitment.’ I was happy about it, I loved my job. January 2017 is when I officially started as the Executive Director. 

MARTIN: I think that’s so great what you’re doing for underrepresented filmmakers and women. I just interviewed Anna Serner, who is also a major trailblazer in the industry.

Anna Serner

HOBBY: Yeah, she’s a rockstar. I was on a panel with her once, in Copenhagen.

MARTIN: She’s a bad a**. She expressed that it is so important to be on that right platform, to really make a difference. Because you know you could talk, and talk, and talk about change, but it isn’t until you actually act that you really makes the difference. And I know that you’re doing that for the Tribeca Institute, which is awesome.

HOBBY: I want to clarify one thing. So Tribeca is different than let’s say Sundance, so their labs and festival are all under the non-profit banner. Tribeca is split out since 2004. So I run the Tribeca Institute, which is a non-profit. I don’t oversee the festival. 

MARTIN: Got it, that’s helpful.

HOBBY: I didn’t even know that until I started working there. We’re sister organizations. Everyday I talk to them about the women directed films, also Women of Color. But I basically run the part that supports filmmakers with grants and mentorship. We have a three-day platform during the festival called TFI Network. We bring in forty teams, docs and scripted, to come for a day of pitch prep, peer to peer community building, and for the next two days we run around 1200 meetings between the filmmakers and the industry, to get them ready.

MARTIN: Wow, that’s amazing.

HOBBY: We get high level industry in there to look at the projects. That’s an example of something super cool that we do. 

MARTIN: Are there any goals that you are trying to achieve through your work at the institute?

HOBBY: We’ve just gone through a strategic planning process. The Ford Foundation, who is really amazing, has been supporting organizations, that are not problematic in scope, but supporting by helping them build their organizations. It’s hard for us to be productive partners to filmmakers if we’re fretting about our own organization. Basically that’s been my goal in the first two years, to get our house in order. For example, we’re looking at scripts and applications, and eighty percent of those scripts are by women, forty percent are people of color, ten percent are people with disabilities, we don’t want that curation to be just some white dudes. All of that is part of what we’re doing, we’re making sure our house is in order to make sure that what we say that we’re doing that we have outside readers and curators, with meaningful conversations, so I’m streamlining that process.

We’ve done some pure technical stuff too. We’ve actually had someone build a platform process for us, it sounds really silly, but we’ve actually made it that we actually can go out to outside readers to get different opinions, it’s super easy to use. We’ve beta tested it with the creator. The next phase is that we want to build an app that helps build community amongst our alumni. 

MARTIN: Who are the alumni? 

HOBBY: Anyone who received a grant from us, or attended one of our workshops. So that’s our alumni, they are works in progress. They’ve just received a grant, and maybe they just got into development and in post-production. But if they can get to communicating better, they can sell films better, and get better peer to peer support. So, we’re creating something that will make that easier. Let’s say I’m shooting a film in Beirut. You don’t know anyone, maybe my producer is from there, but if you actually go into our database, we have filmmakers in Beirut, and we have a partner organization in Beirut. So I should just be able to look for that through the app, connect with them, and say “hey, I’m out here working on a film, do you want to get a coffee?” Or “we’re shooting tomorrow, and we lost our camera assistant.” Our community is largely made up of women, ninety-five percent women. That’s one thing I’ve been trying to work on is strengthening that community. 

MARTIN: Something I’ve learned from all the interviews that I’ve done is that female filmmakers just need to talk to each other, they are all dealing with similar issues, and asking the same questions. If they spoke with one another that could help with elevating one another, getting better work with the right distribution.

HOBBY: Exactly. Film Fatales had done a great job at that. Do you know the organization?

MARTIN: Yes, I do. 

HOBBY: They’ve done a great job at just getting people in the right room. Yeah, we’re trying to just build that community. We hope that it rises up.

MARTIN: I think an app is exactly what is needed. And everyone does everything on their phones, so that’s a perfect platform to build on.

What got you into producing? What got you started in working in film?

People Magazine

HOBBY: When I was twelve, I was a still photographer. I had a dark room at home because my dad did photography, but was also a lawyer. Photography was his hobby. No pun intended [laughing]. I had this camera and I started taking artsy photographs. I got into the local newspaper. Then People magazine saw the photographs and mentioned me in an up and coming article-

MARTIN: At twelve?

HOBBY: Yes, something like “A Twelve-Year-Old Shutterbug, a stringer at local events in Florida.” Some filmmakers saw that article and they decided to do a documentary on me for Canadian television.

MARTIN: That is amazing.

HOBBY: The Toronto filmmakers came down to Orlando, Florida to make a documentary on me. It was a crew of three filmmakers, one woman from India originally, and two white guys. They would switch off roles. Sometimes the woman was shooting, and I was in awe of her because I was a camera person. And I thought, “that’s so cool, and that’s what I want to do.”

MARTIN: What’s the name of the doc?

HOBBY: You can’t find it anywhere, but it’s called “Through Amy’s Eyes.” It was a series about artists around the world. 

TORONTO, ON – OCTOBER 06: Deepa Mehta attends the 2016 Canada’s Walk Of Fame Awards at Allstream Centre on October 6, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)

That woman became quite a well-known filmmaker, Deepa Mehta. She’s made these epic films in India. They flew me to Toronto to do the voice-over, and I was just in awe. I didn’t know anything about filmmaking at the time, I grew up in Orlando, but I decided I wanted to get into filmmaking after that, even though I didn’t know what that meant.

MARTIN: That’s so exciting. That’s the spark right there.

HOBBY: That’s the spark. When you see someone doing something, had it been an all-guy crew, I don’t know if that spark would have happened. Seeing her do that I was like “yeah, I want that.” So that experience was my inspiration. 

As a teenager I got a bit distracted, as teenagers do, but then I went to Houston for school, at Rice University. They have a very small film program, very experimental in documentaries. We had all of these great experimental filmmakers, some of the greatest, like Stan Brakhage and Bruce Bailey and Richard Lester who did the Beatles movies. I worked as a projectionist at the small theatre there. Then I got into the NYU film grad program, which was pretty cool with previously being in Texas. I went to the grad program for a year, but I’d already been shooting stuff, and making films on my own. I got a job for a summer out in LA as a camera assistant because I was so good with cameras. Then I never went back to school.

MARTIN: You got involved with the work.

HOBBY: So the camera was my way in, and I worked my way up.

MARTIN: What was the first film you produced?

HOBBY: The first film I produced was called “Nadja”, and we premiered here at Sundance in 1995.

“Nadja” (1994)

MARTIN: The early nineties seemed like the time to be at Sundance, it was a raw time, the independent film was fertile.

HOBBY: It was an amazing time. We shot “Nadja” in black and white in 35 mm, we also used this toy camera, that was in pixel vision. It was made by Fisher Price in the eighties. I’m very proud of the film. It’s not available streaming, but there’s a print of the Director’s cut in the Museum of Modern Art.  We’ve been trying to get it re-released. So that was my first produced film. David Lynch was the Executive Producer. It was super low-budget. We sold it to a company called October Films, which was a big company back in the nineties. And that’s how my career on the producing side started. 

MARTIN: What draws you to working with certain films or certain projects with female filmmakers?

HOBBY: One, I actually just need to like the person and feel I can have a dialogue with them. One example, my producer and I had a meeting set up by an agent with this director. We kind of liked the script, but we wanted to make sure they weren’t done thinking about the script. So we set up a meeting and it was very casual, the Tangerine offices are very casual. We were like with the director, “can we talk more about this part?” And the director was so defensive, and was like “no, I wouldn’t change that.” We do like people standing up for their work, but you need to explain why, it’s all a part of the dialogue. But the director gave no explanation. If you were like, “here’s why I don’t want to change it”, then right on. But when you can’t communicate that, it’s difficult.

MARTIN: You want to work with people that you can collaborate with and have conversations. 

HOBBY: And click, you say something, and then they say something. Because it’s about listening. It’s so intense making a film, if there’s any doubt that you’re going to be that person’s best friend during this process, you should really think hard about that.

Saoirse Ronan as Jo in “Little Women”

So that’s one thing. Project wise, our taste is both artsy and commercial. We like something that has some underlying social issues, social issue entertainment. For me, 2019 was a great year for social issue entertainment, “Parasite” of course, but also “Little Women”. That scene where she (Saoirse Ronan as Jo) is arguing for her own IP, that rocked my world. Even “Knives Out”, right? The film had this undertone, touching on issues of immigration, undocumented people, but then they wrapped it with this amazing whodunnit mystery.

I feel like these are the kinds of films that Anne and I on the Tangerine side, and me personally, want to produce. They have to have some spark, like I haven’t seen that. This one documentary we did was called “The Last Laugh”, we would see this filmmaker talk about the taboos of humor through the lens of the holocaust. We kept seeing the filmmakers, it’s a husband and wife team, at different events. They would tell a holocaust joke, or they’d talk about “The Producers”. We just really liked them. They were working with this Auschwitz survivor, who thought, it is okay to laugh. You have to move past things. And there are people, others who feel that’s not okay. And they were like if we could only get Mel Brooks, and I was like, I think I can get Mel Brooks, I can get a Mel Brooks interview for you. 

The third thing is, I choose projects based on that I can tangibly help that person. I don’t want choose a project that I may love, but I have no idea how to help them. So if someone comes to me and says they want to do this Disney family film, and I love it, but I don’t really know any executives at Disney-

MARTIN: And it doesn’t excite you as much.

HOBBY: Right. And for the “The Last Laugh” I was like I can get you Mel Brooks, I can help you with some of the production issues your having, in terms of editing and the post-production stuff, I can be of value, and I think I can bring a little bit of money for you. I had a vision for how I could be a productive member of the team. I think that’s where some producers mess up, They want to do something, and then they get attached to the project, and both people are not- I mean you want to have something where you both can move something forward. It’s really a complex decision.

Mel Brooks in “The Last Laugh” (2016)

MARTIN: What projects can you talk about that you’re really excited about, whether it’s at the Institute or producing? 

HOBBY: Right now we’re curating for our April network, there are a lot of cool films coming down the pipeline. Every year in combination with the festival, we do a pitch, we give a film one million dollars, it’s a five project pitch, and one gets a million dollars. And TFI, the institute, we help curate, We have all of these filmmakers coming into our orbit. The head of scripted programs, Bryce Norbitz, and myself, we oversee it together. She and I go out on set to check-in with the teams. The one that is just finishing now is called “Marvelous and the Black Hole”

MARTIN: Wow, what a title.

“Marvelous and the Black Hole” directed by Kate Tsang, produced by Carolyn Mao

HOBBY: Yep. The director’s name is Kate Tsang, and the producer is Carolyn Mao, and they have mostly an Asian-American crew, lots of women on the crew. The film is about a young Asian girl, who is twelve, she’s like a troublemaker. Her mom has died recently, and she has decided to be punk, all of a sudden. She meets a woman magician, who is in her sixties maybe, and this unlikely bond forms. 

MARTIN: I love that.

HOBBY: So there’s some magic in it, some special effects, a great scene with a bunny rabbit. 

MARTIN: When can I see it?

HOBBY: The film will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

MARTIN: I’ve never been to the Tribeca Film Festival, and that’s one I need to go to. Especially because of female filmmakers.

HOBBY: For sure. We also have a very robust short doc program, We give people a bigger grant and six months to finish them. So that their whole life isn’t destroyed by doing a short film. So we’re just like, “go, go, go.” We had one film that got short listed for the Academy Awards.

MARTIN: What was the name of the film? 

“Stay Close” directed by Shuhan Fan and Luther Clement

HOBBY: It was called “Stay Close”, about an African-American fencer, who makes it all the way to the Olympics. It’s partially animated, it’s a beautiful film.

MARTIN: I’ll have to see it! Was there a female filmmaker involved?

HOBBY: The film was co-directed by a woman, a Chinese woman, Shuhan Fan, who actually lives in Beijing. The other director is a Caucasian male, so that’s a team. His name is Luther Clement. We’re really trying to get more female filmmakers into the pipeline. You see them, but it’s still not what it should be. It’s still disappointing. 

MARTIN: That’s why I’m doing my magazine. It’s so important to get these stories out there and get them elevated. A lot of my readers are emerging female filmmakers, and I believe it’s so important to have my magazine as some kind of resource and encouragement that they can have along the way.

HOBBY: There are so many false narratives, in our culture in general, but really around independent filmmakers, and filmmaking. There are false narratives that are damaging to people. The idea that “oh yeah you can put it in on your credit card”, or “your film’s going to premiere at Sundance and then your career is done- like that’s it and your film is going to sell.” There’s all of these narratives that aren’t so practical. One of the things that we talk about at TFI is that is sustainability in filmmakers. If I can connect a producer that came to that program, to another project that is green lit- if I can keep people working, and working on other projects, work gets work. 

MARTIN: Sustainability is so important for female filmmakers.

HOBBY: It’s super important. People are like, you have a phone, why can’t that woman who works at that Starbucks make her own film? Well it’s just really not that easy. 

MARTIN: You need more support, for sure. With the Oscars, that seems to be one of the issues why no women were recognized in the director category. They aren’t encouraged or funded, which shortens their careers, and makes them illegible to be a member of the Academy to support other female filmmakers. Could you comment on that?

HOBBY: I’m a member of the Documentary branch of the Academy, the doc branch has addressed this in a very meaningful way with opening our doors and letting more people in, 

MARTIN: So you’re a part of the Academy, that’s great.

HOBBY: And I one hundred percent agree with you. Like when “1917” wins [conversation took place prior to the 2020 Oscars] instead of “Little Women”, you know?

BTS: Director/Writer Greta Gerwig and DP Yorick LeSaux on the set of Columbia Pictures’ LITTLE WOMEN.”

MARTIN: And Greta was not nominated for Best Director-

HOBBY: No she’s not. Those categories have a long way to go to turn that around. The doc branch fortunately, we’re the more open, even the old school people in the doc branch are liberal, left wingy- 

MARTIN: Yes, there seems to be more female filmmakers attached to documentary features, then narratives.

HOBBY: Also, it makes sense, because the stakes are lower. It’s actually kind of sexist. For example, if you’re an investor, and your budget is only five hundred thousand dollars, I decide to give five hundred thousand to a female filmmaker with a crew of five people for a documentary. They feel okay with that. But if you are going to risk thirty million, or a hundred million, and there’s going to be a crew of one hundred fifty to two hundred, they think, “can a woman do that?” That’s the sexist kind of thinking that sadly comes from a lot of investors. There is some subconscious thing. Apart of what we say is that the funders need to change, we need to get women to fund stories by women. It’s not just the directors, we need to get more women executives that can green light. Or women who are of great means to take a risk on a woman told story. We need more woman curators, and critics and film writers. 

MARTIN: We definitely more female critics.

HOBBY: There is the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, a great organization.

Thelma Adams

MARTIN: I saw that you were recently featured on their site. 

HOBBY: I know Thelma Adams, she’s wonderful. But it’s also a hustle to get those writing jobs too. We were in Toronto and she was like, “I’m writing for AARP, but whatever, it got me here!” [laughing]

MARTIN: That’s hilarious. Any inspirational advice for female filmmakers?

HOBBY: Persistence, that’s the one word answer. And, don’t be afraid to ask. If you have a story that you want to tell, and you’re getting funding for it, remember there is power on your side of the table too. You’re not there begging for the money, you want to make sure that person is a good partner for you. I want women all over to know that there is power on your side of the table.  

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