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Women Making History, Part 5

Panavision’s interview series concludes with a focus on the participants’ early and ongoing sources of inspiration.

In the final installment of Panavision’s Women Making History interview series, Panavision President and CEO Kim Snyder focuses the conversation on the participants’ inspirations.

As this year's Women's History Month draws to a close, we share our sincere thanks to the many women who participated in this interview series for sharing their stories and being incredible role models for the youngest members of the industry as they begin to rise into future leaders.

Read the rest of the series here:
Part 1: On the impact of Women’s History Month

Part 2: On valuable career advice

Part 3: On mentorship

Part 4: On career highlights

Kim Snyder (President and CEO, Panavision): What sparked your interest in your career, and what keeps you inspired today?

Patti Lee, ASC (cinematographer): When I was growing up, I never imagined I would be a cinematographer. Careers that were stable and had a clear pathway forward were valued in my family. I went to UCLA and was trying to decide between a life in the sciences or in art. Being a cinematographer gave me the opportunity to have both. 

I love puzzles — jigsaw, crossword, logic, you name it. As a DP, I’m solving puzzles all day, but the puzzle is way more complex, with multiple possibilities. What’s the best way to shoot this scene? How do I make it feel more intimate? How do I achieve what I want in 15 minutes? Every day brings new puzzles and new solutions.

Patti Lee, ASC (photo by Bill Inoshita)

Terra Bliss (managing director, Panavision UK and Ireland): I’ve been inspired by photography for as long as I can remember. Whether it was an image created for an art exhibit or a magazine cover, I appreciated the possibility of creating a feeling or telling a story from an image. My first real job after college was at a studio; I got the bug for the film industry then. I had no idea there were so many people involved in making a film! I finally understood all those names and positions on the end credits. After working at the studio, I became interested in post production and camera rental, servicing filmmakers behind the scene — a blend of technology, teamwork and problem solving. Working with the Panavision team, I see the passion, ingenuity and care that happens behind the scenes assisting filmmakers in their craft. That inspires me every day. 

Autumn Durald Arkapaw, ASC (cinematographer): I used to watch films all the time with my best friend in college. We probably watched Heat and Trainspotting twice a week. These films made us feel alive, confident, human, and were so visceral. My mother would also let me watch Woody Allen films with her at a young age. I remember feeling so confused and intrigued by them afterwards. Those films presented emotions I didn’t fully understand at that moment. I can clearly remember times in my life and the films that were directly related to those eras. This is the power of film. It creates a memory that attaches you to a specific emotional phase in your life.

I was so enamored by the filmmaking process, I had to find out who was making those images possible and causing these emotions. After I left college, I researched what a cinematographer did.

Today I continue to be inspired by great films and filmmakers. I recently saw Anatomy of a Fall, and it moved me — it was one of the most invigorating films I’d seen all year. Even though I work in film now and know what goes on behind the scenes, I’m still moved when I see an amazing film. It will always have the power to transport you and cause a shift in the way you see the world.

Lesley Kantor (chief marketing officer, Panavision): I have always been fascinated by how things ‘work.’ The experience of watching movies and television and wondering how ideas went from script to the screen captured my curiosity as I child. Who did what jobs? How did a scene get made? My curiosity grew into a passion for pursuing a career in the entertainment industry so I could be a little part of that magic. As I started learning more about the various types of professional fields that make up this industry, I began to build interest in the viewer’s experience and the power of the brand-consumer relationship. That led me to my current role as a brand marketing professional.

Alice Brooks ASC (cinematographer): I have always been attracted to light. When I was an infant, I pointed up to a round streetlamp and said my first word, ‘moon.’ My early years were spent on sets acting in TV commercials. I was fascinated when dark soundstages were transformed into magical places as each lamp turned on. In high school, I spent my lunchtime in the darkroom figuring out how to capture light on a piece of celluloid and then print it onto a piece of light-sensitive paper. Light is everything to me, and a day doesn’t go by that I don’t feel that same childlike excitement as I see a ray of light transform the ordinary into something magnificent. 

Alice Brooks, ASC (photo by Macall B. Polay, SMPSP)

Laura Borowsky (vice president, business development, Light Iron): Filmmaking has always been a passion of mine. Working with the creatives that inspire and mold storytelling with such verve and excitement makes each and every film I pursue, and then work on, a passion project. I can only hope that my enthusiasm for the medium shows through to my clients, who put their complete trust in me.

Filmmaking is a very personal art form, and to have a window into that process is incredibly satisfying. It never gets old. Each project feels new and exciting. 

Kira Kelly, ASC (cinematographer): Still photography and a love of movies were what first sparked an interest in filmmaking for me. However, it wasn’t until I found myself in the lighting department working on a student film that I found my love of cinematography. I remember being so excited by this relatively small lighting setup — I think it was a medium shot. I loved how the lights, stands, nets and diffusions had this perfect order and looked so cool. When the DP let me look through the eyepiece, you couldn’t see any of those things outside of the frame; you just saw their effects. It was magic.

The magic of it still inspires me today. Every day on set I feel like I’m learning a new trick, a new way to lead the audience to an emotional response without them seeing or even considering the tools that got them there.

Chris Wairegi (cinematographer and camera operator; founder, 600 Black Women): I always loved movies. Some of my earliest memories are sitting in a dark theater watching stories on the big screen. I fell in love with it as a kid. I just could never get enough of it and had to be a part of it. 

The art of filmmaking is a lifelong study. I find inspiration all the time in the new and old, new techniques and classic old films. The most inspiring feeling for me is the feeling of wonder produced by a story perfectly told or a visual trick executed perfectly. 

I am working towards creating the feeling in my viewers that inspired me to become a filmmaker. Achieving complete suspension of disbelief in the viewer is always the goal. The work to learn how to achieve my ends keeps me learning, studying, experimenting and creating. 

Mandy Walker, AM, ASC, ACS (cinematographer): My interest in being a cinematographer happened in my early teens, when I realized I loved the storytelling of movies and I loved art and photography. This seemed like the perfect career for me.

Mandy Walker, AM, ASC, ACS (photo by Kimberly French, SMPSP)

Laura Merians Gonçalves (cinematographer): My father was a photographer, but not full time; he always encouraged me to pay attention to see details in spaces and lighting. My mom was a model and was my first and forever muse. When I was in college, my first job on set was as an electrician. I saw the DP and thought it was the coolest job in the world and immediately decided that’s what I wanted to do.

What keeps me inspired is getting to collaborate with other artists and thinkers — the places we get to go, the ideas we explore and the worlds we create together. It all keeps me in touch with the childlike, whimsical part of me.

Johanna Gravelle (managing director, Panavision Canada): Necessity drove me to apply for a job at Kodak. I quickly realized after graduating with a degree in still photography that a career as a freelance photographer wasn’t going to provide me a steady paycheck, and as the daughter of a banker, this was a deal breaker. I spent 27 years at Kodak, and I was very fortunate to work with amazing, supportive people throughout my career there. 

The move to Panavision in 2017 was very exciting but was also a big change for me after spending so many years at one company. I quickly realized when starting at Panavision that I was once again very fortunate to be surrounded by amazing people that challenge and inspire me every day.

Mara Morner-Ritt (general counsel and chief compliance officer, Panavision): I actually didn’t know any lawyers or much about the field when I decided in high school that it was a career I was interested in pursuing. Initially I was attracted to the intellectual challenge and opportunity to hone and practice analytical skills. As I progressed in college and law school, I was inspired by what I saw as the best of the profession — ethical, dedicated and caring lawyers who took seriously their professional responsibility to act in the best interests of their clients. 

I’m inspired by the new challenges I get each and every day. Almost no day passes without a new problem or issue, or an old problem that needs to be addressed or considered in a new way. I’m inspired by the people around me who devote themselves to doing their best.

Victoria Emslie (actor; founder and CEO, Primetime Network): As far back as I can remember, apart from having a penchant for digging and wanting to be a speed archeologist, I always knew I was going to become an actor. I didn’t know how, but the not knowing was even more of an incentive to figure out the clues to a puzzle that no one around me wanted to play with. Losing myself in compelling stories with complicated characters against aesthetically generous backdrops always drew me sleepwalking into their realities, where I would spend time and try to unravel the complexities of the human condition. It gave me a safe place to explore the plethora of emotions we experience and helped me make sense of the world and all its interactions.

I know this sensation is part of the magnetism and magic which still enraptures me today. How to find the humanity in every given circumstance. This career has taught me about myself and pushed me to places I wouldn’t have accessed without playing with this fire. It provides a good outlet for internal tides, and now being in a position to influence, shape and help others and the Industry at large, I surround myself with those who have integrity. Although change is glacial, we are all playing our part in making it happen.

Victoria Emslie (photo by Matt Hass)

Polly Morgan, ASC, BSC (cinematographer): I grew up with a big imagination and a fascination with movies. As a child, I loved to tell my own stories and create images through art and photography. When I was exposed to a film set as a teenager, I suddenly realized that my future lay in the art of filmmaking and cinematography.  

I’m inspired by everyday life, and I think that is one of the unique blessings of being a cinematographer. You learn to constantly observe the world around you, the colors, the movement and the constantly shifting light. I always feel that through the art of cinematography I have learnt to view the world in a unique way that most people take for granted. 

Quyen Tran, ASC (cinematographer): When I was living in NYC and working as a photojournalist, my boyfriend — now husband — was producing NYU grad thesis films. He brought me on to shoot stills, then I started to AC on some and fell in love with the camera department. I realized that although I loved the economical storytelling of a single frame, I was intrigued by the idea of being able to collaborate with multiple filmmakers to create a singular vision, and I was hooked.

So many things inspire me, and it's impossible to point to a single source. I love to visit art museums, travel the world, watch films of course, and spend time with people and hear their stories. It could be a news story, a photograph, the way the light hits a flower or bounces off a building, a book, a podcast — there are so many stories and not enough time to tell them all! 

Michele Channer (business development director, Panalux; managing director, Direct Digital and Island Studios): I started my career in finance, training to become an accountant. I had the opportunity to change roles for 6 months, heading a B2B sales department, and I loved the challenge and buzz of sales — I didn’t go back to finance! Since taking that leap, I have undertaken various roles over my career, including Sales Director, Marketing Director, Managing Director, and International Sales and Marketing Director, all within the photographic industry.

I’m curious by nature, and I enjoy working with creative people, be it staff or customers. Technology developments within our industry also keep you on your toes as a business leader; finding the balance between being reactive and proactive is challenging.

Now in my career, inspiration comes from developing staff, encouraging and giving them confidence to grow. I’m also inspired by the diversity of our industry, the skills and talent coming through in all areas. Recently, meeting the January 2024 graduates from the National Film and Television School, I was impressed with their technical abilities and creativeness, the close community they had formed to support each other. 

Michele Channer

Sandy Ferguson (chief human resources officer, Panavision): Initially I was drawn to HR because I wanted to support businesses on effectively managing people, to be a resource that operates from a people-oriented perspective. I still try to provide that perspective today with the understanding of the balance against business needs that comes with experience.

I feel most inspired by being able to help someone work through a challenging situation. When someone says, ‘You’ve given me something to think about,’ I feel that I’ve maybe helped them to see something in a different way.

Amy Vincent, ASC (cinematographer): My initial inspiration and spark came from working in technical theater while studying at UC Santa Cruz. Hanging and focusing lights, running the dimmer board during live performances — everything from Shakespeare to modern dance. I fell in love with lighting and teamwork in the art of collaboration in live theater. I was studying silent film history concurrently, and it was F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise, photographed by Charles Rosher [ASC] and Karl Struss [ASC], that really triggered my interest in cinematography. And then there was The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari ... 

What always keeps me inspired is time out in nature, the cycles of natural light — especially the extremes of the day, when I’m at the ocean with my dogs. And I am infinitely inspired by music, especially Nick Cave and Patti Smith. So many different artists’ work too — the photography of Chris McCaw and Christopher Colville, as well as the work of glass artist Kazuki Takizawa.

I find deep inspiration in sharing my knowledge and experience with the next generation of young filmmakers and keeping the dream alive! I don’t think you can teach someone to be creative, but you can certainly provide them with opportunities to explore self-expression and the collaborative art form of cinematic storytelling.

Amy Vincent, ASC