Cheryl Laughlin speaks with Cameo Wood whose sci-fi short Real Artists (2017) has won over 50 awards, swept up a Northern California Emmy Award and is competing in the Chloe Wine and Women In Film "She Directed" Filmmaker contest. In 2018 she was a co-winner at the AT&T Film Awards for “Best Emerging Artist” award by Ava DuVernay and participated in the inaugural Sundance Collab Screenwriting, Episodic, and Fiction Directing programs. Cameo is working on her first feature film.
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Every day I dip into my email box and suss out emails that have seconds to intrigue or weigh down my inbox. So, a few weeks back, this email subject line popped up: “Director Cameo Wood Wins Northern California Area EMMY Award.”
Hmmm. I didn’t even know Emmys could be regional (they awesomely are!) and extra intrigued by anyone bringing NorCal into its own as a place for serious filmmaking. And since San Francisco is only a couple hours from the Central Valley, I was all in to sit down with writer-director-producer Cameo Wood to talk films, storytelling, and her hustle to expand Coven Film Fest to support emerging women-identifying filmmakers. Plus, meet back up with me at the end of this conversation for some word nerd extras sprinkled throughout Real Artists.
Infusing the Real World in Your Writing
Cameo Wood discovered the impetus that would become Real Artists while traveling and readingTRSF, a special publication of MIT’s Technology Review. She landed on the short story by award-winning author Ken Liu. The story about art, artificial intelligence, and the future of film aligned perfectly with her background studying neuroscience and artificial intelligence and as an engineer at GTE Labs, Sprint, Lucent and Cisco.
Then, like every writer who finds the perfect project, she had to hope Ken would see her as the right filmmaker to adapt his work. She even wrote the first draft and then checked on the option, going against the legal grain we’re all taught to lockdown terms first. But her energy convinced Ken she was the one to work the story into the 12-minute, award-winning short.
Then Cameo took the adaptation, about a film exploring the animation industry, one step further. “I swapped the gender of one of the characters from the original story and infused more diversity into the casting,” Cameo shared. “Tamlyn Tomita and Tiffany Hines show empowered Asian and African-American women who are noticeably absent in animation filmmaking.”
Plus, the mind-bending premise pushes the AI conversation in storytelling to a whole new, rewind-and-watch-that-again conversation.
I also learned Cameo matched up her writer-director choices with equally strong choices behind the camera – a 75% female crew and cast-crew of 50% people of color. Her film choices parallel Ava DuVernay’s “culture of inclusion” (yes, that Ava, who also gave Real Artists top props). Inclusion should be in all our writers’ toolboxes, to fully explore character development.
Next Steps Filmmakers at Coven Film Fest
In talking with Cameo – fueled by cortados and amped by movie-making energy – we dug in further on how emerging women-identifying filmmakers can take their storytelling to the next level.
“As I was touring with Real Artists, I loved women-specific film festivals like Bluestocking and Citizen Jane, but was saddened that they were closing,” Cameo pointed out. Then she hit me with this bombshell that I’ve often danced around: “Meritocracy is fake. We need to reframe how we support diverse systems of filmmaking.”
Cameo co-founded Coven Film Fest as an annual gathering to carve out more chances for women filmmakers to meet up in San Francisco and find like-minded creatives pushing their stories forward. The fest features a full day of short films made by women, unique panels, Q&As with filmmakers, and the all-important networking opportunities to stretch our often introverted writer skills.
Cameo found that talking about inclusivity is often hard to discuss at broader film fests with so many other conversations going on. With Coven Film Fest, women filmmakers focus on:
- fully inclusive cast and crews that build a sense of belonging…
- storytelling that can more closely resemble the real world and…
- how we can all be part of the change we want to see.
As a screenwriter, I always thought strong female protagonists were the norm – gotta love those bubble moments when you power forward unaware of your outlier status. But then you later learn what you write is an opportunity to live outside the franchise universe and build worlds equally worthy of sharing.
So let’s meet back up here after January 10-12, 2020, after my first time covering Coven Film Fest and searching for a tribe that gets my screenwriting universe too. To echo Cameo’s positivity, you never know what can happen…
EXTRAS: Real Artists Word Nerd Easter Eggs for Writers
Throughout Real Artists, Cameo has placed deliciously fun word play and Pixar-esque callouts.
- Have dictionary.com at the ready to recall words like “semaphore” and “semiotics.”
- Brush up on your Aristotle philosophies and storytelling terminology, sprinkled throughout.
- Finally, check out semaphore-studios.com to play along with matching up movie posters to their tongue-in-cheek reference. For me, The Superlatives tickles my word nerd brain something fierce!
To keep up with Cameo, her Real Artists short, and other projects, visit:
- covenfilmfest.com whose mission is to amplify all women's stories—emphasizing indigenous, disabled, and women of color—told by women creators