Action packed: A crop of talent wants to make the future of local filmmaking a lot more female

Jency Griffin Hogan (right) directed 14-year-old Hadley Rinaudo (left) in Rinaudo’s short film Bamboo House, which took home the Founder’s Circle Award from the Louisiana Film Prize competition. Photo by Eye Wander Photo.

Like the tall, deep green treeline slurring into the pavement along 1-49 South, the past two days have been just as much of a blur for Hadley Rinaudo, the actress sighing tired but talking at an ecstatic clip in the backseat of a car headed home to Baton Rouge.

The local creative has just screened her film Bamboo House at the lauded Louisiana Film Prize event, a contest with $25,000 up for grabs for 20 chosen films that has caught fire in the state since it launched in 2012. The short drama, her first to star in and co-produce, finished in the top five at the festival and received the Founder’s Circle Award. But more importantly, Rinaudo is taking away invaluable, inspirational feedback from a thoroughly engaged crowd.

“It’s weird to see it on the big screen, to see my face so big like that and to hear from people that they liked it—it was crazy,” Rinaudo says. “To me, making films is about telling good stories, and to hear that people connect with it, it’s just an amazing feeling.”

Rinaudo admits she fell in love with filmmaking just a few years ago, when a prompt in her acting class led her to write a monologue about her late grandfather. With help, that love letter turned into Bamboo House.

She’s only 14, a freshman at St. Joseph’s Academy. 

Young women like Rinaudo who began their creative journeys on an acting path can now draw behind-the-scenes inspiration from successful and highly recognizable female icons, too, and at every conceivable level of the industry.

Hadley Rinaudo (left) and Sara Summers on the set of Bamboo House. Photo courtesy Hadley Rinaudo

From Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and Sundance-winning social justice documentary visionary Ava DuVernay to charismatic actor-turned-screenwriter Greta Gerwig and blockbuster director Patty Jenkins of Wonder Woman fame, women are driving the Hollywood narrative like never before. As a result, a trove of previously untold stories and unique voices find their audience.

“Women are capable of making the decisions ‘above the line’ and being the storytellers,” says veteran actor and producer Jency Griffin Hogan. “We don’t have to wait around to get cast. These young women can go out and create their own content.”

With acting roles in Dallas Buyers Club and Claws, Hogan has spent the past several years focusing on developing a slate of Louisiana-shot indie productions while also energizing a large batch of local talent through her popular acting classes. 

While Rinaudo starred in Bamboo House—and based the story on her real-life experiences—Hogan directed the teenager in the short film that began life for Rinaudo in Hogan’s acting class just after grandfather’s passing. The exercise proved both cleansing emotionally and encouraging creatively for Rinaudo.

“It’s incredible to be able to see female creatives speaking up and standing up, and I’m still young, so it makes me more comfortable to do the same—to not feel guilty about speaking up for myself,” Rinaudo says. “Women have experienced a lot in Hollywood, and it’s time for more recognition of their talent.”

TV and film actress Virginia Tucker has worked with Hogan, too. Tucker has family ties to Louisiana and filmed her short Touched entirely in Baton Rouge last year. Hogan helped produced it. The film follows a young woman’s journey through trauma recovery, and at Louisiana Film Prize, the response to Tucker’s relatable story was magnetic.

“I got to hear directly from the people we made the movie for, from women who have experienced sexual assault,” Tucker says. “Hearing how the film affected them was so powerful.”

Several organizations like survivor advocate LaFASA are throwing support behind Touched.

Virginia Tucker (right) shot her short film Touched entirely in Baton Rouge. Headshot on the right by Eye Wander Photo

“It’s all about hope and recovery and finding healing,” Tucker says. “We’re planning to do much more with this story, but this was a great start.” 

She’s acted in Criminal Minds and General Hospital, but Touched is Tucker’s directorial debut, and she is in the process of writing the feature-length version of the film. It’s just not the kind of story being told by male indie directors.

According to the annual Celluloid Ceiling report by San Diego State University, of all the directors of 2020’s 100 highest-grossing films, 16% were women. A small number on the face of it, but a number that’s up 12% since 2018, signaling a trend of female empowerment in a positive direction even if equal opportunity has a long way to go.

Not only do these acclaimed female directors inspire a new generation, but their decision making affects women in other production roles. The same report reveals that women comprise just 8% of writing positions on male-directed movies, while female-directed projects writing staffs are 50/50. 

Sara Summers wrote the screenplay for Rinaudo’s Bamboo House, and like Tucker, Summers’ goal is to tell stories that communicate a depth and an authenticity about the female experience.

“We don’t just have to be the pretty faces. We can write our own films, tell our own stories, share our ideas and opinions, and that’s what Jency really influenced me to consider,” says the 16-year-old Summers, who is currently writing a thriller while plotting away at a series of young-adult adventure novels. “I really want to write films that make people consider themselves and the world around them. I like making people ponder.”

Summers and Rinaudo are exactly the kind of creatives LSU is trying to keep in state with the establishment of its bachelor of fine arts program for film and television, announced last spring and running now under the direction of award-winning cinematographer Isaac Pletcher. This move by the university changes what was a film and television concentration within the School of Theatre into a fully professional training program for the film industry.

Hadley Rinaudo (left) says she learned a lot about the art of filmmaking from her time on set with Jency Griffin Hogan (right) and Jency’s husband Aaron Hogan, who served as cinematographer for both Bamboo House and Touched. Photo courtesy Jency Griffin Hogan

“We’ve seen an increased enrollment among both females and minorities,” Pletcher says. “I think a big reason for this is that the entertainment industry is beginning to realize that the best stories come from those who live those stories. And we want the stories that our students tell to be authentic, compelling and true to their experiences.”

Each of Pletcher’s last three departmental films have had female or minority writers, producers or directors. 

Recent alumna Mackenzie Andrews, now 22, was one of these chosen directors, and she faced the challenge of helming her departmental film largely over Zoom in the spring of 2020 with confidence and verve. She parlayed the success of that undergrad project into a productive pandemic, finishing dozens of short film scripts, and taking time off to define her focus as an artist.

The Baton Rouge-based filmmaker freelances—directing wedding videos and generating brand content—but her goal is to write and direct her own feature films. “Every single day that I make a video, I’m learning something different about my craft, and I love that,” she says. 

Andrews believes the best approach is to learn by doing. Pick up a camera and try. Then get better the next time around. And the next. It’s this combination of step-by-step progress and dreaming big that excites her.

Andrews will be in Iceland soon, shooting exteriors for her Viking-themed short film, and she’s saving the money from her freelance work to fund her own feature debut.

Mackenzie Andrews co-directed the film Tongue Tied, which earned the Audience Choice prize in the LSU School of Theatre’s Take Geauxs Online Film Festival during the early days of the pandemic. Photo by Eye Wander Photo.

“I firmly believe you’ll see my name in lights one day, but I can wait and not rush it,” she says.

Like Rinaudo and Tucker, Andrews began as an acting student. She credits LSU classes and the work of stars like Lady Bird creator Greta Gerwig with fueling her passion for screenwriting. Though she narrowly missed out on the school’s new BFA program, she sees it as a huge opportunity for in-state talent who want to see their dreams on screen.

“LSU could be a powerhouse for filmmakers, and for so many people in Louisiana, this could be their dream,” Andrews says. “We’re not where we need to be yet, but I’m very proud to say that as a community in this industry, we are taking steps to appreciate talented women a whole lot more.”

It’s the opening of these doors that has pushed Rinaudo to bolster her acting talent by learning from Hogan about writing and producing, too. With the eye-opening rush of Louisiana Film Prize in the rearview mirror and more classes and auditions up ahead, the teen filmmaker sits back watching the sky change colors above the trees.

“I just want to enjoy this journey and the experience of doing it all,” she says.

Rinaudo is riding for now, but she’ll be driving soon.