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Project Forte: Fre Howard

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Written and Edited by Kate Feher

Alfreda “Fre” Howard Keck (she/her) is a force.  Fre perfects her art daily within her own company, Faces by Fre, and concentrating on special effects, wigs, prosthetics, and makeup for a properly diverse clientele.  Alfreda has gleaned experience ruthlessly, ignoring superficial obstacles the way they must be, and forging her own path by proving her skill quite simply, with confidence and the expertise to back it up.  Project Forte is proud to present this conversation. Fre Howard has decades of practical expertise, working with a multitude of talent, who in turn are fighting for space within our evolving industry.  Read more about her experiences and also of Fre’s invaluable lessons, for we all glean a fuller perspective upon considering another’s journey.


Kris Mendoza:            Thank you for taking the time to do this!

Fre Howard:       Well, thank you for having me on Project Forte. My name is Fre Howard and I am a professional makeup artist.  I specialize in makeup, wigs, prosthetics, and special effects. I’ve worked commercially, but also in theater, film, and opera. I own a small company Faces by Fre, LLC with six employees. I’m originally from Michigan, and I now live in Philadelphia.

Kris Mendoza:             I don’t think I ever knew you were from Michigan. What brought you to Philly?

Fre Howard:        College, I am a Temple grad! I went to Temple University and I loved the city, so I decided to stay.

Kris Mendoza:             How did you get your start in the industry?  Did you go to school for this at Temple?

Fre Howard:      I took classes in NYC and Canada, but I already had a love for makeup. In high school, I would do my friends’ proms and weddings, and then when I got to college I would do girls’ makeup and eyebrows in my dorm room. 

You’ve got to find something to fill your life. You can’t stick with something that will drain you. So I interviewed as a makeup artist for this show called Del Vow Now . After that job, I worked on the set of Compromised, where I met Carla Morales, and started the web series, The Book of Nimrod. People started spreading my name by word of mouth so pretty soon I was working with folks from The Wire and other celebrities in town. 

I recognized that the world of opera had diverse companies, so I sent letters out, and sure enough, landed jobs as the lead makeup and wig designer for the Curtis Institute of Music, for Temple University, and for Rowan University. 

Kris Mendoza:             Nice. I didn’t realize how heavily you were entrenched in the Opera world. 


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Fre Howard: Oh yeah, Opera gave me my start!  And each season you get a variety of shows like new, fresh versions of La Bohème or Madame Butterfly. We see more people of color in the world of opera and that changed the landscape for me. I appreciated the old stuff, but hearing singers like Denyce Graves, or even Leontyne Price who I saw with my mom in Pittsburgh… I just couldn’t get that out of my head.  

Kris Mendoza:             So you mentioned diversity in that realm, and you see initiatives now in terms of inclusion and in some cases, quotas… are these positive and negative sides of the same coin?  You see an affirmative action approach sort of mandating this kind of inclusivity, what are your thoughts on that? 

Fre Howard:      Well, let’s start with the pros. I’m called for jobs that I normally wouldn’t be called for, simply because the talent is of color and they’ve requested someone with the skills to style them. That’s an opportunity for me to work for someone who would otherwise not even think about hiring me. Viola Davis once said that opportunity is what makes the difference for people of color.  Once I get one, my work speaks for itself and they can then see that mine is a small business which is also international.  They can see that, “Oh, she’s not just some local girl who’s doing hair and makeup. She’s actually traveled with her craft.” That broadens their perspective.  The reality is there are people globally who do this, and they’re not all in Hollywood. They’re right here in our backyard.

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The cons, unfortunately, are that I don’t get  a lot of calls for jobs that do not include African-American talent because they think that’s my specialty and that’s my lane, and that’s all I know how to do. Whereas, artists not of color have been hired to do all kinds of talent.  Unfortunately, most times when a woman of color is on set and has a non woman of color doing her makeup, that stylist doesn’t even have the canvas of colors to treat their skin or the skills to do their hair.

I was just on a shoot in New York for example, and there were two people of color, one had braids and one had naturally curly hair. I could tell that’s why I was brought on. The first woman sat down and I noticed she had her makeup and her hair things in her lap…  And I’m like, “Well, what is that for?” 

She said, “I’m in awe.  Can I take a picture with you?? I’ve been doing high end commercials since I was a child and I’ve never had a woman of color to be my makeup artist and hair designer.”  

And I said, “Well, you can just take that and put it away…” so I moved her stuff to the side and noticed that what she uses on her hair was exactly what I had at my station.  I mean, this woman was astonished, she kept talking about it saying “We have Kamala Harris now as a figure of what black women can do. And now today, I meet you here, working on this big commercial, and you’re a woman of color who has her own business and who has brought her own team… This is crazy!  In all my days, I’ve never seen anybody where you are.”

 So we’re like unicorns that pop up. And it’s sad because there are a lot of unicorns, but people just don’t know about them.  I am in 3 unions and I can work bi-coastally, but they don’t know about women like me because they are only given the names of people in their established networks. It’s a difficult circle to break into.

Kris Mendoza:             You mentioned Kamala Harris so I’m guessing this is fairly recent. This is 2021?

Fre Howard:                 Oh yeah. It was right after the inauguration.

Kris Mendoza:             Got you. That’s wild that it took her that long to have an experience like that. You mentioned Viola Davis and I recently saw a clip of her saying, “I’ve got an Oscar, I’ve got a Tony, I’ve got multiple Emmys, and still, I’m paid a fraction of what my white counterparts are. Wherever I go, people think they’re complimenting me by saying, ‘you’re basically the black Meryl Streep’.”

Your stories kind of remind me a little bit of that.  I can imagine people saying “Let me reach out to Fre and her team or another African-American-owned business or something when we need to. But when we don’t, we’re going to stick to this familiar crop of folks.”  

I mean, it stinks that I have to ask you this, but are the capabilities different in your experience?

Fre Howard: Frankly, yes, in that I have the intuition to work on people who look like me but also the experience of working on those who don’t.  I have the skills to do Asian skin. I know how to do a monolid. I know how to assess color and approach your undertones properly. 

My experience tells me that someone, maybe from Northern Europe, with more red in their skin and hair would look ashy with yellow based makeup on their skin.  Or that a man might be looking for subtle treatment, so don’t go too close, but blend the foundation into his facial hair so it doesn’t look like he’s wearing anything at all.  It takes experience to know they want to look clean and crisp and bright on camera, but they don’t want to look like they’re wearing makeup.

Amazingly there are people I’ve worked with in this industry who don’t know how to do that. It’s not something they’re trained to think about. 


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For example, I took a class with one of my unions… It’s about properly assessing talent quickly when you get the opportunity to day play … and day playing is when someone from the head hair and makeup team says, “We need an extra person,” and they call you in, not to do the run of the movie or the run of the show, but as extra hands that day. You come on and you “play” just for that day. I was excited about this course because the instructor was really well-known, and I knew some of the work they had done.  But what they got to a section on skin color, they didn’t show a single slide of an Asian, Latino, or Black person.

How are you going to teach all of your brothers and sisters in solidarity? We are of all colors. How could you have a slide show that didn’t represent all of us? And I think that’s ‘white privilege’ when they just…

Kris Mendoza:             They don’t think about it.

Fre Howard: They don’t think about that. They don’t think about me, so they don’t think about hiring me. 

I’m not at the top of their list, even though I may have crushed it the last time I worked with them. They think about hiring “Karen” because they always hire Karen. It’s easier. 

Kris Mendoza:             It’s a matter of exposure, so we do need a little bit of intentionality, as a phase to go through – where we purposely hire people of color, or women, or folks in the LGBQT community, until we build awareness and therefore equality.

Fre Howard:                 Yes, because despite my portfolio, I don’t get the calls and I get a fraction of what others get paid. I have yet to go into a job and not have to negotiate my rate, outside of Maestro and Five-Five Collective, who have not tried to low-ball me. And this is sad to say but I’m telling you the absolute truth: people ask, “Can you work for $200 a day?” They want to give me $100 for hair and $100 for makeup for a 10-12 hour day.  That’s not even what I get to do a bridal consultation.

I am in three unions, 799 in Philadelphia, 798 in New York, and 917 for the casinos in Atlantic City and Vegas.  I earn more working union jobs than non-union jobs, but some clients approach me with non-union jobs and want to pay less than half of what I normally get. 

Being in 3 unions is hard to do because, to get in, you have to really prove your skill level.  You have to show that you can lay hair on a face and make a fake beard. You have to exhibit your range of color. You have to show that you know how to do hair for period pieces and special effects and bald caps, and laying a prosthetic and burning edges and doing tattoos, and covering tattoos and doing it all quickly.


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So I’ve got the skill, the unions say I have that. My resume and my portfolio shows that, and yet people come to me asking if I can do a consultation for 25 bucks.  I pay my daughter’s piano teacher $80 for an hour session.  Why would I work 10 or more hours for so little? 

Sometimes people don’t understand that makeup makes the film… hair makes the film. You can have the best lighting, you can have everything else working for you, but if you don’t have that talent, that canvas in your chair, believing what you’re doing to their skin enhances their character, you have nothing.

Kris Mendoza:             Well, I think it’s one of those things you don’t know you need until you don’t have it. And a lot of art department things fall into that murky category where, if it’s done well you almost don’t know it was done on purpose. Sometimes people don’t appreciate it, until they don’t have it or they see it done badly.

It’s interesting. I never thought of your particular position as directly affecting people of color who get in front of the camera.  But when you talk about the average makeup artist who doesn’t know how to treat different pigments, that’s because there’s a lack of diversity in front of the camera as well as behind. Those fellow artists really aren’t getting the practice you’ve been forced to have with diverse skin tones.

Fre Howard:                     Sure, I’ve had assistants want to shadow me, so I ask them to bring their kits… I want to gauge their skills, I want to see their brush to skin techniques, etc… Every time I bring someone in who’s not of color, they don’t have anything in their kits past their own shade. It’s like they don’t realize there are darker Latinas, darker people of Asian, or South Asian Indian, Eastern Asian descent. And you know, maybe they like their skin to be a little lighter or darker than it is, so you have to have that in your kit. Sometimes I look at portfolios and there are absolutely no people of color at all, not one. And it’s unfortunate that this has been acceptable for so long. 

I did a job years ago, pro-bono, for a fashion week in Lehigh Valley. Kris, I had about six women lined up, of color, waiting for me to do their makeup.

Kris Mendoza:             Meanwhile, there were five other white makeup artists?

Fre Howard:                     I was so tired! But I was really moving.  I could hear them talking, “She’s been knocking us out, child, she got us… I only been here for 10 minutes. Have a seat. You’ll be fine,”  I mean, they were all about to go to the bathroom with their makeup before they saw me.  They don’t even expect anyone to consider them and they’re the ones working the product.

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The same thing happened at a press junket I did… that’s when a movie is on the trail.  They do these press junkets for the local TV stations or radio stations who come in and interview the stars of the film. People of color were swarming, “Can you tighten up my curls? Can you put some oil on my braids?”   Even the men of color were coming in… I had this one guy from Spain, we still keep in touch,  who wanted to have a photo with me, saying “What’s your Instagram? I can’t believe you’re here! I’ve not seen a woman of color.”

And he was like, “Can you line me up real quick?”  so I took out my clippers… they were so excited and I thought, “It’s a press junket! A lot of these movies have African-American leads, why don’t they have artists that can do an edge up, that can do braids, that can do palm rolls of locks?  Other people have that…”

Kris Mendoza:             Absolutely…what are some of the levers that need to be pulled in order to challenge that status quo? It sounds like you’re constantly having to jump with a weighted vest on, compared to your contemporaries. Do you have any thoughts on what needs to change going forward?

Fre Howard:                 I think people need to be open, first.  And thinking about that, I can’t help but feel heavy. I have been in the game for a long time and I have the credentials to do anything really.  I could be doing a television series… but even though it takes seeing someone like Viola Davis or Lupita Longo in front of the camera, that’s not enough to change things where I am.  That’s still not an accurate reflection of our world… of who’s hitting the pavement, working their butts off, taking classes, going to school, learning new skills, and getting certified or unionized.

Kris Mendoza:              So we need to make space on the ground floor?

Fre Howard:                 We have to lift each other up.  Even with you and I, and our relationship…Meeting other women, the same people Maestro met through working with Faes by Fre.. I’m proud that I’m ushering in diversity to our industry and these women are smashing it, now in totally different fields. Simone Holland is behind the camera and Bianca Moon is doing lighting and G&E!   Neither of them do makeup anymore, and what a beautiful legacy that is for me to offer opportunity.  I take pride in that. It may be hard to feel like a stepping stone when someone moves on, but it’s not a competition and that has nothing to do with my momentum. There’s a seat at the table for everybody. It’s not going to change my trajectory. It’s not going to change my artistry.


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Kris Mendoza:             Yeah. I’m so glad to hear you say that because I also feel the same way, in terms of hiring talent, developing talent, and people we collaborate with. Sometimes it feels like a thankless job, like, “Why am I investing in this person, building them up only for them to move on?” But when I looked back at it, that’s not the reason we’re investing in them. We’re doing it for them, and if we’re not doing it-

Fre Howard:                 Who will?

Kris Mendoza:             Exactly.  I think that’s an unsung part, but at the end of the day, you take pride in seeing other people succeed.You may not get the credit or recognition for anyone’s particular ascent, but you know that you seeded the ecosystem with diversity and that gave them the opportunity to grow.

Fre Howard:                I think, like you said, the higher scope of it is, who else will take on this challenge?  Because no one else is going to give a black girl from Ghana a chance of doing makeup on a major production, or to go to the Sundance Film Festival or the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre to see their name in lights and their film being screened.  I’ve raised those opportunities for people in my company and it just fuels me to work harder for all of us.  


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Kris Mendoza:             That was a good segue because, we’re talking about make-up artist roles, but you obviously also wear the hat of a business owner. Let’s back up a little… did that really start as a side hustle? At what point did it become the main grind and then how did it grow into having a team of six people?

Fre Howard:                 That was so organic, Kris. This story, you can’t even make this kind of stuff up. I got fired on my day off, I’m not kidding.  I glossed over this before, but I was a telephonic therapist for a large insurance company, and I’d been doing that for over 15 years. I was on my way to retirement! I didn’t think about vacations, so I had time wracked up. That’s when I started working for the Curtis Institute of Music and then Temple hired me to do their opera season.

After that, I got called from local 799 to fill in for a show, which I took a day off to do.  It was fun, I felt rejuvenated. They asked me to stay for the run of the whole show, and I took the time off to do it for a week.

But then I was so depressed.. because I felt like I had to make a decision and I didn’t know which move to make. Do I stay with this company that I’ve been with for almost 16 years? or do I start my own business and start just doing this and only this?  So I took my FMLA.  I needed to take time off, get my head right.. and the first day I started my FMLA, they called me and said, they’re letting me go. The next day I got the job doing Hairspray Live.

Kris Mendoza:             That sounds like the world telling you, this is what you need to be doing. Also … it sounds illegal to fire someone when they are on their FMLA, that’s a whole other story…

Fre Howard:                It’s a whole other story Kris. It was like, “Wait a minute, can you do that? Because I’m protected, right?”  Everyone suggested I get an attorney and sue, but I thought “You know what, I’m going to be in New York tomorrow.” 

And I haven’t stopped moving. 

So it was, like you said, the universe saying, “Yeah, I’m going to force you to make a decision.”


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Kris Mendoza:             It seems like you really love what you do, is that fair to say?

Fre Howard:                 Oh, it is. And people knew it, even at my old job.  When I was in the office, if I was sad about something, they’d say, “Hey, go to Fre’s desk and let her do some makeup on you. You’re going to dinner tonight, right?” 

I’d be all sad, and they’d say, “Hey, can you put some lipstick on me? So they knew that brought me joy. I just didn’t know it.

Once I had the opportunity to do this, it was all I wanted to do. I love going to classes. I love teaching. I love learning. I love everything about it.  I’m living a dream and I am paying my bills through work that sustains me. I’m supporting my team through my hard work. And there’s no better feeling than saying, “It’s payroll day and I’ve got the money to pay all of you.”

Kris Mendoza:             Truly. And I recognize you’re not just employing people, you’re a role model. A black woman owning her own business, employing staff, treating people fairly.. I think people see that even though you can’t quantify what that does for your business or what that does for someone’s career.

That visibility which you may or may not be aware of, is huge for other people of color and younger women that are aspiring to run their own business or do what they love doing. I’m sure that’s true even for your daughter at home, to see you happy in your work probably speaks volumes as she pursues what she wants to do.

Fre Howard:                 That was a hidden blessing, owning my business meant I could have my daughter with me sometimes. She was able to learn how to break down my lighting system and to help. Pretty soon she was saying,  “You know what, I want to learn how to do eyebrows. I want to learn how to put on eyelashes.” Or remembering, “Oh my goodness, mom. I really miss being in the theater, listening to opera… or being on a train, driving to New York to work off Broadway.”

Kris Mendoza:             And totally as an aside, I think I saw that she took on her first modeling gig a couple of weeks ago?

Fre Howard:                She did, Kris! She crushed it too. They loved her.  In April, she’s going to have her first solo with T-VOCE and the Philadelphia Opera at the Cherry Street Pier, so the arts is her thing!

I’m so proud of her. I’m starting to think I need to get her an agent.


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Kris Mendoza:             You are a mom-ager as they call them, right?

Fre Howard:                A mom-ager, right! So she’s killing it right now. I’m so excited for her.

Kris Mendoza:            Awesome. That’s so good to hear. Any parting thoughts, Fre? Anything that I didn’t ask you that you feel is something you want to share?

Fre Howard:                I wanted to say, lastly, I think that it’s awesome to have a relationship with Maestro.  Whatever you do, whether I’m on the list or not, I read everything that you put out,  because I want to be a supporter of you. I think that we have to uplift each other, and we may be from two different ethnic backgrounds but we share the same kind of heart for our industry and what we like to do. 

You and Jo Shen, for example, you’re people I can trust.  We’ve even done a job together where someone higher up was particularly hard to work with for me but I was the one who got your support. I respected you so much for that. Not everyone takes the time to apologize for the way someone else treats me on set but you went out of your way to say, “this is not how Maestro does things, this is not how we treat people”… and that it was not what you wanted me to experience.

I’ll never forget that feeling, it fueled me to want to work with more people like you. Gone are the days where I take a job for the money. I work for people who understand the craft, understand the industry, understand the artistry and respect the humanity in it. I really want to thank you for that day.

Kris Mendoza:             Well, thank you for that. Yeah, I distinctly remember that particular job and everything that ensued.  I think you hit the nail on the head, because whatever your background, ethnicity, gender association may be, we’re interacting with fellow humans regardless of their background, who are fighting for the same opportunities as everyone else.

Fre Howard:                 Empathy. That’s it.

Eurica Yu

Project Forte: Eurica Yu

Written & edited by Kate Feher

We continue Women’s History Month with Project Forte as we highlight bold women in the field working each and every day at their craft.

Eurica Yu (she/her) is a Cinematographer currently working in New York, and previously Philadelphia, where she attended Temple University for Film.  Eurica has broken quickly into the industry, moving from PA position, through AC work, to a broad spectrum of DP experience.  Forever cognizant of the issues that drive her, Eurica is already involved in supporting Sporas, a network dedicated to raising acknowledgement and appreciation for BIPOC Cinematographers and camera crews of multi-ethic backgrounds around the world.  Read how she navigated her professional education independently, as a young adult searching for a place better tailored to her goals of diversity and creativity.


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Eurica Yu


Eurica Yu:                  My name is Eurica, and I am a Cinematographer based in New York. I went to school at Temple University in Philadelphia, and worked in the city for four years before I decided to move to New York. I feel like it has more opportunities and diversities.

Kris Mendoza:         So, you grew up in Malaysia — what led you to Philly and the decision to go to Temple?

Eurica Yu:                 It really goes a long way back…my mom put me into this acting tuition center called Ace EdVenture because she wanted me to be more comfortable in front of people. She had heard from friends that this particular tuition center was really good and it would help boost confidence.

But I got there and I was really nervous because I didn’t like presenting, and I was terrible at it. Every week they had us presenting, acting, reading and writing a ton. Just the thought of presenting made me so anxious and nauseous, so I would make excuses every week to get out of it. The anxiety was so bad that I took a month break before my mom told me to give it a second chance. It took me a while to start liking and enjoying myself in the class. I soon realized that Ace EdVenture teaches their students the American Education System, something that my country, Malaysia doesn’t implement as we study under the British Education System. The British system is a 100% exam based education. Sitting for theory exams determines how intelligent you are which to me is very flawed because we study for years multiple subjects in a day only to sit for a huge exam. I didn’t thrive well in that system because I’m a very practical learner. I totally flunked Math. 

Kris Mendoza:         So much for that Asian stereotype…

Eurica Yu on set
Eurica Yu on set

Eurica Yu:                  Yeah. Math and science? Completely down the gutter. So that’s when I discovered the American education system had different projects and extra credits to sort of boost my score. In the American system, I could also choose different varieties of subjects within the course. The British education is very rigid. I was learning nine subjects in a week, four subjects in a day for years and sat for this huge test for days and that would just determine how intelligent I am because what if I wasn’t feeling well on the exam day? I think that was so stressful and flawed.

Kris Mendoza:          It seems like you weren’t finding what you liked or responded to in the British education system so you specifically sought out the US for higher education?

Eurica Yu:                   Yeah because I didn’t understand it. I didn’t like the exclusive importance of testing. I’m more like a “street smart” rather than a “book smart.” So I just didn’t thrive in that environment.

When I was younger, my parents liked to compare me with my brother just because we came from the same blood, but I’m so different from him. He’s excellent at taking exams. He sorta has a photographic memory. I just remember this one time, he asked me to quiz him for his History exam. He said, “Just pick any page.”  So I picked a page and he asked, “What page number? Read the first letter for me.”  That’s all it took and he immediately just vomited everything he could remember.

Kris Mendoza:          Oh, wow. That’s amazing.

Eurica Yu:                   I’m the complete opposite. I take really long to read anything that the British education system became pretty exhausting for me. You can’t tell your parents that because then they would dismiss your feelings and think that you’re lazy or you’re unmotivated. I wasn’t un-motivated as a child. I just didn’t like the system, and didn’t think exams were important. 

After secondary school, I enrolled into the American Degree Transfer Program (ADTP). I did 2 years of general classes in Malaysia before transferring to the States to focus on my specialty. 

I wasn’t aware that there was a film industry in Malaysia. I remember watching this Malaysian legendary filmmaker, Yasmin Ahmad who made a Merdeka Petronas commercial called “Tan Hong Ming” discussing about the interracial love in Malaysia. That commercial was so powerful and really highlighted what Malaysia’s racial diversity is all about that we’re so proud of. I thought to myself “How did she do that? I wanna do it too.” I thought it was done by a broadcasting company.

Eurica Yu:                  So, I took an advertising class in college where my group had to make a 15 minute video about something, can’t really remember. We uploaded it onto Youtube but I’m not going to show you because it’s really, really embarrassing. That was my first exposure to filmmaking so I enrolled into the Broadcast and Journalism Department in uni.

Kris Mendoza:         Here at Temple?

Eurica Yu:                  Yeah, I enrolled at Temple in the journalism department.  When you come to Temple as an international student, you’re required to arrive 2 weeks earlier because the school wanted all the international students to mingle. I switched from Journalism to Film when I sat in the Journalism Orientation for 5 mins and couldn’t picture myself doing it as a career. Didn’t tell my parents until I did it but at that point, there was nothing much they could do so they had to stick with it. 

And then one thing led to another. I was very certain that I wanted to be in the camera department but I didn’t know how to be a Cinematographer so I went into the Assistant Camera route, mostly because I wanted to know more about cameras but also trying to extend my Visa. With camera assisting, i was able to work for bigger well known companies which would really help with my visa application but I wasn’t fulfilled. 

On the side, I would shoot passion projects for friends as a way to build my reel. I thought to myself as I’m doing it “This is what I want to do. I want to shoot. I want to operate. I want to be the head of a department, in charge of lighting, designing and discussing creative stuff.”

Kris Mendoza:          That’s interesting, so it seems you didn’t have the story of “at five years old I knew I wanted to be DP/ go to college for film.”

Eurica Yu:                  No. My family background is very science oriented. My dad is a civil engineer, mom an accountant and my brother is a doctor. Film and arts isn’t introduced in our family background so i was never exposed to it. Back in secondary school, you’re divided into the science and art stream between 16 and 17 years old. The division creates a segregation and misconception that makes you think if you’re in the science stream, you’re smarter than those in the art stream.

Kris Mendoza:           It seems like there’s a bias towards quantitative approach to things, culturally.

Eurica Yu:                   Yeah kinda. I conformed to that thought because that was my exposure then. My parents never really pressured me to study because they kinda gave up on me since I was really bad at studying. I felt even more pressured to be slightly better because of everyone else.

Kris Mendoza:          So do you think it was because of cultural background and upbringing that led you to believe that this wasn’t even really a career path? You couldn’t even fathom that you could do this for a living for the rest of your life until you kind of came and saw it in action?

Eurica Yu:                  Right, but my ex-girlfriend back then, she was really intelligent and said “I chose to be in the art stream because I wanted to prove to the teachers that you can be smart and you still choose a different path than the norm.” She really stood her ground and that was very inspiring.

When I took this route, I had to teach myself to look at things very differently from the way I was raised. For example, I didn’t know a lot about color theory or anything. I needed more exposure to art.

Kris Mendoza:         Gotcha. You kind of have to get roped in to the science of color – your art. Seems like that tied it all together for you. Once you knew where you wanted to go, it seems like you kind of went for it full force though.

Eurica Yu:                  Yeah I got hooked. And being in the US, I could actually make a career out of it.  One of my first film sets was for Princess Pussy, which was a senior thesis. That set was run by mostly women and I just remember watching this female DP named Ashton Green, who lives in Berlin now. I saw her working and I was just so mesmerized because, thinking to myself, I’ve seen all these old white men or really young white men, men in general doing this but not many women as a head at that time. Seeing Ashton proved I could also do that .. and I could also run this whole department. She was very inspiring.

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Kris Mendoza:          Awesome. All right, so fast forward, post-graduation. What were some challenges you kind of faced early on in your career?  What were some overall challenges that you saw in terms of getting your AC/Cinematographer position off the ground?

Eurica Yu:                  I dealt with a lot of people assuming I don’t know what I’m doing because I look really, really young. That’s a gray area because, well I am really young and I guess I was doubting myself due to the lack of exposure to art. 

Another challenge was networking, just trying to get my name out there as a DP since I started in the industry as an AC. In Philly, there’s a core set of people to work with, which is great because you really form a community there and I love it. But it also can be quite difficult to break into that because of how everyone is so attached to each other, and their working groups. 

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Kris Mendoza:           Do you think it’s a saturated industry where you’re just competing with dozens or hundreds of people to get your name out there, in terms of promotion?

Eurica Yu:                  Yeah. I think so. It’s really competitive in LA and NYC as they’re both very saturated. I lean more towards New York instead of LA, where there’s more diversity in creatives.

Kris Mendoza:           Ok, delving into that diversity.. people often struggle as women in the film industry, or as an Asian in the film industry, or as LGBTQ in this industry… but you are all three, a female, Asian, queer DP.  So my question is, how does that identity influence the work you pursue?

Eurica Yu:                  It’s really interesting that you brought this up because I was just talking to Bianca Moon. Bianca is a really, really good friend of mine. We actually met on one of Maestro’s sets, I think it was Americano. Which is also how I met Jenna Lam… But I was talking to Bianca about the rise of awareness when there’s still a lack of diversity in film and in the mainstream media. We just felt, do we want to be recognized as women in the film industry? or do we just want to be recognized in our positions and for our talents? 

Some production companies reach out because they’re looking for a female cinematographer due to sensitive issues, and yes, it’s nice that they are targeting a lack of representation in film. But at the same time, those companies never go to men to say they need a male cinematographer.  At that point, they just want a cinematographer.

There never needs to be a question of gender.  I see that we do need more awareness and that’s why we are talking about female representation in film and video games and the mainstream media. But the end goal remains, we should be recognized for our talent.

Kris Mendoza:          That’s a really good point. So do you have similar thoughts on being Asian?

Eurica Yu:                   Being Asian. Yeah. I think it’s a really tricky one. Because, first of all, I’m not Asian-American.  I’m working on a project with Ayumi Perry at the moment… She’s very passionate in highlighting Asian-American stories and that resonates with me but not entirely because I’m Chinese-Malaysian, not Asian American. I’m just an Asian living in America.  I do get some weird stares or comments because I’m Asian sometimes. I was on a subway in Philly and I think this lady saw that I came on and she jmmoved away. It was pretty shocking. Usually it doesn’t happen but recently with the height of COVID, it was more common.

And I’ve been getting a lot of comments about where my accent is coming from, where I’m from and it’s just like using that to start a conversation is actually pretty uncomfortable and disrespectful.

Kris Mendoza:          It shouldn’t be a qualifying question.

Eurica Yu:                 Yeah, also, because my brother and my sister in law are in the UK, I pick up on their accent, along with my Malaysian and American influences intertwining together. This affects how I speak to people and how they understand me. Recently, I was talking to someone and they asked me where I was from – It’s always this question of where you’re from – but I never ask where a white person is from…

They ask me, “Where are you from? Your accent is really different. Are you British or Australian?” Or “Are you South Korean because you have a perm?” And I think it’s weird how I’m being perceived over here. I say, “Nah, I’m Chinese-Malaysian.”

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Kris Mendoza:            A large part of the status quo in the US looks at Asians generally, and I think that’s contributing to indiscriminate attacks. 

Eurica Yu:                     Yes. But to answer your question, overall I think, in terms of being Asian in the film industr,  the visibility is very very low. Especially Malaysians, there are not many of us at all. I think there are two people I know: one is Isabella Tan in New York and another one is Ong Rui Jiang in London, but he used to be in LA. Those are the two people I know who are Malaysian, currently in the film industry.

And this is true for the black community, where it’s even more difficult. This last summer during everything that happened,  there was a rise of white filmmakers photographing black communities when that opportunity should be given to the black community first. They have lingos and culture that I won’t be able to understand since I’m raised differently.

On the other hand, being queer in the film industry is actually pretty liberating. Everyone I have met in the film industry so far has been very open-minded, which creates a safe space to express who I truly am. I was hiding and confused for many years and now that I’m older, experimenting more with what I truly want, I realized that my focus currently is telling women’s stories because of how underrepresented we are and also advocating for more queer stories/representation. I haven’t gotten a lot of that, to be honest and I want to do more non-profit work to help the community because I felt the struggle. I didn’t have a support group growing up and it took so long for me to kind of understand myself. I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. 

I’ve also been interested in the climate crisis/environment at the moment. So my interests have an intersectionality between women, queer culture, the climate  crisis and also stories that involve underrepresented communities and diversity.

Kris Mendoza:          So in terms of projects, has there been a favorite project for you to date?

Eurica Yu:                   I mentioned working on this passion project, it started in October, and I think that’s my favorite project so far. Ayumi Perry, a wardrobe stylist, approached me with Sophie Xu, who is a Chinese fashion and portrait photographer. They were thinking of producing an editorial fashion film targeting these Asian experiences and reached out to Simone Holland and she passed my contact info along. 

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That project has been very ambitious because there’s literally no budget at all. It was just an idea but the concept was very strong. Everyone’s background is different: Ayumi is Japanese-American, Bianca is Korean-American, Sophie is Chinese, and I’m Chinese-Malaysian. Yes, we’re all Asians, but the three of them culturally are from East Asia and I’m from Southeast Asia. Those are very different culturally. 

Kris Mendoza:         So you mentioned Simone, kind of passing along an opportunity because she felt like you were more qualified to tell that story as an Asian… Why is it important for these marginalized groups to tell the stories of their own culture?

Eurica Yu:                  It’s a grey area I feel. We film different cultures/ethnicities all the time because we want to share the story behind it but the tricky part comes when you’re using that platform to exploit them. There are so many marginalized communities with talented members just lacking the representation and acknowledgement. So if we’re just given the opportunity or if someone would fight for us, then that would make so much difference here. 

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Kris Mendoza:         Absolutely. And you’re doing that, you’re building a coalition across women and supporting other women’s solidarity – Who are some women that inspire you in terms of the work you do or how you carry yourself everyday?

Eurica Yu:                  Definitely this cinematographer from London. Her name is Rina Yang. Her story is really inspiring because she was raised in Japan and came to London for school, not speaking any English at all. She slowly worked her way up and created opportunities for herself with her talent. Another woman that inspires my work is Alice Aedy. She’s a documentary filmmaker and a climate activist. She started this online platform called Earthrise Studio to discuss climate issues, to spread awareness on the urgency of the climate crisis and also spreading knowledge about the environment. There’s a lot to digest but she slowly breaks it down for you everyday. Sade Ndya, a cinematographer from LA is also someone I look up to. She is an incredible cinematographer and always advocates for the marginalized communities. That was really, really important for me to witness it, especially starting out competing in an industry so saturated with white people. It’s incredibly difficult to break in but I feel like there’s a way. 

Kris Mendoza:          What’s next for you?

Eurica Yu:                   I’m actually doing this low budget music video that is self-funded by the director. This would be my first time filming a music video. The EP has an incredible soundtrack and the concept behind the 4 part music videos is very ambitious for the budget. I’m working with Margot Bennett and Tana Sirois for this and we’re very excited to show everyone the final product.

Kris Mendoza:          Awesome. So, last question for you is in two parts. Why do you love what you do? You talked about the path that led you here, but now, why do you love what you do and what do you hope people will take away from watching and experiencing your work?

Eurica Yu:                  I love doing what I do because of the creativity that everyone brings to the project, the communication between departments and the commitment that each individual gives. I love when the project is good conceptually even though it’s a passion project and people are invested in it, because you see endless creativity coming out of it. It makes me so happy when I see this happen because it’s hard doing that when there’s a huge pressure looming over you to deliver a good piece. When you’re the head of department, you have the decision to pick the crew you want to work with and I always prefer working with the more marginalized communities who lack representation but are really good at their jobs. I really wanted to make them shine. I wanted to make sure everyone’s voices were heard. On the passion project, there were a lot of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ crew members and it was a dream to work with them. 

The freedom of discussion is really important to me. It’s one of the main reasons I do this job – I get to meet so many kinds of people from many walks of life. Some people think as a cinematographer, you’re the only one making the final decision, but I value learning from others and taking in suggestions from different departments, especially since they’re the expert in their field. It’s very liberating to see this all happening.


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Project Forte: Bianca Moon

March is Women’s History Month and our highlights of Project Forte this month will focuses on bold and creative women in the field, working each and every day at their craft in an industry dominated by their male counterparts. This first installment also focuses on the perspectives of Asian/Asian-American experiences within the film industry, here in Philadelphia.  As an underrepresented history retards progress and scope, it is crucial to inform, communicate, and educate ourselves and one another.  Follow along this month with some of our treasured collaborators and creators!

Bianca Moon on the set of VEX. Photograph by Kate Feher


Bianca Moon (she/her) is a freelancer in Philadelphia, working both as Grip and Electric on set, while charting a path toward Gaffing.  Forced by risk to follow her dream, Bianca recognizes the necessity of hard work and initiative.  She talks about setting goals and conquering them, quickly settling a foundation for her own place on set.  Her resiliency and dedication inspire, even through challenging discussions on discrimination of race and culture.  Bianca offers a sense of hope for her film community, urging professionals to make space, not only for marginalized stories but for the people, themselves, who work to represent and revive them.  Acknowledgment and reflection are key to personal growth here.  Delve into inspirations, motivations, and history to witness a mature but vibrant talent behind the scenes, Bianca Moon.


Written and Edited by Kate Feher


Kris Mendoza:        How would you say you got your start in the industry?

Bianca Moon:     I started going full-time freelance in 2017. I had been serving tables at that time, taking off whenever I could to PA [production assistant] and get whatever set experience I could.  A lot of times, working for free. I did not know many people in the film industry yet.

My interest in lighting started at a young age.  Early on, in my freshman year of high school, I was lucky enough to have a film class with a dark room and we made pinhole cameras. I remember making mine out of a Clue game box, and I was really excited when I saw the photo I took with it.  It was a telescope or something, but just seeing the positive vs negative space, I became interested in how light can create and define shape.

The illumination of the moon has always intrigued me. I was always infatuated by it, maybe because my last name translated to Moon in English.  The moon has many phases just like human beings. Even when it’s bright….the dark sides are present. But they don’t make the moon ugly…it makes it have more characteristics.  I also find it interesting to see different gaffers’ interpretations of moonlight when lighting sets. It’s subtle….doesn’t actually light a lot but is a great fill.
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Bianca Moon on the set of Renew #makelongstoryshorts. Photograph by Kate Feher
If I told my younger myself this is what I’d be doing now, I wouldn’t believe it. My dad had a stroke when I was young. I witnessed my mom working long hours everyday and still somehow managed a freshly cooked meal on the table.  It taught me at an early age the value of work and financial stability. I had my first job at the age of 14 at a family friend’s corner store selling beauty supplies in order to help out. So initially, my family wanted me to go into something that was more stable because I didn’t necessarily have that security growing up. I remember, family members would call me when I was at work, I worked two different serving jobs while taking 18 credits. I also had an internship and worked at a retail store in Center City. But they’d call asking, “When are you going to stop serving tables? You need to get a real job.” I wish I could have told myself back then that it’d all be worth it. Many aspiring freelancers start off by working in the service industry or in any job they can, to make it work. I think character is the biggest facilitator to success and I believe that working all those jobs and putting myself through college made me appreciate everyday today.
One thing that I always wanted was to be freelance.  I liked the idea of not having a full-time job, because I was rebellious at a young age, I guess.  In an Asian household, growing up as a first-generation Korean American, my mom would always instill traditional values, saying, “Hey, you need to be ladylike.” In Korean, they say “Yam Jin Ae” which means be calm, “don’t be so frantic, and all over the place.” It made me respond in the total opposite way. I learned how to skateboard, I would play in the woods and always come home with battle scars from my adventures.
Kris Mendoza:     So you wanted to work but also do what fit you in terms of what you love doing?
Bianca Moon:    Yeah, it was scary to take that leap of faith, after working five years serving tables and doing retail, to give up all of that, what I worked up to, to take that risk and freelance.
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Bianca Moon pictured center

21 Bridges came around during that time, and my friend had gotten me an interview to be a set PA.  They wanted me to come on as a day player, which means you just come on for a day and try-out essentially. That wasn’t something concrete or permanent but it was enough for me to take that bet on myself. So, I quit my serving job, and I made a goal to be asked to work on the rest of that movie.  And that’s exactly what happened. It was three months of overnight shoots and a lot of hard work.  Ironically, it made me realize that I didn’t want to do production.

Kris Mendoza:     You did or did not?

Bianca Moon:         I didn’t want to do production.

Kris Mendoza:    Got you. Because you were originally trying to be more production department, as opposed to G&E [grip & electric].

Bianca Moon:     Yeah. I mean I had to PA just to network. I got to PA on Americano, which was such a great first experience with the Maestro crew. I did PA work for a year and a half before I knew anyone. It’s a lot about who you know which, historically in the film industry, is white men. We’re going to see a shift here, as the younger generation fights to be seen for their talents specifically. For me, at least in my experience, I would love to see more women of color in technical positions. They’re out there, maybe you have to look a little harder.  I am sure more women would be interested in technical departments if they were more accessible to them.

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Bianca Moon and Shawna Annabel on the set of Queer Eye Season 5

When I first started, I got called to do more makeup and wardrobe stuff — I think as a female you tend to get profiled as those roles when you step onto set. I’ll still get asked if I am make-up or wardrobe by people I work with for the first time on set. More technical positions are male-dominated, for the most part. I would watch G&E  all the time and found myself fixated on that department. I always found lighting to be one of the most important aspects of film. I would keep a notebook with light diagrams and stuff, it’s so funny looking back at it, because I was pulling from context clues and a lot of it was misspelled or the wrong unit. I was reaping knowledge second-hand because the practical experience was not available to me at the time.

That made me realize I was really interested in this work. The field was mainly men, so that was kind of intimidating to me. But when I started to see more women in G&E, I felt encouraged. Specifically, Ryan Perkins, who has since moved to LA to be a designer, at the time was an electrician, also a female, and she was so good at her job. She carried herself very well. I think that encouraged me.  It taught me my goal was achievable in Philly.  I found a great community in Expressway and the talented Philadelphia lighting technicians I get to work with today. Then, for the first time. I finally felt seen for my skills versus what people expected me to be.

And this is why I think representation is so important. Because even though I’m just a “normi” human being, and can be insecure about my capabilities… seeing someone else do it, who was female, made me feel like I could do it.  I’m hoping that one day, I won’t be a female Gaffer,  I’ll be a great Gaffer who is, coincidentally, a female, and also a minority. And I think that’s the goal, ultimately. In order to achieve that, there needs to be more exposure and more people who look like me.

Kris Mendoza:     Overall, obviously G&E is pretty male-dominated….white male-dominated, specifically. For you, what are the biggest challenges, either walking onto a set and dispelling preconceived stereotypes in place before you even get on set?

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Bianca Moon: Gaffer on United Shades of America CNN
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Balloon light rig. Grip on Concrete Cowboy with Neighborhood Films. Premieres on Netflix April 1, 2021
















Bianca Moon:     I think I’ve always lived my life being second-guessed… people told me I couldn’t do this or that, especially in Korean culture.  My mom was not trying to discourage me, I think she was just a product of the times… it seemed like she really believed women couldn’t do certain things that men could do.
It’s unavoidable that someone will question your intelligence because you don’t look like the role they expect.  I mean someone literally Facebook messaged me, a person that I didn’t even know, a man in the Philadelphia film community, and was basically like, “Who do you think you are, trying to get these jobs?  You’ve had an easier path.” and going out of his way to talk down to me. Stuff like that happens all the time.  That’s why it’s important to find those in this community who are the opposite of that: people who see you for your work and what you’re doing and want to teach you more, for no other reason but to see you thrive.

Kris Mendoza:     I didn’t realize it was as blatant as that…unprovoked, and no reason at all.

Bianca Moon:     Yeah, totally. But hey, I’m a human being and I’m going to get into my own head about stuff, but the less I worry about what other people say or how other people perceive me, the more I can concentrate on myself and the complexities that my character has, and then also appreciate other people and how complex they are. That’s why I love the film industry. Everyone comes up in so many different avenues, and their stories are so different.

Kris Mendoza:     You talk about some of the misconceptions or preconceptions people have about you on set, just based on looks: Are racist comments and/or sexual harassment comments something all too prevalent on set that women have to deal with and that white men don’t?

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Bianca Moon

Bianca Moon:    This job has definitely taught me a lot about ego. The fear of not being strong enough makes me feel bad when someone tries to help me. Through G&E, people offer to help me carry things all the time. This is my job and I want to handle it myself, which is my own ego, but in the end, if two men are going to carry something, two women can carry it. You’re never going to carry a 5k by yourself anyway, trying to break your back, even as a man.  There’s this misconception that you have to be this physically strong person when really, it’s a technical role, and knowledge is your power.  You should know your information and actively try to learn as much as you can. I love G&E because there’s not really a glass ceiling on how much you can learn.  You can share different approaches and always see a different perspective.
I’ve been able to find a group of freelance G&E to be my community and we’re able to bounce ideas off each other and give suggestions freely.  This was mainly through Expressway, who kind of took a chance on me. I was PA-ing and driving trucks (their shop was one of my stops). Going back to being a woman and being perceived a certain way, I would drive that truck and get so many weird looks.

Kris Mendoza:     Asian lady driver comments….

Bianca Moon:     Yeah, one time, someone came up to my truck, as I was at a stoplight and tried to hit on me.  I thought, “This is wildly inappropriate, and if I wasn’t a woman, this wouldn’t be happening right now.” Another time, I was filling up the truck at a gas station, and there was a group of guys outside… and I’m short, whatever, so I had to jump out of the truck, and they literally laughed at me, these complete strangers.

Kris Mendoza:    Does it motivate you?

Bianca Moon:     That’s a good question. I feel like, most of the time, I end up brushing it off, but now I’m finding my voice more. When people say things like that to me, I say, “Okay, that’s not okay.”  Or even if a project wants me because, incidentally, they have a prerogative to hire more women… I think it’s important to question “Okay, but do you think I’m a good Gaffer?”  Because I want to be seen for my technical knowledge in lighting vs. being hired to fill a quota.


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Bianca Moon

I feel like the thing about racism today, not just on set, but on a broader spectrum, is that it’s a lot of micro-aggressions, especially in a work environment. Socially now, there’s more pressure to be a respectable human being, I guess. Although some people are deliberately racist, I think that at the end of the day, most aren’t intentionally trying to be mean-spirited, they simply don’t recognize and lack exposure.

Even last week, I was picking up some gear and a delivery guy turned around, not having talked to me before, and did a karate move to me. How am I supposed to react to that?  It’s a weird thing to navigate around because he obviously did that karate move to me because I’m Asian, and micro-aggressions like that are something that I’m finding hard to approach.

Kris Mendoza:    I like your word, micro-aggression, because it’s seemingly so small, to a point where if you say something, you start to look like the bad guy… But really, you wanna say “I don’t think you realize the implications of how racist that is…”

Bianca Moon:      Yeah. And that really is the lighter side of what I’m regularly subjected to.

Kris Mendoza:     So, you talked about the being outspoken bit, and it’s a double-edged sword… On one hand, they’re fully expecting a stereotypically subservient Asian woman to just take it and roll with the punches, but on the other hand, you want to be outspoken. You want to stick up for yourself, for your culture, but at what point does it hinder your cause?  It’s so common for people to say “Here’s this person of color or this minority woman acting out again…”  What’s that balance behind handling those conceptions?


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Bianca Moon of on the set of Renew @makelongstoryshorts. Photograph by Kate Feher

Bianca Moon:     I think that I would be lying if I didn’t say there were certainly times I let things go because I didn’t want to be the problem or because I was exhausted.  Sadly, sometimes I am the only minority on set, and I feel, in certain situations, I can’t have a voice. That is something I am trying to work on and balance. I’ve become more confident, but I don’t really know where the line is yet. But being outspoken with those situations is ultimately the right course, in order to make film industry jobs more inclusive for everyone.

Racism as a whole can not be tolerated at all. How can we do that? How can we make those steps in such a white male-dominated industry?  Speaking out helps people to acknowledge what is happening.  My hope is they take responsibility to at least reflect and ask, “Hey, what can I do to try and see other people’s perspectives?”

Kris Mendoza:      Let’s shift a little bit, you talk about how your mom expected you to act as a woman, but what was the level of support from her and the rest of your family, going into a creative field or more specifically, settling into a technical position? Do they understand and get what you do now? Because I feel like, from an Asian background, this is not on the list of ‘approved Asian lines of work,’ right?

Bianca Moon:    My grandma is a huge part of my life as someone who raised me while my parents were working.  They had a classic Korean immigrant story, opening produce stores in North Philly. She’s 87 now and has been through a lot.  She went through Japanese incarceration, the home she grew up in became part of North Korean territory.  She lost both her brother and sister in the process of separation between North and South Korea.  They were taken in for questioning and never seen again. She has faced so much adversity, and she inspires me to do what I love because she fought so hard for us to be here.


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Bianca Moon – Electric

I have the opportunity to be in this field because I’m American. I don’t think that I would be in this position if I was in Korea, at all. I’m fortunate that I even have the opportunity. We have a luxury, as Asian Americans, to build our own self-awareness and follow the route which calls to us. And I think that that is something that a lot of Asian parents are unfamiliar with because, during their time, they literally just had to survive.

Asian families and Asian parents, they love you and they want you to survive but also thrive, which means practically, they want you to be able to financially support yourself.  I think every Asian parent is going to be skeptical about their child going into the arts due to the question of financial stability.  I don’t blame them for doubting me when I chose this path.

My mom learned to support whatever I wanted to do, mainly because I was so stubborn at an early age.  When I first became interested in photography, she bought me my first DSLR.  She encouraged what I wanted to do, to a certain extent, but the main thing was “make money.”  And I think that my family definitely worried about me at first.  They’re probably still confused about what I do… But my mom got on board once I worked some network jobs on Netflix and HBO, which she was familiar with.

Kris Mendoza:     It’s almost like they want to know that they worked hard to give you the opportunity and you didn’t blow it.

Bianca Moon:    But I kind of interpreted it a different way. I thought, “You guys worked so hard for me to be American.. to have —

Kris Mendoza:        —- so that you could have this freedom.

Bianca Moon:    Yes, to be in this country.  I have a lot of younger cousins, and I’m the oldest one in my generation, so I hope showing them what I’m doing helps them see their own potential as limitless. Even though my route was difficult…. because it was difficult, I appreciate where I am so much.


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Bianca Moon on the set of VEX. Photograph by Kate Feher


Kris Mendoza:    There is no better segue to this next question because we’re talking about a true Korean-American dream: did you end up seeing Minari at all?  When it was released, the Golden Globes came under fire for classifying it as a foreign film, even though it was shot in America, with an American cast, mostly, and a crew that was American. Quite frankly, it’s an American story. It mirrors what you’re talking about in terms of the Koreans coming to the U.S., searching for better opportunities and a better life for their family.

Where do these kinds of Asian American narratives or Korean American narratives, fit into the zeitgeist or into cinema in general?  And why are we still dealing with this when it’s as clear as American of a story as you can get?

Bianca Moon:     Yeah, right? It’s like the idea of always being “the other,” even though we are American. I personally think that just shows how narrow the scope is when it comes to the identity of an Asian American.  It emphasizes the fact that we are still not considered as belonging here.

With Minari, I related a lot to the little boy because he’s first-generation American, and there were little things he said about his grandma, like, “How come you’re not like other grandmas?”

Kris Mendoza:        Kind of embarrassed by her, but loved her at the same time.

Bianca Moon:    Yeah. I felt the same way about certain things. Growing up, my mom would make me little “Dosirak” lunches, and I would literally hide it in my locker.  I would save whatever money I could to get the American school lunches because kids would make fun of my lunch for the way it looked and smelled.  I think that was something, at the end of the day, well, white cultural dominance instills in you.  There’s a lack of diversity. Growing up, I played with white Barbie dolls. The most Asian thing I looked up to was Sailor Moon, who’s really still a blonde woman with blue eyes. Those Westernized beauty standards still hold power, especially in Korea, where plastic surgery is so normalized. When you turn 16-years-old, you don’t get a car, you get a nose job, or you get double eyelid surgery.


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Bianca Moon on the set of VEX. Photograph by Kate Feher

Members of my family would say “It would be so cheap to go get your freckles lasered off in Korea.”  I think it’s due to a combination of over-dramatized stereotypes and the lack of honest representation in media.  Also, an Asian person might only be a secondary character, the girlfriend of a primary character who only lasts a month you know? … these one-dimensional depictions.

I watched Gilmore Girls, with Lane – she was Korean. But, you didn’t really learn that much about her narrative, except for the stereotypical things, like her mom being really strict and demanding. When I was younger, at least seeing some representation was really interesting to me, but as I got older, I recognized, “Wow, those depictions are just so simple.”

Kris Mendoza:        Yeah, one-dimensional, like you said, incomplete.

Bianca Moon:    We are each a complex individual, just like the other.

Kris Mendoza:      Is it important to celebrate the differences between Korean Americans, Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, Filipinos, and the like, but still come together for a cause like these that affect us all?

Bianca Moon:        Asian cultures are wildly different from each other. You can’t just say-

Kris Mendoza:        “You’re Korean? I have a Chinese friend!”  It’s like, “Good for you, man.”

Bianca Moon:        Exactly.

Kris Mendoza:        I get that so much. “You’re Filipino? I went to Thailand last year. #thumbsup”

Bianca Moon:    I hate it when I say that I’m Korean, and then someone says something in Korean to me. Because what am I supposed to say? Do you want to have a conversation in Korean or is this actually about you and the one phrase you know?”

I think it is really important to make a distinction for the differences of all Asian American cultures because they come from unique Asian countries that have vastly different histories, different backgrounds, and that’s obviously vital to our understanding. And I think the generalizations people make using culture are dangerous.  We have certain features that are similar and therefore, we are deemed as one group in America. That in itself just shows how much work still needs to be done.  One reason is the lack of Asian education, since education in America is extremely Eurocentric.

Kris Mendoza:        No Asian American history classes.

Bianca Moon:    Yeah, exactly. I remember, in college, I met someone who asked, “So, what’s the difference between North and South Korea? Is that part of China?” I didn’t even know where to start. At this point, there’s not really an excuse because we have the internet. Google is free! Everyone can google, so keep those thoughts to yourself and google it later, to educate yourself. You don’t need to say that to someone.

Kris Mendoza:    Well, that’s the thing, I don’t think they know how ignorant it sounds because it’s just a lack of exposure to these kinds of cultures.

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Grip work by Bianca Moon


Bianca Moon:    And there is another stereotype, one of being passive or silent about things… which seems to give permission for blatant questions, there won’t be a backlash. I grew up in a time when I was openly made fun of for my packed home lunches. I’ve been called a “chink” before. I’ve literally had someone do the slanty eyes to me, as an adult, at a restaurant where I worked as professionally as possible. That’s not okay, and people need to know that. I think that it’s just taken me a while to become confidently outspoken because I  mean, as an adult, there’s no reason for me to not be outspoken. At this point, I’m confident in who I am, and I need to make the situation better, especially with all these hate crimes currently.  I just worry, every single day, about my parents because they fall under a demographic of people being violently targeted due to misconceptions about Covid-19.  My parents have been robbed before and didn’t feel they could report it, due to the socio-political risks and the didn’t want to create a “problem.”

We need to lift each other up and encourage each other to speak out about these things, articulate them in a thoughtful way. A lot of Asian Americans think their own identity trauma is too hard to speak of, including me at times.

Kris Mendoza:    It comes back to the same, “how much can we speak out?”  You almost have to censor yourself, because anger closes ears, whereas the status quo can yell and bitch and moan about it.  As Asian Americans, as minorities, we have to compose ourselves better than that.

What, in your opinion, fuels this violence and what is that a microcosm of?  Do people fear and, therefore, hate?

Bianca Moon:    I can’t really speak to where it comes from. I just can’t imagine having so much hate for someone I don’t know that I would physically harm them. That is so beyond my capacity.  But I do think that specifically elder Asian immigrants, it’s that mentality of being scared or you’ll be targeted.
Right now, we’re in a pandemic, and there’s been more attention on racism.

Kris Mendoza:    Everything else has slowed down, and these issues are magnified…

Bianca Moon:    Yeah, definitely.

Kris Mendoza:     Could using film and multimedia as a tool dispel any of this?

Bianca Moon:     Yeah, media is a tool.  You have to remember that film itself was created by white men, for white people, and tailored to them.  There are classes on lighting standards/ratios which exclude darker-skinned people.  So, growing up, you watch TV, and what you see is what you know. Your exposure to other cultures has already been controlled.

And not everyone is media-competent, especially people who live in small towns where they see the same people all the time.  If representation on TV isn’t any different, then confirms their reality. So there needs to be more representation, more voices, more real-life experiences in media so we can finally acknowledge it and be less scared to talk about it.

Kris Mendoza:    You just brought us from inequality back to film so eloquently. I don’t know if you’re at liberty to discuss, because I know the project is still in post or under wraps, but what project are you working on right now?

Bianca Moon:    So I’m not going to say the title, it would reveal too much…but I’m working with Ayumi PerryEurica Yu, and Sophie Cécile Xu (and many other talented crew members) to create consciousness toward this lack of representation for Asian Americans.  We’re trying to create something artful that also shows our perspective in a way that avoids the stereotypical American perspective of Asians. Specifically, I think that the piece touches on common struggles with identity and racism in America but through the lens of fashion and design.  The Asian fashion story has so much abstract symbolism in it, touching on how we feel, not as  Asian Americans, but as Asians and our experience in America. Yeah. I think that’s all I can say about it for now.


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Bianca Moon on the set of Electric on Mare of Easttown (premieres on HBO April 18, 2021)

The project did a lot to encourage me to stand up.  We just can’t afford to settle. We’re all one race of human beings… the challenge is helping others look past surfaces to see how similar we can be

Kris Mendoza:    Well, for what it’s worth, I firmly believe you’re doing it, each and every day, just by doing what you do and doing it proudly.  You hit it on the head, early on, because I hope that perhaps a younger female or younger Asian female sees what you’re doing and can release themselves from the stereotype.

Bianca Moon:    I want to emphasize the people who encouraged me, and specifically women who encouraged me, like Ryan Perkins, Shawna Annable, who I consider one of my best friends now.  They were both people who showed me what was possible.  And Hilary Hanak, of course, was also someone that I looked up to – she was able to persevere in a demanding technical field. That encouraged me to be that representation for other people, even when I feel insecure or bad about my progress.

Kris Mendoza:    I think that’s huge because, and obviously I’m not a female, but growing up there was no blueprint for me either.  I think that’s huge for you to come into your own and realize that, but also to find communities and pockets of other people that are doing the same thing. ■

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Project Forte: Alicia DeLarge



Alicia DeLarge (she/her) is a production designer who has maintained many driving inspirations throughout her career, but especially to uplift those around her, enabling them to see paths like her’s as possible.  Get ready to be inspired by her experience, talent, work ethic, and motivations. DeLarge contributes her success to the strong men and women in her life, who made space for her to grow, expand, and influence.  She speaks to the role of serving others, but also to that of speaking out.  She stresses the importance of sharing access to resources and therefore to power within her community.  Read about her experiences with diversity on set and how the community of filmmakers in Philadelphia is evolving.


Written and Edited by Kate Feher



Alicia DeLarge:             My name’s Alicia DeLarge, and I am a production designer by trade. I’ve served many roles though. I’ve been a Production Designer, Set Designer, Prop Stylist, Prop Designer, Wardrobe Stylist. I’ve also served as a PA, of course, for many different departments. So, I’ve assumed many roles in the film industry, but now I’m now being recognized as a Production Designer, which I’m really proud of.

Kris Mendoza:               How did you get started in this industry?

Alicia DeLarge:          I originally went to Spelman College in Atlanta to study English. My plan was to be a journalist and start a PR firm. When I came home from school I attended CCP with hopes to obtain my Associates degree and transfer to Temple University. One of my good friends from Spelman, Dyandra Brown, was a stylist on set in New York, styling women such as, Jacqui Reid on NBC, and working on a lot of TV shows as a Wardrobe Stylist. She would call me often to be her assistant, people naturally liked how I dressed and would want me to do costume design, or wardrobe styling. I figured I would see what this world was all about.

Although I was on set serving as a Wardrobe Assistant and Wardrobe Stylist, I realized I wanted to be a Set Decorator in the Art Department. I was already becoming a vintage dealer, and designing trade shows and retail stores with Search & Rescue. I was also the person that would set up my all friends’ and family parties; and I was doing a lot of location scouting without even knowing I was doing it.

On Instagram, I would post pictures of places I explored. I was all over the city, going into abandoned properties, or graffitied up areas. My friends would want to use them for their shoots so I would tell them where it was, or I would go with them to show them the locations. I was basically doing location scouting and management without knowing it, and then I realized I could charge people for it.

Alicia DeLarge:           That evolved into actually going into local businesses, and talking to owners proposing, “Hey, my friends want to shoot here. This is their mission. This is their purpose. We’re students …” and I would get these amazing locations for free, and we would do these really cool shoots. While working on set with Dyandra, I was doing a lot of wardrobe styling and costume design I would talking to the art department while I’d be on set. I would find the Props Master, or the Set Decorator, or the Set Dresser, and ask, “Can I connect with you? Can you tell me how to get into this?” So that’s how it started. It really started through working in the wardrobe, and costume department.

Kris Mendoza:               It’s always interesting to hear about someone’s path, because there’s no one right way – can you share for yourself,  culturally, if there was a stigma that comes from your end, from family, and friends, to switch gears and pursue this career path?

Alicia DeLarge:            My friends were always supportive of my career choice. Most of my friends are artists, but my parents were kind of tricky. Both of my parents are artists, naturally. My mom paints on canvas, and draws, but she ended up having a baby when she was 17, so she couldn’t really pursue that in the way that she wanted to. She went into computer science and ended up working in corporate America.  My father is also a designer. He was making prom dresses in high school, and making my mom clothes when they were dating.

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Both of my parents are extremely art driven/artistic, but of course their generation stressed getting a good, stable job with a pension. They couldn’t really pursue any of there artistic aspirations, because it didn’t really make money. That was kind of what they projected onto me. When I said “I’m going be a designer, I’m seeing people really do this, and they’re making money, so I can do this too.” My parents weren’t really supportive of it at first. My dad used to think I was just a silly little girl, going to thrift stores wasting time, when I was really shopping, building sets, and getting paid to do it.

It took outside validation, and my hustle in and of itself, for my parents to really respect what I was doing, which I’m grateful for. When I got pregnant with my son, they actually helped me go back to school for Film Design and Production at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA. Only because I had done this for years before, were they able to really take me seriously. Frankly, my parents were grateful to support me due to seeing me do things they didn’t set out to do or think they could do, due to being products of their generation.

So no, the support wasn’t there originally, but is now. I always tell kids, you have to just do it.  You have to be consistent at it, and you’ve got to try not to care, because people are going to make you feel ridiculous sometimes about the things you want to do.

Luckily I’m a part of a generation that supports freelancers, you know what I mean?  We don’t have social security like our parents did, so we all have to figure something out for ourselves, to survive.

Kris Mendoza:               Were there any role models for you who paved the way, or was there a blueprint for you, of someone you aspired to be?

Alicia DeLarge:            Honestly, as a black female Production Designer, no. There aren’t many black Production Designers. I have yet to meet another female that does what I do, even a black male, although I’m sure that there is, I just haven’t met any yet. I think my first role model coming up was Spike Lee to be honest. I actually got the chance to work with him and saw how involved he is in every aspect of production.. He’s the costume designer, the production designer, the director, — he’s everything — in which case, watching him work allowed me to see a black, male artist working on set, giving a lot of direction, and being very serious about what his vision was, and what needed to happen on his set.

Outside of the industry, my role models were mostly, my father, and other people in my life that I saw creating things for themselves. Even my friend Dyandra, as mentioned earlier,  was a huge role model for me,  because she was somebody that was close to me in age, who I saw stepping out, creating something for herself. For her to take me with her, was extremely encouraging. The women that I keep around me are amazing. They hustle hard and are amazingly humlble. The care they have for their work is otherworldly and I appreciate it and admire them wholeheartedly.  Needless to say,  I have a long list of women who really inspire me.

One of my newest role models is Hannah Beachler. She was the Production Designer for Fruitvale Station, Moonlight, Black Panther, and Creed. She really caught my attention in Creed, because I knew that the locations picked were places only someone from Philadelphia would even know about. You know what I mean? It was extremely well done. She was really running the art department and had total control. I was inspired by that, and then of course she won the award for Black Panther. Visually it is one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen. It feels good to know that there’s a black female Production Designer that’s being recognized for her work, and that is being validated by the public, and the masses for her work.

Direction and Photography by Tim Stevens

Alicia DeLarge:            And of course, Tim Stevens is one of my biggest role models. I talk about him every interview I do. He’s my heart. I believe he is responsible for starting my career as it is now. By bringing me onto Concrete Cowboys. Prior to this, I was really just working in New York and LA. Once I got on that set, the (local) work just ran like water. For the rest of that season, I was on pharma commercials in the middle of Pennsylvania every week, and pharma commercials are money.

Kris Mendoza:               A good launchpad for more local stuff.

Alicia DeLarge:            South Jersey is booming  right now too. I did a Lifetime Movie and a Giant Foods commercial out there, but Concrete Cowboys was the best and it’s about to come out on Netflix. It was one of those films where I got my hands on everything. I served as a Set Dresser and I worked under Tim Stevens, and Set Decorator, Michael Mizrahi. Tim and Michael are so hilarious ridiculous (in a good way), we just had so much fun. I got to work with horses, set dressing stables in Philadelphia and Glenolden, PA. It was amazing.

Kris Mendoza:               I’m very much looking forward to seeing it when it comes out.  What are you working on now? Anything really interesting?

Alicia DeLarge:            So I just finished working on a lot of big projects, this is my slow season. I am currently applying to a graduate program in London and I’ve been working with Draulhaus, creating a lot of Angry Orchard commercials with them which has been really fun. Last year, I worked on a Lifetime movie with Meagan Good, called Death Saved My Life. It actually just premiered February 13th, , and I served on that as a Set Decorator. That was my first feature film where I served as a set-dec from beginning to end. I worked under a Production Designer named Luie Garcia, who is a woman of color. It was definitely hard, but a good experience, because I learned a lot about what I am able to handle without a lot of support.

I production designed my first documentary. We traveled  to New York, Philadelphia, D.C., and Delaware, and that was extremely rewarding, because I couldn’t be on set for any of it, I was working on the  Lifetime movie at the same timeBlack History Untold, by Sofiya Ballin, is about black love… the radicalism, the revolutionary nature of black love.  I was super honored to be able to create the environment for a project such as this.  I created a set that was able to travel to four different cities without me.  All they had to do was lift it up, put it on a backdrop pole, and put a couch down.   I was just extremely proud of myself and the way that I was able to pre -set it, how simple it was for the people in every city to just set it up for me, and I was available on FaceTime, so I was able to guide and give direction without being physically present.

Also, I served in the costume department for Mare of Easttown, with Kate Winslet, doing a lot of costuming for background. I felt like I was on set for The Devil Wears Prada. We would dress everyone, they would run in, line up….

Kris Mendoza:               Rolling racks full of wardrobe….

Alicia DeLarge:             Yeah, and the Costume Designer would just walk up and down and look at everyone deciding, “You, yes. You, no. Go get her a hat, go get her this….” It was so inspiring. One of my goals, in the role that I have, is to place a lot of black designers and black artists within the sets that I work on. So this was also the first time that I had that much influence on a set.  For example, my friend Dyandra Brown just recently launched a vegan shoe line, so I had her shoes in the closet, and they got so much playtime. And then my friends, Rosco Spears, who did this tapestry I have in my apartment, and my friend Aubrie Costello, I got their work on the project, front and center. So it feels really good to be able to give my friends this type of exposure. Artists and designers are necessary, and people need to see their work, you know?

Kris Mendoza:               That’s huge. Got your own Project Forte going on a day-to-day basis. Great to have influence like that on a project and uplift people you know are worthy of it.   But also, someone gave you that opportunity to launch, there’s nothing more gratifying than having the opportunity to pass it on.

Alicia DeLarge:            My mission in any capacity of my work, whether or not it’s film, is to serve black men specifically, women, and students. So anything that has to do with those three demographics, I’m always here for.


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Aubrie Costello Campaign featuring Alicia DeLarge


Kris Mendoza:               You talked about notable projects as of late, and we touched on it a little bit in terms of role models, but what’s the current state of ethnic diversity on film sets?

Alicia DeLarge:             I love this question. I still don’t think there’s enough representation behind the camera, but what I know is, it’s a process, so I think it’s amazing that I’m seeing more representation in front of the camera in this season.  Sometimes of course I think it’s only because we’re in this black lives matter era, and people feel very inclined to be more inclusive.  I have some friends who are annoyed about it, who have gotten promotions at work, but say, “They only did this because I’m black.” To which I say, “Well, take it. Why are you mad about that?  This is something that you should’ve had years ago.”

Kris Mendoza:              This is what we’re fighting for..

Alicia DeLarge:            Yeah, “you should’ve had this years ago, and now you’re mad about it? Just embrace it, and use it to the best of your ability,” you know what I mean? I get where they’re coming from, because it should have always been like this. But on set specifically, no, I don’t think there’s enough representation behind the camera. For instance, I recently worked on a Lifetime commercial and noticed the talent was black, but looking around set, there were still a lot of white men giving direction. They did have a white female director, but she was not really taking over in ways that I believe she could’ve

Kris Mendoza:              So playing second fiddle.

Alicia DeLarge:            Yes. Basically the DP was a white male, calling all the shots. I once worked on a lip plumper commercial where everyone on set and behind the camera was a white man, giving direction for something that’s made for women, that also didn’t make sense know what I mean?

The most representation I’ve seen on set was the Lifetime movie in which almost every department head was either a black woman or male, or a woman of color, which was extremely encouraging, and I made sure I talked about it all the time. Even the talent was black, so it was great to see representation on both sides. I’d point it out saying “hey ya’ll, do you understand that we’re all here, we’re all black?” And they were like, “Alicia, thank you for saying that.”

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Alicia DeLarge


Kris Mendoza:              Just like you’re aware when you’re the only non-white person in the room, you become aware, there’s not one white person in the room.

Alicia DeLarge:            So the director was a white male, but his assistant was a black woman. I’ve never in my life seen this before, but we had an all-black male G&E [grip & electric] from D.C. It was very encouraging. And then, Concrete Cowboys.

The first day we show up to set, I remember it was not diverse. Like you show up to set, and everybody’s white, even the director. Everybody was white, coming together to tell black stories. Come to find out, Lee Daniels actually put a clause in his contract with Neighborhood Film and requested diversity on set, at least that’s what I heard. I remember showing up to set the next day,  because every department had changed. G&E crew was mostly black. I saw color everywhere, and not just in front of the camera. The art department was headed by my mentor, Tim Stevens, I tell him often , “Every time I work with you, I work with a badass beautiful women.”

Kris Mendoza:               It’s crazy how quickly he (Lee Daniels) was able to turn that around.

Alicia DeLarge:            I’m sure he would’ve shut it down. But once again, we’re starting to see more color in front of the camera. I affirm Draulhaus on their intention to carry that out all the time. We were on a set the other day, and John (from Draulhaus) says, “I can’t wait to do more creative stuff, I don’t feel like I’m impactful.” This man goes out of his way to hire women, and black women like me to be in lead production roles. I said, “That’s extremely impactful, I don’t want you to take that for granted. You are a white male that is making room for a lot of people like me, and that’s what it takes.”

I affirm Tim Stevens because even on Concrete Cowboys, the director would’ve never even known who I was if Tim didn’t give me room. There was this one moment where I had showed up at a location they were trying to create this chase scene through a made-up alleyway, which was confusing to me because this is Philadelphia and it’s full of alleyways. But Tim said, “This is what they want, so this is what we’re going to do.”

I remember saying: well, “I don’t think it’s a good idea.” I’m very outspoken, especially with Tim, because he just makes me feel comfortable to speak.  “We should use this other side.” And Tim asked me to tell him why.

Alicia DeLarge:           When we did the walkthrough, Tim brings up my suggestion but he actually can’t quite speak to it, because it was my idea. He kind of tripped over his words  so I just started talking, “Tim is trying to say that it’s way more cinematic, there’s more room. There are layers and levels, and all these things…”  just giving the whole spiel.  People looked at me crazy because I’m a black girl on set that nobody knew.

Alicia DeLarge:           Ricky liked the idea and asked, “What’s your name?” I said Alicia and he cleared it with the Locations department. After their approval he said, “Okay. It’s done. We’re going to shoot it over here.” And then we just moved on, and I look at Tim surprised, but that’s what it takes, more white men and women humbling themselves, or taking a backseat to allow people of color to have a chance.

Kris Mendoza:               It’s creating space.

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Alicia DeLarge

Kris Mendoza:               So, what needs to happen in order to get more opportunities for people of color to open up?  You could say on one hand, by looking at the Oscars and the Golden Globes, there aren’t as many black or Asian films being submitted. But I don’t think there’s a shortage of those, it’s just more like the status quo has to make room for other folks. So you need those white men or women allies to cede some of that power.

Alicia DeLarge:            Totally, and it’s happening more, like I said. I’m working with La Colombe right now, which I always looked at as a vanilla-ish corporate company, but they’re pushing a lot of inclusivity right now, and elevating a lot of black people

Kris Mendoza:                   Well, if you didn’t know, Todd Carmichael, the owner and founder of La Colombe, is a father to four beautiful black adopted kids. So I’m sure that is intentional coming right from the top.

Alicia DeLarge:            That’s beautiful. I didn’t know that! They recently reached out to me to promote an initiative they’re doing with the Loveland Foundation to give black women free therapy, which is a personal initiative that I have. I often pay for people to go to therapy because I think it’s super important. They wanted to pay me for my work in various ways, but what I asked was for them to hire more black and brown people to work with them and to pay them their rates. I gave them a list of black creatives in the city that I admire to start with.

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Alicia DeLarge:             They were shocked. They had never heard anybody request something like that over capital. But that’s what’s going to support me, caring for a community of people that I love.  I plan to challenge more companies because that’s what it takes.  I notice that sometimes, even people of color get to a certain height in their career, and then they don’t want to bring anyone with them anymore….or they feel like they have to hold on so tight.

Kris Mendoza:                   Do you think there’s a level of thinking “I’m a person of color, I got here and have my scars, and you’ve got to do the same thing?”

Alicia DeLarge:           Yes I do believe that level of thinking is prevalent due to the experiences I’ve had working under older people of color. It is always as if there is a hazing process I have to undergo to earn their love and respect. I don’t have to go through this working under white men honestly and it’s disheartening that I have to deal with this working under older black men and women. 

I don’t put the girls who work under me through things like that just for them to learn, or have an experience. And there’s also a level of insecurity and ego that is prevalent right? Older people don’t want you to take their job. They’re afraid. Although your goal is truly to support, elevate, and learn from them. It’s interesting to say the least.

Kris Mendoza:              There’s no clear antagonist here other than racism, and lack of equality. Our inclusivity is adding different perspectives, and enriching the conversation.

Last question for you. how do you define success, in terms of what you do?  This is Black History Month and you’re making black history on a daily basis yourself. What’s that responsibility like, knowing there may be a young black boy or girl thinking this is not a career path for them?

763FA133 D1B6 495F BA7D B633425D4119Alicia DeLarge:           Well, success is what I experienced this weekend, right. I feel very successful to be able to complete something from beginning to end and have influence in various ways. So not even just being able to create a set, or being able to pick out the things I want to decorate a set, which is definitely having influence, but also the fact that I was able to  get my friends’ work included and to be able to elevate other people. When I’m on set, I’m constantly encouraging people. I want them to feel good,  feel cared for, feel comfortable… That’s just the type of person I am.

Alicia DeLarge:          On my last day of work on the  Lifetime movie,  I went around and gave every black woman flowers.  Black women don’t tend get our  flowers while we can still smell them.  That felt successful for me, to be on a set, have influence personally and professionally, and elevate other people while I was there.

I feel the most fulfilled when I’m serving people. Even in the role that I have as a production designer, I’m always serving someone, and that makes me think of my father who always talks about being a ”servant leader.”

I remember growing up, he would always, whenever he would have these conversations with his friends talk about his role at work, he would say “I’m the advisor to the king. That’s the role that I have.  I have a lot of influence, but I’m also in a very humble position, where I’m able to advise people in a more elevated and powerful role than me.”  I’m in a supporting role, and I’m grateful for the quiet influence that I’m able to have on a set.

I don’t believe for one minute that I’m the first black woman that’s ever decorated a set, or anything like that, because I’m not. But to be able to be recognized in that role, which is usually held by white men, is extremely empowering.

I did a career day at Mastery Charter a few years ago, where I was able to see how important it was for black children to know that they could do what I do. I actually  started substitute-teaching in between my jobs as a result of that experience.

I’ve also been doing this Brown Girls series with a group called Mighty Writers, where I have the opportunity to talk to a group of girls from ages 11-13 last weekend about what I do for a living, and their minds were blown.  I was talking about Spider-Man, and asking them, “who do you think decorates Spider-Man’s room?  Who puts the pictures on the wall?  Who makes his bed? Me!” They all got a kick out of that!

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Alicia DeLarge

It’s extremely empowering, and it gives me more purpose to my work.  I’m not just doing this for me, I’m doing this for my son, I’m doing this for all these little black kids. Even being on Concrete Cowboys was very emotional for a lot of us, because it shows little black kids they can get on horses, you know what I mean?

It’s a rarity — when you think about horses, you think about equestrians, white people on their horses, the Kentucky Derby.  But black people have been owning horses in Philadelphia for decades and kids should see that.

I’m extremely blessed to be an example to other kids, to be able to show them what’s possible for them.  I’m all about showing people, especially black people, what we have access to, because that’s power.

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Project Forte: Kyra Knox

Project Forte is an original series presented by Maestro Filmworks that seeks to amplify marginalized voices in the film industry to promote a continued initiative around allyship.

Forte (for·te) is defined as; 1. a thing at which someone excels. or 2. in music, loud or strong

Allyship is not about the different struggles of diverse groups cancelling each other out or competing with each other; rather, it’s about coming together in solidarity. Our goal is to cut through the noise of the status quo in order to highlight the voices of the many talented and creative individuals that are forces in their own crafts

Written & edited by Kate Feher


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Maestro Filmworks presents the second installment of Project Forte featuring Kyra Knox (she/her), a director and producer currently working in Philadelphia and New York. 

Read about how she got started, her role in the industry now, and the inspiring stories prevalent within her work.  Knox recognizes the value of inclusivity, representation, and individuality. She also speaks to the power of encouragement, and how lifting each other up can give us permission to achieve our goals.  Kyra Knox lends her voice to the communities closest to her, documenting stories of kindness, generosity, influence, mentorship, and support.  She is a storyteller first and foremost, Knox says, but don’t let such humble ambitions fool you, she is a force behind the camera and a driving connector for her team. 




Kris Mendoza:           So, Kyra, how did you get your start in the industry?

Kyra Knox:                I actually started out as an actor at the young age of six.  I started my training at Freedom Theatres and from there, I went to Performing Arts High School. When I graduated from high school, I got the opportunity to perform off Broadway in New York, doing Corner Wars, which won the 2003 Newsday George Oppenheimer Award for best original play.  


Then my grandfather passed away, and I decided to quit acting. You see,  back  in the day you actually had to pay a lot of money to get your headshots printed out.  And my last conversation with him had been “Can you put money in my accounts so I can get my headshots printed out?”  He passed away the next day. And I was very… I felt guilty. And I was only 19 years old, but for me, it just made me quit the arts for 10 years, after I did that play. 

I got engaged 10 years later and I felt like something was missing… I realized that I was missing the Arts.  So, I went back to my mentor Mel Williams, back to acting school and back to the plays in New York, again — fun fact about Mel, he’s currently the acting coach for The Equalizer with Queen Latifah!  

One day an associate of mine reached out saying, “Hey, can you help me with my web series and produce?” and  I thought, “Well, what does a producer do?” 

So, I took classes at PhillyCAMIt was like 70 bucks for 10 classes. And that’s how I started getting into producing. 

Kris Mendoza:           You mentioned someone taking a chance on you?  Was that the spark that helped get things started for you?

Kyra Knox:                One of my acting teachers, Jayson Williams, is a SAG actor and at the time was making his directorial debut. He took me under his wing and taught me how to produce. He knew I was taking classes at PhillyCAM, and he showed me the ropes.  

Also, I would just ask people, “Can I shadow you on set?  I don’t have to get paid.”  I worked for free. If I was in front of the camera, I would constantly talk to the crew and say, “Hey, I know I’m on break, but can I help you guys out?” And that’s how people started knowing me. Keep in mind this whole time, I was working a corporate job.

One day, my husband came home and found me crying and asked, “What’s wrong?” And I realized, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to follow my dreams. I’m really loving the behind the scenes.  I don’t want to be an actor anymore. I want to be a producer.  Can I quit my job?” My husband said, “Give me 90 days.” So I gave my notice and soon had a runner position at Tweed Video, working one day a week. 


By my second month, I was working full time, moving up quite rapidly. I wanted to show them I was a rockstar.  By that next year, I was producing and directing my own episodes, my own docu-series.  Things moved quickly, once I got in there.  But I think it’s important to let people know I didn’t go to film school.  Being on set/getting those opportunities to shadow has actually been my film school.  Jayson took a chance on me and I just skyrocketed.

Kris Mendoza:                So you mentioned getting your start at at Tweed. Are you freelancing now or have you taken your talents somewhere else?

Kyra Knox:                So I was freelancing for Koi-Fly a bit, and I liked that they were all pretty open-minded.  On one particular shoot,  the CEO approached me, saying “Have you ever thought about not being a freelancer, and being on staff?”   I had never really thought about that, because I hadn’t found a production company where I could truly feel safe. But I was open to talking with them,  we had a formal conversation and within a few weeks she sent me an offer to be their newest staff director/producer!



Kris Mendoza:           That sounds amazing!

Kyra Knox:                Yeah. It was time for me to find a home because that freelancer life, especially as a producer/director, can dry up real fast.  I’m happy to have my home with them.

Kris Mendoza:           Did you have any early inspirations and kind of role models in the industry that you looked up to as someone you either modeled your work after, or modeled your work ethic after?

Kyra Knox:                Well, I always say that my biggest inspiration has been Ava DuVernay, because she picked up the camera and left her job, the same age that I left my corporate job to follow my dreams. I remember reading an article about that and thought, “If she can do it, I can do it. What’s stopping me?” 

She was my biggest inspiration to just go out and do it. I didn’t want to wake up: 50 years old, still in a cubicle, and still saying, “I want to be a producer” but never went for it.  Life is too short. It’s not a rehearsal. It’s showtime.  I went for it.



Behind the Scenes with Kyra Knox

Kris Mendoza:           In terms of the work that you do now, is there a common thread you seek, whether it’s a passion or client project?  What inspires you and sets your work apart, in your eyes?

Kyra Knox:                I’m a storyteller and I’m passionate about documentaries. You always see the people that have millions of likes where everybody knows their stories… but what about the people that are just doing good in their community?  They’re not doing it for exposure. I love telling their stories.  I remember Shirley Raines in LA.  Her nonprofit was called Beauty 2 The Streetz. And she would go to the middle of Skid Row and do people’s hair for them.  She’s never asked for anything from anybody.  She says, “I can’t get you a job, and I don’t have money to get you food, but you know what I can do? I can do your hair, and I can make up your face, and I can build your inner confidence back up.”  I’m extremely passionate about those stories. And that’s why I’ve always preferred documentary filmmaking versus commercial filmmaking.

Kris Mendoza:           What are your thoughts on diversity, or lack thereof, within the film industry? Are we heading in the right direction and how far have we actually come?

Kyra Knox:                Honestly, I think we’ve only come a smidge closer to having diversity in the industry, but it’s still lacking. I feel it’s still just an “old boys club” and it’s really hard to get in.  If it wasn’t for Jayson Williams, and also my production manager, Sheryl Gauntlett Jadrosich,  a black female producer, I would not be where I am now.  I’ve had people that are not of color in positions above me, but (in those instances) I hardly learned anything because they kind of shut me out.  They would take my hunger for more and say “Oh no, don’t worry about that. We got this.”

But Sheryl… she taught me everything that she knew, when it came to producing. And I honestly believe that if it wasn’t for her, I would still be more of a PA on set.  I’ve noticed that in this industry it’s so hard for black filmmakers and people of color to go up the ladder, and that’s very frustrating,  I’m very fortunate that I was able to have those two mentors in my life.


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Behind the Scenes with Kyra Knox

Kris Mendoza:           You have to compound being a black filmmaker with being a female filmmaker, right?  What’s that added perspective of being a black woman on set?  How does it fare in a very white male dominated industry like the film industry?

Kyra Knox:                It’s very, very tough. I had a situation on set not long enough ago, where I had to deal with a sound guy I typically don’t work with.  But the way this person treated me was appalling. Even something as simple as asking him to hide the lavaliere mic.. he felt he had to loudly explain to talent, “Sorry for this. They want us to hide the mic.” He was very sarcastic. That day he didn’t even ask me, the producer on set, if he could pack up and leave,  if I needed anything else… he just said, “Bye y’all.” And that was it. He had no respect for me at all. 

There have been plenty of times, especially on shoots where I have to travel and am pretty unknown to the crew, someone would say, “Oh, you’re the director?” Kind of looking down at me. I have to macho myself up, and be a little tougher just to get respect.  People who have been on set with me, they know that’s not how I roll.  I like to laugh and have a good time because you don’t want to be on a set that’s filled with tension. I find that if I’m on a white crew, I have to be more of a macho style boss versus when I’m around my own people and people of color, I can be more relaxed and be more Kyra.


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Behind the Scenes with Kyra Knox

Kris Mendoza:           It sounds like you kind of have to not be yourself in order to fit in, It’s definitely a severe double standard there. This opens up into something I see you posting about a lot, imposter syndrome. How do you struggle with it why do you think it’s something that you are continuing to overcome?

Kyra Knox:                First, my imposter syndrome really comes from the fact that I didn’t go to film school. I’m surrounded by these amazing talented people that have been working since they were in high school or college. I feel like, “Do I belong here?”  A lot of people are able to say, “I have 20 years of experience.” But feel pressure about having only a little.  

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Behind the Scenes with Kyra Knox and Eurica Yu

For example, when Maestro Filmworks contacted me,  I thought “They want me?” I couldn’t believe it. I had been following you guys for a long time. I was in shock!  I don’t know if you noticed, but in our first initial meetings, I was kind of stuttering, trying to tell my vision because I doubted my place there. I just felt like I was just this imposter, within this amazing production company and it freaked me out. Even working with crew the day of the shoot, I was nervous and afraid I would screw it up. The project was such a good cause; Eurica (Yu) is amazing to work with. Jo (Shen) was a boss within herself.  And Kate (Feher)… everyone was so talented and I’m like, “what, am I doing here?”

Kris Mendoza:           You ran the show!

Kyra Knox:                And I was terrified!  I remember my husband was texting me throughout the day, sending me positive messages.  I get inside my head so much, and sometimes I end up talking down on myself.  If someone tries to compliment me on a commercial project, I feel the need to say “but I’m only a documentary filmmaker.”  Instead of saying, “Well, I have done commercial work, and it’s very, very tough for me.” I think that’s why I’ve become such an overachiever when it comes to taking classes all the time, and going to panels.  I want to soak in all of this knowledge.  Often, I feel like I’m many steps behind everyone else. I’m playing catch up, but also I am catching up.  



Behind the Scenes with Kyra Knox and Hector Tapia

Kris Mendoza:           I think there’s a certain level of external validation that has to happen before you have that internal validation. But what comes first? I think it’s a push and pull for sure.  From what sparked with George Floyd, and everything that’s happened since, magnified by the pandemic, do you feel like people are more aware of the black experience, hardships and everyday struggles?  And how do you see that kind of affecting maybe how you express yourself as an artist, or what kind of work you pursue?

Kyra Knox:                In light of everything that has happened, at Koi-Fly, Stacey Grant, the CEO, really opened up a dialogue within her own company and created a safe environment for me to be free. I didn’t feel like I had to tone down my emotions. I didn’t feel like I had to act like everything was okay. I didn’t feel like I had to tone down my blackness. I don’t think that conversations would have been as readily open for everyone if it wasn’t for the Black Lives Matter movement, and people becoming more aware of what’s going on.  Unfortunately for us, we’re used to this.  

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My father  said something very deep to me –  as all the protests were happening, he cried,  “I never thought that my daughter would be fighting for the same rights that I was fighting for when I was her age.”  The Black Lives Matter movement did empower me to speak up, because I was that person that conformed.  (Getting into this industry) I didn’t want to say the wrong things. I really toned down who Kyra was. I toned down my emotions, because I was afraid that I wouldn’t get hired.  I was afraid that I would lose friends that were not black or a person of color.  So, it did empower me to do my passion project talking about the black community. The Black Lives Matter movement gave power to my voice. 

Now I feel that if a person doesn’t agree with [the truth of] what’s going on, if they can’t support us, communities of color,  and I’m talking about Asians, Hispanic, Latinas….if they can’t support our movement, then I don’t want to be around them. I don’t need to be hired by them.

Kris Mendoza:           How do you see that affecting the type of work that you pursue creatively?

Kyra Knox:                It makes me push even more to find our stories and document them, because I’m so tired of us being labeled in a negative way. It’s always the drug addict, the thief, the person that’s shooting another person. But in our communities, we do so many positive things.  Why aren’t people focusing on that?I push hard to find the underdogs and tell our stories because they’re important to be heard and you never know who’s watching. You never know if there’s a young black girl filmmaker that’s watching my work and watching me be a storyteller for our community. I’ve got to inspire that young girl to take what I started and go to the next level, just like Ava DuVernay inspired me with her documentary, 13th.

Kris Mendoza:           Finally, what’s next for Kyra?

Kyra Knox:                My passion project, which is called Bad Things Happen In Philadelphia, is actually about all the good things that happen in Philadelphia.  I am following the journey of Garry Mills and his non-profit called Shoot Basketballs NOT People, which helps get the inner city kids off the street, and playing basketball. He began mentoring a lot of these kids in schools that didn’t want to have anything to do with them. Now they’re a Division 1 team! 

We’re also following Cohen Thompson in West Philadelphia. He has spent $20,000 of his own money to get kids off the street, and learning how to skate. It’s called Skate University. We’re following both journeys, and the funny thing is, these two men actually used to play basketball with each other in high school. I had no idea!  

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Behind the Scenes with Kyra Knox and Hector Tapia

Kris Mendoza:           Any parting thoughts?

Kyra Knox:                I just want people to know that it’s never too late to follow your dreams. When I decided to quit my job, people thought I was nuts. They thought I was crazy. People were saying, “How are you going to pay your bills?” To my husband, “You’re going to let Kyra quit her job?” But my husband believed in me, and I went for it. And look at me now. It doesn’t matter if you’re pregnant. If you have kids. It doesn’t matter your age, go for it. Why not?

Kris Mendoza:           Doesn’t matter if you’re black, brown, yellow, or everything in between.

Kyra Knox:                Exactly. Just go for it. Because life is too damn short to be miserable. Just go for your passion and don’t listen to the naysayers. You can do it. It can take 10 years to achieve that one year that will change your life. That is the model I stand by, and I’m here proving it.

Kris Mendoza:           Mic drop, end interview.




Project Forte: Simone Holland

Project Forte is an original series presented by Maestro Filmworks that seeks to amplify marginalized voices in the film industry to promote a continued initiative around allyship.
Allyship is not about the different struggles of diverse groups cancelling each other out or competing with each other; rather, it’s about coming together in solidarity. Our goal is to cut through the noise of the status quo in order to highlight the voices of the many talented and creative individuals that are forces in their own crafts

Written & edited by Kate Feher


IMG 2612This week, our Executive Producer, Kris Mendoza sat down with Simone Holland (she/her), a director and creative director working in Philadelphia, whose experiences within our industry compel change and growth for all of us.  She has spearheaded core projects that rely on black, brown, indigenous, and LGBQIA+ communities to raise their voices and join them in collaboration, not just with each other but in a way that includes others with different stories to understand their perspectives better and get involved.  Having struggled for breakout opportunities and equal playing fields, Holland recognizes the value of enabling hands-on experience with evolving aspects of the trade, whether they are tech or art related.  Her work inspires all folks to recognize stigmas, expectations, and methods that do not support inclusivity, and which serve only as a clear call for change.  

Read below about her compelling projects/collaborators, who she draws inspiration from herself, and where Simone Holland will take us next!


Kris Mendoza:           How did you get started in the industry and what were the early beginnings like?

Simone Holland:       I went to Villanova University for communications and political science and wanted to start in News and to be a line producer.  But things didn’t really work out after I graduated, and I ended up getting sucked into makeup and wardrobe.  My cousin-in-law was doing clothing design and she knew I wanted to work in production so she asked me to come with her on set one day. I was a styling assistant at the time and it just ended up being a huge Sesame Street commercial.  I fell in love with it. 

I started going back and forth to New York and really living in styling, but I’ve always been a techie person. So, I’ve taught myself how to do graphic design, web design, staying up to date with what was going on so that I could eventually make the switch to camera. Along the way, I’ve done a lot of set design too and went to Sundance in 2019.

In 2019 I was a costume design head for What Death Leaves Behind..   Even now, I continue to work with that team, especially Scott Hamilton, the director. 

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Khalil and Amanda Diaz, in What Death Leaves Behind from Artist Rights Distribution

Simone Holland: It’s always been a hands-on job. I was doing more than just wardrobe. I ended up being taken under the wing of the producer that was on the movie, and I just learned so much about how an indie film was made outside of my job as a wardrobe stylist.  Being able to work with people that give me the space to learn a completely different skill allowed me to include everything that I’ve done up until this point into my directorial work and creative direction as well.  Every opportunity that I got, I would work behind the camera, and then, eventually, I was able to make the switch.

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Simone Holland on left Photographer by Kate Feher


Kris Mendoza:           What was that experience like going to Sundance and working with Scott Hamilton?

Simone Holland:       It’s funny, because I thought that Scott hated me at first…every time I would decide on something, I would ask him what he thought, and he would just nod and walk away. 

And then, after we started talking, he said,  “Well, I didn’t say anything because it was great. There’s nothing for me to say.”

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Scott Hamilton pictured in center, attending Sundance Film Festival

Simone Holland: When I wanted to work more on camera, every chance there was, he would throw it at me. So, I was being tried in the fire that way, but it was definitely what I needed to learn: how to step up in those spaces when no one else is really going to give you a chance. 

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“When I wanted to work more on camera, every chance there was, he would throw it at me.”

It was a lot, as indie films are, but it was a great experience and going to Sundance was amazing, though I had the flu the whole three days I was there.  

Hillary Hanak, who was working at Videosmith at the time, was giving me a chance to work behind the camera as well, and I came back to do this huge Campbell’s job as her first assistant camera just after Sundance.  From there, I just stopped taking makeup and wardrobe jobs, and I knew that directing was where I wanted it to be.

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Hillary Hanak-Newman

Kris Mendoza:           You mentioned something about the producer on that film taking you under their wing, and I think one thing that is super important in our industry and not enough people talk about… is mentorship.  How important is that for young folks in our industry to get opportunities and someone teaching them the ropes?

Simone Holland:       Yes!. The producer’s name is Rachel Ofori. She lived in Virginia at the time, and we would shoot the entire day and then she would drive back home to Virginia.  By 3:00 AM she would pick me up again and we’d go to get craft services, she would answer my questions about producing and what it meant to make an indie film – getting it on the platform that you want, instead of just making a movie and hoping… There was a lot and I was there for all of it.     

If it weren’t for that mentorship, if Hillary didn’t give me a chance to work at Videosmith to have hands-on gear, I wouldn’t have been able to flourish. People are using bigger cameras that cost a lot… not having access to that on a regular basis means that you can’t improve.  You want to be prepared for your job when you step on set, and if you’re not used to having hands on that type of gear, you’re not going to do well, and then if you don’t do well, then you don’t get hired. 

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“You want to be prepared for your job when you step on set, and if you’re not used to having hands on that type of gear, you’re not going to do well”
BTS for Vex photograph by Weston Fahey

With Hillary, now, we work together.  I will direct something and she’ll DP it. She’ll come to me with ideas. Even with Vex, my documentary that I’m releasing in April, which she DP’ed … she helped me get all the gear, we shot it at Maestro Filmworks. The help that Maestro’s given me, so that I can realize the projects that I’ve wanted to make, that mentorship really made a difference in just how I approach my art and being able to feel like I can create in the way that I want to create instead of having to fit into glass boxes.

Kris Mendoza:           Can you dive deeper into what you mean by “glass box?”

Simone Holland:       I like to say glass box because it has the implications of a glass ceiling, so when you get to a certain point, it’s hard to get past that, regardless of what you’re shooting for or the type of jobs that you want. People have preconceived notions of how they want you to exist. So, with Vex , being a woman of color within the LGBT community, there are certain stereotypes that people want you to live up to, and they don’t give you the space to just be. It comes with attachments. 

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Graphic Artwork by Simone Holland


Simone Holland: For example, one of the models, Dina, she had locks, and when she was trying to model and trying to get signed, they would tell her either, “Take out your locks,” or, “Keep them in,” but then she would get specific jobs that would only apply to that one stereotype of what she looked like, instead of realizing that she can have locks and work on whatever job she wanted to. It’s not that black and white when it comes to how people fit into these fashions, beauty spaces, or just life in general.

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Dina, Photographed by Kate Feher


For myself specifically, it’s the constant struggle to create art and create stories that speak to me without me being a Black female filmmaker at the forefront of all of that.  I’d want my work to be able to speak for itself. So, that’s what I mean when I say a glass box.

Kris Mendoza:           Very well put.  You just alluded to it, but let’s take a step back and talk about Vex!.

Simone Holland:       Vex is a multi-medium film-based project that challenges standards of beauty through conventionally beautiful images. So, we took seven different models and artists who don’t fall into the traditional line of what a model is, or if they do, there’s a glass box that comes with it. Each one of them was given an era (theme) from pin-up to futurism/cosplay. 

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BTS from Vex photographs by Kate Feher

I brought local Philadelphia photographers to take the still photos, and now we have seven different graffiti artists and muralists all local to Philly that will be involved. It’s a story of connectivity.  Each one of the models is completely different and has their own story and their own struggles. The push to be open and talk about things that are typically taboo when it comes to beauty and self-love, I think, are more important now than they ever were, with isolation and people being inside and not really being able to express themselves in the way that they normally would. It’s a three-episode series that we’ll be promoting come March.

Kris Mendoza: Sounds like an awesome project and can’t wait to see it, and also a great segue into my next question which is about diversity, whether in front of or behind the camera. What are your thoughts on the current state of just diversity in the industry?

Simone Holland:       I think with the state of the industry, and obviously every department is different, but the diversity just isn’t there, not just for Black filmmakers, but filmmakers of color in general, and LGBT filmmakers. There’s a term of sophistication that people use when they’re talking about directors or DPs:  saying that this director is sophisticated or they’re not sophisticated. And I think it’s a little bit of red lining. Take the Golden Globes, there was a lot of missed opportunity there for stories, and it continues to be the case year after year, where filmmakers of color are speaking up and telling stories in the way that they want to tell them and they’re just undeniably amazing.                          

So, I don’t really know where things will go in the future, but we’re definitely pushing the boundaries and making our voices heard. I do think that there needs to be a level playing field, but every day is a battle. And I wouldn’t change my experience or who I am for anything.  And what I bring to the table, I wouldn’t change that for anything.

Kris Mendoza:           How important is it for BIPOC people in the film industry to work together regardless of background? I think there are different struggles for different ethnic groups, but it seems like a common thread. You have your Black filmmakers, the Asian filmmakers, LGBT filmmakers and overall working together so it seems like we’re working towards a common cause, right? But it’s also very siloed…

Do you feel like you’re in a struggle together or we’re still fighting separate fights?

Simone Holland:       Up until this point, it’s felt like separate fights. People were inclusive within their own group, whether it’s LGBT or Asian or Black.  When they get their crews together for a project that speaks to their struggle, they go to the people that are like them to tell that story. It makes sense, but there is a level of inclusion that’s missing, to give people in other groups the opportunity to learn about your struggles and (for them) to be able to help you tell that story and open the conversation more. I do think that it’s getting better, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Kris Mendoza: Separate from mentorship and what you’ve explained, did you have any early inspirations and role models in the industry? 

Simone Holland:       When I was young, I would always watch Tim Burton films, which is probably why my graphic art is a little bit on the weirder side.


Graphic Artwork by Simone Holland

I grew up with that alternative view of art and what movies could be. I always had a love for claymation but, for me, I don’t have the patience to do it. As I was growing and working in wardrobe, (I was) watching Ava DuVernay and Victoria Mahoney.  They would be two of my biggest inspirations as far as directing goes. Ava’s producing and PR skills in addition to directing are just amazing. Growing up in that space, I didn’t always look to the go-to celebrity directors or wardrobe stylists, because I gravitated towards the quieter people in the room and the people that were creating (differently)-

Kris Mendoza:           Favorite Movie?

Simone Holland:       Coraline.

Kris Mendoza:           Favorite director?

Simone Holland:       Victoria Mahoney.

Kris Mendoza:           Favorite DP?

Simone Holland:       Ava Berkofsy.  She went to film school and took what she learned and expanded it to teach herself how to light darker skin tones. She’s the perfect example of learning the rules so you can break them. She creates like “water” but continues to calculate as things shift. Using her environment and falling into the feeling of the moment, is one of my favorite aspects of her approach

Kris Mendoza:           Favorite project you’ve ever worked on?

Simone Holland:       I would say Americano because even though I was doing makeup, a lot of the people that I’m closest to now I’ve met on that set. And even when I’m meeting people now, they say, “Oh, I actually met you on Americano. (Dir. Tim Viola, 2018)”

Kris Mendoza:           Talk to me about Tetra Creative, how’d you come up with the name, what kind of work are you pursuing, and what does that look like for you now into the future?

Simone Holland:       Tetra Creative was a collective built from a ragtag group of outlying filmmakers that  do everything. We consider ourselves a Swiss army knife. If somebody directs, we all fall in line to help that person tell their story. “Tetra” came from the film stock used to capture people of color… we’re going back to the Shirley card, when they were first building cameras and basing sensors off of one skin tone. It (Tetra Creative) was built to acknowledge stories outside of the mainstream.

We’ve been pushing really, really hard to get the content out there. We have a few projects coming up.  My documentary, Vex, that I directed almost two years ago now, was supposed to come out last March.  Then everything happened with the pandemic and that event fell through. But it opened up a space for me to build it to what it is today, including the graffiti artists and working with Mural Arts and Conrad Brenner from Streets Department.  Pushing women’s mental health during a time where we’re all isolated  was the main focus for me finishing this project and making sure that it’s seen.  The women who told their stories are artists and they’re amazing and they’re brave, and they really bared their souls to us as a crew. And I didn’t want that to go to waste.

It’s a beauty project, and four out of seven of them specifically mentioned Tyra and America’s Next Top Model word for word in (their experiences of) how they weren’t tall enough to try out. So, it was just such a connective story. Having it be multi-medium and finding a team that’s been able to foster that, has really helped us go into other projects that we’re working on.

Kris Mendoza:           What’s next for you and Tetra Creative?

Simone Holland:       I’m continuing to bring in Tetra Creative, push the projects I have in front of me,  give access to other filmmakers that wouldn’t traditionally have access, and work with schools and nonprofits to continue to open that door to storytelling. We’re just creating what we love to create, and finding a way to make a difference in the meantime.

Born Raised BTS

BTS from Born and Raised

Simone Holland:       Also, it’s coming out very soon after this interview,, so I might as well say something. Born and Raised is a West Philly music documentary that we’re working on.  It keeps the multi-medium energy going, so we have a lot in store for that coming up. And for myself, I have just been working on the agency side and trying to figure out how I fit into that world as well.

Kris Mendoza:           And finally, what inspires you in the work that you do? Is there a common thread? 

Simone Holland:       I think because I’ve had my hand on almost every department in one way or another, I feel like I’ve always been in a transient state. As I create artwork, it tends to be more multimedia, including different styles and perspectives. As I’m moving forward with Vex, I have DJs that I’m talking to about doing a set beforehand, I have graffiti artists and muralists who are going to do their rendition of what the documentary means to them and how important women’s mental health is to them.

Because I do graphic design and illustration, I felt like I could do them (a lot of that work) myself, but the projects are bigger than me and it’s more important to have different perspectives on a film based project that is very relatable. I get a lot of pushback for trying to “do too much,” but to be honest, it has always made sense to me. Why wouldn’t you want to amplify the voices of different types of artists. There are ways to keep a film what it needs to be, but also include other types of artists. That’s been my throughline, and I continue to do that as we do more and more projects as a team. 


Rob Blog Post

Welcome Rob Jennings!

Rob Jennings - Headshot
Photo by Kate Feher

It’s our pleasure to announce the newest member of our team, Rob Jennings. Rob honed his education at Villanova and the Savannah College of Art & Design and brings his well rounded talents to Maestro as a video editor after 7 years in the film & television industry.

We’re super excited to have him join our growing post team and look forward to collaborating on countless projects as he hits the ground running. Welcome Rob!

Rebecca maestro filmworks

Welcome Rebecca!

Rebecca Schwartz
Rebecca Schwartz; Photo by Kate Feher

It’s with great pride that we welcome Rebecca Schwartz as the newest addition to our post-production team. Rebecca was our Spring intern in 2018 and throughout the tenure of her internship at Maestro, she showed great poise in the amount and variety of projects she was able to collaborate on with the rest of the team.

Rebecca graduated from Temple University with a degree in film & TV and a concentration in post-production. She joins the team as a Junior Editor and will be working closely with our Senior Editor, Ed Cipolla under the supervision of our Post-Manager Jo Shen. Welcome to the Maestro fam, Rebecca!