Women to Watch: Highlighting Powerful Women in the Production Industry

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

The production industry is always changing, from new ways to film to new technology, with so many women spearheading new initiatives that continue to change the industry. We are thrilled to present a few of our favorite "Women to Watch" -- women who are constantly inspiring and reaching new ceilings in an industry that was previously male-dominated.Check back frequently as we add to this amazing list of women throughout Women's History Month, and place your own suggestions in the comments below.

Susan Johnston Founder/Director New Media Film 

Her advice to other women in the industry: 

Find your voice. Play well with others. It is OK to say, 'no'. There are many levels to these 3 suggestions of advice. It is good to ask how they work for you. I am constantly asking myself, what worked, what didn’t and why, and then making adjustments. This is imperative for me to refine and hone in on why I do what I do and how, constantly changing, just like New Media always will. Even though I was on the set of the first Great Gatsby as a child, there is an entire journey from every sector of the business, witnessing or participating from a very early age.

What it's like to be her in the industry: 

New Media Film Festival is a culmination of all of my experiences and passions throughout my journey in life. Examples are the mandate – Honoring Stories Worth Telling, I feel the stories we read, write, create, watch – encode our now and our future. What would you like your future to look like? Then be that story and you can by what you read, write, create and watch. On the tech side – I was released early from High School to work in Tech at the local Gold Refinery and in Hollywood Doug Leighton from Panasonic would let me be a tester for new products such as the DVX 100 and HD cameras and monitors as well as RED scratch program from Ted from Red at the time I was working with CTO Chuck Haifley and his fabulous family running production at Big Vision Studios in Burbank (now in the field vs physical). When you look at the categories, you see STEAM, all of these subjects fascinated me in life and I’m hearing not all schools or students have access to these, so now science, technology, engineering, art, and math have thier voice in cool content screened and possibly offered distribution.

Courtney Crosby Operations Manger/ Go To Team & Assignment Desk

How she got her start:

After working at USC for 3 years in Gamecock productions and then my internship at NFL Films, I had a clear direction of where I wanted to start and go with my career. I knew that I couldn't be the best shooter or editor, but I was great with logistics and spreadsheets. I also understood that working for a larger company would mean that it would take longer to learn the industry and advance. Then a month before graduating, I applied for a production coordinator position at Go To Team. Two weeks later I came to Charleston for an interview, was hired that day and started with them a week after graduation. I knew that GTT was the perfect fit for me because, within the first month, I was booking crews for ABC, E! entertainment, NBC and NFL.

Advice to other women in the field:

Always start with fundamentals. Work hard, stay humble, have manners, fess up when you mess up and take ownership of your work. Always remember that you were that person with no experience walking into the industry.  Above all, just work hard and right when you think you can't work any harder, push. Work ethic goes a long way in this industry and it's a rare attribute. 

How has the industry changed for women:

It all boils down to hard work. I think that's universal for both men and women. Hard work and execution opens doors, not what your gender is. We have an incredible group of talented coordinators and managers in our office that are all women. They kick ass on a daily basis and I'm incredibly proud of that group. Also, GTT now has a camerawoman on staff, Victoria Musciano. She's a total bad ass and can shoot as well as any other male shooters, but is half their size. Gender has nothing to do with it. Dive in and do the thing.

Shanna Maurizi Filmmaker and colorist

In addition to grading a variety of shows for Viceland using DaVInci Resolve Studio (Weediquette, Gaycation, Black Market, Woman and longer leads for HBO’s Vice News Tonight), Shanna is in post-production on her short film Explorer. 

How she got her start: 

I come from a visual art background. I started making work in photography when I was pretty young, this was way before digital. Starting out I was using larger format still cameras without a light meter, so I learned about light response and film stock, first in black and white and then color. When I started shooting 16mm and editing my work digitally in grad school, I took a pretty full dive into digital post and went into the industry in San Francisco after school. While assisting and working as a tape op I had some exposure to telecine and an introduction to tape to tape correction, but it wasn’t until later when I was editing in New York and I did a color pass on a TV pilot that I realized color grading was a natural path. Because of my analog film background, it was just very instinctive. So I transitioned into grading exclusively about 10 years ago and have never looked back.

Advice to other women in the field:

It may not be easy, and there will be situations where you will be crashing a boy’s club and people will challenge you. Be good at your job, be confident and be able to articulate and defend your creative decisions. Find a mentor. Reach out, some people will not be open to it but some will be. I never had one, as I had never heard of a woman colorist! Judging by the abysmal numbers, it’s harder for young women to move up the ranks, so give yourself some credit and don’t let anyone discourage you.

Her keys to success:

I find success to be an idea surrounded by much mythology. Privilege plays a part, as does being in the right place at the right time. One person’s idea of success may be inadequate in another person’s view. I don’t think there is any one trait that helps you get there, although as Americans we are encouraged to think there is. As a woman in this industry, measuring your success against that of men in your field can be frustrating, because they often found open doors where we found closed ones. Keeping things in perspective and defining success for myself, that has been helpful for me.

Cheryl Ottenritter  Founder and creative director, Ott House Audio

How she got her start: 

Though her work in post production is now revered by many, Cheryl originally wanted to be a film composer and planned to pursue a Master’s degree in composition for film. She graduated from Auburn University with Bachelor degrees in Music, Theory, and Composition and Jazz Studies, but quickly realized that there weren’t many opportunities available for a Master’s degree. Instead, Cheryl turned her focus to music performance and education as a piano teacher and eventually writing music for friends’ films and performances. It was only when she started spending time at a studio owned by a film composer that she was introduced to the world of sound engineering and subsequently “fell into” a role as an engineer.

Her take on women in the industry:

While sound engineering can often be characterized as a “boy’s club,” she isn’t the least bit fazed by the predominately male profession. She differentiated herself and built her business from the ground up by staying ahead of new technologies and industry trends, taking risks, and adding a steady stream of new clients to her roster each year. In fact, she still has her very first client under contract. Today, she is a sought-after sound mixer whose talent and industry knowledge are respected by production teams around the country.  

On changing the industry: 

With over 25 years in the business, Cheryl has been dubbed the “Audio Goddess” by her peers for her outstanding work in the field of sound engineering. Her expansive body of work includes projects for National Geographic, Tribeca Film Festival and even a few projects involving former President Barack Obama. Most recently, Cheryl wrapped up a project for the American History Museum called The Obama Years: The Power of Words, a film in which she was responsible for all of the sound editing. Debuting on the Smithsonian Channel in February, the film takes an in-depth look at Obama’s time in office with a particular focus on his captivating speeches. Additional recent projects include work on the audio for the Museum of African American History, a 4D experience for Cortina at the American Revolutionary Museum in Williamsburg and a show for National Geographic in November with Sylvia Earle and True Blue Films.

Elizabeth Pratt Director of Professional Products Marketing at Canon U.S.A.

How she got her start: 

I’ve been interested in photography since I was a kid and my parents had a darkroom in the basement. I was in theater in college and started shooting my friends’ headshots and promotional shots for the plays and films I was involved in. It dawned on me quickly that I was more passionate about being behind a camera than in front of it. I found my first job with Canon while doing online research before buying my first digital SLR. The chance to stay immersed in imaging, travel, and learn new technology while working for a brand I admired seemed too good to be true.

Advice to other women in the field:

Take a seat at the table. Don’t ever be ashamed to ask questions – it’s the best way to learn. You will encounter sexism. Don’t let it get you down. Keep doing good work, assert yourself, and help other women around you succeed.

Otessa Marie Ghadar Founder of DC Web Fest and 20/20 Productions

How she got her start:

Otessa Marie Ghadar is a storyteller at heart — whether through her work in digital media, her books, or teaching. As one of the web series medium’s earliest adopters, Otessa is a true forerunner of digital media. Her MFA thesis at Columbia University’s film school ("Orange Juice in Bishop's Garden) is now the longest continually running show online. With an international audience in over 145 countries, OJBG has been recognized not only by a loyal global following but also by industry heavy hitters. OJBG is a six-time Telly Awards Winner, a three-time Webby Awards Official Honoree (considered the “Oscars of New Media”), among others. "I jumped into the new media industry against the "better judgement" of my thesis board, common sense, industry reps, etc... there were certainly a lot of naysayers and those who thought what I was doing was lunacy.  My response was to go back, returning for round two with a business plan. People may still have thought I was suffering from lunacy — but the business plan was sound, so my naysayers let up a bit.  When I said "TV will be dead in 5, maybe 10 years -- we'll all be streaming TV over IP..." they laughed.  But no one's laughing anymore. 

Advice for other women in the industry:

As they say, you may get 99 rejection letters, but you only need 1 acceptance.  Perseverance is hard, so surround yourself with good, solid people, and make sure that you've done your homework, so when the chips are down, you can still have faith in your work. 

Her inspirations:

As for inspiration, I grew up watching my parents start up again from scratch, after fleeing a revolution. They started the first East coast computer store, in the late 70s/early 80s. They really had their finger on the pulse, at a time when people were not believers in the PC movement. They persevered despite the naysayers, and worked their fingers to the bone with their start up. I don't think I would have ever been able to do what I've done, if I didn't have their hard work and bravery to inspire me when I was young. 

I am also very inspired by Science Fiction — it's always been a genre that has the potential, and frequently takes the risk, to hold a mirror up to society, to analyze our foibles, our limitations, our possibilities...and ask, "What if?" As a woman, or a minority it is especially emboldening." 


Michelle Munson Co-founder and CEO Aspera, an IBM company

Her role in the industry:

As co-inventor of Aspera’s FASP ® high-speed transport technology, Michelle has transformed the way content is ingested, processed, managed, distributed and delivered today. FASP overcomes the challenges companies face in moving content over public and private IP networks (large transfers over wide area networks are extremely slow, and increasing the distance between the source and destination only makes the problem worse). In 2014 Aspera was awarded an Emmy for outstanding achievement in engineering development for FASP. The Television Academy noted how the ability to transfer file-based media on low-cost internet networks rather than shipping physical media via tapes or expensive dedicated satellite networks has proven to be an industry game changer.

How her work with technology has impacted the industry:

The technology has also enabled a new breed of cloud-based infrastructure and service providers including content delivery networks such as Akamai, video encoding providers such as Brightcove / Zencoder, encoding.com and Sorenson Media, and providers of other content management and transformation services including Sony Ci Media Cloud Services, Elemental, the Platform, and Windows Azure Media Services. 

Under Michelle’s guidance, Aspera continues to innovate, launching Aspera FASPStream for live streaming of broadcast-quality video globally over commodity internet networks with glitch-free play out and negligible start-up time—reducing the need for expensive and limited satellite-based backhaul, transport and distribution. The technology was first used during the 2014 World Cup to ingest in real time 14,000 hours of live video from multiple camera angles. In 2016, the Hollywood Production Alliance (HPA) honored FASPStream with an Engineering Excellence Award for outstanding technical and creative ingenuity.

Patty Mooney COO and CFO of Crystal Pyramid Productions

Her start in the industry:

Patty was one of the first women to crack the glass ceiling in the video production industry back in 1985 when she produced the first instructional massage video, “Massage For Relaxation.”  In that show, she also presented Self Massage techniques, an innovation in the Health and Fitness community at the time.

Over the next few years, she co-produced a series of mountain biking videos, including “The Great Mountain Biking Video” (1988) and “Ultimate Mountain Biking” (1989).  She wrote the scripts, provided the voice over and even participated in these videos as a mountain biker and won most of the races she entered.  She is the one who coined the titles of these videos.  Today, with imitation being the best form of flattery, it’s highly flattering to see dozens of mountain bike videos  from around the world all entitled or described as “Great Mountain Biking” or “Ultimate Mountain Biking.”

Her impact as a woman in the industry:

Her husband Mark shares, "As the guy who established our video production company, Crystal Pyramid Productions, in 1981, it has always been great to have Patty join me on video productions or industry meetings as sometimes the only woman present.  As she has told me, it never occurred to her that video production was a field off limits or antagonistic towards women.  She just stepped up to take her rightful place in the industry and make sure other women would be able to follow her footsteps.  As sometimes the only woman present on some very hard-core mountain bike rides, she has always felt right at home around a bunch of guys."

Over the years Patty has donned many hats within the video production industry: Producer, Audio Tech, Boom Pole Operator, Editor, Camera Operator, Still Photographer, Script Writer, and Voice Over.  She has shared stories of her experiences in various industry publications including Post Magazine, Variety, Indie Slate and Videomaker.  Check out “This Business Woman is a Maverick in Video Production” and “#Throwback Thursday – Patty Mooney.” As far as I’m concerned, she long ago shattered the glass ceiling along with an elite group of other women in the industry who have changed it for the better.  And frankly, without those smart and capable women, video production wouldn’t be nearly so much fun.

What do all of these women have in common?

Their dedication, drive, and intelligence has led all of these women to be inspiring, successful figures in the TV/film production industry. We are proud to acknowledge their hard work. 

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