In their ongoing partnership to help advance opportunities for female directors, 21st Century Fox and the American Film Institute (AFI) hosted a networking breakfast and panel discussion on November 12 during AFI Film Festival and recognized Director Valerie Weiss as a Fox Filmmakers Lab front-runner. “Breaking the Frame: A Conversation about Craft and Career” was the subject of the event, which drew more than 150 guests to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

MyKhanh Shelton, SVP 21CF Global Inclusion, recognized Weiss as a standout from the Fox Filmmakers Lab, which is a partnership with the AFI Directing Workshop for Women (DWW), aimed at increasing the number of female filmmakers directing big budget, action or sci fi studio films. The initiative focused on providing an opportunity to discover talent, hearing pitches from female directors on IP that historically has been cornered by male directors; accelerating the careers of the filmmakers in the program; and engaging in conversation about biases or barriers that may exist in the decision-making process.

The Lab culminated in four of the 25 filmmakers submitting original scripts based on their short film pitches, and ultimately Valerie Weiss was selected to further develop her idea, “The True Maze,” inspired by the graphic novel and Fox franchise film “The Maze Runner.” Weiss worked with creative, production and marketing executives throughout the studio, and the Fox VFX Lab to refine her script, create concept art and state-of-the-art pre-vis (previsualization) for her film concept.

“Valerie is definitely a director to watch. Everyone at the studio who worked with her thought she was a remarkable talent,” said Dana Belcastro, EVP, Twentieth Century Fox Film.

“We were eager to meet the filmmakers in the Lab who were each selected for their exceptional talents and demonstrated interest in big action, tentpole filmmaking,” added Jason Young, SVP Production, Twentieth Century Fox Film. “Many of the filmmakers stood out with unique perspectives and vision—most notably, Valerie who blew us away with her original idea for ‘True Maze.’ She has the skills and vision to make it big.”

Weiss, along with two dozen other female directors—all alumnae of the AFI Conservatory and AFI Directing Workshop for Women—participated in guest speaker sessions and networking opportunities with numerous executives from Fox 2000, Fox Searchlight and 20th Century Fox Film, including Twentieth Century Fox Film Vice Chair Emma Watts; as well as Directors Paul Feig and Jonathan Levine.

In addition to “The True Maze” project under consideration at Fox, Weiss is booked to direct an upcoming episode on Fox’s “The Resident.” (Episode 213, shooting November 29 – December 10 and airing February 2019.)

Following Shelton’s remarks about the Fox Filmmakers Lab and recognizing AFI’s longstanding efforts to advance gender diversity in the industry, a panel discussion featured filmmakers Laura Steinel, Shaz Bennett and Katrelle Kindred—three marquee female filmmakers, whose films were showcased at AFI Film Festival, November 8-15.

21CF Global Inclusion Executive Director Moira Griffin, moderated the in-depth conversation with the filmmakers about their experiences developing, screenwriting, directing and marketing their films; as well as their advice for collaborating with DPs, producers and composers, working with actors, obtaining funding and managing rapid-pace production schedules. The filmmakers further shared their different paths into directing and varying connections with Fox:

  • Laura Steinel made her directorial debut with “Family” at 2018 SXSW Film Festival and recently sold the speculative screenplay “Women in Business” to Fox;
  • Shaz Bennett is an alumna of the Fox Filmmakers Lab and Fox Directors Lab, through which her short film was funded; and
  • Katrelle Kindred received the 21CF Global Inclusion Award for Best Short Film at Blackstar International Film Festival for her short “War Paint.”

“Together, we are leading the charge to combat gender inequality in the industry; and create a better, fairer and more equitable business,” said Shelton.

21CF Global Inclusion nurtures diverse voices and stories, both in front of and behind the camera, through a variety of partnerships, initiatives and programs, including the Fox Writers Lab, Fox Directors Lab, Fox Filmmakers Lab, Fox Creative Lab: Taiwan and the Fox DP Lab.

Weiss is an award-winning filmmaker and scientist whose work spans the genres of action, thriller, drama, sci-fi and comedy, including features “A Light Beneath Their Feet” and “The Archer.” Weiss holds a Ph.D. in X-ray Crystallography from Harvard University; and is an alumnus of the AFI Directing Workshop For Women Program, and a participant in the WeForShe Direct Her Program. She is represented by Gersh, John Bauman Management and Wendy Kirk of Ziffren Brittenham LLP.