SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio likely isn’t the first place (or the third) one will think of when they think of major filmmaking cities—even among San Antonians. But just because that’s the case doesn’t mean there aren’t filmmakers looking to tell their stories in the Alamo City.
That much became clear to Michelle Faires on one eye-opening night a few years ago when she had just moved to town from Austin, where she worked in multiple facets of the Texas capital city’s comparatively booming film industry. Feeling her way through San Antonio’s smaller movie scene, Faires found herself at the award ceremony for BexarFest, which pairs young filmmakers with nonprofits to make a movie.
She saw something there that she never noticed in all her time working in Austin.
“I could not believe how many kids and filmmakers that were there participating,” Faires said. “There were 50 teams of young filmmakers and there were, like, three or four all-female teams. And I was like, ‘OK, this is where it’s at. San Antonio is where it’s at.’”
Fast forward a few years, and the roots of that impression have blossomed into Women in Film & Television SA (or WIFT SA), one of the newest chapters of a national organization which works to connect female filmmakers to mentorship opportunities, workshops and industry veterans they may not know in their community.
Faires serves as president of WIFT SA, describing it as an overdue galvanizing force for a San Antonio film industry whose possibilities she says have yet to be fully tapped into. For her, the curtain is still going up on the city’s potential, which only begins with its prime location, diverse culture and support for the fine arts community.
“I was like, ‘We should have productions going crazy here.’ And we do, and people are working,” she said. “But it’s like this person’s doing their thing, this person’s doing their thing—there really needed to be something that was bringing people together. How can we build that collaborative spirit?”
For WIFT SA, a collaborative spirit comes from nurturing passions for film, creating a network of resources and manifesting a can-do attitude in those who may be interested in the industry but don’t know how to break into it.
That last tenet is especially important to WIFT SA Vice President Felise Garcia. An award-winning filmmaker, Garcia remembers enduring a “very costly and time-consuming” movie and TV education which took her across the country to industry epicenters. For all intents and purposes, she played the part of director, screenwriter, production designer and editor in the first chapters of her own filmmaking story, one whose opening act didn’t come until she was in her 30s.
Garcia said she sees WIFT SA as an opportunity to make learning the ins and outs of the industry a bit easier for locals, while also touting her experience as an example for why it’s never too late to get started, and why you don’t have to leave Texas to find success.
“I’ve met some women in their 50s that want to start in film production. So this is a great place to network in the sense of getting the education to learn about these things," she said.
The education to be had is comprehensive, spanning everything from budgeting to fundraising to building one’s crew to such specific but important details as “figuring out the difference between a producer and a line producer.” It’s all in the service of continuing to put San Antonio on the filmmaking map, while also expanding local filmmakers’ opportunities; members of the group can be placed on a national crew listing which studios consult during shoots.
Faires says that kind of networking can only help women during a time when the industry continues to strive toward parity in the workforce. A recent study by Indie Women showed that while the percentage of female directors and writers working on independent projects reached recent heights from 2019 to 2020, the figure was still under 40% for both. And the percentage of female cinematographers and editors either dropped slightly or remained unchanged.
But initiatives like WIFT also bring what can seem like a faraway horizon of filmmaking success closer into view for women who, as Faires puts it, “are used to having to bootstrap it.”
“Whether it’s (because) they’re mothers or they're having to juggle their career and picking the kids up, women are just innately like, ‘You want to do it? OK, let’s do it, let’s figure it out,’” she says. “And there’s so many women in this community of filmmakers who aren’t waiting around. They’re just figuring it out, whether it’s finding a place to shoot something or finding the equipment or finding the money, they just do it. And that, to me, is also very much a San Antonio spirit.”
Though it’s officially only a few months old, WIFT SA representatives say they’ve gotten a positive response thus far. The chapter is one of more than 30 that have sprouted up in recent years after WIFT US broke off from the international organization, and Faires says the national group already boasts thousands of members.
Aside from creating new partnerships with San Antonio-area schools, WIFT SA’s most immediate priority is making its presence known.
“The focus right now is to get the word out, to let filmmakers, female filmmakers in particular at all levels, know that we exist,” Faires said, adding that men are just as welcome to join the group and bolsters its ranks.
Faires, who brings plenty of experience from her time up I-35, also understands firsthand what Women in Film & Television can do for burgeoning filmmakers in need of mentors; once upon a time, she was one herself.
“My first experience was another woman who was like, ‘What do you want to do? You want to be a filmmaker? Well, come on.’ And I was like, ‘I’ll pick up trash, I'll do whatever,’” she said. “And I worked my way through doing all of the jobs just so I could be on set so I could see how a film runs. If I hadn’t had that experience, then that wouldn’t have happened.”
Faires, like Garcia, is an example of why it’s never too late to follow the filmmaking path. Both emphasized they aren’t catering to specific ages or levels of experience; if someone believes they have a story to tell, WIFT SA can help them tell it.
“You don’t have to be in school, you don’t have to be an actual filmmaker, it doesn’t matter how old you are,” Garcia said. “We have resources for you, and we can provide the support. There’s something here for everybody, now matter how old you are and no matter what stage you’re at.”