Falling Into the Film Industry

In addition to being the publisher of Rogerebert.com, I wear the hat of a producer of film and television through Black Leopard Productions and Ebert Productions. There, I concentrate on films or projects by and about women, or on roles that empower women to step forward in a big way in the world to courageously fulfill their dreams and ambitions. Today I am presenting the stories of three such women who each found a different path to filmmaking, and to whom I offer support.—Chaz Ebert

JEN SHELBY: FROM BUSINESS WOMAN TO PRODUCER OF "REVIVAL"

I am currently a producer on a film project called "Revival," based on a graphic novel series of the same name. I am a 55-year-old woman that has spent the last twenty-seven years in the auto industry. For most of the past 12 years, I have been the dealer principal/owner of said dealership(s). During a brief hiatus between selling one dealership and buying two others, I ended up falling into the film industry.

Let me back track a bit and get you up to speed on the path to the film industry. Back in 2008, I was married to the owner of a dealership. My husband did not sleep well, often getting out of bed and going downstairs to watch TV. One morning at 5:00 am, things were quiet downstairs so I decided to let him sleep an extra half hour. When I went down to wake him, I discovered he had died during the night. Massive heart attack. A widow-maker is what they called it. I couldn’t have saved him if I had been sitting there with 9-1-1 on the line. We always hear that life can change in a split second. I have lived that. 

Fast forward through getting dressed and going to work that day, getting past the inquisition I went through with Chrysler to prove to them that I was not a weepy widow, but a woman with a 5-year business plan that intended to buy the dealership from his estate and run it. Yes! Really run it as a hands on dealer principal. It is estimated that women own about 11% of dealerships. Most of those are in name only. Approximately 5% are owner operated. I thought the film industry looked incredibly diverse compared to the auto world that I was used to.

Got through that, ended up getting an offer I could not refuse several years into the new normal, sold the dealership and found myself retired at the age of 48. I was very quickly getting bored. One morning at a Rotary meeting, my life was about to change again in an instant. Our speaker was a person talking about the independent film industry. I knew nothing about this industry and found it fascinating. However, I knew he was not the person I wanted to work with, so I sought out others that might know more.

That is when I met Luke Boyce and Brett Hays and we all knew during our first meeting that something cool was about to happen. That something was Shatterglass Films. Luke is a director and creative producer, Brett is a producer and also very creative, and I brought years of solid business background to the equation. We very quickly went into production of a short film entitled "The Pooka." It was a project that Chris Sullivan ("This Is Us," Guardians of the Galaxy II") brought to our attention. Interestingly this film is about loss. I cried when I read the script and cried the first few times I watched the finished film. I came to it from such a different perspective. You need to watch it to define it for yourself, but for me, it was a frank reminder of the fact that life moves on, even when your world comes to a halt. That film went on to be named one of the Top 10 Best Shorts of 2018 by Film Shortage.

In an odd twist of fate, the next project we landed on was "Revival." This film/graphic novel is also about death and relationships. The story goes that one day in Wasaw, Wisconsin, quite a few people that have died come back to life. They go right back to where they had been: at home, at school, at work, and into their relationships. This film stopped me in my tracks. You see as a widow, as time moved on, I had dreams that my husband came back. While you would think I would be happy, I was so angry in my dreams that I woke up and felt incredibly guilty. I was mad because I had to move on and find my new normal, and now he was throwing that into chaos. To be honest, this comic book series was very cathartic for me. 

That is how I ended up in the film industry, and I can tell you that I love the challenges it brings me each and every day. It keeps me young, and it keeps my mind moving. You have to be a problem solver in this industry. Things are constantly blocking your path, dare I say more so for women? I believe that women are born multitaskers and that is what you do on any film, any format. You plan it all out and as problems and changes occur, you figure out how to solve them. You may have to change direction. That is something I am comfortable with. In the past 12 years, I have changed direction many times. I have taken on a new career path and just to add spice to my story of change, last year I married the most wonderful woman that has embraced all of this craziness. 

Trust me when I tell you that change is good!

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