Malibu independent film producer Amy Williams’s latest film, “A Dark Foe,” premiered at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival last weekend and won three awards: best director, best supporting actress and best dramatic feature film. As producer, Williams brought together young Venezuelan first-time director Maria Cardenas, acting stars Selma Blair and Graham Greene, and a very large mixed cast that qualified for the Screen Actors Guild’s Diversity-in-Casting Incentive.
“I love helping people, and seeing raw talent, and seeing new faces,” Williams said in a recent interview. “I love giving minorities and females an opportunity ... You have to be respectful of people and take care of everybody.”
This film was only one of Williams’ accomplishments in the past five years—she’s also made four other feature-length films: “The Last Treasure Hunt” (2016); “Mothers & Daughters” (2016) with Courtney Cox and Sharon Stone; and “Rock, Paper, Scissors” (2017). “Hunter’s Moon” (2019), which already has a distributor, is sweeping the festival circuit with 20 awards so far and will be released in September. Three additional projects are in pre-production.
Williams even managed to squeeze two critically acclaimed film shorts in between features, “Respire (2017)” and “A Night in Jail (2017),” which stars two Malibu actors: Max Madsen and Michael Madsen.
By her own admission, Williams was a “late bloomer” when it came to entering the film business. It was something she’d always planned, but wasn’t able to make her big move until 10 years ago when she, her husband and their two daughters came to Malibu from North Carolina.
Once here, Williams dove head first into the “biz” with tireless energy. She’s raised millions of dollars in financing for her films, as well as making sales and finding distribution.
“I’m a believer that you only live once,” she said.
Williams loves finding and casting young talent and several Malibu kids have been lucky enough to be discovered. Harlow Frances Rocca and her brother Kane Rocca have both been in her films, as well as young Malibu actress Ella Stabile (daughter of actor Nick Stabile).
“A film is 500 people thrown together for a short period of time,” Williams said. “You have to be a diplomat. I package the script for an artist, and package their visual story, and help them through that. My position as a producer is to tell them what they can and can’t afford, and to provide support to the director. It’s a real dance. It’s also putting fires out.”
Williams is not just a producer; she also likes directing: “My favorite thing in the world is to direct.”
When asked what it’s like being a female producer/director in a male dominated business, Williams acknowledges that females do face discrimination, whether intentional or not. She said the studios and streaming services don’t give a second thought to hiring males right out of film school and putting them into responsible positions without any real experience. According to Williams, that doesn’t happen so much for women.
“I understand the business better than two-thirds of the people I meet in the industry,” she said. “It’s just really difficult. The lust, egos, narcissism and greed that you encounter really hurt the industry.
“The hardest thing is just getting doors to open,” Williams continued. “A young guy, maybe 26 years old, who hasn’t done one percent of what I’ve done, will talk to me like I’m the dirt on the bottom of his shoe.
“Then I ask them: ‘Have you ever raised funds? Packaged? Written something that ended up on screen? Moved people at major festivals?’ And the answer is usually ‘no,’” she said. “I go through a lot of Millennials talking down to me, and they’re usually men... As females, you’re already so disrespected.
“When I’m pitching a movie and the men keep asking who’s directing, I have to constantly repeat, ‘I’m the director. Me. I’m directing,’” she continued.
When Williams was invited to guest lecture film students at UCLA, she doesn’t sugarcoat what it’s like—she tries to be realistic.
“When you’re a producer and you’re female, you have to be confrontational,” she tells them. “You may have to fire people, or get a cease and desist order. People will lie about you on the internet and behind your back. It’s very cutthroat ... Scripts get stolen ... If you don’t have brass cajones, it’s not for you.”
On the bright side, Williams pointed out that right now “is a fantastic time to be an independent filmmaker, because everybody—especially streaming services—needs good content, and you’ll stand out if you’re good at it. They can’t make content fast enough. It’s a magical time.”