We remember the names of the actors and directors of our favorite television shows because they are the people out front. However, the people behind the scenes connecting all the dots are the studio magicians, most commonly known as Editors.
For Penny Hollis, working in the Film Industry has been a dream of hers for years. Hollis, was born in Ferriday, LA but spent the largest part of her life growing up in Monroe, LA. “Beyond New Orleans, Louisiana was never known as a grooming plant for the Film Industry. There weren’t many opportunities. I knew eventually I would have to venture off to find my way,” she said.
Hollis was eager to learn the Film Industry as a student at Wossman High School in Monroe. She began paying close attention to film and her ambition earned her a degree from Grambling St. University. But, in 2004 she moved to Washington D.C. where she would eventually earn her Masters Degree in Fine Ats from Howard University.
She continued education at Howard because she says they are the only Black University with an MFA Program. While in D.C. her career began to blossom. This month she is working for the Smithsonian Channel but she has also done editing for programs on the Discovery Network and the National Geographic channel.
While editing shows for the networks have opened many doors, it’s her work as an Independent Filmmaker that she is proud of. “Although I’m a freelance editor by day and have worked for many major networks, my true passion is being a writer and director,” she says.
Because her career as an independent filmmaker continues to evolve, many people don’t know she teaches on the collegiate level as an Adjunct Professor at George Mason University in Virginia. “We all have a commitment to teach someone else. This is a hard indsutry for Black Women to excel in. When information is shared, it presents better opportunities for the people who will come behind us,” she says.
Hollis suggests women do not receive equal opportunities in the Film Industry and it is even harder for women of color. “Women are treated differently in this field. One director told me to sit. Like I’m a dog. He told me to sit and pay attention to him. I had never experienced disrespect in that way.”
She says she has had support from a few male directors but the disrespect for women in the field is a common discourse among women filmmakers in the industry. Filmmakers such as Ava Duvernay and Shonda Rhimes have championed great odds as representations of what women filmmakers can do with the right opportunities. “It is good to see Black Women working the camera and directing some amazing scripts. These sisters are opening doors for many of us to follow,” said Hollis.
Currently she is working on two short films that she will enter into Film Festivals, both are centered around Mental Health. “These are two films that I wrote and I plan to direct because the message is close to my heart.” Hollis has witnessed first hand the effects of Mental Illness and how it can change life for everyone associated with that person. “It’s not something you deal with alone. It becomes almost like a family project. Everyone is affected and everyone has to deal with it together.”
Her father died from Cancer right in front of her in the home she grew up in. “I was getting ready to go back to D.C. after spending the Holidays with my family back home in Louisiana. He died the day I was returning to D.C.” she remembers. It was a very troubling time for her because her mother died five years prior. She and her younger brother, Benjamin Hollis, are the only two people left in their immediate family. “My mother encouraged me to go to D.C. Their deaths have become my motivation to keep pushing higher,” she says. “My mother always told me to make no excuses for following my dreams.”
She says when she first moved to Washington people found her Southern accent entertaining. “They would ask me to say things over and over just to hear my ‘country’ accent.” One of her goals is to shoot one of her films in New Orleans. “Louisiana culture is still magical. People all over the world are interested in our food. Our way of life. The scenary. Our dialect. It makes me proud to see the films that are being produced in my homestate.”
Her favorite movie is Eve’s Bayou (filmed in New Orleans). “Movies like that make me want to do whatever I have to do to come back to Louisiana and shoot.” While she enjoys much of the work from the newer filmmakers, Spike Lee reigns supreme as her top role model. “As controversial as he can be, I really do admire Spike and respect him. He just doesn’t care what people think about him. He follows his heart and his own mind.”
For Hollis, Cicely Tyson, Ruby Dee, and many of the old black actors have inspired her along the way but she says the women in her family have been even greater inspirations for her. “The women in my family have taught me how to survive. How to endure. How to stand up. How to believe.” She says these women don’t have to be celebrities. “They are already my stars.”
Follow Penny T. Hollis on Facebook under Penny T. Hollis Films or visit her website here. Online campaigns are tools that many independent filmmakers use to gain monetary support for their projects. If you’d like to contribute to her projects click here to make your donation today.
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