This Member Spotlight interview was conducted by Rosemary Owens. Rosemary Owen is a non-profit administrative professional with a passion for film and the visual arts. Along with five years of experience in fundraising, event planning, and cultivating community relationships, Rosemary has recently received a graduate degree in Arts Administration from Boston University. She is looking to bring her expertise to nonprofit arts and culture organizations needing assistance in development and communications.
Lani Rodriguez is a graphic designer and business owner making her way. Since embarking on setting up an art studio with partner Sarah Secunda in 2016, Lani has connected with many local artists and groups (including some fellow WIFVNE members!) and found a way to share her skills and build her brand. Check out her work below, and be sure to visit BackTalk Videográfica!
Meet WIFVNE Member Lani Rodriguez!
How did you get started?
In 2016 I got the opportunity to start a business with my partner Sarah. I had never studied graphic design formally, but I knew I had a knack for it, so I spent months teaching myself the craft. Eventually I put a portfolio together of personal work that reflected the type of work I hoped to be hired for. I stumbled upon an amazing community of women of color in the documentary field through a Facebook group called Brown Girls Doc Mafia. I promoted my work there and that led to opportunities designing film posters and graphics for film impact campaigns.
What do you love about the work that you do?
I love connecting with filmmakers and I love the pressure and responsibility that comes with creating one powerful singular image to represent a film. There's often a series of ups and downs during the design process, but hitting that a-ha moment is the best feeling. I'm able to grow as an artist with every project I take on. I also love the variety of jumping from one exciting project to the next.
What can you tell us about BackTalk Videográfica? What inspired you to start the company and what has your experience been running BackTalk?
BackTalk Videográfica is a visual resistance art studio made up of me and Sarah Secunda. Our goal is to create media that informs, provokes, and meets today's urgent need for complex storytelling. We surround ourselves with those who love their communities and value collaboration. We work with people, groups, and organizations engaging with, challenging, and changing our society. Running BackTalk has been an absolute joy. I never dreamed of starting a business, but after doing three unpaid internships at prominent documentary organizations that didn't lead to paid work I was feeling frustrated and looking for other opportunities, so we took a risk and created our own.
What has your experience as a woman in the industry been like?
I feel lucky because I've been able to avoid a lot of the horror story scenarios I hear about so often. When I connected with the Brown Girls Doc Mafia Facebook group I felt like I found a home. I've been able to connect with like-minded women and non-binary folks working on films that deal with social justice issues I care about deeply. I feel like we all know what it's like to feel unseen in this industry and we recognize that we are the forward-thinking leaders the film industry needs right now.
What can you tell us about your upcoming projects? What have you been working on since the shutdown?
While in shutdown I've worked on WIFVNE member Brandon Sichling's film poster for their queer comedy/drama Intimates, which was a ton of fun. I also recently completed a poster for a feature documentary called For the Love of Rutland, which follows an ensemble cast of characters in the blue-collar town of Rutland, VT, who represent a cross section of the town's clashing ideological and cultural subgroups. The film is directed by Jennifer Maytorena Taylor, who I've had the privilege of working with before. The film had its premiere at Hot Docs 2020.
Do you have a mentor?
Yes! Earlier this year I joined the team at Looky Looky Pictures, a film impact production company founded by Ani Mercedes. I'm the graphic designer on the team and I'm responsible for creating film websites and social media graphics for film impact campaigns. It's been great and Ani has really taken me under her wing and helped me grow my business. She believes in my talent and wants to see me shine.
Were you told or did you learn a piece of wisdom or advice you now tell others in the beginning of their career?
I've learned along the way that it's important to take all the risks you can. I started this business with no formal design education and now I've designed posters and impact campaigns for dozens of films and our business is growing. Take advantage of all the free resources out there, whether it's tutorials on YouTube, Lynda.com, Skillshare, etc. Cold email people you want to collaborate with and tell them you love their work. The worst they can say is no and other opportunities will be right around the corner if you just keep going.
What impact on the industry would there be if there were women working in the industry?
If there were more women in the industry, films would be a lot better because there would be complex female and non-binary characters. Currently that's a rarity. Everything needs to change--from the number of female and non-binary cinematographers to directors to high-level decision- makers.
What are your hopes for the future of BackTalk Videográfica and your future work?
We hope to continue to connect with bold, wild, and brilliant people. We'd love to work with some of our favorite directors, such as Laura Poitras, Alma Har'el, Ava Duvernay and Tanya Saracho. We're currently in production on our first feature-length documentary called No More Birthday Parties for Dad.
What can you share about what you are working on now?
I'm working on a poster for documentary filmmaker Byron Hurt (HIP-HOP: Beyond Beats & Rhymes, Soul Food Junkies) and I recently accepted a contract with the amazing artist/activist organization CultureStrike, for which I'll be designing graphics for several large-scale campaigns they're launching to mobilize young people to vote.
Why are you a member of WIFVNE?
I appreciate the connections I've been able to make. I've been able to collaborate with awesome WIFVNE members including Ellen Brodsky and Brandon Sichling. It's deeply important to have a space that prioritizes the necessity for gender parity in the film industry.