Sharon Contillo is the President of Middle Center Productions, LLC which focuses on female and family-centric stories, films, books, and productions. Sharon produces films and stories with female leads of all ages and within all genres, focusing on the underrepresented to give them a platform to be seen and heard. Sharon is a screenwriter, executive producer, director, actor, and author. She has won awards for her feature scripts, Madam President and Sandwitched. She has won the 2019 Master Storyteller award for IBM. Sharon wrote, produced and starred in four IBM commercials made for trade shows and conferences around the world. She won first place at the IBM WebSphere Technical Conference for her short film, SIGN. Her feature-length original animation script, The Little Christmas Ornament, is available as a youth chapter book and available on Amazon.com. Among her other writings, Sharon has written five other features that expand genres including horror, romantic comedy, family comedy, science fiction and animation.
Sharon recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for her short film, CURLS, which takes aim at the inaccurate portrayal of women and girls in media and advertising. Sharon has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Rhode Island. She studied filmmaking and writing at the New York Film Academy and ScreenwritingU.
Sharon is a 2019 winner of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts grant. Learn more about Sharon at www.middlecentprod.com
Meet WIFVNE Member Sharon Contillo!
How did you get started? When did you start your company?
I started Middle Center Productions, in 2014, with the goal of creating a production company that made stories with female leads. I was at a film networking event in NYC back then and a man approached me and asked about my films. I told him that I write and produce stories with all female leads. He burst out laughing and told me I’d never get them sold. Well, much has happened in the industry since then to prove him wrong, but there’s still more distance to gain and I plan on doing just that.
In 2005, my girls were 4 and 6, and I was working a corporate job. I took advantage of being a work from home employee and commuted to NYC to learn to be a director. I traveled from RI to NYC three days a week via car, train and subway, to take night classes at the NY Film Academy. We would then have to be in either NY or NJ on the weekends to shoot our student films. It was very difficult travel and extremely long hours. My family thought I was crazy, but I was loving every minute of it. I have been determined and driven all my life to make stories come to life and I’m excited to be making it all become a reality now.
What do you love about the work that you do?
I love to create things, whether it’s a story, a film, a book, a special cake for my girls. I love the different mediums. And I like doing it to evoke emotions in people.
What can you tell us about CURLS?
My role is the writer, producer, and director. My team members are Raz Cunningham (co-producer and “go to guy” when I need advice and just about anything. Katherine Castro is my DP, Mark Greene is my AD, Beth Ricci is my sound mixer, Alicia Rush is hair and make-up, and Eileen Slavin is my editor. And I would like to mention Animus Studios. Wendy Raad and Arty Gold have been amazing supporters of me and this project. I truly would not be this far in the production process, the quality of my auditions would not have been professional looking without the generous use of their studio and their time. I am so grateful to have them in my life for guidance and support. They are so busy over there producing their own great content and yet always find time for me for those maybe not so quick questions. You just can’t go it alone in this business and finding good people like Wendy and Arty is priceless.
CURLS: Little eight-year-old Maddie is completely ashamed of her twisted frizzy hair so much so that she does everything within her power to hide it. Until in one moment, with the help of an unlikely ally, she musters up the courage to embrace her true self.
I’m passionate about this story because it was inspired by my daughter Mackenzie, where at 5 years old she believed that she needed to have straight hair to be considered beautiful. As a result, she has struggled with self-confidence. My goal is to give girls a positive outlet for inspiration. Although this story is about hair, it’s not only about hair. It’s about being body confident and embracing your true you. I had my own body confidence issues when I was young and still do at times as a woman. I was ashamed of my height and got picked on for being short. I even had someone sing that “short people got no reason to live” song when I was a young teenager. All my friends were taller than me and so whenever we went in the car, I was given the hump seat in the back of a car. No one knew they were hurting my feelings and making me feel inferior.
Principal photography starts on Sept 7th and ends on the evening of Sept 8th. Follow our progress at the Facebook Curls page, here.
When building your crew, what considerations are important to you?
I like driven and conscientious people. People that love their work no matter what the exterior forces are. I strive to hire a diverse team of all races, genders and orientations.
What can you tell us about crowdsourcing funding for CURLS?
I learned how to tell my story better. To create a vision and emotions with words so that others could see and feel what I feel. This was not easy. When you have a great idea for a film, you think everyone will get it. It doesn’t happen that way. I have seen blank stares reflected back at me and people being kind in their words but truly not seeing the vision and purpose of the story. It’s my job as a story teller to tell the story even when I pitch it. I also learned how hard it is to funded a project one dollar at a time. How to write emails, texts, leave messages and follow up, trying not to sound desperate and aggressive. I learned how to find my audience and it wasn’t always whom I thought it would be. It is not easy! And I learned a lot from the people that contributed. Many of them had their own stories, many we very generous with their money and very generous with sharing the CURLS message.
When writing, what keeps you motivated when faced with a blank page? Do you participate in a writer’s group?
I do not participate in a writers’ group although I’ve heard some wonderful things and certainly understand the camaraderie. Being a single mom for so many years, I’ve had to write on my own in the middle of the night or early morning hours. One of the techniques that I use to avoid the blank page is to not start writing the script until the story is formed. I write notes, create outlines, ID all the characters first and their roles and personalities, ID all the plot points and jot down what the main character’s hopes and fears are. When you have all that information, you have so much to write when it comes time to put it in script form.
What has your experience as a woman in the industry been like?
Being on the East Coast has helped and being in a small state [Rhode Island] makes it even better because people get to know you faster. I have dealt with some folks out West and I get the feeling that it’s not as easy for women out that way to have many opportunities. And finding enough skilled women to crew up in areas has been difficult. I’m hoping that changes soon.
Were you told or did you learn a piece of wisdom or advice you now tell others in the beginning of their career?
I say a few things to my girls, who are 18 and 20 now. You can always change your mind and remember that anything that comes into your path is for a reason. Learn from it, forgive yourself and do not dwell on it. Move on. One of my favorite Winston Churchill quotes is, “If you’re going through hell, keep going!”.
What are some things you wish could change/would help if more women were in the industry?
I think if more women were in the industry that would help with equal pay. I would certainly change that if I could. I pay women the same as I would pay a man on my crew.
Why are you a member of WIFVNE?
I’m a member because I like to hear what others are doing, I like to network with my fellow filmmakers, and I’ve benefited from WIFVNE’s help in finding crew for my projects. Being able to tap into other peoples’ wisdom and skills helps me create a better film. I feel that by highlighting WIFVNE members’ projects, it helps and encourages others to continue with their own projects. And to someday be on the spotlight, too. This is not easy work and I think many people find themselves alone. WIFVNE’s strength is bringing us all together. It’s a nice community and I’m grateful for WIFVNE.
1. Sharon Contillo
2. CURLS teaser poster
3. Casting for CURLS at Animus Studios
4. Sharon, outside Animus Studios, ready for casting of CURLS