Margot Zalkind, long-time WIFVNE-member and Jane-of-all-trades, has worked in Philadelphia, New York, Connecticut, Boston, Vermont, New York again (working for Trump Real Estate!) Washington DC, Northampton, MA and now Vermont again. Her jobs have included: Photographer’s representative, Ad agency Art Director, TV producer, Creative director, Documentary filmmaker, Marketing director, Art School assistant professor, Publisher, Executive Producer, and Film Trade School co-director.
As she says, "Life can turn on a dime, and either we complain or adjust or both," which is certainly a great thing to keep in mind as we all navigate these challenging times.
Meet WIFVNE Member Margot Zalkind!
How did you get started?
I have “gotten started” about ten times, each time leading to another start. But I was lucky, nimble, and inquisitive. I studied many genres as an undergraduate in art school: film, photography, welding, printmaking, typography, book design, drawing, and sculpture. These have been my underpinnings.
Few of us have a clear path when we are 18, though we are sure we do. I began as a self-confident sculpture student, then discovered I had to earn a living. Blessedly, an advertising career presented itself after grad school. How? A friend from school became Art Director at Harper’s Bazaar, and helped me become a photographer’s rep. I cold-called, showed portfolios to hundreds of art buyers and art directors. Although petrified, 23, and shy, I got better at it, and met many art directors.
I took a class at School of Visual Arts in “How to create television commercials.” I LOVED it. This led to a job as an assistant Art Director at Young and Rubicam. NY advertising agencies in the 70s were creative and supportive and about as juicy a job as one could want. I embraced deadlines. Parameters were my comfort zone. I created concepts for tv spots. (In those days it was usually :60 sometimes :30). Presented storyboards, met with clients, got bids, created budgets, oversaw locations, held casting sessions, worked on editing, post production.
I worked on short documentaries for The Peace Corps, was assistant producer and then producer on more than 40 commercials, shot in the Bahamas, in NY, and California; I worked on Showtime, Jello, General Foods, and Met Life, Johnson & Johnson and cars and dog food and even candy. I started to teach at School of Visual Arts and at Cooper Union. I loved teaching, thrilled that I helped launch some amazing careers – illustrators, camera-men and women, political cartoonists, even car designers.
What do you love about the work you do?
I love solving problems. Creatively. I ask: What is unique about whatever I am working on? And I love learning something new—whether it be publishing or computer programs. Or editing equipment, which has changed so dramatically from film strips and razor blades to computer.
What was it like, being a woman in your career?
When I started, I was trusting and ignorant. I now look back on how I was treated in the advertising industry and I am horrified. I was sexually harassed, under-supported. Underpaid. When I learned the amount of salary and bonus of my far-less-experienced (male) partner, I was aghast. His was more than six times mine. Such behavior wasn’t always a given, but often enough.
In my twenties, I mistook the attention of agency men for professional attention. Some was, some was just drooling lust. In an agency of more than 100 creatives, I was one of three women-- I took pride in this, but it was also an isolated position. And vulnerable.
I learned to never cry where anyone could see me. If I was lambasted, I excused myself and cried in the ladies’ room. Weakness was seen as a lack of dependability, and threatened to take you out of the game.
What has been your experience working with Action! VT Film Institute?
How this started: We have developed a tv series based on my partner’s 32 mysteries, all set in Vermont. We have an agreement with a production company to produce the series, which is exciting, and I was asked to explore Vermont tax incentives and what the Film Commission was doing. They want to shoot here. I immersed myself in the VT film industry (and its history).
To help understand the climate and get support for the production of the series, I met with the Governor, filmmakers and legislators, to get support. We gathered a group of professionals across the state to try and revitalize the now defunct VT Film Commission. I was then asked by legislators and college educators to create a film trade school, training professionals for below-the-line jobs.
But, locating internships and jobs has been a struggle. There are so few opportunities in Vermont that the end result of this education meant leaving the state, to go to states that do have strong tax incentives, like MA, NY, Georgia, which went counter to what Vermont wanted.
Do you have a mentor?
At various times in my career, I have. Creative Directors who supported my going out on a creative limb. Colleagues who have enlightened, instructed, and shored me up at down times. Often though, back then, women did not always help women. (Ms. Magazine had a cover years ago, showing women trying to climb a ladder, and a woman at the top is stepping on their hands.)
What can you tell us about your current projects?
I am a marketing director, a publisher, and continuing to develop the film trade school.
I will be an Executive Producer of the TV series if this virus lets us all resume life.
I am completing a book. Looking at how our upbringing can determine how much moxie we have. If we are insecure, told we are not good enough, does that push us more? Or, does it push us, cowering, into a corner?
Were you told or did you learn a piece of wisdom or advice you now tell others in the beginning of their career?
What I learned: As a woman, Try to walk the tricky tightrope of nice vs. strong minded. Pick your battles, stand your ground. But don’t be stupid. Is it really important to you? And do you want to alienate your client? You may be disliked, which I find really difficult, but don’t be a pushover.
Also: If there isn’t a job , create one. Freelance, teach, start something from scratch.
What are some things you wish could change/would help if more women were in the industry?
Women can help other women know they are equal. Or better. But, to categorize all women is a mistake. Some will be kind and help those climbing up, others may not be. I have had many men be helpful, teach me. And many women treat me badly.
Why are you a member of WIFVNE?
I have been a member of WIFVNE on and off for more than 30 years. Originally when I created a documentary, I was helped with fundraising, understanding fiscal sponsorship, story-telling.
Background: Years ago, I created a short documentary on an 85 year old Philadelphia woman who opened doors for women to row and compete. She was spunky, engaging. A terrific cameraman worked with me, we shot in three days. I directed, co-edited, and did off-camera interviewing.
I joined WIFVNE and Women Make Movies. Got fiscal sponsorship, attended fund raising workshops, and learned so much. The organization is a terrific resource. I have turned to WIFVNE recently on behalf of my granddaughter who is a film student, she needed a job and guidance, and WIFVNE came through, yet again.
How can WIFVNE support filmmakers in New England?
More regional events, when possible. And, knowledge on what states are doing. Can we lobby Vermont as a group, to help more? Address the older members: what can we do?