Stephanie Stender, a 3x Emmy nominated producer, received her BA at Hollins University and went on to graduate with her Master of Fine Arts in Film Production from Boston University. Stender’s passion for creating led her to establish Doorstop Productions in 2001, a company focused on women interested in all things film related, including directing and writing, aiming to give them a safe space to create. She has had her work featured in several international film festival locations from Australia to the United Kingdom and has been featured on networks like PBS and the WB in addition to her work on America’s Test Kitchen, “the number one lifestyle show on PBS.”
To stay up to date with Stephanie’s work, be sure to check out www.doorstopproductions.com, as well as her socials Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
How did you get started?
Oh gosh. I started really young making horror shorts and comedy sketches with friends on my parent’s camcorder like most film kids. I went to Hollins University for Film & Photography and Creative Writing (with a focus on screenwriting) and then Boston University for my MFA in Film Production with a focus on directing. After that, I worked on a few PBS shows, from Antiques Roadshow to WordGirl, where I was the editor and special effects artist. I then landed at America’s Test Kitchen as a PA and moved my way up to Co-Executive Producer, before moving over to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street as Executive Producer.
What do you love about the work that you do?
I love storytelling, and filmmaking allows me to combine my love of writing, editing and directing. I enjoy telling stories that people may not have otherwise heard. That’s the power of storytelling for me - allowing people to see the world in a perspective that they would not have access to otherwise. Filmmaking allows for empathy more than any other art form, by giving the audience an opportunity to live another life for a bit of time, and I think our world can benefit from more empathy, especially right now.
What has your experience as a woman in the industry been like?
Work 150% harder for the same amount of recognition. As a woman in the industry, there really was no room for error. I had to bring my A++ game to get the same opportunities as men who were coasting. Unfortunately, I am unsure if that has changed. (I really hope it has!) I have to say, it was an eye-opening experience when I shadowed the comedy director Gail Mancuso, who had the utmost respect of her cast and crew while leading in a sympathetic way. It went against the advice I received that in order to gain respect as a director, you need to handle the set like a stereotypical man - bellowing voice and all. That’s why it’s important for there to be more women in the director’s chair, not only for female viewpoints to be on the screen, but also for women to recognize that they can direct. Like Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media’s slogan says, “If she can see it, she can be it.” Representation is key.How do you think the industry has evolved in the last year due to COVID?
It’s funny because I feel like I’ve been in my own little bubble basically because I’ve just been working remotely for podcasts, film wise I haven’t been on set or getting tested every day… It seems like covid isn’t going away. I wish everyone had gotten vaccinated. But I feel lucky that I can work remotely doing podcasts...It’s a little scary... What are some of the things you wish you could change for women in the industry? Do you think we have made progress or have ways to go in terms of representation?
It seems like we have a long way to go. There’s not women in the seats making decisions on what gets funding. I think it’s harder for a woman to get an opportunity, if a woman does get a directing opportunity on a show and doesn’t excel, they won’t take another woman again, where that would never happen to a guy. You might get an opportunity, but it seems like the weight of all women in the industry is on your shoulders. It’s not fair, it would never happen to a white man. But hopefully women get into positions of power and it won’t happen. A lot of the female focused work that’s coming out is still made by men because it’s making money, and that’s still a problem. What can you share about what you’re working on now?
I’ve been working on a documentary since about 2013 about the Boston Drag Scene. I started filming... not before Ru Paul’s Drag Race but before it was incredibly popular. And it’s funny because I initially thought it was going to be a short but after doing some of the interviews I realized “Oh wow there’s a huge story here that’s not getting covered.” You would think that the mainstream drag would benefit the local drag scene, but it wasn’t. There are two queens in particular who were the stars of Boston in the 90s, and when Ru Paul’s Drag Race became popular the club owners kept all their money for when the Ru Paul’s Drag race queens came to town. It’s kind of about the business drag and how social media was changing the scene. Stender continues to be hard at work and is currently working on a podcast, an animation short, and a long term documentary feature. Stender also plans to begin shooting 2 more feature films, one of them next summer.
Why are you a member of WIFVNE?
I love being a member of WIFVNE. Being part of a supportive community of women creators in the film and video industry is so important. It’s wonderful to have a group of women to learn from and be inspired by. I’ve gained a lot of valuable guidance on how to navigate my career through the members I have met, especially the powerhouse board members like President Alecia Orsini. You can’t help but be inspired by these women.
What short word of advice do you have for other women in the industry?
Don’t ask permission and go make it happen.