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Naomi McDougall Jones's speaking fee starts in range: $10,000 to $15,000
Award-winning actress, writer, and producer Naomi McDougall Jones is one of the most prominent figures steering the “Women in Film Revolution.” Her viral TED Talk, “What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Hollywood” has helped raise awareness on the severe gender gap that plagues creative control in Hollywood. She aims to be part of the solution not only with her activism but her self-made film career, proof that there is a lucrative market for media that is both about women and created by women.
While pursuing her dream of becoming the “next Meryl Streep”, Jones found herself disappointed with the lack of quality roles being written for women. After her agent explained that she “wasn’t pretty enough to play the hot girl” nor “old enough” to play the hot girl’s mother, Jones began exploring other routes to make her dream come true: namely, creating a story driven by the kind of complex female characters she wished Hollywood would tackle.
She wrote the screenplay, Imagine I’m Beautiful and brought together a completely female team of behind-the-scenes talent to get it made. However, even with a well-developed low budget project, she was still told by film studios that no one wanted to see a film made by women about women and that furthermore, no studio would trust a group of women with money, so they’d better get a male-producer on board.
Jones’ team went on with their production, financing it through crowdfunding. The psychological thriller Imagine I’m Beautiful won 12 awards while on the film festival circuit. Her second film, Bite Me a romantic-comedy inspired by an encounter she had with a real-life vampire, will be released at the end of 2018. A TV series she originated is in development in Canada, The Dark Pieces, which follows an upper middle class “mom-turned-serial-killer.”
In addition to her busy film career, Jones has co-founded the 51 Fund, a venture capital fund that drives financial backing for movies made by women, with financial heavyweights Lois Scott, former CFO of Chicago, and Sona Wang, a successful venture capitalist with over 20 years of experience. The organization’s name refers to the statistic that although women make up 51% of the population, only 5% of feature films per year are directed by women.
Naomi McDougall Jones is an award-winning filmmaker and actress and a globally sought-after speaker, thought leader, and activist on the subjects of women in film, leadership, and defying obstacles to build the career of your dreams.
Naomi’s viral TEDTalk What it’s Like to Be a Woman in Hollywood, has been viewed over 1 million times and ignited The Women in Film Revolution, a national grassroots movement working to create gender parity in cinema. Naomi has spoken around the world since 2013, inspiring audiences with her scrappy, powerful, and unlikely rise to success in an industry where women still only represent 5% and challenging and motivating audiences to become the leaders and changemakers they wish existed.
After being told for years in no uncertain terms that she was the wrong kind of woman to succeed in Hollywood and, in fact, that “nobody wants to see films by or about women” at all, Naomi’s first feature film, Imagine I’m Beautiful (which is both by and about women) won 12 awards on the film festival circuit before receiving theatrical and digital distribution. Her second feature film, Bite Me, is currently in post-production and will be released later this year. A series she conceived, The Dark Pieces, is now in development for television.
Naomi is the founder and Chief Impact Officer, along with Lois Scott, former CFO of the City of Chicago, of The 51 Fund, a venture capital fund dedicated to financing films by female directors.
She is currently at work on a book, The Wrong Kind of Woman: Dismantling the God of Hollywood, which will be published by Beacon Press in 2019.
Actress and women's leadership speaker, Naomi McDougall Jones uses her experiences in Hollywood to illustrate the barriers women face in Hollywood, why sexism prevails, and how it affects us in ways that most of us are not even aware of. After moving out to California to "become the next Meryl Streep", Jones discovered that the majority of roles for women were two-dimensional, sexualized, and nothing she wanted to portray. She teamed up with a female friend to write a screenplay and assemble a female crew only to be told by studios that they would need at least one male producer before anyone trusted them with money.
With everything else happening in the world, Jones explains why ordinary people SHOULD care about the overwhelmingly large gender gap in Hollywood. "The year that Jaws came out, Americans suddenly started listing sharks among their top ten fears...The year that Brave and Hunger Games came out, female participation in archery went up 105%," she cites the powerful influence movies have on our identities and the way we see the world. However, with 95% of movies directed by men, most of us are being fed limited perspectives.
"That affects us," Jones reaffirms. "That affects all of us. We can't even imagine how much it affects us because this" - a male dominated cinema - "is all we've ever had."
Award-winning actress, screenwriter, and producer, Naomi McDougall Jones spotlights the prevailing gender gap in Hollywood, how a male-dominated cinema industry affects us, and what we can do to bring more voices and perspectives to the screen. Additionally, Jones draws from her experiences building her career on her terms in an ultra-competitive industry, imparting timely takeaways on collaborative leadership and overcoming obstacles, relevant to aspiring artists, entrepreneurs, and anyone else who is driven by a dream.
Dismantling the God of Hollywood: Why more women in film will make the world a better place
What we see in movies matters: it affects our hobbies, our career choices, our emotions and even our identities and marriages. Since the 1940s, a mere 5% of films have been directed by women. This continues to subtly but substantially diminish the weight, value, and interest we give to women’s stories, ideas, and bodies in our culture and lives. Hollywood is the single biggest global exporter of culture and until it includes female storytellers, there will be no final breakthrough on the issues of women’s rights. But waiting for Hollywood to grow a conscience isn’t going to fix the problem.
Naomi McDougall Jones takes you behind the silver screen, weaving together her personal experiences with the bigger picture statistics, to understand how the Hollywood system is chronically keeping female storytellers out and why this is impacting every corner of our lives whether we realize it or not. She lays out the emotional, equitable, but also the financial case for why telling women’s stories is good for both business and the world and offers practical, tangible steps we can all take in our lives to help fix the problem.
• Learn to watch films with a more critical understanding of gender roles and storytelling perspective
• Understand the ways in which the stories they consume influence their lives
• Get a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s really like to be a woman in Hollywood
• Gain a personal and big-picture understanding of how the systemic sexism occurs
• Be invited to join Naomi in a global women in film revolution that they can participate in their own lives
• Be inspired by Naomi’s story of persistence against the odds and be motivated to become change makers
Collaborative Leadership: What filmmaking can teach you about effective work structures
The collaborative process undertaken by 100+ artists and technicians in order to make a film functions only through a clearly defined hierarchical structure that then enables the autonomy and space for each person to add their creativity and input. This interplay of structure and individual freedom can offer companies and corporations much insight into how they can give individual workers the room to bring their best creative brains, while always keeping all on task towards the larger overarching mission of the company.
Filmmaking should be a completely impossible art form. In most forms of “art” – there is one (maybe two) artists who sit down and create something – a book, a painting, a sculpture – that conveys a piece of their humanity to an eventual consumer. A film – from the initial screenplay through development, production, editing, sound design, scoring – is a piece of humanity that then passes through the hands and creative lenses of 100+ artists and has to eventually be reassembled in a form that, when watched by a consumer, still feels like a piece of art with a singular vision and voice. This should never work. And yet it does, hundreds of times every year.
Naomi breaks down this unusual type of leadership and how it can reduce inefficiencies and elevate individual inspiration inside a business setting.
• Get a behind-the-scenes understanding of how a film is made
• Learn the unique formula behind getting over 100 people to create a unified piece of work
• Gain tools and strategies for applying this same formula to work outside of the film industry
• (Optional) Interactive Exercise: Participants will be put into teams and tasked with actually making a short film during the workshop, thus putting into real practice the lessons about structure and collaboration they have learned
Obstacles are Opportunity: Turning your Weakness into your Superpower
Naomi McDougall Jones faced a series of substantial obstacles to succeeding in the film industry. She was the wrong kind of woman to succeed as an actress – told she was “too smart to play the roles written for women and not quite pretty enough to be the hot one.” Then, when she decided to become a filmmaker to create the interesting female characters she found lacking, she was told that no one wanted to see films by or about women. When, having succeeded at making her films against the odds, she began speaking out about the obstacles being placed in front of filmmakers, she was told by one of her (female) idols that she’d better shut her mouth if she wanted to have a career.
Every one of those roadblocks created an obstacle that directly led to the meteoric success Naomi is experiencing.
By inviting participants to re-think their weaknesses as roadmaps to opportunities, Naomi will help them release limiting ideas, gain confidence in their uniqueness, and inspire them to turn their obstacles into superpowers.
• Be inspired by Naomi’s unlikely story of success
• Be challenged to re-think and re-define the stories they tell themselves about their own “weaknesses” or “limitations”
• Gain confidence in and understanding of their unique qualities
• (Optional) Interactive Exercise: Participants will take part in an interactive exercise designed to help them identify and redefine the elements of their identity that are holding them back and help them look for paths to turn these perceived obstacles into opportunities
The Unimagined Dream: How redefining “goals” can bring a more fulfilled life
As children and young people, we are frequently asked what we want to be when we grow up. We answer long before we have an understanding of what our answers will practically mean for our lives. As adults in our western culture, the pressure of this question transmutes into what our “goals” are, what our career is (and whether that sounds impressive to other people), where we’ll be in 5 five years. We get congratulations for reaching these goals or achievements and sideways glances or derision for not reaching them.
Naomi McDougall Jones argues that this system of goals, quite far from making us happier, sets us up for failure and/or unhappiness with our successes.
From the time Naomi was 4 until she was 22, the one and only goal of her life were to be an actress. But when she left acting school, because she was “too smart to play roles written for women and not quite pretty enough to be the hot one,” she quickly learned that that goal, as she originally conceived of it, was probably not going to be an option for her. By digging deep and uncovering the sources of joy – telling stories - beneath her goal – being an actress – Naomi was able to redefine the way she thought of success and maintain a degree of flexibility of details that has kept her open to opportunities and has led to a career that is vastly more multi-faceted and fulfilling than it ever would have been if she had succeeded at her original “goal.”
• Learn a paradigm-shifting approach to thinking about their goals, achievements, and sources of joy
• Discover a more holistic, grounded, and redefined approach to setting goals
• Be inspired by Naomi’s story and motivated to release their own overly rigid ideas of success
• (Optional) Interactive Exercise: Participants will take part in an interactive activity to help them uncover the source of joy beneath their goals and begin the process of shifting their definition of success to one that will set them up for more fulfilling lives
SPEAKING.COM: What do you want people to learn/take away from your presentations?
MCDOUGALL JONES: It varies depending on who I’m speaking to and on what topic, but here are some of the main themes:
1) Although I wasn’t aware of doing any of this at the time, as I look back at my career so far, I entered a situation in which I was almost guaranteed to fail. On top of the film industry being phenomenally hard to succeed in for anyone, I was and am a woman in an industry where 95% of the jobs go to the other gender. I was entering a system that was quite literally designed to prevent me from entering it.
Because telling stories and communicating the human experience was the only thing I had ever cared about, simply leaving the business because the equation was too impossible was not an option. I spent the first years of my career figuring out how to reinvent ways of creating content and getting it to audiences that didn’t require the permission of the gatekeepers and am now engaged every day in trying to further break those existing systems so that I and other underrepresented voices can be heard on an ever-bigger scale.
Pulling from these experiences, I have a lot to share about how to reframe your goals and think outside of the system such that you remove the power from anyone/anything that you feel might prevent you from living the life you dream. I always hope that I am able to inspire and practically help others to break past the concrete and perceived limitations to lead more whole, fulfilled lives and careers.
2) I want to help my audiences understand the big picture on why the lack of women’s voices in film is impacting society as a whole and why, therefore, remedying this is not simply a matter of fixing one industry, but is truly fundamental to improving women’s rights and visibility around the globe.
3) I believe that there are lessons that companies and big business can learn from how film sets are run as rigorously defined systems of hierarchy that also allow for the collaboration and ultimate creative flourishing of each of its members.
4) The best comment I ever get after speaking and, which I am grateful to get often, is a young woman or underrepresented person coming up to me and saying, “You know, X really has seemed impossible to me because I haven’t seen anyone like me doing it before…” or “I have been too afraid to try Y because what if it doesn’t work out…but listening to you and hearing your story, I see that you really do have to be brave and just do that thing no matter who tells you that you can’t. You didn’t have more or know more than I have/know when you began this, so I believe that I can do this thing too.” That is a profoundly humbling effect to get to produce in another person and, more than anything, is what makes speaking so fulfilling to me.
SPEAKING.COM: What kind of special prep work do you do prior to an event? How do you prepare for your speaking engagements?
MCDOUGALL JONES: I always tailor my talks and workshops very specifically to the audience/participants, so I spend a great deal of time speaking with and researching them to understand their needs and understand where my insights and experience will be most useful and valuable to them.
On the day, I usually listen to some music ahead of time that makes me feel brave. Then I go in, am present with that group and their needs, and commit my whole self to providing what I can.
SPEAKING.COM: Have you had any particularly memorable speaking engagements / unusual situations arise while on the road?
MCDOUGALL JONES: So many! It’s hard to choose. As I said before, the most meaningful feedback I get is when someone says, “Before I was afraid to do X and now I am just going to be brave and go make it happen for myself.”
It also always feels exciting to wake an audience up to the women in film issue, which is one that still, most movie-watching audiences are not even aware of. After speaking, I have a lot of conversations along the lines of, “You know, I never thought about this at all before, but you’re absolutely right. I’m going to commit to watching at least one film by a female filmmaker per month from now on.” That’s obviously thrilling because it feels like you’re slowly but surely moving the dial.
I guess the most notable response I ever got was that in March 2016, I was giving a talk about women in film to a room full of incredibly powerful and high-level C-suite women, none of whom were involved in the film industry and most of whom probably came into my talk with the attitude that the lack of women in film is probably not the foremost thing they should be concerning themselves with. I could feel that perspective shifting as they listened to me talk and, by the end, they were on fire with this idea that by changing the stories we tell by and about women, we can truly change the world.
After that talk, I met this woman Lois Scott, who is the former CFO of the City of Chicago – an impressively high-level career finance woman – and she said, “I didn’t know anything about this until today, I’d never really thought about it, but this is terrible! What do we do?”
I said, “Well, basically, we [female filmmakers] need money to make our movies.”
She said, “Okay, well then there should be an investment fund that does that.”
I said, “Yeah.”
She said, “Well, if I start one will you do it with me?”
Obviously, I said “yes,” partly because I thought she was joking and partly because what else do you say when someone offers such a thing.
That was just over two years ago and, this month, we are on the verge of launching together The 51 Fund, which will be a private equity fund to finance films by female directors.
So…that’s a pretty extraordinary outcome to come out of a talk.
SPEAKING.COM: What types of audiences would most benefit from your message?
MCDOUGALL JONES: Again, it depends partly on what talk I’m giving.
On the whole, I have a great deal to offer people who are heading out or on the road to achieve a dream or goal that feels big and scary, maybe even unattainable. I have much to teach about how the impossible is always very possible as long as you think about it in the right way and are brave enough to break the molds. That message and work is very applicable to college students or professionals who might be starting out in a new industry, looking to break out of an industry, or progress in an industry that seems to have insurmountable barriers.
Specifically, my collaborative leadership workshop is aimed at companies and/or corporations who are looking to redefine their management structures to allow for clearer lines of communication and power structure while empowering their employees all along the chain to have greater creativity and ownership over their own work.
My “Obstacles are Opportunity” workshop will speak to anyone who feels stuck or in a rut on their journey in really any medium and needs help reframing their thinking to unstick themselves and move forward in an empowered and positive mode.
SPEAKING.COM: Which of your keynote speaking topics are your favorites and why?
MCDOUGALL JONES: Isn’t that like choosing a favorite child? I genuinely love speaking to people on any and all of my subjects. With each topic my goal is always to produce a very specific effect on the listeners and to actionably open their minds to something new or change their way of thinking in whatever way they may be needing or, of course, on the subject of women in film. Successfully helping, enlightening, or changing listeners in that way is a privilege of indescribable proportions, which I find enormously fulfilling. Since I am always speaking in service of my audience’s needs, my favorite topic is, then, whatever will address their needs or interests.
SPEAKING.COM: What inspired you to start doing speaking engagements?
MCDOUGALL JONES: It happened completely organically for me. When my first film, Imagine I’m Beautiful, came out in 2014, I spent about a year traveling around with it to film festivals and then to theatrical screenings doing Q&As with audiences about the film.
Prior to that I had done some limited public speaking and more teaching – which I have always enjoyed – but that was really the first time that I was on a speaking tour, per se, and doing a lot of public speaking with such widely variegated audiences. I discovered over that year that I not only had a real knack for engaging with audiences in that way, but also genuinely loved doing it for the reasons I wrote about above. I found that it filled me up to a surprising degree, and at the same time, as far as I could tell, audiences found my speaking enjoyable, inspiring, and informative.
Apparently, other people agreed with me, because I very quickly started getting invited to travel and speak on a regular basis by people who had heard me. Now I speak at least twice every month, frequently more, to an amazingly wide variety of people inside and outside the film industry.
Eventually someone saw me speak and invited me to do the TEDTalk, which was the single most terrifying thing I’ve ever done, but then went on to go viral and has led to all sorts of other speaking invitations and the book deal.
The trouble with filmmaking is that it takes such a very long time on each movie and only a very small part of that life cycle – writing the script and being on set – is the really juicy, creatively-fulfilling time. I find speaking to be an engaging, surprisingly creative, and nourishing way to fill out that time.
SPEAKING.COM: How do you keep your audience engaged and actively listening during your keynotes? Do you use case studies, personal stories and/or in your speeches?
MCDOUGALL JONES: Because I fell into speaking so organically this is something I’ve spent a lot of time examining because initially all I knew was that audiences were engaging with what I was saying in this electric way, but I couldn’t figure out what it was they were responding to.
As best I can tell, what engages audiences when I speak is that, at the root of my presentations is my personal story and journey of finding ways around this totally intractable system of the film industry to build this pretty amazing career, truly against the odds. I do share personal stories during my talks and, as much as the high points, I am equally open about the low points and struggles. I think that kind of openness and honesty resonates with people who might be at a low point in their own journey and find resonance in not feeling alone there, while also seeing that that will cycle up eventually too.
I do talk about big ideas, but I have always found that the way to emotionally and intellectually get people to really engage with those big ideas is through the personal, so I always structure my talks around that theory.
An additional component that makes my talks engaging for people is that film is something most people interact with in their own lives on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Therefore, the topics I’m speaking on relate to something that is very much impacting their own lives. I always make sure to offer action items that any audience member, whether inside or outside the film industry, can take to help move the needle on women in film, so that they leave the talk, not only looking at content through a different lens, but with the tools to actually do something to make it better.
Naomi was our “Guest Rock Star” for our Women’s Leadership Program. She was a huge hit. People were raving about her – and loved how authentic, intelligent and impressive she is. Naomi is truly an inspiration for change in the world and a beacon of hope for how things can be.
CEO, Year of Action
This firebrand red-headed filmmaker set off fireworks in my brain. After 30+ years at the highest levels of finance, government and corporate governance, it took this brilliant young woman to make me see that progress depends on freeing the voice and spirit of half our world: Women.
Former CFO of the City of Chicago
Founder of Scott Balice Strategies
Naomi participated in a patient empowerment panel for members of the bleeding disorders community that my company produced in eastern Pennsylvania last Fall. While she has no specific connection to this community, she was recommended as a skilled public speaker by a trusted friend and watching her TED talk gave me confidence. I expected Naomi to be a strong candidate, but frankly she exceeded expectations; her contributions were so thoughtful, articulate, and timely, and Naomi is skilled at reading the room and connecting with her audience. Following the panel, I received numerous compliments from excited attendees about Naomi’s contributions. I wouldn’t hesitate to hire her for a similar engagement in the future, and I wholeheartedly endorse her working in this capacity.
Patrick James Lynch
CEO, Believe Limited
Naomi engaged our NYU class with a compelling argument for diversity in the film business and the students named her as one the best speakers of the semester. Her knowledge of the entertainment business is extensive and her unique perspectives on the industry offer some powerful, persuasive, timely ideas. Naomi McDougall Jones is on the edge of some important gender balance issues for the entertainment business and for society in general.
Associate Professor, Management Communication
Stern School of Business, NYU
Thank you to Naomi for sharing her incredible insights into the ins and outs of casting, financing, and producing her feature, Bite Me, with NYC Women Filmmakers. I’ve learned more about how features are made in the 2 hours of her frank and hilarious workshop than I have over the past 5 years! I’d highly recommend her workshop for anyone planning a feature journey of their own.
Founder, NYC Women Filmmakers
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