by Suzanne Dressler
When Misha Calvert moved to New York City from San Diego after graduating college, she had her sights set solely on an acting career—no surprise, considering she had grown up doing community theater. However, it wasn’t long before her passion for writing and directing began to develop. As she puts it, acting “informed my approach to writing.” For Calvert, acting had become too disempowering. She wanted to guide her own success and career by creating her own opportunities. She studied on-camera acting and began writing comedy pieces. Calvert maintains that stage acting is not as accessible an art form as camera and film. Luckily for her, and her audience, her talent and gifts are not going unnoticed.
Last month, the Soho International Film Festival (SIFF) chose two of her works to be featured in their Series Pilot block. Both pieces are female centered, empowering and thought-provoking, traits that are prevalent in all of Calvert’s work. All Hail Beth is a series that she created for BRIC TV, wrote and directed herself, and it will premiere in October. It had its New York premiere at the SIFF last month. The show is about an Iranian-American young woman living in New York City who feels invisible in all aspects of her life. She attempts suicide by swallowing a bottle of pills but wakes up the next morning a Babylonian Goddess, instead. Everyone she encounters, from strangers on the street to work colleagues, worships her. We witness her transformation from feeling depressed and frustrated, to finding her confidence through her adoring subjects.
In ancient Babylon, women were worshipped, and men were ritualistically feminized. The idea of the Goddess was inherent in the spiritual practice of society. While the show is as funny as it is heartbreaking, Calvert believes that the writing manifests “power dynamics and the journey of finding confidence.” She continues, “It’s a story about faith and the millennial psycho-social reality.”
Her other pilot, Strut, centers around female empowerment, with a very clear message of breaking sexual barriers and stereotypes that women continue to face. Calvert writes and stars in the piece, and it is directed by Michelle Cutolo. Strut is about four women in Brooklyn who decide to develop their own high-end escorting service. The conception for this pilot came out of some of Calvert’s friends with connections to the sex industry. “I know a lot of people in NYC—all types—and that includes strippers, foot models, escorts, etcetera. There’s a disparity between the reality of these people and how they are portrayed in film and television. There’s nothing really that strange about becoming a sex worker.” Calvert states, “A woman who is in ownership of her body is threatening to most people. I don’t know if that will ever change.”
As a writer, director, producer and actor, Calvert has seen the online and streaming industry change many times over. The business used to focus on getting a certain amount of funding to produce work; however, the focus has shifted to garnering followers and support. Calvert explains, “How do you get fans? What’s your market? It’s about how to get those eyes and utilizing the internet.” Calvert is emphatic that in order to find success in this digital modality, one must be willing to change and adjust, similar to sailing, “[It’s like] constantly readjusting a sailboat. The wind and the water are forever shifting.”
Calvert has big plans for All Hail Beth and Strut. She has been pitching Strut to all the networks and streaming services, and All Hail Beth is in post-production and will premiere on BRIC TV in October.
One of her other highly successful pieces, Pee Sitting Down, is available to stream on Vimeo after premiering on Film Shortage. Another feminist series, Step Into My Office, will be released August 29th. She is actively writing and working on several other projects, which are not open knowledge yet. However, I’m sure they will be just as poignant, hilarious and clever as her others. As she believes, “Comedy and dialogue are human driven.” Ironically, she told me that her father recently told her that none of her work surprises him. He said it was good to see her do the same thing she was doing at age three, creating her own stories for the family and being “a crazy little firecracker.”
As for being a woman in the entertainment industry, Calvert informed me of some (sadly) unsurprising details. “Getting people to give women money is incredibly challenging. This is true across the board throughout most industries, and it’s certainly true of Hollywood. This institutionalized lack of financial commitment reinforces a lack of confidence in up-and-coming female filmmakers, which then encourages us to settle for lower budgets and lower wages from the start.”
She persists, “Female-led films do better than male-led films at the box office. Look it up. It’s most obvious at the studio level, where films are given more standardized marketing and distribution plans. At lower-budget levels, not only are female-led films given smaller budgets, but also smaller distribution plans, which then impacts the data on ROI; if you look at all budget levels in totem, however, the numbers are in support of women. It’s something of an open secret in Hollywood that female filmmakers are outperforming men. I can’t wait to start getting bigger budgets to help grow this statistic even further. Women are a great investment.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Below, find links to her current works:
All Hail Beth premieres in October on BRIC TV: