Filmmaking is all in the family

[The Pioneers in Skirts Producer] Lea-Ann W. Berst ’82 has never been one to shy away from taking risks.

It was a sense of adventure that led her to accept a once-in-a-lifetime assignment for computer giant Lenovo nearly 10 years ago. Her company, Sleddogg Marketing, was hired to lead a marketing effort for the company’s torch relay sponsorship that preceded the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

At the time, she was living in China with her husband and three children, and working with Lenovo would require an intense work schedule and extensive travel. But, her skills were perfectly suited for the project: prior to owning her own firm, she worked as a worldwide brand manager for IBM and had accumulated more than 15 years’ experience in global activation marketing.

Berst said the job was one of the most challenging of her career; however, also one of the most rewarding. It further fueled her global curiosity, something which she can trace back to her time at SUNY Canton while she was earning an associate degree in Business Management.

She recalled Professor Daniel G. Fay’s encouragement to stay informed about international news, primarily by reading the Wall Street Journal every day.

Berst said she echoes Fay’s advice when speaking to college students about global marketing.

“I start off by asking who has read the Wall Street Journal, and I’ll typically see zero hands go up. Then I’ll explain why they should read the front page of the Journal every day–it’s like a cheat-sheet for what’s going on in the world. It’s too bad they didn’t have a Professor Fay in their lives.”

She also remembers assistant-directing and producing a student play called “The Clumsy Custard Horror Show and Ice Cream Clone Review.” Oddly enough, it was an experience she would draw upon 30 years later when she teamed up with her daughter Ashley to make a documentary film.

Crew from Canton’s “The Clumsy Custard Horror Show and Ice Cream Clone Review.”  Lea-Ann is at far left.

Four years in the making, “Pioneers in Skirts” seeks to answer the question of why women in the workforce experience burnout early on in their career, a phenomenon she was shocked to see her daughter experience.

“When Ashley started making films, she was frustrated about unexpected prejudicial experiences and didn’t know what to do about it,” she said. “I had experienced similar things in my career and couldn’t believe she was, too. So, when she decided to make a movie about the inequality she saw around her, I wanted to help her make this film a reality.”

“Pioneers” takes the viewer on a journey across the country to meet successful women who have found ways to overcome unique obstacles, such as UNC Chapel Hill’s Women’s Basketball Coach Sylvia HatchellFocus Brands Group President Kat Cole, and famed film and television actor/director Joan Darling.

The film also features interviews with millennial women who share their perspective on the culture of today’s workplace, experts who study gender equity trends, and men committed to advocating for change.

Ashley and Lea-Ann at the SUNY Canton screening.

Berst returned to campus with Ashley last year to host a special post-production test screening, and the film is set to be completed early 2018.

Looking back on the journey, Berst said that because the movie is financed largely through grassroots efforts, the result is an honest, authentic story that will resonate with audiences, especially those who support women who dream big.

“Documentary filmmaking is a great medium to make a cultural impact and tell a good story as you do it. And this is a big story.”

This story first appeared in Sleddogg's Industry Leader blog 

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