On Wednesday, students got to pay attention to the woman behind the curtain — or rather, the camera.
Mikaelyn Austin, a 2004 College graduate and co-founder of Philly Philms, joined Penn students at a Tech Talk at Stouffer College House. As a female camerawoman, Austin belongs to an extreme minority; the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film reports that among the top 250 films of 2014, women accounted for only five percent of cinematographers.
College senior Isabella Gong was thrilled to be able to meet Austin. Having changed her major from computational biology to cinema studies at the end of her junior year, Gong felt a bit adrift about how to get started in her new field. “I wanted to hear about her career trajectory, especially as a woman going into the industry,” Gong said.
Austin, who was a member of the varsity track and field and basketball teams at Penn, described the ways her previous experiences helped her current career. Her first documentary about the history of the Palestra was picked up by ESPN, and a throwaway line in her resume about playing semi-pro football helped her land a job with PHL17, a local station affiliate. PHL17 became her first dip into news, and she quickly transitioned into multimedia journalism.
“I literally did everything,” Austin said. “Anything they threw at me I said, ‘Yeah, I know how to do it, or I don’t know, but I can learn how’ ... they loved that.”
Austin’s gung-ho attitude seemed to resonate with her audience. “I found [the talk] overall very inspiring, especially her ‘just do it’ kind of attitude,” Gong said. “She’s absolutely fearless.”
This isn’t the first time Austin returned to Penn to share advice: Austin and PHL17 reporter Zachery Lashway gave a Tech Talk at Penn last year to share their experiences working on PHL’s morning show, Eye Opener. John Merz, a College House Computing IT Support Specialist, helps run the Tech Talk program and brought in Austin to speak again this year.
“We always get feedback on every talk because it’s important to understand what the audience wants,” Merz said. “This is the 24th we’ve done since the program has begun, and we just want to make sure what people want in the future so we can bring those speakers back.”
This year, Austin had some specific advice for female cinematographers — or any woman looking to enter a male-dominated field.
“As a woman in our industry, you have to sort of play your cards,” she said. “You have to figure out the ones that are the good guys, the good eggs, who are going to respect you and treat you like a co-worker.”
Even if some men remain recalcitrant, Austin advised women not to give up hope. “I always go out of my way to find some sort of common denominator; you’ll be surprised how quickly they shed that sort of bigoted appearance and perception.”
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