Spotlight on FAVS Advisory Board Member Melissa Houghton
by Gabrielle Mitchell
Melissa Houghton began her career working on preservation issues with the American Institute of Architects, where she primarily worked in the AAF museum. There she explored architecture and planning issues from a unique perspective through historic records. As someone who excels through mission driven work, Melissa worked with curators and was involved in organizing exhibitions for the museum. Her path to planning and programming began to take shape. The foundation began to move toward more national education programs around architectural issues, and Melissa found herself working directly with other architectural organizations around the country. This meant getting citizens actively involved in how their communities looked. She became an executive producer on four one hour PBS format films and was deeply involved in community to community outreach. By the end of her time with the foundation, Melissa had been acting president for sixteen months.
One of the admirable things about Melissa’s career path is how she was able to navigate through the AAF and develop skills that carried over from one job to the next, while holding on to connections that she’d made with others outside of the foundation. Maintaining those connections is what lead her to her job with Women in Film and Video, DC. Despite the fact that she did not come from a strictly film background, her work in nonprofit and community outreach really fit with the aim of the position, to stabilizing the programs of WIFV and convince an audience to support the work.
The lasting success of WIFV allows the organization to capture a diverse group of media professionals. While Melissa believes that WIFV will continue to grow in coming years, she acknowledges that the organization already does a great amount to support the local film and media community. With at least 80 programs a year, and several members participating in outside arts events, WIFV is in a unique position to offer opportunities through roundtable sessions and their newly developed documentary seed fund, but more importantly Melissa is seeing growth in members’ film and media projects. For every writer tucked away in their bedroom, apprehensive of owning the title of screenwriter, WIFV can be that bridge to finding their audience, publishing, and possibly directing their work.
On the topic of being a multifaceted filmmaker in a freelance economy, Melissa points out that, because there is a lack of funding for filmmakers, she tries to work WIFV members to help them discover creative ways to make their film. In coming years, Melissa hopes WIFV can start a seed fund for narrative directors. She spoke enthusiastically about the quality of the stories coming from the members of WIFV. “Don’t wait for Hollywood to decide what stories to tell.” She believes that quality of story takes precedence over visuals, as it’s expected for your film to have good sound and picture. Yet, there is a critical need for curated media, and for people who know how to tell a story well and inventively. For members who are producing films, it has also become increasingly important for them to know and find their audience, as people are watching media different ways than before.
One of the more salient points to consider is where new members and upcoming filmmakers can situate themselves in WIFV to really get the best experience out of the organization. Melissa obviously encourages members to attend events like the spring job fair, or Script D.C., but what she really wants members to experience is getting to know other members, exploring their stories and support the work of the community. The roundtables are especially constructed for this, and are beneficial to anyone in the industry. It’s a learning community, with a wide spectrum, where you can meet and converse with Emmy and Oscar award winning filmmakers who make their career at WIFV. Melissa hopes the organization is a place where members can cultivate valuable relationships with their “tribe” of industry people.