When asked to describe her role in filmmaking these days, Mynette Louie puts it simply. “I write the checks,” she says. Put that way, it’s easy to forget that, for Louie, those checks are part of a much larger mission: As president of Gamechanger Films, she’s connecting socially conscious investors with female directors to get their work onto the screen.
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At Gamechanger, Louie specializes in financing independent films, with an exclusive focus on narrative features directed by women. “Only 7% of Hollywood directors and 18% of indie directors are women. Women — who comprise half the world’s population — are sorely underrepresented.” But as much as she’s passionate about the need to help women gain a foothold in a male-dominated industry, Louie also is quick to point out that her company’s commitment isn’t simply a matter of do-gooderism. It’s also good business. “We feel that female directors are an undervalued asset, and therefore a great investment,” she says.
Louie’s path to filmmaking started at a young age. “Growing up in New York City, my mom took me to the movies from as early as I can remember,” she says. “From Sleeping Beauty to The Empire Strikes Back. I was hooked.” She also remembers her early excitement at seeing film crews on city streets as a kid, and marveling at what she describes as the “circus” of the whole thing. But despite her lifelong attraction to the world of film, it took her some time to make her way onto those sets herself.
After majoring in Chinese film and literature in college (“great, but completely impractical,” she notes), Louie’s initial career path led her into business development and marketing in the publishing and Internet spheres, at places like Time magazine, Jupiter Communications and SportsIllustrated.com. She was good at it, but she never felt completely satisfied by the work she was doing.
“There was always this whole film thing in the back of my mind,” she says. “But I could never pull the trigger.” Then the dot com boom went bust, 9/11 happened, and Louie found herself at a crossroads. “That’s what prompted me — and I think a lot of people — to reshuffle their priorities. I just thought, ‘I need to try this film thing out before I die.’”
The only problem: Louie knew absolutely no one in the movie biz. But she wasn’t one to let herself be daunted by a small detail like that. (This unwillingness to let herself be discouraged would later serve her well as a producer.) Instead, she landed her first gig working as a production assistant on an NYU student film, Brighter Days, co-starring a then-unknown Mark Duplass. The pay: $0. Louie didn’t mind; she knew she’d have to start at the bottom so she saved enough money to do so. She caught the filmmaking bug, and went on to produce three more NYU shorts before making the dive into feature films.
“Working on those student shorts was so great because I got this film school education without having to actually pay for film school,” she says, adding that many of the people she met on those early student films would go on to be invaluable collaborators throughout the course of her career.
After producing several features, including 2006’s Mutual Appreciation and 2009’s Children of Invention, as well as a stint at the Hawaii Film Office, Louie eventually made her way to Gamechanger, where she’s mindful of the way her own role as a financier may have a trickle-down effect on the wider industry. “Film financing tends to be controlled by men, and I think men are more comfortable financing the work of other men. Men also largely control hiring and, again, I think they’re more comfortable hiring people who are like them — in other words, other men. When women keep getting overlooked, they often get discouraged and give up.”
Louie has made it her mission to make sure that doesn’t happen. She emphasizes that in order for Gamechanger to truly start changing the game, the work the company chooses to stand behind must have both commercial and critical appeal. “We look primarily for elevated genre films,” she says, singling out this year’s The Invitation — an “artfully shot” horror film by Karyn Kusama, which Variety described as the filmmaker’s strongest in years — as an example of the type of work she’s proud to be putting into the world. “Our hope is that our films will make their money back so our investors can recycle that money back out and continue to invest in women-directed feature films,” she says.
As for dream projects? Screenwriters take-note: “I would love, love, love to do a sci-fi movie,” Louie says. “It’s hard to nail sci-fi as a genre, and on a small budget, but I know it can happen.”
Despite Gamechanger’s ongoing success (it has produced four features thus far), Louie is mindful that the company’s efforts won’t alone be enough to guarantee the changes that need to be made. “Everyone in the film industry — film schools, nonprofits, festivals, programmers, producers, agents, managers, financiers, studios, critics, journalists — needs to engage in serious self-examination, root out our subconscious biases against women, and resolve to do a better job of discovering, cultivating, and supporting talented female directors. This talent development really has to start from the beginning, and be consistent as women advance and rise through the ranks.”
In the end, Louie isn’t just “writing checks” for Gamechanger. She’s going out into the world and finding money anywhere she can to put into the hands of artists whose voices need to be heard, all while developing and nurturing those voices creatively, too. It’s a task that takes patience, forethought, and an ability to be both stubborn and practical — flexible enough to get things done without compromising on the things that actually matter. Mynette Louie isn’t satisfied with just being #Nevertamed herself. She wants the world to catch up with her, and she’s willing to force the issue if need be.
Luke McCormick is a writer living in Brooklyn. He has written for SPIN, rollingstone.com, and other publications.
Top photo by Justine LaViolette.