Stephens film students meet a female mentor

Sunday, January 22, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:23 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Only seven percent of television directors are women, according to the Directors Guild of America. On Saturday, one of those women came to Columbia to share industry and life lessons with a group of about 30 Stephens College students.

“When I started out in this business, I didn’t have a female role model,” said director Bethany Rooney. “If I can be a role model for these girls, I’d like to do that.”

With Rooney’s coaching, budding directors guided their fellow students through scenes from some of Rooney’s shows as the cameras rolled in the college’s television studio.

Rooney got her break working as a secretary for Gwyneth Paltrow’s father, Bruce. That job eventually led to her directing an episode of the medical drama “St. Elsewhere.” Today, she has more than 100 hours of television directing experience, including episodes of “Boston Public,” “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Crossing Jordan.”

She is the latest in a growing list of film and television industry insiders to visit Stephens College, many of whom have come thanks to the efforts of Ken LaZebnik, dean of the school of the performing arts.

The growth of the 2-year-old digital film program is an important part of LaZebnik’s and President Wendy Libby’s vision of the school’s future. Getting professionals to share “real world” experiences is an integral part of that vision, LaZebnik said.

“We are getting good students, and the number of film students is increasing,” he said.

Fostering an environment that acknowledges young women’s strengths may set Stephens apart from other film departments, LaZebnik said.

“Unlike most film programs, which are dominated by guys who want to make action movies, we want this to be a place for women to tell their stories,” he said.

For students such as sophomore Sarah Whorton, this makes the experience unique.

“There is only so much you can learn in a classroom or from books,” Whorton said. “This is what it is all about. To have film classes with so many women, where else can you find that?”

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