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This NC filmmaker directed a jerky commercial. Here's why it's a big deal.

Filmmaker Cynthia Hill, right, who directs the Emmy-winning show “A Chef’s Life” starring North Carolina chef Vivian Howard, directs a commercial for Lorissa’s Kitchen, a Wisconsin-based meat snack company run by women.
Filmmaker Cynthia Hill, right, who directs the Emmy-winning show “A Chef’s Life” starring North Carolina chef Vivian Howard, directs a commercial for Lorissa’s Kitchen, a Wisconsin-based meat snack company run by women.

Cynthia Hill, a filmmaker, says people rarely approach her while she’s working.

“I walk into a room with my crew, all my sound equipment on,” she said. “No one ever goes to me to ask what’s going on. They always go to the man.”

Hill, who directs the Emmy-winning show “A Chef’s Life” starring North Carolina chef Vivian Howard, says she still encounters that type of sexism despite her success in the film industry.

Most video directors are men, but the national nonprofit Free the Bid advocates for female directors, particularly when it comes to television commercials. Fewer than 7 percent of advertising directors in the United States are women, according to Free the Bid. Meanwhile, 85 percent of product-purchasing decisions are made by women.

Hill was chosen through the relationship between Haberman, the Minneapolis-based creative agency for Lorissa’s Kitchen, and MAJORITY, a production company that represents a roster of female directors, including Hill. Lorissa's Kitchen was searching for a female director to create its newest ad campaign.

“They wanted the message to be the whole picture, female-driven and female-executed,” Hill said. “What they wanted was to show the multi-faceted nature of women and how a food snack is important in a woman’s busy day.”

Hill chose to cast North Carolina women for the commercial, which was released nationwide Monday. They are Laura Ritchie, former executive director of The Carrack art space in Durham, and Shorlette Ammons, a community food systems outreach coordinator with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems in Goldsboro.

They appear in locations that Triangle viewers might recognize: the SEEDS urban garden and Cocoa Cinnamon in Durham, and the Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area in Orange County.

“The woman in her yoga studio, in the garden, out hiking,” Hill said. “All of that is what these women would already be doing, and that was really important to me.”

A self-proclaimed storyteller, Hill said her main goal in her work is authenticity. Hill, who had never before directed a commercial, believes that is what drew Lorissa’s Kitchen to her.

“I’m used to telling authentic stories,” she said. “And I knew how to work with people eating, and that’s important for (the company). Eating or chewing is not necessarily the most appealing or the sexiest thing to do.”

Documentary work

Hill said she rarely experiences sexism in her day-to-day work anymore. Along with “A Chef’s Life” on PBS, she also directed the Emmy-nominated HBO documentary “Private Violence” in 2014.

Women make more documentaries than narrative films, according to San Diego State University's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. Thirty percent of the 500 most popular documentaries in 2017 were directed by women.

But documentaries pose their own challenges. They are usually less profitable than commercial work and require a unique skill set. So women who are used to filming documentaries are less likely to land commercial jobs.

Hill said she had never considered directing a commercial, but she enjoyed it. She is represented by MAJORITY, a production company that helps women land jobs in the brand industry.

“A lot of the women being brought on are documentary makers,” Hill said, calling their work “long-form, slow-paced and story-driven.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Free the Bid connected Hill with Lorissa's Kitchen. It was actually Haberman, the creative agency for Lorissa's Kitchen, which connected with MAJORITY, the production company of which Hill is a part.

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