Conversation on Tech & Film: Lesly Lynch
Categories: Blog, For Students, For College Students, Celebrating Women, For Grad Students
If you’re looking for a career with endless possibilities, a position in the tech industry can deliver. Case in point, today’s Women in Tech feature, Lesly Lynch, sheds a light on her life in the entertainment industry as a film director, producer, and co-founder of Space Cowboys Studio. Below, you’ll find insights into her journey in the world of film and creativity, and the birth of an online creative safe space for all.
Talk for a moment about your upbringing compared to where you are now. What should we know about how you got to this point?
Recently I was at my mother’s house, and I started to go over my old notebooks. I was impressed and even emotional to read my thoughts wrapped in a stylistic writing style. First, I could see that I’ve always been creative, even though an artistic career appears later in life. Secondly, I also notice that I had a taste for developing imaginary concepts, and writing detailed notes and ideas, as though I was drafting a business plan at just 13 years old.
One of the people who inspired me the most is my mother. She cultivates the freedom of being who you want to be no matter the external parameters. She makes me believe that anything is possible. A single mother raising my two brothers and me on her own, building the house on her own, reading us Balzac, debating on philosophical concepts, and observing nature. She fully dedicated her time to giving us tools so we could think on our own. Socially and culturally, she offered us a lot, even though financially, we were underprivileged. I would not change anything about my upbringing; the challenges are what make me stronger.
In an interview with 1.4, you listed the different fields of study you ventured into. How do you feel your academic experiences have come with you along your creative journey?
As I was growing up, my creativity felt almost like a burden sometimes. In a village of 8,000 inhabitants, the possibilities were slim. I decided to capitalize on my facilities for studying and went all in. That’s why I chose to go to med school and then to law school. The knowledge I gathered during those years is extremely precious. I’ve learned how our body functions and how our society operates. I navigated two distinct worlds and being able to reunite that knowledge for a wider vision is very precious.
It was when I moved to Paris, meeting different people with diverse backgrounds, that I started to realize I wanted to have a more creative environment. I was already doing photography as a hobby and finally, it’s like all the cards align and you understand what your true journey is. For me, this was to be a film director and producer.
Out of all your studies, which fields did you feel had the most obstacles? How do you overcome them, especially in so many male-dominated fields?
I think the film industry is probably the field with the most challenges. It’s mostly based on network and if you have the possibility (aka the funds) to build your portfolio to be noticed. When you come from an underprivileged background with no contacts, it is challenging. That’s why there is less representation of different social backgrounds in this industry: making films cost money and the industry judges your portfolio to put you in a box. So, you must be strategic about it.
My strategy was to get my first job in a production company as a production assistant. This way I could gain experience and meet people. I worked hard, won a pitch for a TV Show, and was promoted after a month as a Producer. I oversaw the editorial and production of a fashion TV show, as well as documentary projects. There, I learned everything I could. Going around, watching, and asking questions to each position (producer, admin director, cinematographer, editor, etc.). After six months, I started to direct on my weekends. After a couple more experiences, I jumped into freelancing as a film director. I directed my first passion project, a short documentary that was awarded at Festival Infracourts. It brought me my first major recognition and a good amount of money to start saving for the next project. The challenge of the beginning is to find the balance between what experience is going to serve your portfolio and which ones are solely for sustaining a living.
My second piece of advice is to build your network. Especially if you are from a background with no connection to the entertainment industry. Go to industry events, festivals, and workshops, some are free and accessible to all, and some need tickets (if your finances are limited, dare to write an email to ask for a complimentary entry explaining your situation). Be part of a film association and take part in community-building organizations.
When I moved to NY, I joined the board of French In Motion, bringing together professionals from both sides of the Atlantic around curated panels. There I met Damien Van Der Cruyssen who was working as a Senior Colorist at The Mill. Through him, I met Zu Al-Kadiri and Ben Smith, with whom I collaborated on my first feature Trip. I’ve since represented their company, Mayda. I’ve met talented people with whom we build partnerships that stand out in my career. As we were developing a partnership with IFP Film Week (Gotham Week). I also had the chance to be jury of the international projects two years in a row. Recently, I’ve been asked to join several festivals, like The Webby Awards and the BAMV Festival, to review creative works from leading creatives in the industry. Find a mentor that can advocate for you and hold the door of a gated industry.
Finally, I’d say trust yourself and have a voice. There will be challenges, there will be people telling you you’re not good enough, others surprised to see a young woman being the director on set. Just trust your value and find allies that are will stand for you.
If you could speak directly to the queer community of women trying to break into the tech space or other alternative media – what would you say to them?
In the past years, we have seen more awareness on equality between gender, as well as inclusivity regarding all people. Of course, I face challenges; sometimes when I arrive on set, I have crew surprised to see I’m the director, but this empowers me. I just remind myself of the journey I accomplished, the progress made, and I focus on what I can do in the present moment. I take the time to educate people around me, most of the time it’s a lack of awareness, and people are just surprised by what they don’t know.
One key to success for me was to surround myself with people I can relate to and share a safe space with. That’s the reason Anaïs Ohresser and I have co-founded Space Cowboys Studio, to partner with people for whom diversity and inclusivity are a part of their core values. Julie Réali who joined as a partner, is also pushing forward our development and strategy to build a new workflow that brings a healthy environment. As an executive creative director and producer, I also make sure the creative vision is aligned with our message all along the process behind and in front of the camera. We shape our structure around inherent values of respect and curiosity. When recruiting, we always brief our collaborators and heads of departments to be mindful of representation and to create a safe space for all.
Given all that you have accomplished, did you have any notable mentors you would like to talk about? What wisdom have they shared with you?
In the entertainment industry, Emma Reeves and Pamela Buzick had a significant impact. I met them through the organization Free the Work, a curated talent discovery platform for creators and sources of information. They both advocated for my work, sending my reel over and creating opportunities. I also remember a lot of precious conversations. Following their advice and their insights, I feel they pushed my career forward.
I also had the chance to meet with successful female directors, such as Fleur Fortuné, Alma Har’el, and Crystal Moselle, who were able to share their experiences, knowledge, and tips on the industry. They make me trust the process and strengthen my yearning to tell stories.
I’ve been inspired by women around me, notably the ones who are in the business and tech industries. Because they’re male-dominated environments, I’ve gained knowledge through their own experiences and observing them, matching their attitudes and way of expressing themselves to have a clear voice and a strong presence.
How did Space Cowboys Studio come about? How has that created a space for those that need it?
As I was breaking into the industry as an executive creative and film director, I wanted to create a space I would dream of evolving in while doing business that does good.
The core of Space Cowboys is a safe space that places the well-being of our creatives, internal team, and close collaborator at the center. We wrote a manifesto on inclusivity and diversity that we abide by in all our projects. If the company leaders are BIPOC and queer women, it sends an open message to those looking for a safe space. As a result, 75% of our collaborators identify as female, BIPOC, or queer.
Where can people view your creative work? And if you have anything exciting you’re working on – tell us here, we love promoting our people!
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We always love to expand our network and be a mentor for anyone in need, so feel free to reach out to us.