1. Life & Culture

Pitch Her Productions, run by St. Petersburg natives, champions women in film

ST. PETERSBURG — Scene 18, Take 6 at Green Bench Brewing Co., on a suitably sunny day for a short film titled A Bright Second, and characters discussing the sky.

Nothing unusual about this shoestring budget setting except the gender of nearly everyone involved.

Watching a video monitor is director/co-writer Gloria Muñoz, as her longtime friend and actor-producer Caitlin Morris trades lines with a co-star. The director of photography, production designer and sound engineer are women. The "brainiac behind all this" is Morris' former St. Petersburg High School classmate, production manager Chanel Waterhouse, holding her newborn son, August.

A Bright Second is the next step for Morris, Muñoz and Waterhouse toward turning their teenage friendship rooted in Palladium Theater summers into cultural change. They're the founders of Pitch Her Productions, a nonprofit organization aimed at providing filmmaking opportunities for women, at a time when Hollywood's gender gaps in pay and power are under scrutiny.

The only males with anything important to do on set right now are one actor, an extra and August, discreetly breastfeeding.

"This is actually the first time we've allowed males on our set," Morris, 28, said between takes.

Morris and Waterhouse, 29, now live in New York but returned to their hometown to film A Bright Second over four days, their second effort under the Pitch Her Productions banner. Muñoz, 28, who like Waterhouse graduated from Pinellas County's Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School, teaches creative writing at Eckerd College.

Pooling their talents and trust into Pitch Her Productions was a no-brainer.

"We were like the friends you'd keep forever, even if you didn't see each other all the time," Waterhouse said. "When we realized that between the three of us we could make our own film, with different talents, different things we bring to the table, we realized it was a perfect partnership."

In addition to producing films, Pitch Her hosts mixers and workshops in New York and St. Petersburg for women with filmmaking ambitions, including a seminar in May at Studio@620. Morris called it an incubator for women with stories to tell in film. Another project is the Web series Keep Me Posted with New York City writer Hillary Berko­witz Nussbaum.

"A lot of (the idea for Pitch Her) came from just the desire to work," said Morris, who studied with the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy program and stars in the off-Broadway production of Drunk Shakespeare. "The more research we did, the more we kept running into these startling and disheartening statistics about women in films."

Like a survey of movies released in 2014, of which 85 percent weren't directed by women. Also, 80 percent weren't written by women, and only a third included a woman as producer. Patricia Arquette made this disparity the focus of her Oscar acceptance speech last year, and fellow honoree Jennifer Lawrence is a vocal critic of the status quo.

Pitch Her Productions is another sign of times needing change.

"It felt like the perfect marriage of creative autonomy and knowing there's this huge gap," Morris said. "It felt like it could be purposeful."

Yet not without problems, like the surprising hesitance of skilled craftswomen to apply for work on Pitch Her's first short film, Our Everlasting Universe of Things, filmed with an all-female cast and crew.

"It really took time for people we ended up interviewing to come out of the woodwork," Muñoz said, "just as proof of how male-focused and male-driven this type of work is."

On the set of A Bright Second, only one dude gets what he demands and that's August. Morris points to the baby as one more example of Pitch Her's promise.

"For some reason, people can't wrap their brains around the concept of women being mothers and being in the workforce," she said. "We had the extreme pleasure of witnessing Chanel actually do that, from start to finish; started the company just months before she got pregnant. So, we saw this company trying to find its sea legs while Chanel was going through that. … She's a prime example of someone who just knocked it out of the park."

Through a glass ceiling.

Contact Steve Persall at of (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.