Filmmaker Spotlight

Dallas director Courtney Ware on the rise of girl power in film

Dallas director Courtney Ware on the rise of girl power in film

Courtney Ware began her foray into independent filmmaking in the way many stumble into their life’s calling. “I new a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy who sent me an email about a small project that needed a production assistant,” she says.

At the time she was a freshman at the University of North Texas. So she would go to school in the mornings and then go to the set in the afternoon.

Once that project ended, the film’s crew moved on to another one, and they took Ware along. Eventually she became the production assistant on the television series Prison Break, which was filmed in Dallas.

“I grew up around the crews here, and they really helped nurture me and my career,” she says. “For me it’s very much like working with a family; there’s a certain level of trust there.”

In 2011, Ware started her production company, Aware Films, where she manages both her independent film work and small corporate projects she says help pay the bills. Her main collaborator and producing partner is Meredith Burke, who was the co-producer on Upstream Color.

“Meredith is the kind of person that can sort of fit any need,” Ware says. “We met on set for another film, and I quickly realized she had a great eye and mindset toward producing, so we produced our first short film together a few years ago and have been working together ever since.”

The duo’s first film together was Raspberry Jam, a short directed by Ware. It was selected for the 2012 Dallas International Film Festival, and it won the Jury Award at the Women in Film Dallas Chick Flicks Film Festival. It was later selected as one of 10 short films chosen from around the world to be featured in the Women in Film and Television International (WIFTI) Short Film Showcase in 2013.

Ware and Burke also recently finished production on Blur, a short film about a female artist who struggles to work on her latest commissioned painting.

“I’ve tasted almost every film department, but the thing I get the most joy out of is directing,” Ware says. “A lot of directors like the control, but for me there’s something really amazing when you’re finally there on set, watching these words come to life and seeing the way you pictured something in your head become a reality.

“It’s one of the most exciting things about creating the worlds that we do: getting it out of our imagination and having it exist. That was one of my main goals with Blur: to have it exist.”

Ware admits it’s difficult to balance the commercial work with what she and her fellow filmmakers refer to as passion projects. “I think that’s a struggle everyone in this industry has,” she says. “You just have to be willing to work harder and longer in order to cover both.”

To help her stay on task, Ware started a writer’s group. “I realized there were about a zillion other things I could fill my time with besides writing, and if I didn’t have other people coming to my house expecting pages from me, I wouldn’t do it,” she says.

“When I finished this last script, I was sort of surprised that it was there, because there is no way I would have otherwise sat down and finished.”

The group is geared toward female filmmakers, which enables Ware to connect with other like-minded, creative women. She says there are at least three other scripts from the writer’s group that are currently going into production or have already gone through production.

Speaking of production, Sunny in the Dark (teaser above), Ware’s feature film directorial debut, will begin production in January.

“I used to get frustrated by the whole ‘women filmmaker’ category, but if you look around, there just aren’t that many,” she says. “I quickly realized it’s a pretty big deal for females in this industry to be on the higher scales of filmmaking like producing, directing and writing.

“So I started a film writing group for women, and I’ve met some really amazing voices. ... It’s exciting because I think as women we do have a voice, and there are some great female filmmakers who are finally coming out of the trenches.”

Filmmaker Courtney Ware
Courtney Ware begins production on her first feature-length film, Sunny in the Dark, in January. Photo by Ashely Rokk
Short Film, Blur
A still from Ware's short film, Blur. Photo courtesy of Courtney Ware
Film Still, Sunny in the Dark
A still from the upcoming Sunny in the Dark. Photo courtesy of Courtney Ware
Filmmaker Courtney Ware
Short Film, Blur
Film Still, Sunny in the Dark