Storytelling Through Film Without Any Gatekeepers


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I bought my first camera in a refurbished shop. It was by no means a camera anyone in Hollywood would ever buy (not even for their home movies), but it didn’t matter, I wanted to create something. 

You see, in 2012 I was inspired by a small indie YouTube web series based on my favourite book: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. This show inspired women across the world to do the same and we created a corner of the internet where women were in charge of storytelling through film without any gatekeepers. Women in New Zealand, Brazil, the UK, the US, Canada and across the world would form a small community where we ran the film shoots, we wrote the scripts and we pointed the camera. We did not need Hollywood; we made our own version. This was a community of fans and creators, and together they created a new genre known as Literary Inspired web series (or LIWs). 

When I wrote my first web series, I hadn’t gone to film school, I didn’t know anyone who was involved in film. All I had was the internet and some former theatre friends. As LIWs rose in popularity, I wanted to create more and improve my burgeoning skills in filmmaking. My interest and my research grew, and I eventually applied to complete my Master’s in Media Production at Ryerson University. I did this on a whim, assuming I did not have the skills necessary- less than a year later I was surrounded by wannabe Scorseses.  

I met some of my best friends at Ryerson. They helped me develop my writing, and we collaborated on many projects but even as I walked down the stage of graduation in the fall of 2017, I still felt like an imposter. Sure, I had made some small shows in my backyard with a few friends, but could I really call myself a writer? A filmmaker? 

I still struggle with this question, depending on the day I may answer differently. 

As we’ve come to learn (or as many of us already knew), the culture in Hollywood isn’t the most inclusive place. Only recently have there been attempts to right the historical wrongs, but they still fall short. Hollywood needs radical filmmakers who will not only cross boundaries but break boundaries to make a change. I know a group of women who have done just that, who have chosen not to care about the money and who have found a way to pursue their passion and inspiration with their own resources. 

In the Spring of 2017, when I was in the process of finishing up my studies a longstanding mystery in the LIW community was being investigated. A fan account now known as @LIWCenter (Literary Inspired Web Series Center), was the news source for many in all things LIWs, yet no one in the community seemed to know who ran this account. A group of LIW fans and I created a small investigation team to try to figure out who it could be. 

The search for the truth didn’t last very long. Instead this group became a way for fans to keep in touch. Some of us were creators and had even worked on each other’s shows. I for example, wrote on a show called Away from it All and another called Twincidents. When I signed up for the shows, I didn’t know that a writing team made-up entirely of women was rare. Or that intercontinental collaboration was extraordinary. To me, it felt normal. 

I didn’t need Hollywood to put me in a writer’s room, because we were making our own. Through these collaborations, I connected with others who were like me, people who loved to create. In the spring of 2017, inspiration struck our team of investigators and Rational Creatures was born. 

Rational Creatures is based on Jane Austen’s Persuasion (a LIW must be based on some sort of literature). I am Latina, so I wanted to create a Jane Austen story with latinx characters. Like me, each of the creators (Hazel, Jessamyn and Anya) wanted to introduce something new and inclusive to the story. Louisa became Louis, a gay man. Mary became Marisol who lives with chronic illness, she’s also a lesbian and mother to two pet dogs. 

I ended up flying to Chicago to complete this project. As I stepped on the plane I remember being scared. After all if you grew up in the early 2000’s every single after school special told you NOT to meet-up with strangers from the internet. But I knew these other women were real, I had seen them on skype, and spent hours and trust writing this script. Besides, if they weren’t, I could always call MTV’s Catfish. Had it not been for Covid-19, I would have travelled for a second time to Chicago to film Season 2 this past spring. 

I was a shy girl who read Twilight 15 years ago. That little girl didn’t know the names of any female directors (because there were not many in the spotlight), she didn’t know how to work a camera (she still barely knows), and she didn’t think that teams of all-female writers, directors, producers and crew was possible. That little girl was wrong. I am a 28-year-old female director, that’s not all I am, but it is part of who I am, and no Hollywood gatekeeper can take that away from me. You choose who you want to be, do not wait or ask for permission, go out and do it.

Ayelen Barrios Ruiz Pagano

Ayelen Barrios Ruiz Pagano

Ayelen hails from Toronto, ON and holds a Master's Degree in Media Production from Ryerson University. There she wrote and directed "Nottingham", a gender-bent Robin Hood web series and transmedia experience. She is on the International creative team for the award-winning series Rational Creatures, a modern Jane Austen adaptation, and has co-created and produced A Quarantine Carol during quarantine.

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