After watching an episode of “Roswell, New Mexico” she directed, Raimist spoke to students on Jan. 18 regarding her work in television, how she got her start, and what it is like to direct during a pandemic.
Rachel Raimist enthusiastically greeted students sitting in Turner Theater last week, despite being hundreds of miles away in New Mexico for a television shoot. The new academic director of the Elon in Los Angeles program chatted with students via Zoom as part of the Women of the Elon Entertainment Empire (WEEE) screening and Q&A event hosted on Jan. 18, giving attendees advice and answering questions about the challenges women face working in the television industry.
Nell Geer ’21, one of WEEE’s team leads, said the idea to invite Raimist came from Professor Naeemah Clark, the organization’s faculty adviser. Geer and team lead Cameron Wolfslayer ’21 said they were thrilled they could connect students with Raimist, who is one of their favorite professors.
“We were just really lucky that Dr. Raimist had some free time,” Geer said. “Dr. Raimist is great because she is always at a 10. She’s always answering your questions with the best answers you’ve ever heard. I always feel like I learn so much every time I hear her speak.”
Raimist, who has been involved in WEEE gatherings in the past, is teaching a Winter Term course in diversity, equity and inclusion in Hollywood. WEEE originally started in Los Angeles, and serves as a collective of women in the entertainment industry promoting collaboration and networking among alumnae, as well as creating a network for undergraduate students interested in entertainment careers. The initiative was brought to Elon’s campus in 2019 by alumna Joyce Choi ’19.
Students at the WEEE event viewed an episode of “Roswell, New Mexico” that Raimist directed. After the screening, Raimist discussed the hurdles of working in TV during a pandemic, how she got her start, where she is heading next, and what TV programs and movies she is currently watching. For Raimist, her interest in film started at a young age, when a high school teacher put a camera in her hands. She credits this early exposure for her career path.
“I made a documentary that was called ‘Garbage, Gangsters and Greed,’ and it was about political corruption and illegal dumping in the local landfill, and it really sort of turned me on to the power of video,” Raimist said.
While Raimist continues to travel for shows she is directing, COVID-19 still impacts her job, especially on set. Between physical distancing, actors wearing face masks and shields, and quarantine, Raimist said even with safety precautions, you can still be exposed.
“Something I have had to grapple with very, very recently is that safer sets just means just safer than, say, the grocery store. It doesn’t mean it is actually safe,” Raimist said. “It is safe, I am safe, but as safe as you can be in COVID.”
In her conversation with students, Raimist shared her advice to women in cinema and how to navigate being a female in a male-dominated field. Her No. 1 tip is for women to be themselves, be good at what they do, and communicate clearly.
“We all question like, ‘Am I really good?’ We all struggle with impostor syndrome,” Raimist said. “It’s just that voice in your head that keeps you honest, but don’t let that voice in your head hold you back from any opportunities.”
An award-winning filmmaker and professor, Raimist is most widely known for “Nobody Knows My Name,” the first documentary about women in hip-hop distributed by Women Make Movies. Additionally, she was tapped by renowned filmmaker Ava DuVernay to direct “Queen Sugar” for the Oprah Winfrey Network. Since then, Raimist has served in director roles for “Nancy Drew” and “Roswell, New Mexico” for The CW. She also serves on the leadership team of the Latino Committee and the Women’s Steering Committee of the Directors Guild of America. To learn more about Raimist, visit her professional website, www.rachelmakesmovies.com.
The Elon in Los Angeles program is part of the Isabella Cannon Global Education Center’s Study USA initiative, which also offers dedicated programs in New York City and Washington, D.C.