Shellie Schmals has been called many things, and she agrees with all of them: film maven, retro vamp, burlesque queen.
To Atlanta’s film community, however, she is considered one of the most sought-after film consultants and producers, and she has strategically partnered with local film and entertainment organizations to empower women filmmakers to pursue and complete their dream projects.
Schmals was born with entertainment in her blood. Her fourth cousin was Edward Small born Schmalheiser, one of the legendary film producers of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
“Growing up, I loved making people laugh. I was a real ham. I loved singing, modeling, and watching movies,” said Schmals. Her love for her Jewish heritage led her to join BBYO (B’nai B’rith Youth Organization) where she was regional n’siah her senior year of high school, as well as the summer programs teen coordinator.
In 1998, she had a hunch that Atlanta would be a great place to move based on her interest, and she was right.
“A few years into my career, I discovered Atlanta’s creative community,” states Schmals.
After working with non-profit Jewish organizations such as the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, Schmals found a place to perform improv comedy at Relapse Theatre. For many years, she worked at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival as a senior programming and industry relations manager, helping filmmakers through the submission process and with distribution deals.
In 2009, through her association with Relapse Theatre, Schmals started producing variety shows and art events around town.
Schmals believes that the glue that bonded all of her talents together was the collaboration skills that she learned at BBYO, along with her education that provided her the business acumen she needed to become a creative entrepreneur, including student association president at Daemen College, master’s degree in education administration from New York University-Buffalo, and an MBA from Brenau University.
In 2016, her talents led her to WIFTA (Women in Film and Television in Atlanta), a highly recognized national and global organization with more than 12, 000 members. Atlanta is the second-oldest chapter, among the 40-plus chapters throughout America and around the world. WIFTA’s mission is to empower women filmmakers through networking through monthly events, mentorship, scholarships, training, and education.
“As the current vice president of programming at WIFTA, my goal is to help women become confident visionary filmmakers. WIFTA prides itself on being a safe space where women can connect, grow, and find funding for their projects,” states Schmals.
All of WIFTA’s annual events are geared to give women filmmakers a platform and voice. There is the annual gala event that celebrates women who have had a positive impact on the film industry. Among last year’s gala honorees was Dulcé Sloan, correspondent on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” and Atlanta comedian. The 48th annual gala event will be held at the Atrium, Fulton County Government Center. The honorees include television and film producer Autumn Bailey-Ford and Melissa Goodman, executive director of SAG-AFTRA local Atlanta.
There is also WIFTA’s annual Short Film Showcase. This year, more than 100 films were submitted and only 10 films were chosen to premiere at the event, which was located at RoleCall Theater. It was a positively charged networking mixer. The winning categories were best actor, best director, best screenplay, and best short film. The winner of best short was given a $500 prize.
At the annual events and throughout the year, women filmmakers are always eager for Schmals’ advice.
“The advice that I give filmmakers is to take advantage of opportunities. You can create the world you want if you pursue your dreams, and don’t ever give up,” states Schmals.
Additionally, Schmals strongly believes that Atlanta is a great place to start a film career because the community supports each other. It’s small enough that people can network and build strong connections, and large enough that people can build towards a financially viable career, she said.
Also, organizations such as Fulton Films, DeKalb Entertainment Commission, City of Atlanta, and Film Impact Georgia are all organizations that work with WIFTA to help women filmmakers to get their films funded and produced. Also, Stage 32, an organization that recently hired Schmals as the director of community, is an additional resource considered the largest social and educational site for film, television, and theater creatives.
With Schmals doing so much to help others, it’s hard to believe that she has time for herself, but her creativity cannot be contained.
“I am a huge fan of immersive theater with a passion for entertainment that’s unexpected and pushing boundaries. I am a huge fan of old-time burlesque shows. Everything about a burlesque show is what I love, the make-up, costumes, glitter, and humor. I produce shows each year for the Middle-Age Cabaret Older and Bolder Burlesque,” states Schmals.
On Dec. 22, Schmals has an exciting project that will debut titled, “The Golem: Storms of the South.” She has partnered with the project’s prolific writer and director, Louis Kyper. “The Golem” is a Chanukah celebration that also showcases incredible real-life stories of Jews who escaped persecution in Western Russia. These stories come from Steven Spielberg’s Digital Yiddish Library. Set in 19th century New York, the show is a dark comedy meant to educate and entertain.
“This show is an addition to Atlanta’s artistic landscape for the holidays. Just as “A Christmas Carol” is an annual event, I hope “The Golem” will be, too. And the event will coincide with the last night of Chanukah,” said Schmals. The cast is diverse with people of color and a variety of religious affiliations.
Schmals strongly believes that now is the time for filmmakers to share compelling stories that engage conversation.
“With all the antisemitism, hatred, and violence, now is the time for local filmmakers to write stories that make people critically think about these current situations,” states Schmals.
Schmals wants to remind women of this fact. During the height of her cousin’s Hollywood career, the number of women filmmakers could be counted on a few fingers. Times have changed because women refused to be relegated to the sidelines.
“Take a chance, believe in yourself, and who knows, you may be the next big filmmaker to change the world,” states Schmals.
- Arts and Culture
- Tiffany Parks
- Shellie Schmals
- B’nai B’rith Youth Organization
- jewish federation of greater atlanta
- Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta
- Atlanta Jewish Film Festival
- Relapse Theatre
- Daemen College
- New York University-Buffalo
- Brenau University
- Women in Film and Television in Atlanta
- Dulcé Sloan
- The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
- Autumn Bailey-Ford
- Melissa Goodman
- RoleCall Theater
- Fulton Films
- DeKalb Entertainment Commission
- City of Atlanta
- Film Impact Georgia
- Steven Spielberg’s Digital Yiddish Library.