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Colorado Women in Film: No Cash Cow, But Wildly Collaborative

The film industry is an incentives business. And historically Colorado hasn’t secured the cache that brings big names, crews and budgets to underdog states like neighboring New Mexico.  

Colorado is beholden to TABOR, the amendment that caps state revenue retained and spent, but also jockeying interests. “We have a couple of million dollars, so we’re not competing at the same level as other states,” says Kelly Baug, deputy film commissioner, Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media. “We go to bat every year, but there are competing interests like education and health care that win out.” 

Without significant incentives, the local landscape is known as friendly to filmmakers who care deeply about the craft — not just paychecks attached to monied, star-studded productions. Colorado is collaborative, unlike cutthroat environments like Los Angeles, which can amplify an every-woman-for-herself mentality in a male-dominated industry. Women working in the local film industry repeat this mantra almost universally. 

Filmmaker Biz Young, 31, who moved to Denver after winning two Emmys for her independent film series “BombASSBabes,” says, “It’s been such an easy transition. Every woman I’ve spoken to shares this sentiment. We hold on to each other and continue to support one another.” Likewise, Shaya Christensen, 29, who came to Colorado to finish a documentary, says she boldly cold-called Colorado women in film. “Amazingly, every single person replied to me. We got coffee,” she says. “It’s a pretty small network.”  

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Biz Young

A foundation in festivals 

Where Colorado shines is showcasing awe-inspiring landscapes, whether that’s for a national truck commercial or a narrative about people playing in wildly inspiring places. And more than any film sector, festivals are Colorado’s happy place. There are more than 50 statewide, a remarkable number for the relative scale of the industry.

“Colorado is unique in that we have such thriving interests in film in every community,” Baug says. “Name a town and I can name filmmakers in it or very close by.”  

A growing number of festivals are women-led or feature films made by women and minorities. Take No Man’s Land, an outdoor-themed festival previously anchored in Carbondale. It’s a microcosm of the world’s — and the industry’s — cultural pivot. “We were trying to bring diversity to a place that cannot sustain the demographic that ultimately supports No Man’s Land,” says Executive Director Kathy Karlo.  

“Mountain towns are expensive, access creates a huge challenge, and they are predominantly white. In recognizing that the public face of the outdoors is changing, we chose to move to Denver and celebrate empowering women and gender-nonconforming individuals with our event.” 

Gig work, day job — or both?   

But festivals are cyclical. And freelancing is the norm in film. Young took a dream film-editor position at outdoor brand The North Face. But while her day job pays the bills, that’s rare for Colorado women in film. Most are taking gigs on temporary sets that could last a day or weeks, or working on unpaid “passion projects.”  

A massive gender pay gap remains, especially notorious in film gig work. Young, for example, cited her freelance pay as 17% of her male counterpart for the same two-week project. “Unfortunately, the industry is set up in a way that it’s hard to say no even when you’re burned out,” she says. 

Rising action beyond Denver  

And yet the pandemic may have empowered gig work—and Colorado. With greater acceptance of remote work, serious filmmakers no longer have to live on the coasts, says producer Arielle Brachfeld, a fourth-generation Coloradan. She’s a case study.  

After 12 years of cutting her teeth as an actress and later finding fulfillment selling films to Lionsgate, earning an Emmy for her work, Brachfeld came home to Colorado. “LA is a tough town. There’s a lot of misogyny and harassment, and it really wears on you,” she says. Brachfeld was assaulted at work, prompting a revaluation of life.

“We were used to beauty, nature and smiling faces in Colorado,” she says. “In LA, nature is an overused park filled with people posing for their next Instagram story.”

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Ariella Brach

Brachfeld settled in Grand Junction, where her husband grew up. The Western Slope’s largest town is home to a thriving arts community, boasting two higher-education filmmaking programs. “Mesa County is screaming to be filmed. It’s the best-kept secret that I don’t want to keep,” laughs Brachfeld, who teaches production management at Western Colorado Community College, which shares resources with four-year Colorado Mesa University.  

Fueling next-gen creatives, Brachfeld applies lessons learned as a film project manager for the LA Unified School District’s Arts Education Branch, even recently securing investors to support a local “creature feature” called “Dragon Soldiers.” 

“Now we’ve got a crew pool,” she says. “We get to hire students on the set in the spring and teach them in the fall.”  

With women like Brachfeld cheerleading film studies, Baug championing state incentives and Karlo fighting for festival diversity, Colorado women in film have nowhere to go but up.   

Increase Women in the Trades through Education

I was never supposed to have a life in the trades. I focused my life on going to college and being a teacher. During those days, the pathway to success was written in stone. To have a great life, you had to go to college and find the right career. Fast forward, and I am the co-owner of a successful plumbing company alongside my husband.

The truth is, the path to success doesn’t have to be predicated on going to a four-year college or university. For women, and anyone in general, there are fruitful career opportunities in plumbing or other trade industries. The main barrier to entry is the lack of knowledge about the industry. In my role as co-owner of High 5 Plumbing, the biggest issue I have seen is the lack of conversation about what kind of life the trades can provide for individuals.

While still a male-dominated industry, the limited number of women in plumbing can be attributed to the lack of education about the field. Now is the best time to begin a career in the trades. With a shortage of plumbers, the sky is the limit for anyone interested in a great career. Companies just have to take the right steps to recruit employees.

For women, and anyone in general, there are fruitful career opportunities in plumbing or other trade industries.

The Importance of Recruiting

There aren’t very many women plumbers in the industry. Over the course of 10 years, we’ve only had three women interview for the job. The reason this issue exists is two-fold.

The first reason is the lack of importance that tends to be placed on the recruiter position. Active recruiting is an important aspect of growing a business regardless of the gender of the employee. One of the reason’s why High 5 Plumbing has seen substantial growth over the past year, is our dedication to getting out and recruiting. Having a person who goes out into the community and champions your company’s vision, culture, and team is priceless.

Recruiting Women to the Trades

The other half of the equation for why the number of women in plumbing is limited, is the lack of information about the various jobs in the industry.

While many plumbing jobs are physically taxing, there are more career paths that don’t require unclogging toilets. For example, some plumbers perform water quality tests by taking samples of water and explaining to homeowners the state of their water. There are also various sales positions that allow you to sell services without the need to be an installer. The career possibilities are vast.

But remember, it is important to educate potential women employees about the various positions before you can recruit them to your business. This requires a continued push across multiple platforms to showcase the benefits of working in the trades.

Having a person who goes out into the community and champions your company’s vision, culture, and team is priceless.

The Right Culture

From my experience, culture-fit plays a major factor when it comes to recruiting women. That includes team atmosphere, role within the company, communication with management, etc. In addition, growth potential within the company helps increase the number of potential employees who submit applications.

So, if you are a company in the trades that is looking to increase female applications, you need to place a heavy emphasis on company culture and growth potential.

Leveling the Playing Field

A career in the trades isn’t just for men; but there needs to be a better job at communicating the benefits of working in the trades to enhance the female presence. Starting at the high school level, more emphasis needs to be placed on the trades. Eliminating the thought that a four-year degree is the only viable way to success is a must. Educating female students, and male students, on the advantages of working in the trades will go a long way in securing the future for many bright individuals. As a woman in the trades, I love my job and would love to see a female boom in the years to come.


About High 5 Plumbing
Founded in 2012, High 5 Plumbing is a local, family-owned company serving residents in the greater Denver metropolitan area. The company was recently recognized by the Denver Metro Chamber Business Awards as a 2022 finalist for Small Business of the Year.
With a professional team that has extensive experience and a commitment to service, High 5 Plumbing offers comprehensive plumbing, sewer, and drain services. The company was built on the values of solving plumbing problems and serving every customer with professionalism and respect. For more information, visit: High 5 Plumbing