Award-Winning Director & Cinematographer Skye Borgman On The Need For More Diverse Perspectives In Hollywood

Award-winning director and cinematographer Skye Borgman

We’ve talked a lot about the need to disrupt the dominant male gaze in the film and TV world, and from what we can see, the tide is slowly starting to turn in Hollywood to give more amplification to the voices of those traditionally underrepresented. With ongoing discussion about the shift in narrative on screen comes a parallel conversation about the need to ensure that voices and decisions behind the camera are also represented as diverse an audience as possible.

With the #OscarssoMale and #OscarsSoWhite hashtags exemplifying how there is still reluctance in certain parts of the industry to usher in change and recognize diverse talent (sadly no women were nominated in the Best Director category at this year’s Academy Awards again), we are seeing more and more individual artists within the industry using their platform to push for a widening perspective in the films and TV shows being made. Some are celebrities, and others are industry professionals at the top of their game, whose work you recognize but whose names you may not be as familiar with.

One such professional is award-winning director and cinematographer Skye Borgman. Skye has shot over 50 films, traveled to over 60 countries and lived on three continents. Her global experiences guide her vision, thought and approach to film making. This gives her the unique ability to connect with all types of personalities. She has filmed rock-stars, prime ministers, drug addicts, environmentalists, Academy award winners, Buddhist nuns and anarchist chocolate makers. If this isn’t the kind of perspective and talent we want to see more of in Hollywood, then render the entire industry obsolete, as far as we’re concerned!

You may have seen Skye’s recent work on the Netflix award-winning documentary ‘Abducted in Plain Sight’, which left the public absolutely flabbergasted by this story. If you aren’t familiar, the wild documentary that became a nationwide sensation chronicles the stranger-than-fiction kidnapping of a young girl by a neighbor right before her parents’ eyes, who then proceeded to infiltrate her entire family. Skye and True Crime Podcaster, Patrick Hinds, recently released a podcast sequel to the documentary. The podcast will reveal never-before-heard interviews with the family affected, including Jan Broberg herself – the young girl at the center of the story, now age 57.

We spoke with Skye about ‘Abducted In Plain Sight’, the podcast following the same story, and why it is important to her to see more diverse perspectives producing the narratives that we see from Hollywood in the coming years.

How did you first become involved in the ‘Abducted in Plain Sight’ documentary and how long did it take to complete the film? 

I started working on Abducted in Plain Sight in the fall of 2014. I read the book and we started reaching out to the family for interviews and more information. We met the family in person in March of 2015. This was a truly independent production, my production company, Top Knot Films produced the project without any major studio backing so we did various fundraising campaigns in addition to self financing. It was the kind of situation where occasionally I had to shift focus to another project. 

‘Abducted In Plain Sight’ took 3 years to complete. The process was also much more investigative than originally expected. We were able to acquire FBI documents and court transcripts that brought huge insight to the story, and we went back and interviewed the family with this new information.  We finished the film in 2017 and premiered at the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival. Netflix acquired the film in January of 2018, with a launch date in January of 2019 – so we decided that we would keep publicizing and stay on the festival circuit for the year to keep publicizing the film. The film was the main focus of my life for over 6 years.

What drew you to Jan’s story? 

I didn’t understand how something like this could happen. How could one young girl get abducted by the same man? TWICE? That’s what really drew me to the story. I wanted to know how something like this could happen and as we started interviewing people, both family members and experts the pieces slowly started to fit together. I am always fascinated by the human condition and unraveling how we feel and why we act the way we do is infinitely intriguing.

Why did you and Patrick decide to create a podcast series about the story?  

People had so many questions after the film and we both thought that a podcast was a perfect way to answer some of those questions and dive a little deeper. I told Patrick about a couple of scenes that we needed to cut out of the film and we both settled on the idea that a podcast would be a perfect way to get those stories out into the public consciousness. This was a tough film for Jan Broberg and her family, especially the social media backlash after it’s release. Both Patrick and I felt it was important for people to hear from her and to remember that the Broberg’s are real people that feel pain and sorrow and shame and joy. They are incredibly brave for telling their story and the podcast gave us, and more importantly the family an outlet to speak to some of the people hiding behind the social media wall hurling hatred.

What can listeners expect to hear from the series, and who are some of the guests featured? 

Listeners will hear a lot more from Jan and hear how she is doing now.  She brings a different perspective from what you see in the film. We also talk to some experts. There are also many deleted scenes that didn’t make it into the film.  

As a cinematographer, how do you choose the projects you work on, and how do directors find you

I love working on visual projects whether or not I am the cinematographer or director. I always want to bring an authenticity of vision to the story.  I worked as a cinematographer for nearly 20 years and have established some really beautiful relationships with extremely talented people, so mostly I get work by word of mouth. I’m doing a lot more directing now – and I’ll always be interested in visual stories.

Skye Borgman filming a reenactment scene for ‘Abducted in Plain Sight’.

Given the increased focus on gender equality measures in Hollywood, especially behind the scenes, what is your perspective on how gender discrimination runs through the industry, especially seeing how male-dominated the director and cinematographer roles are?  

Women have made some big strides forward in the directors chair, but we still represent in such small numbers. Cinematography is even slower to catch up. Rachel Morrison’s nomination for best cinematography at the 2018 Academy awards was amazing but it’s still such a rarity to see women behind the camera, even rarer behind a light or light meter or pushing a dolly. That’s where I would like to see some major strides forward.

 I taught cinematography for a few years at USC in their graduate program and ALL of my cinematography classes were at least 50/50 in terms of representation. The gap comes post film school. I feel like I live in a bubble sometimes because I work with some really fabulous women, I hire them, I collaborate with them and so it feels like it’s that way everywhere. But then, after ‘Abducted In Plain Sight’ came out and I was doing a few more things in front of the camera, it was all dudes behind the camera and I realized that things aren’t changing as much or as quickly as I would like them too.

Why do you feel it is important for more women’s stories to be told in films, podcasts and other mediums?  

I don’t even know if it’s necessarily more women’s stories. What I want to see as a woman are different perspectives. I want a woman’s perspective. I want a minority perspective, I want a fluid perspective. I crave a perspective that’s different from your average white male perspective, because that’s what we have seen for the last 100 years. I also know that if there is a different perspective behind the camera, there is most certainly a different perspective being expressed in front of the camera and that’s exciting. It’s getting better but there is still a long way to go.


You can learn more about Jan Broberg’s story by listening to ‘Obsessed with Abducted in Plain Sight’ podcast, with Skye Borgman and Patrick Hinds, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or by clicking here.

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