Inspirational Women In Hollywood: How Viviane Winthrop Is Helping To Shake Up The Entertainment Industry

An Interview With Elana Cohen

Elana Cohen
Authority Magazine
16 min readApr 30, 2023

--

Give yourself some breathing room when getting ready to lock your film. This one I was told about a lot, but it really didn’t get into my consciousness because I wanted to perfect this or that under the pressure of time. It drove my composer to have to go into hyperdrive. I can assure you that he won’t let me get away with that for my next film because I know better now. Even though they were the right changes to make, looking back, I should have canceled the appointments with sound and color and waited until we had a final lock. Be satisfied with the way it is before moving forward. Making changes after the fact is expensive. There comes a point where you have to let your film leave the nest, so to speak.

As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Viviane Winthrop.

Director, writer, and executive producer Dr. Viviane G. Winthrop was born in Montreal. Her parents moved to Sedona, Arizona when she was a teenager. Although her father was a professional actor and her mother a piano teacher, Viviane chose a career in dentistry. After 25 years as a dentist, she has recently retired to pursue her dream as a film director. The Last of the Winthrops is her directorial debut. Trailer: https://youtu.be/19yf_wopocI

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Thank you so much for this opportunity to share my story. I’m an only child, born in Montreal, Canada. My dad was American, born in Switzerland, and was from the storied Winthrop family of Boston and New York. My mom was French Canadian, and her father was both the mayor of the town where they grew up and a veterinarian as well. My father was a Shakespearean actor and radio personality when in Montreal and my mom, a former model, was a pianist and piano teacher when I was growing up.

When I was four or five years old, we moved to a small town called Baie Comeau on the St. Lawrence River, approximately 260 miles northeast of Quebec City. It was truly beautiful, and we had an incredible view of this huge river, but it was very, very far from Hollywood, which was my dad’s dream. The long cold winters became too much for my dad, who grew up in the south of France. While reading the Arizona Highway Magazine one day, he saw an article on the town of Sedona and decided we should visit. Long story short, we moved to Sedona, Arizona, when I was 14 ½. My dad wasn’t well, so my mom drove the 2,800 plus miles to Arizona. It was a wild and intense trip into the unknown. Our dog and cat were very old and passed away before we moved, so that was a huge loss, and I missed my friends, but the trip was exciting and scary. We were hopeful my dad would feel better in the warmth of Arizona.

It was a chance to start anew. Spring forward several years and I became a dentist. I need to thank my dentist, actually, as he was the one who made dentistry not scary, and helped me to overcome my fears, so I wanted to do the same. Although I had considered following in the Winthrop tradition of politics and law, I was happy to be a dentist. Most of my career was spent helping underserved populations — in particular the southern Arizona community of Ajo and the State of California prison system — so that part was satisfying. Then life happened and I jumped into the unknown again and made a feature documentary.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Out of the blue, I received a text message from an unknown woman who at first said we’re closely related, but then emailed me through ancestry.com to tell me she thought I was her sister. And it turns out she really is my sister! Then she said I have more brothers and sisters! Needless to say, I didn’t know any of this and it turned my world inside out and upside down, but it has been and remains the best blessing ever.

I kept thinking this is the craziest story, something I would only see in a movie. So, I reached out to my new third cousin who works in Hollywood, and he said his cousin would be able to help me write a screenplay. I had no intention of making a film when I called Adam, but his response was, “Your life is happening right now. You really should film it now.” I jumped into the complete unknown and learned by the seat of my pants on how to create a movie and Adam K. Singer became my producer. He’s the one who brought everyone together so we could make my film. Sergio Miranda became our editor, and both were instrumental in bringing this film to fruition. And a huge shout-out to our composer extraordinaire — Shie Rozow. His music for my film is breathtaking.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I was ready to quit at least four or five times. Mainly this was due to financial woes, as I had never spent this much of my own money to make something I had never done before. It was also an emotional roller coaster delving into the past to figure out who I was, who I am and where I fit in.

The most amazing thing would happen when I was ready to give up: the right people would show up, and they would show up at the right time. It made me think there was some divine intervention at work with our film. When that kept happening, I made a conscious choice to learn to trust again. I trusted in God and learned to trust the people that showed up to move my film forward. I learned to push through my fears, knowing that I have this amazing team, my mom, and my wonderful new family — all rooting for me to share my story.

There were so many people who appeared and who gave their all to make my story into a film. I wish I could thank them all here. In particular, Doug Blush became our supervising editor, and suggested we use my dad’s audio tapes in the film. That was a game changer. Doug, who after making over 150 plus films, still has this amazing passion for telling impactful stories and I’m blessed to call him my mentor. He also introduced me to the folks at Skywalker Sound and they opened up a whole new world of sound for me. They’re an incredible company and I have a brand-new respect for the process now.

And our composer, Shie Rozow, was one of those miracles who appeared at the last hour — at the right time — from a referral from film producer Katherine LeBlond, who is a powerhouse of knowledge and support. I am now blessed to call Shie my friend. His music, his work ethic, his knowledge, and excellence propelled my film to a whole new level. There are so many things to say, but Shies’ ultimate capture of my family’s essence was our decision to use my grandmother’s music, which she had composed for my mom while missing her during my parents’ honeymoon in Europe. With my mother’s permission, Shie not only incorporated it into the movie, but it became the leitmotif — the subtheme — to honor my mom throughout the film.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We were in the South of France filming, and I found the place in Antibes where my dad would look over at the ships passing by as they left the harbor in Nice. When we arrived at the overlook, I saw through the car’s window a large patch of various sized, beautiful cactus. I forgot all about putting on the lav (microphone) and raced out without my cinematographer or his equipment or our sound mixer and I started laughing so hard and making a silly little dance realizing that this is why my dad loved Sedona — the view and its cactus! I saw him in my mind’s eye growing up here, often coming up the hill on his bicycle from Juan les Pins, wearing his cowboy hat, to see the ships passing by and smiled.

None of this was filmed because I forgot all about making a documentary and became my little girl self, seeing life through my dad’s eyes. Although that experience didn’t end up being shared in the film, it became ‘okay’ because the epiphany I had is now firmly nestled in my heart. The big lesson I learned, of course, is to have my lav on before getting to our destination. And also, to wait for everyone to get ready before dashing out of the car. When you look at our film, know that our cinematographer handled two cameras, did the digital transfers at night, had immense patience with me as a bumpily budding director and, more importantly, taught me to see things, angles, and color through his eyes. I really am blessed. Thank you Eduardo Rivas Servello for being a true genius with the camera.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Having my mom and my new sisters, Liliane, and Monique, in my life was crucial to helping me find my heart. But it’s my life coach, Karen Van Cleve, who really helped me find my way. Without her, I wouldn’t have achieved success, nor would I have found my way to myself. I still work with her now and she’s an integral part of my support system.

I remember when I first started my coaching with Karen — I can’t remember if I was 49 or 50 — but I was so numb emotionally. Years of living with unresolved pain and a newly found discovery that felt like a lie at first, made it challenging to find my balance. She first started working with me by asking me where I would feel emotions in my body. That was very hard because I lived in my head. It was what I thought was the safe thing to do at the time, but feeling, it turns out, is healthy and one day my body, mind and soul started coming together. That’s the day I became open to collaboration and the day I decided I can trust myself and let people in again.

Finally, I was blessed with a great education and was able to put money aside for retirement. This helped me fund my film and, with the financial autonomy, I was able to make my own decisions.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Define what is success because failure can be one of the best teaching tools ever. If at all possible, don’t do as I did and jump in blind. Although in hindsight it’s really the only way I would have agreed to make this film — if I had known what it would take, I wouldn’t have made it. It would have been too daunting. I would say, take it in pieces. Have your eagle eye view and then break it down to manageable sections and keep with your vision. Make your decisions during the hard times, using your mission and vision statement and your values as your leading compass. This method helps avoid getting sidetracked.

I remember when I was in dental school and all of a sudden I knew I wanted to be a movie director. This idea of doing what my dad loved, using what my mom taught me about organization, then creating something worthwhile through empowering stories helped me appreciate dentistry and gave me hope for my dreams of bringing people together. Dentistry helped me learn to build systems, to help people and be attentive to details. It helped me realize that the mouth, our teeth, are only part of the whole and that we are more than our parts. It’s the same with film I believe. Pre-production, production, post-production, the crew, graphic artists, musicians, composers, editors, everything, and everyone coming together — that is the alchemy for our vision. From thought to art. All the pieces come together by “putting your teeth into it” as the saying goes, and chewing it, digesting it, and letting it feed your soul with the health of those individual nutrients. Magic happens when you feel the happiness that results from your vision.

What drives you to get up every day and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?

Although I’m still working as a dental consultant, I’m also working to grow my film business which is also a research and development company, We Unite As One. Learning drives me. I like learning. Learning is not always learning knowledge. Learning is also taking my inner fears, expectations, and hesitations and working on them so I can transform them into inner peace. It’s a process, that’s for sure. Just like making a film. Learning is my spark and it’s my hope. That’s what drives me to wake up every day.

I’m learning more about the industry every day. I’m still a newbie, essentially, but I am learning to self-distribute my film, which is not historically the conventional way, but is becoming more mainstream. I want to see more diversity, especially with age. I love youth; the energy and vitality that comes with it is wonderful, but I also want to see the range between youth and elders, like we would see trees in a forest. The forest is not segregated with only old trees or baby trees. It’s a community of trees, living, communicating, connected with roots intertwined, breathing, and each one has a story to tell.

You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?

I’m looking forward to doing more film work. Right now, it’s about learning new ways to advertise and market my completed film while growing my company. Originally, I just thought about making my film and, naively, didn’t think far enough down the road to realize that I had to let people know about it. What’s that saying by President Roosevelt, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor?” I can honestly say that I can handle challenges now much more smoothly and easily and I’m proud of the experience I have gained.

I am working on finishing my Tante Vicky’s WWII journals so I can share her life with the world. She’s the one who embodies the saying in my film, “Family is who you love and who loves you.” I’ve started on the sequel to The Last of the Winthrops. I’m at the early stages of writing the book that goes with these films. I’m also dreaming of helping my company, We Unite As One, blossom and unite people through kindness, love, respect, and sharing empowering stories.

We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?

The trees have green leaves, the clouds are white, the sky is blue, the night is black, the stars sparkle, the earth is brown (actually it’s red where I live in Sedona!). The beauty within the color of life is my joy. The color of life is what makes the world go round for me. There are shades of color in the people in my life, each with their own path, their own experiences and with their own perspectives. That is the beauty of people as multidimensional beings. Without the gift of varying colors, life would offer little growth and beauty, in my opinion. I want to see people of all colors, nationalities, experiences, disabilities, strengths, and weaknesses, spiritualities, so I am enriched with their perspectives on life. I grew up reading books and the people within those books became my teachers. Film and television, art and various media also enrich my life. Diversity leads me to empathy. I realize it was and always will be my choice to see our unity in our diversity.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

Budget, budget, budget. Seems obvious, but I didn’t do it well, as I really didn’t know what was coming around the bend for the next phase of filmmaking. I know now. Most people won’t have this issue because they will know better than me. Budget for pre-production, production, postproduction, distribution, and, most importantly, marketing, advertising, public relations, film festivals and travel, when sharing your film with others. I was so focused on completing my film that I had little left for letting people know about it.

Prepare for the small things and account for them within each category. There’s a reason they say the devil is in the details. There will be a lot of logistics such as shipping details, scheduling, little details of all kinds, so I wish someone would have told me early on how important it is to keep track of it all. I suggest getting really familiar with an Excel spreadsheet. Having responsibility for the little details is a job in and of itself.

Don’t apply to film festivals too early, wait until your film is finished or really close to being finished before sending it in. I applied too early to the festivals. The film wasn’t locked when I sent it in, so there’s really a timing and rhythm that comes to deciding when to apply.

Give yourself some breathing room when getting ready to lock your film. This one I was told about a lot, but it really didn’t get into my consciousness because I wanted to perfect this or that under the pressure of time. It drove my composer to have to go into hyperdrive. I can assure you that he won’t let me get away with that for my next film because I know better now. Even though they were the right changes to make, looking back, I should have canceled the appointments with sound and color and waited until we had a final lock. Be satisfied with the way it is before moving forward. Making changes after the fact is expensive. There comes a point where you have to let your film leave the nest, so to speak.

Storyboarding. I didn’t know I had to storyboard my documentary film. My life was happening now, so we just jumped into filmmaking. Storyboarding, in hindsight, is the way to go. Storyboarding is not only for narrative film, but for any worthwhile endeavor in our lives. Know where you’re going even if there are unknowns that come along during the journey in documentary filmmaking. I am now starting to storyboard the sequel for my film.

Can you share with our readers any selfcare routines, practices, or treatments that you do to help your body, mind, or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.

Communication and connection are part of who I am and what I need to feel whole. Communication and connection with my source whom I call God, with my family and friends and with my other half are what keeps me grounded and happy. I’m still working on communication, connection, and nurturing for myself. That’s something I look forward to getting a better handle on. I dream that one day I will learn to meditate, hike, cook and work out regularly.

What works best for me so far is setting my alarm clock to remind me to do tasks and self-care during the day. When that doesn’t work, I set priorities and work on getting to those first. When that doesn’t work, I take a nap or pray. And when that doesn’t work then I remember that tomorrow is a new day.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Mom, who came from staunch and hard-working French Canadian stock, would always say, “Roll up your sleeves and get to work because there is no more Winthrop money.” She would also say, “Make it work. Find a way to make things better because that is the way to success.” And she would always say, “Put it in your computer in your head and believe it.” She was right. I wish she was still here. I miss her.

You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Choose empathy and see and find unity in our diversity. Understanding my mom as to what drove her to keep her silence regarding my origins was one of the greatest lessons I could learn. Understanding helped me respect her choice even though I neither liked it nor agreed with it. The day I learned to see her pain, and not only mine, was the day I started to grow up, mind you I was 49 at the time. Learning this particular lesson was hard but I wanted to connect with her. I started my journey to inner peace that day by using understanding to build my bridge and connection to my mom so I could first see and then find unity in our diversity.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Oprah Winfrey. I learned so much from her. She shaped and inspired me growing up and still does. I would love for her to see my film and give me advice and feedback. That would be a dream come true. I would use her advice for my sequel.

Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?

www.thelastofthewinthrops.com

We’re also on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

https://www.instagram.com/thelastofthewinthrops/

https://www.facebook.com/thelastofthewinthrops

Twitter: @winthropsmovie

Thank you so much!

This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

--

--

Elana Cohen
Authority Magazine

Elana Cohen is a freelance writer based in Chicago. She covers entertainment and music