UCLA Spotlight


Becky Smith, Filmmaker

  • By Judy Lin Eftekhar, Reed Hutchinson
  • Published Jan 1, 2003 8:00 AM

During six intense months spent with four couples in love, independent filmmaker Becky Smith nearly lost track of a defining fact: All of the couples were gay and lesbian.

So, apparently, did many viewers of "Gay Weddings," some 2,000 hours of film distilled into eight 30-minute episodes which aired as a series on the Bravo network.

"A lot of heterosexual people have told me that they actually felt tremendous sympathy for and interest in all of the people," said Smith, an adjunct professor of Film, Television and Digital Media. "It wasn't just, 'Oh, isn't that odd?' "

"Gay Weddings" captured the full range of human experience around the subject of marriage, from some families disowning adult children they disapproved of to others proudly walking their offspring down the aisle. The programs scored the highest viewer ratings ever for a Bravo program, Smith said. The series, originally broadcast in September, 2002, will be rebroadcast January 26 on Bravo.

Director and/or producer of more than 40 films and videos, Smith hails from a part of the world where a gay wedding would indeed be considered unusual. She was raised in Lake Okoboji, Iowa, a town of 350 that didn't even have a movie theater. Smith nevertheless developed passionate interests in reading, writing, drama and photography.

"The idea that I could be a film director, that was beyond imagining," she said. "I don't think I could have even then described or pictured what that would be like. It just was very exotic to me."

The first in her family to graduate from college, Smith went on to apply for film school. She was accepted by and given a full scholarship for Stanford's documentary graduate program. "I got into my Volkswagen bug and drove to California. It was 1978 and was just pretty amazing. I loved California instantly."

After receiving her M.A., she wrote plays and screenplays, directed theatrical productions, produced films and commercials and then grabbed her camera and spent her own money to produce a film that would end up launching her work in documentaries. "In the Game" followed Stanford's women's basketball team during a year when the team ended up grabbing the national championship. Aired on "Frontline," the film was named one of the 20 best documentaries worldwide in 1994 and is used to this day as a teaching and inspirational tool in athletic departments all over the country.

"The film was so successful because basketball was a metaphor," Smith said. "It was really about women's rights, about equality in sports."

In 1991, Smith moved to Los Angeles with her partner, Craig Manning, who had accepted a faculty position in the Department of Earth and Space Sciences, where he continues to teach. She joined the film school faculty in 1994 and now chairs the undergraduate program.

Recently, Smith was one of six women selected to shoot a film in the American Film Institute's Directing Workshop for Women, for which she produced the short, "Death by Vertigo." Last year she did a 20-part series for the Disney Channel, "Bug Juice," about adolescent girls in a wilderness program.

And while Smith would love to work on a feature film, her interest in documentaries thrives. Currently, she is editing footage for a documentary about several famous ballet dancers at the end of their short-lived careers.

Working in documentary is very satisfying, she said, because "You're in the middle of the drama. It's such a gift for people to let you into their lives."

Becky Smith directed the TV series "Queer Eye for a Straight Guy" in 2003, and wrote and directed "Surprise!" in 2006. - (Updated 1/07)