A few weeks ago, we were fortunate to have a conversation with Shellie Schmals. Originally from Buffalo, New York, Shellie relocated to Atlanta in 1998 and has worked in the Atlanta Film and TV Industry for fifteen years. Shellie started by working in the improv, and comedy community. Then, as an active producer and host of Burlesque and Variety shows, and in 2013 moved into the film world. Like many of our Movers and Shakers, Shellie wears many hats within Atlanta’s Film and TV Community. She has worked for the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, where she oversaw a community of about 200 volunteers that made up a selection committee for films. Currently, Shellie serves as Vice President of Programming for Women in Film and Television Atlanta, The Membership Chair for The Georgia Production Partnership, and a Board Member for Film Festival Alliance, an organization globally for all the different film festivals. This past June, Shellie became The Director of Community for Stage 32, the world’s largest platform for networking and education for the entertainment industry.
"It is a joy to see a positive base in the social and professional realm for entertainment professionals coming together to share resources, collaborate on projects, learn new skills, and have a direct connection to the decision-makers in the entertainment industry. Our three pillars at Stage 32 are our community, education, and our marketplace."
Lastly, Shellie is the Creative Director at the Spring Cinema and Taphouse, where she hosts film events, and infuses art and creativity into an independent arthouse.
Shellie’s journey began when she was four years old and wanted to be an actress, rockstar, model, and fashion designer.
I always sang tv theme songs and annoyed the bejesus out of everybody! I wasn’t encouraged by my parents, especially my mom because she valued education and would say, ``once you get your degrees, you can do what you want.” Which is what I did essentially.
In high school, Shellie became involved with BBYO (B’nai B’rith Youth Organization), which is a leadership and social action organization for teens, and where she had the opportunity to be a public speaker. She also learned how to plan events and learned the basic skills that would take her to where she is today.
Once I got to college, I wanted to be a lawyer but decided that was not my path. But, as someone involved a lot in my college, sorority, student government president, and every different committee I could be on was when I decided to get my Master's degree in College Student Personnel.
In 1998, Shellie moved to Atlanta, and worked with the youth group she worked with in high school, and worked ten years in the social nonprofit sector. She worked for Jewish non-profits such as The Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta and The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.
In 2007, I began taking improv classes at Relapse Theater. At the time, I had a disastrous boss at one of my jobs. Once I became freed of that toxic environment, I was able to find more of the Atlanta Creative Community, and was when I learned how to book shows and produce. While at Relapse, I was able to work on short films, meet visual artists and produce live events. Stepping on stage in an area like Relapse brought me to finding what I love, which was combining entertainment and philanthropy, as well as connecting and bringing people together. At Stage 32, my job is to connect a global community, produce immersive events, and bring people together under different themes and topics.
Atlanta Film and TV: Growing up, did your parents recognize your love of the arts? And, if so, how did they nourish your gift to facilitate growth?
Shellie Schmals: My parents recognized my love of the arts, and there was no way they couldn’t not have, because when I was younger, I’d tell people I would be the next Annie on Broadway! I daydreamed about attending The School of the Arts in New York and convinced myself I would be a part of FAME! My parents were supportive but wanted me to have the security of an education, be able to take care of myself, and have the life skills to be financially sufficient. Now that I have my education, my parents always ask about my shows. My mother specifically, was supportive of me doing improv and pinup. But, when I told her I was doing Burlesque shows she told me ‘it makes sense, because when I was younger she couldn’t get me to stop wearing my Mary Jane shoes to sleep!’
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you share with us about the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival?
Shellie Schmals: The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival is one of the largest Jewish Film Festivals in the world and has been around for over twenty years. My time there was amazing! While there, I had the opportunity to work with a community of volunteers that made up our selection committee for films, which was a cross-section of the community. Annually, I worked with about 200 volunteers. I’m most proud of the opportunity to work with filmmakers and seeing them through the submission process to be screened, and then getting distribution. I still have a lot of love for AJFF, and I know they are working on programs for 2023. I still stay in touch with a couple of the distributors and filmmakers I have worked with and have connected with them through Stage 32.
Atlanta Film and TV: What exactly does your job consist of with Stage 32?
Shellie Schmals: My job at Stage 32 consists of adding structure to the one-million person community. At Stage 32, our hope is to connect with every member who posts in our lounges. It is also a place where members can create a digital legacy where they can list links to the projects they are working on and a seamless way members can embed an IMDB. Filmmakers can list loglines for people to search because at any given time, there are over 200 thousand people online looking through the lounges on our platform having professional conversations. I am also adding greeters who will welcome people, and we'll have lounge moderators, ensuring that conversations stay on point. Lastly I will work with thought leaders, bring in ambassadors, and eventually work on partnerships.
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you talk to us about what you do as the Vice President of Programming of WIFTA?
Shellie Schmals: As Vice President of Programming, I help elevate women in the film and television industry. We have panels with Cinema Life Collective, Dragon Con, and The Dekalb Entertainment Commission. In September, our membership meetings will return, and we’ll host programs catering to our members' wants. We have a short film showcase at the end of August, where we’ll have panel discussions, mixers. We’ll read two-different screenplays and a short film showcase of about 90-minutes of programming curated by our WIFTA board.
If you’re looking to join WIFTA, the easiest way is to go to wifta.org
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you talk to us about what you do with the Georgia Production Partnership.
Shellie Schmals: My role as Membership Chair is to get people excited about becoming members of GPP. Some of the education exists to keep our tax credits alive. We employ lobbyists who are constantly in touch with our government officials, ensuring that we have the best representation possible and people voting in our favor. We also exist to educate and have networking opportunities. But, the importance of keeping our lobbying going is why GPP exists. GPP spans anywhere from behind to in front of the camera. From crafty to accounting, to venues and studios, and post-production.
Full interview below.
Atlanta Film and TV: How did you get involved with the nonprofit sector, and what would be a piece of advice for someone wanting to get into the nonprofit sector?
Shellie Schmals: My love of people is what brought me to the nonprofit sector. It’s always a trait I’ve had. I’m very empathetic, I love working with people, and I’m energized by being a part of a group. Working for a non profit and volunteering kind of go hand-in-hand. If you want to work for a non profit and don't have experience, the best way to get experience is to volunteer. I would suggest knowing what path you want to take, and what your end goal is. Write a list of what you’re good at. Write your skills and what you enjoy. From there, find whatever those nuggets are and look for a non profit that speaks to that for you.
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you share with us about the variety and art shows you produce with the Roxie Roz Burlesque collective?
Shellie Schmals: We retired Roxie Roz in December 2021. But, I am still active in the burlesque and dance community. I also produce an annual show, Middle-Age Cabaret, Older, and Bolder Burlesque.
I got into burlesque because it hit all the points I love. It hit the esthetic because I love dressing up, glitter, makeup, getting my hair done, and costuming! I started as an MC and was able to use my improv training, and when I started, there weren’t many female MCs. Now, our Atlanta community has many burlesque MCs of all genders. Our burlesque community as a whole is creative. We have everything from classical burlesque to circus arts burlesque, nerdlesque, and karaoke-burlesque. My co-producer for Roxie Roz is a part of Wussy Magazine, and they have a drag burlesque show once a quarter at City Winery. What’s beautiful about the burlesque community is that it’s all-encompassing and brings people together from all different body sizes. It’s for people who love the arts. It’s inclusive and diverse. Our producers are specifically elevating our performers of diversity in shows. There are all black, indigenous, and queer shows. I am happy to be a part of an artist community that is loving, creative, and not judgemental.
Atlanta Film and TV: If I could travel back in time and speak to 18 year old Shellie, and tell her about all the wonderful things she would become, what would you least likely believe to be true?
Shellie Schmals: Eighteen-year-old Shellie was a Freshman in college who was going to be a lawyer. I don’t think I would see myself on stage in the way I am. I could see myself joining everything. But, I don’t believe eighteen-year-old Shellie would’ve been able to see almost forty-eight-year-old Shellie on stage, in burlesque shows, either as a performer or as an MC. My family lives in Buffalo, New York, so eighteen-year-old Shellie would’ve been surprised to have known I would move to Atlanta. I do, however, think eighteen-year-old me and forty-eight-year-old me would get along!
Atlanta Film and TV: What would be a piece of advice you would have for someone graduating from high school, wanting to pursue a career in the arts?
Shellie Schmals: Pursue everything. If something interests you, go for it! Do not allow imposter syndrome or anyone talk you out of doing something you enjoy. Just try as much as possible, and if you find something you love, stick with it! If you don't like something, you don't have to do it. It's okay to start something and not want to do it. But you have the stick-to-itiveness to find something you like and explore. Be available and say ‘yes’ to new opportunities and what you may not see yourself doing, but stretch yourself. Be creative as you want to.
Atlanta Film and TV: Do you have any final words, or GEMS you would like to share?
Shellie Schmals: There's a bracelet I wear every day that says, ‘to be great is to be misunderstood.’ This quote spoke to me because I don’t need anyone to understand me to be the individual I am, and to be great. The second GEM is an old-school quote I always think about from Vanilla Ice in his song Ice Ice Baby. There’s one line where he says, ‘anything less than the best is a felony.’ This quote is true because in life, your career, love, and the arts, if its not the best for you, then its not for you!
Atlanta Film and TV: How can people connect with you?
Shellie Schmals: The easiest way to connect with me is on Instagram. You can find me @vonschmals But, you can also find me on Twitter @ShellieSchmals, on Facebook at Shellie Schmals. Anybody who wants to collab, or work with me on anything, you can find me at email@example.com