Through Sherene Strausberg

39 film festivals have accepted “Cool For You,” my debut feature, and it has won numerous accolades, most recently a Silver Anthem Award. I produced, directed, animated, scored, and sound mixed/edited the animated micro-short myself as a solo filmmaker without funding or a creative support team. I am proud of this achievement because it could only have happened for me under these exceptional circumstances, when a protracted, winding creative career as a woman in Hollywood, followed by a career shift, abruptly reached its apex due to an unanticipated global pandemic. Rewind 30 years to the time I made the decision to pursue a career as a cinema composer.

I made the decision to become a film composer in 1993 despite not having any female role models in the industry and having never witnessed a woman receive Best Score at the Oscars. (Rachel Portman didn’t become history’s first female Oscar winner for Best Score until 1997.) So, since I had no ties to the entertainment industry, I decided to pursue a career in education. I first studied classical music composition at Indiana University before earning a master’s in film scoring at North Carolina School of the Arts. In my cohort of students studying film composition, I was the only woman and the only unmarried person. My jealousy of my peers’ marital status outweighed my envy of their gender. Even though I wanted to get married, I wasn’t sure how I would do it while pursuing such a cutthroat, discriminatory profession. A strong marriage is a support structure as well as a partnership. Like my graduate school peers, I wish I had that support system during the early stages of my education and career because I frequently felt discouraged or let down while trying to break into Hollywood.

While I spent almost ten years composing music for movies, from shorts to features, narratives to documentaries, I was still pining for a committed relationship. It was difficult because I pursued a position as an independent composer without an agent or support, rather than one as a ghost writer or orchestrator. Even though it was my fantasy come true, I didn’t have a good work-life balance and worried that I would never find a partner or be able to have kids. So, six years into my work as a film composer, I met Todd, a wonderful man I could see myself marrying and raising a family with. Todd was the one who noticed my annoyances and recommended a different line of work.
I made the decision to return to education and enrolled in UCLA Extension’s evening graphic design courses. I had the freedom to study design at my own pace and to select the classes that most piqued my interest, like Flash animation, thanks to the program. Todd correctly anticipated that I could apply my technical and creative skills to graphic design as well after observing my experience in film scoring and sound engineering.

Our marriage, relocation from Los Angeles to New York City, and the delivery of our two children all happened around the time that I changed careers. As a working mother with a 9 to 5 graphic design position, I had work-life balance at last. But I soon understood that being a mom involves more than just the hours between 5 and 9. 24/7, it might be relentless.
So I made the decision to strike out on my own and found 87th Street Creative. Although all of my work involved graphic design, I gave it the general term “Creative” because I anticipated that it might evolve into something else. I was overjoyed that we were able to have a third kid thanks to our flexibility, work/life balance, and ownership of our own business. I was determined to continue pursuing my profession and my desire to be creative even after having three children.

I started studying 2D, 3D, and character rigging motion design and animation while marketing my graphic design company. My company evolved over a few years from a fledgling graphic design firm to a well-known motion design agency. Then, in March 2020, the epidemic abruptly put an end to everything. Clients stopped contacting us for projects, and there was no employment. The severity of the pandemic soon became clear, and I was horrified.

I abruptly found myself the instructor, the lunch lady, the school nurse, the gym teacher, and more during the pandemic instead of being a composer, designer, or animator. Fortunately, my husband’s work continued unabated, but it meant that I had to put my artistic endeavors on hold in order to care for our children while schools and daycares were closed. After years of careful planning, the delicate balance of working and raising a family collapsed, leaving no equilibrium. The early months of the pandemic were such a challenge with the long days. I quickly realized I wasn’t alone in this because the year after the pandemic saw the largest exodus of women from the workforce.

Then, a miraculous event took place. I was given a book by an acquaintance that he thought I would enjoy. Children were given an explanation of global warming in a video dubbed “Cool For You.” My own kids, who were then two, five, and eight years old, heard me read it. Everyone cherished it. The book does a fantastic job of demystifying global warming for very young readers without frightening them while also providing real, actionable ways to save the environment. Additionally, I wanted to see the drawings come to life with glowing fireflies, swaying trees, and more because they were so beautiful and rich.

The illustrations in this book moved me, at least in my mind, even though we were trapped in lockdown and had nowhere to go. I made the decision to make the novel into a movie. The rights were granted to me after I approached the author and illustrator. After 12-hour Google School days and a DIY Lego Camp with the kids, I started spending three to five hours every night after they went to bed animating the book. The outcomes exceeded my greatest expectations: a straightforward concept developed into a movie that was screened at film festivals to thousands of kids from around the globe and was nominated for a Motion Award, the top honor in the motion design sector.

A Hollywood job was challenging. Being a lady in Hollywood was even more difficult. Before I even tried, I gave up on being a working mother in Hollywood. Now that I’ve returned, I’m doing it on my own terms, with equilibrium and flexibility, and with three kids along for the ride.

Sherene Strausberg, an Emmy-nominated art director and the creator of 87th Street Creative, combines original illustrations, music, and sound effects to produce captivating animated videos for businesses and nonprofits. On March 26 at 3pm, her short feature “Cool For You” will be screened at the Garden State feature Festival. Additionally, it will screen in April at Yale’s Environmental Film Festival, Montana’s International Wildlife Film Festival, and Scotland’s Edinburgh Conservation Film Festival. Here are more details about Strausberg and her movie.