Nicole Wensel is an award-winning actor, writer and director with a B.A. in Film Production from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. She owns and operates the production company, Conscious Cinema Co., which focuses on social impact filmmaking. Conscious Cinema Co. produces feature films in both the narrative and documentary format as well as video content for ethical brands in the conscious capitalism space. Her first feature film, Quarter Life Coach, received accolades at the Awareness festival and is currently available on VOD. Nicole is an active member of Film Fatales + The Director List and is an outspoken advocate for women’s empowerment in the film industry. She has been featured in publications such as Tribeca Shortlist, Agnès Films, Film Courage, GirlTalkHQ, Feminist Wednesday, Katy Magazine and many more. Nicole is currently producing her second narrative feature about healing from childhood trauma as well as a feature doc about “bringing mindfulness to the streets.”
What do I do best?
Daydream…highly underrated skill!
Truly, as an artist and social entrepreneur, the ability to tap into my intuition and access that inner space of inspiration is what allows me to develop new film concepts, visualize projects, innovate methods of business development and access creative solutions to challenges.
I also (like to think) I’m a pretty good listener. This is something I still work on every day: to do my best to really hear people out with compassion and try to understand the world from a different perspective, without making any assumptions. I think that’s what so many people need––to really be seen and heard. I always try my best to provide space for that.
What makes me the best version of myself?
Practicing extreme self-care. Respecting my standards. Making sure I’m having enough fun. Uplifting + encouraging others. Saying no to things, people, concepts and situations that insult my soul. Standing up against injustice. Honoring my emotional well-being. Surrounding myself with good people who nurture my passions and dreams and help me feel confident in shining my brightest. Authenticity + appreciation.
What are my aspirations?
Oh, just trying to heal our patriarchal film industry and society and make great art and also have a personal life. Nothing too major ;)!
Jokes aside, I’m excited to grow my production company by expanding my project slate, continuing to cultivate relationships with investors and clients in the social impact space, and building an inclusive roster of directors to pass off certain projects to. In addition, I’ll soon be launching a line of ethically sourced + manufactured t-shirts supporting Conscious Cinema Co. and promoting positive messages. I’m bursting at the seams with other ideas about how to positively transform the industry through mindful filmmaking, which you can learn more about here: http://consciouscinemaco.com/.
Since encountering the obstacles of sexism/sexual harassment/toxicity in the mainstream industry early in my career, I’ve been predominately focused on independent film work. Now that there is more attention on creating positive shifts for women in film, it feels like the winds of change are finally starting to blow and I’m opening myself up again to the possibilities of more work opportunities within the industry, both as an actor and director. Actors, in particular, are in one of the most vulnerable positions on set and I’ve been steadily working through inner blocks to feel safe again being in that position when I’m not also the director and/or producer.
In my personal life, I’m focused on trying to have as much fun as possible. Sometimes when I really take in all of the suffering on this planet and am reminded of just how terribly oppressed women still are, it can be overwhelming and feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders. It’s really important for me to balance that out with activities and people that bring me joy + fill me up.
My Biggest Success?
Honestly, it’s been the internal transformation of discovering that despite some of the messaging in our society, external accomplishments don’t define you. My biggest accomplishment has been realizing and fully owning my wholeness outside of all the shiny objects “out there.”
Also, every time I let something go and conquer my fear of the unknown, I feel pretty successful. It’s one of the hardest things to do––to leave behind an unfulfilling relationship or job and trust that what you truly desire is on the other side of your fear. It’s terrifying. So much so, that most people don’t do it and stay in that comfort zone indefinitely. Anytime I jump over that line, it’s a HUGE success in my book, come what may.
My Most Challenging Moment?
My most challenging moments have been the many moments of being sexually harassed in the film industry when I was starting my career. On the first film set I worked on, I was told by a director, “you’d be a great girl to kill in a horror movie,” after he sexually harassed me (before he screamed at me…and then sexually harassed me again). It only got worse from there. This type of behavior happened on every set I worked on professionally (which were all run by and predominately populated by men). I just kept working and trying my best to brush it all off, until it culminated in an instance of quid pro quo harassment with a Weinstein-level producer. I felt so powerless in that moment and didn’t know where to turn. I even called the ACLU! They told me I had 100 days to file a lawsuit. Having just lost my main source of income, with no solid physical evidence of the incident and having been severely threatened by the guy who harassed me, that didn't feel like an option at the time.
So instead, I decided to make my own well-being my #1 priority and took a step back from the industry. I moved to New York and started working for all women at a fair-trade fashion start-up, focused on economically empowering female artisans in places like Nepal and Indonesia, which helped to soothe and heal my soul. I also became a professional modern dancer/choreographer and worked at a theatre space that helped me re-connect to my bleeding artist heart.
I soon learned, you can’t run from your deepest passion forever, and my love of filmmaking kept tugging at my sleeve. I decided to move back to LA to create the change I wanted to see in the industry, both in terms of healing the toxic culture that lends itself to sexual harassment, as well as by producing films that are mindful in terms of subject matter, imagery and influence. I’ve been steadily building Conscious Cinema Co. over the past several years and am continuing to make strides toward affecting this change, alongside so many other amazing souls.
I feel it is also important to mention, that unfortunately, the trauma from sexual harassment and assault often still affects you years later. For me, it gets triggered in meetings for gigs when someone asks about certain life decisions or reasons I left projects. This happened in a recent meeting with a studio executive for a directing opportunity. I wasn’t really nervous about the meeting, but when I was asked about that time in my life, I instantly felt my throat tighten up and my hands start to shake. This is what happens when I try to talk about it in public, which I do try to do because I feel it is important for me to continue to give voice to what has been happening to women in the industry and for the “Me Too” movement to not be a passing concern in the news cycle. These systemic issues take TIME to change. Even as the owner of my own production company and with all of the coverage that the issue of sexual harassment is getting in the main stream media, I recently had a male client make a comment that, to me, felt inappropriate. I’m not sure I would call it “criminal,” but it was the reason I chose to not continue to work with him. This is the unique challenge that women face that often just goes by the wayside. The little bits of income lost due to these inappropriate situations add up to this massive economic disparity between men and women that we see across the film industry (and our world, really). We need to keep talking about it and fighting for real, lasting change so that women can finally stop being oppressed. I’m dedicating my lifetime to the hope that this is possible.
“Find what feels good” (courtesy of Adriene Mishler) and “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.”
My Favorite People/Role Models?
In an industry where only 4% of top grossing films are directed by women (i.e. 96% are directed by men), I would love to take this opportunity to give a shout out to ALL of the women directors who are simultaneously leading by example in their own careers by doing amazing creative work, while pro-actively fighting as activists to create real, lasting change for all women on a daily basis. I deeply admire you all, appreciate everything you do and am incredibly inspired by you and your work to keep going! You can find them here: dga.org/Employers/EmployersSearch.aspx, here: filmfatales.org, here: thedirectorlist.com/database/ and here: allianceofwomendirectors.org/awd-members.
I also want to give a shout out to all of the men who are supporting this transformation as well. Can we talk for a second about David Schwimmer? He’s done AMAZING work to support women who deal with sexual attack through his “That’s Harassment” web series as well as by directing a film called “Trust” about the horror of a teen girl who is targeted by an online predator, raising awareness for this issue. This is what media for change looks like. So inspiring. We need more men to stand up for women this boldly, not just with words, but through powerful ACTIONS as well.
My Favorite Places/Destinations?
Traveling is fun, and I’m Queen of taking advantage of “me time,” but I’m actually not much of a solo traveler. I remember the first time I saw Stonehenge, I felt like I should feel something more than what I did; but to be honest, it didn’t really do it for me. That’s when I realized that some people get a lot more out of sightseeing than I do. What I really value when I’m traveling is connection + shared moments with family + friends. It doesn’t really matter where that is, we have fun wherever we go ;)!
I’ve lived a few different places in the world now (Texas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, London)…that’s my favorite way to experience a place––to live there and really soak it all in. I love exploring hidden pockets of a city and the secret spots that most people don’t know about. LA is full of them!
When I need to get out of the city, I usually head to Big Sur to see my mom, who lives in the area and works as a photographer and artist. That’s another good place to discover hidden treasures. If I had to choose my favorite place in the whole wide world, it’d be China Cove. It’s stunning.
My Favorite Products/Objects?
I’m in love with this new movement of “Conscious Capitalism”––for-profit businesses that are bettering the world. These are the types of businesses I absolutely LOVE collaborating with.
I recently got a killer swag bag after partnering Conscious Cinema Co. with The Heart Series, a conference that brought together brands in the social impact space, so my home is full of socially conscious products right now.
My Current Passions?
Right now, I’m producing my second narrative feature film about healing from childhood trauma (Suburban Blues, City Lights), as well as a documentary feature about “bringing mindfulness to the streets” by using yoga/meditation as tools to empower youth and cultivate peace between the crips and bloods in South Central LA (Elevated Minds).
Day in, day out, I’m also doing my best, alongside many others, to fight the good fight to create positive change for women in our world in whatever ways I can…we have SO FAR TO GO, but we are on the train and ladies and gentleman, it has LEFT THE STATION.