How Rejection Can Inspire Great Movements: The Story Of MAKERS

Dyllan McGee wanted to make a documentary about Gloria Steinem. Steinem said no. That rejection launched “MAKERS,” a comprehensive video project documenting the entire women’s movement.

Veteran documentary producer Dyllan McGee has worked on more than a dozen films for PBS and HBO, but MAKERS is unlike anything she’s ever created. In fact, the project is the first of its kind–and the entire idea was born out of rejection.


McGee wanted to make a film about the life of 1960s radical journalist and feminist icon Gloria Steinem. “Gloria very quickly said you can’t tell the story of the women’s movement through one person–which I took as a no,” McGee, founder and executive producer of MAKERS, told Fast Company, “So we went back to the drawing board.”

What came out of that first roadblock flipped the script on the typical filmmaking process. MAKERS evolved into a “digital first” online platform for archiving dozens of interviews with feminist trailblazers, an approach that the Washington Post called a “sweeping documentary covering 50 years of feminism, pro and con, from the days when highly educated women were expected to live happily ever after as wives and mothers.” Interview subjects include well-known women leaders like Condoleezza Rice, Sheryl Sandberg and Ruth Bader Ginsburg alongside lesser-known women with powerful stories like Brenda Berkman, one of the first female NYC firefighters, and Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston marathon.

Viewers can create an online account and build their own playlist from the archive, customized by personal interest. A more traditional documentary, Makers: Women Who Make America, was also cut from the interviews and aired on PBS. The three-part series is available for viewing on the Makers website.

“We have a living library of women’s stories that aims to be not only the largest, but the most dynamic collection of women’s stories ever assembled,” says McGee. “That was the best no I ever heard.”

Bottom Line: Rejection can enhance your vision.

[Video Producer: Shalini Sharma, Camera/Editor: Tony Ditata]


About the author

Colin Weatherby is a writer, videographer, and current Leadership intern at Fast Company. If he's not strapped to a computer, he's usually on top of a mountain.