Film Producing: Women in Film

In 2014, Cate Blanchett accepted her Best Actress Academy Award for Blue Jasmine. In her speech, she said:

“…and perhaps those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences–they are not. Audiences want to see them. And in fact, they earn money.”

The next year, Patricia Arquette said something very similar in her acceptance speech for Boyhood that had Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez famously shouting, “Yes!” in memes everywhere.

“To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

meryl streep

A great publicity plug for Streep’s upcoming Suffragette, but also an inspiring image for the #womeninfilm movement.

What is interesting to me also is that both Blanchett and Arquette chose their Oscar moment to shine a light on women equality. They are standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people in the industry, and their image is being broadcast to millions across the world. And still, there is a disconnect with how women are treated in film.

However, there are several individuals who are trying to “make up for lost time.” They are hiring more and more women and shining lights on #womeninfilm or #womenintheworkplace. With this is becoming the 2015 buzz word, are people taking it too far and taking advantage still?

* * * * *

I was in a production meeting recently with a director, who in so many words, told me he brought me in because I was a woman. At first, I thought this was a little unnerving. But as I thought about it and listened to his reasonings, I realized he wanted the benefit of being able to say he was championing women filmmakers to get out there and he could then qualify for certain grants.

I told this story to a close friend of mine, Lena from Losing Wicked, and she immediately sent over Lean In: Women, Work at the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO for Facebook. The book is very focused on working moms, which I am not, nor plan to be. But she also talks about women needing to take a stand and “lean in” to the conference table rather than sitting back and letting the information wash over them.we can do it

I’ll admit, I have trouble speaking up. I did not stand up for myself against that director. Instead, I nodded politely. But after several more different projects, I am still getting the same treatment, which makes me think that the #womeninfilm angle is doing some harm with its good. “I’m so glad you’re a part of this project because you can give us the woman angle.” “Now that we have a woman on the crew, we can appeal to a female crowd.”

When being “interviewed” or considered for a project, I would hope that my resume and talent speak for me rather than my gender. In Sandberg’s book, she talks about a Howard/Heidi experiment. Two professors wrote descriptions for two candidates for a job. Both descriptions were exactly the same except one was named Howard, and the other, Heidi. The class determined that Howard was more qualified and more likable. Sandberg’s conclusion was “when a man is successful, he is well liked. When a woman does well, people like her less.”

But now the table is being turned and people are hiring Heidi because she’s a woman. They now look like they are catering to the #women movement instead of doing the right thing: hiring based on qualifications and fit.

Interestingly, Morgan Freeman was interviewed several years ago about Black History Month. What he says is exactly what I feel the #women movement is facing today.

The making up for lost time or over-compensation with women being hired for being women, needs to stop. It should not be male versus female. Take away the names of Howard and Heidi, and who is best positioned for the job? It should be as basic as that.

A few weeks ago, I posted about leaving your ego at the door. In that post, I spoke about a meeting where a fellow producer was effectively talking himself up to me. He showed me articles that were written about him and talked about how remarkable it is to be so young and so successful. The meeting ended by him saying, “Maybe in three years, you’ll have as many credits as me.” That statement still resonates and prickles my skin. The irony, of course, is that producer has demoted himself in the project by only providing talk and no action.

The [man] doth talk too much.

On the other hand, several months ago, I produced It’s Not Custarda short film about a young girl who is bullied for her acne. I look back on that experience and realize that we had an amazing crew. All of the heads of department roles were filled by women, and we had a mix of men on set who were experts in their area.

Not once was there any animosity or cutting comments. They trusted us, and we trusted them.sundance

I think it’s great that #womeninfilm is getting the attention that it deserves after so many years of being sexually objectified, under-valued, and cast aside. But I do hope that the pendulum isn’t swinging too far the other way.

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