You Don’t Have to Work in Production: New Women Entrants in TV and Film

Recently, I responded to a call-out on a professional film & television Facebook group for women in production who would be willing to speak to some 3rd year BA students at LIPA. It was the second time I’d seen the request, and I remembered (finally) to offer my services. And I am so glad I did.

It’s not just because I got to spend an afternoon away from my laptop and desk (isn’t it funny how a one-hour drive can actually be a blessing when your to-do list is ten times longer than your shopping list?); it made me think more about the status of women in the industry from the viewpoint of a new entrant.

I had my first running job at eighteen, for a photographic catalogue shoot. Since then, I’ve bounced about feature films to live television, to television drama and back to feature films. All the way through, I would subconsciously make notes of little everyday sexism events, but I never really sat down to think about how it affected my career and the careers of my female colleagues.

So when I sat down to write up my presentation for these students, I wanted to focus on the beginnings. The first title header I could come up with was, ‘You don’t have to work in Production.’ Because when you scan down a crew list on a new job, there are invariably three places where women’s names appear the most:

Hair & Makeup.

Costume.

Production.

Armed with this thought, I went to check the statistics and, yes, sure enough, this is what Creative Skillset’s data said:

Skillset 2012 Employment Census

That’s a small selection of the departments surveyed by Creative Skillset in their 2012 Employment Census for the Creative Media industries, in total percentage of the Creative  Media industries workforce.

So, when I see these male-name-heavy crew lists, what I would like to see is this:

I would like to see new entrants and female graduates being educated on all the departments that are open to them. That means camera, lighting, grips, stunts, VFX, SFX, editing, casting, talent agency, sound recording. Everything. Being a woman does not discount you from working in any department in film and media.

As a graduate, I somehow left film school thinking that there were four aspirational careers paths, and that they were Producer, Director, Writer and DOP.

What I didn’t realise before I entered the industry was that there are so many roles I didn’t even know existed. I’m still encountering roles I never knew existed (the amount of times I’ve been asked to source someone and asked, ‘That’s a thing?’). I want to see women understanding the vast smorgasboard of roles available, and never once thinking, ‘that’s for dudes’.

I watched a great presentation by Katie Bird from the University of Pittsburgh at the Doing Women’s Film and Television History conference in 2016 which was about female Steadicam operators. I had never even thought about the fact that Steadicam rigs weren’t built for women’s physiques. Katie’s presentation looked in part at Jessica Lopez, Steadicam operator on Transparent, (among many, many other projects), who has become a veritable rockstar on Instagram, and I’m pretty sure it’s because a) she’s talented b) she kicks gendered assumptions in the bits. And I want to see more of that.

What struck me as interesting in the masterclass was that, although the students are studying management for multiple creative industries (theatre, film, music), they all seemed to be acutely aware of gender disparity and gendered stereotypes. That didn’t stop them, however, from intending to pursue precisely whichever path it was that they were interested in.

So perhaps when we are faced with new entrants who come to us for advice, mentorship or even a job, we need to ask them, ‘Why Production?’. Yes, some of us are Production die-hards, in love with the happy/sad feelings we experience when we’re in the office at 7am and still there at 10pm. Some people are made for it. I won’t say I don’t see women in these other departments, because I do, on occasion. More often lately in cameras, but sometimes in sparks, and increasingly in construction. But I never again want to see a woman in the production office because she didn’t know that there were other options.

A quick shout out to one of my favourite sites on this subject:  Shit People Say To Women Directors (& Other Women In Film). So much of this rings true and makes my blood boil, but it’s so nice to see that it’s not just you.

While you’re at it, please visit F-Rated, who were recently acknowledged by IMDb. In order to be classified F-rated, films must meet the following criteria:

1. be directed by a woman
2. be written by a woman
3. feature significant women on screen in their own right.

I have so much more to write on this topic, and on the inclusion of minority workers in this industry at a broader level, but I’ll save that for another day.

I want to hear your stories of women in male-dominated departments in film and television, so please leave a comment, tweet me or get in touch.

Happy Friday!

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