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!

2016 Pilot Season: The Numbers

PS_c1

The 2016 Pilot Season is a fascinating thing to watch. If you hop on over to Variety (www.variety.com) you can see, network by network, which new shows in drama, animation or comedy categories might grace your TV screens this year for the first time (and a couple look pretty binge-able). But the most interesting thing for me and for what I’m researching for my PhD is that you can see the names of the writers, executive producers and, sometimes, directors, of all the new shows. And I’m here to tell you, the numbers are pretty dire.

At the time of writing, there are sixty new TV shows up on the TV Pilot Season Development Scorecard (see? It IS a viewing sport). Out of those sixty, fifteen have female writers listed for their pilots. That’s sitting at 25%, which is pretty low, as far as I’m concerned. When you think about it, women make up 51% of the population in the USA. I’m not saying that everyone watches television, and I’m not saying that everyone cares about who writes the content on their screens. What I’m saying is, isn’t television about representation? I know that I connect with shows that I feel represent me, and everyone should have that chance. If only 25% of the new drama/comedy/animation content that’s released in a year is written by women, then that seriously narrows the chances for all different types of women to find something they identify with.

Now, the numbers get a little tricky here, because, out of those 15 female writers, 6 had male co-writers for the pilots. That brings the percentage of new pilots written exclusively by women to 15%.

Again, I’m going to reiterate that not all content I watch is made up of stories about people like me. I love watching shows and films from different cultures, about different subcultures, and about people who have done amazing things. I also love watching absolute rubbish shows that are so bad that they’re brilliant, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I do think that everyone deserves the chance to find something that kind of relates to them. And with a rate of 15%, it really reduces the chance for women to see stories that relate to them on television when you take into account women of colour, women across the sexuality and gender spectrums, and differently-abled women, among many, many others.

If you take into account the number of female EPS, you’re getting a lot more representation, and that is great. It’s important to see women at executive levels in every industry, not just in television. But I am really looking forward to seeing the number of women screenwriters steadily increase over the next couple of years. I’m also really looking forward to Season 2 of How to Get Away with Murder. But that’s neither here nor there.

Another day, I’m going to look at women-related content on our screens, and at the female protagonist in all her glory.

Until then…

Go watch some telly.