Research Update: LA

In August and September of 2018, I’m making the pilgrimage to Los Angeles to complete the data collection for my PhD research on women writers for SVoD original scripted series. These small updates will tell you about my progress.

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The Getty Center, Los Angeles

It’s Day 3 in Los Angeles, and I can see why people fall in love with this place. Apart from the outstanding weather, fantastic food and gorgeous scenery, everyone is so friendly. Not a single neighbour at our Air BnB has failed to smile and say hello, and everyone we pass in the street has a smile for us. It’s so refreshing. Yesterday we went to the Getty Center and I can honestly say that, although the exhibits themselves were wonderful, the sheer beauty in the design of the center itself was the most breathtaking thing I’ve seen in a while. And what a view! Driving on the right hand side of the road has been interesting, too – but I think I’m getting into the swing of it.

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This is the face of someone enjoying the most spectacular LA view.

Research-wise, I’ve got a couple of interviews with really special writers lined up and I can’t wait to meet them in person after exchanging emails (one of them for over 2 years!). I’m still working on cracking the code of contact; Twitter has been great for me, and I’m messaging on Instagram, but, to be fair, these are very busy people, and probably have overflowing inboxes.gettyimage2

 

I’m so thankful for the kind writers who have donated their time already to my research. I feel passionately about the work I’m doing (well, one would hope so, I suppose) and I want to do everything in my power to make it inclusive and representative of the diversity that is a) present already but b) not present enough in this industry. My work is about women writers, but that means all types of women. It means women of colour, it means trans women, and it means women from different backgrounds.

 

I have three weeks to make this time in LA count, and I’m crossing all my fingers that it will be as fruitful as I’ve hoped.

 

If you’re reading this and you think you can help make some connections for me, please do direct your friends, colleagues, connections and family to this link.

 

Off to enjoy some writing in the sunshine!

 

K.

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New publication: The Good Girls Revolt cancellation – and why Amazon Studios has an image problem

wrote recently that Amazon and Netfix were leading the way in improving the gender balance in writing for television. In a post-Weinstein industry, there is more and more discussion about women’s representation in film and television. Right now, however, Amazon Studios has an image problem.

There is currently an industry-wide push for the employment and promotion of women in key crew roles such as director, showrunner, writer and cinematographer. Despite this, Amazon has axed three original series helmed by women: Good Girls Revolt, One Mississippi and I Love Dick.

The story of Good Girls Revolt goes back further than this year, but is key in demonstrating Amazon’s attitude towards feedback from its audiences.

In 2016, Amazon premiered the first season of Good Girls Revolt, an original series from showrunner, Dana Calvo, based on the book by Lynn Povich. Good Girls Revolt tells the true story of the women of Newsweek (in the series, News of the Week) who sued the magazine for sexual discrimination in 1970. The drama received critical acclaim and was well-received by female audiences, in particular. But Amazon Studios’ then-chief, Roy Price, decided to discontinue the series after its first season.

The cancellation of Good Girls Revolt caused an online uproar, with the series’ stars and crew leading a charge on a #SaveGoodGirlsRevolt tagline on Twitter, and audiences crying out for the series to find a new home.

The Weinstein scandal

Following the Harvey Weinstein scandal in 2017, Roy Price was stood down at Amazon Studios following allegations of sexual harassmentmade by a female producer. Sharon Tal Yguado, formerly in charge of event series for Amazon, was promoted to head of scripted programming, and Amazon Studios was in line for an overhaul. Fans of Good Girls Revolt found new hope, as Calvo and her team prepared their season two pitch to be shopped around to various outlets, including Amazon Studios itself. However, in a statement on January 11, Calvo announced on Instagram that Good Girls Revolt would not be revived. The fight was over.

This final cancellation of Good Girls Revolt, while disappointing for crew, cast and fans alike, is hardly an unusual event in the world of television. The long-lived series is becoming rare and the performance of series made specifically for Netflix, Amazon or Hulu is measured not in ratings, but in completion and contribution to platform subscriptions. That is to say, how many viewers watch the series all the way through and whether new customers sign up in order to watch them. Since Amazon and Netflix do not publish viewing statistics, there is no way for the public to know why they make particular programming decisions, apart from official statements.

It is not the discontinuation of Good Girls Revolt alone that has caused Amazon’s image problem. With Netflix championing Orange Is the New Black and GLOW, and Hulu’s runaway success with The Handmaid’s Tale, surely Amazon could do more to actively greenlight and support scripted series written by and for women?

More bad news

On January 17 came more bad news for female-created content on Amazon. Amazon Studios announced it was cancelling three original series. Two of these (One Mississippi and I Love Dick) were helmed and predominantly written by women.

It has been reported that Amazon is looking for its very own Game of Thrones. Nevertheless, audiences and industry are puzzled by the cancellation of Tig Notaro’s One Mississippi, in particular. With a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the series is also one of very few to feature a queer protagonist, and a woman at that.

While I Love Dick received fewer accolades, it marked the only series on Amazon’s slate to feature an entirely female writing team. An Amazon “insider” told Deadline: “This is part of a move towards bigger, wider-audience series.” But it is the ability to cater to niche audience markets that makes online original content platforms unique.

In the wake of Hollywood’s sexism overhaul, why has Amazon chosen this time to withdraw support for female-led content? Actors and Hollywood leaders including Ava Du Vernay, Reese Witherspoon and Jessica Chastain are calling for drastic improvements to the gender problem in the entertainment industry, but outlets do not seem to be responding quickly enough. With this latest spate of cancellations, how will Amazon improve its contribution to a balanced and fair production industry?

 

First appeared on The Conversation – January 31st, 2018.

 

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!