Hello Film Doctor friends.
With another great edition of the Birds Eye View Film Festival just wrapped, the Film Doctor team have decided to pick the much-discussed topic of gender in the film industry for this week’s Monday Prescription.
We’re hoping to shine light on both perspectives, ‘general’ and that of female filmmakers themselves, by looking at the topic at a slightly different angle – is it possible that female filmmakers sabotage their own careers?
How is that possible? you say.
Psychology has long established the idea of self-sabotage: a sub-conscious/conscious set of actions that gets in the way of established goals, thus setting out to defeat your own objectives; this could range from procrastination to defeatist mindset. It’s resignation before even attempting. It’s the idea of settling down for inevitable loss/failure/non-admittance, prior to even taking any actions. Self-sabotage is not gender specific, nor exclusive to one aspect of life – it could be both personal and professional.
How can self-sabotage refer to female filmmakers though?
The Statistics Syndrome
We have all seen the various reports and statistics on gender in film: women continue to be outnumbered by men in award nominations, percentage of employment behind the scenes, percentage of speaking characters on screen, etc. Fact.
Then, if we are to go by the media highlights, there is only a handful of names to cite when talking about successful female filmmakers.Fact.
Of course, the argument goes that such information is meant to act as encouragement and motivation for both genders to re-assess the current situation and make a change. However, sometimes a paradox occurs. Because you cannot seem to think of many successful female filmmakers’ names or because you read those statistics and believe in those numbers. You become less inclined to contribute to the growth of the female filmmakers’ percentage, instead of feeling motivated to make a difference –“Well, if the reality is this, then I have no chance of making in it in this industry”.
Truth is, for various historical, cultural and social reasons, gender inequality populates every single working field. And the same way other industries have their own traditional/stereotypical job description, the film one also has a set of pre-established/stereotypical role divisions: crew, e.g. Gaffer, Grip, Camera Assistant, Operator, Set Rigger, etc. is often male-dominated, while women should settle for jobs like Production Designers, Assistants, Coordinators, Secretaries and Script readers/supervisors, even if those weren’t the first choice. The fight is to overturn those stereotypes.
Truth is, apart from the purely physically demanding aspect of the jobs (for some women), there is really nothing stopping you from becoming a grip or Steadicam operator, if you wish so. Don’t let the numbers crunch your courage or dreams. At the end of the day, dire statistics exist for every single field or industry. The numbers shouldn’t stop you from trying and, actually, succeeding.
And next time you feel discouraged by the scarce amount of female names quoted, think of these:
- Film Editors: Martin Scorsese’s long-time collaborator & Editor of all his films, 3-times Academy Award winner – Thelma Schoonmaker; Editor of all “Star Wars” movies, “Taxi Driver” & “American Graffiti” – Marcia Lucas (nee Griffin); Susan E. Morse – long-term collaborator with Woody Allen (including “Manhattan”), Editor for Louis C.K.’s TV series “Louie” and Alisa Lepselter – who once worked as Schoonmaker’s assistant, and has edited all of Woody Allen’s films since 1999; Dana Glauberman – Jason Reitman’s Editor (“Juno”, “Up In The Air”, “Young Adult”);
Cinematographers & Camera Operators: Kat Westergaard, Rachael Levine, Jendra Jarnagin, Kristin Glover, Sandy Sissel, Spike Lee’s go-to Cinematographer (“He Got Game”, “Summer of Sam”, “Bamboozled”, “The 25th Hour”, “4 Little Girls”), Michel Gondry’s collaborator (on “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” & “Be Kind Rewind”), Cinematographer on “Blow”, “Analyze That”, “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan”, “Away We Go” – Ellen Kuras;
- Film Producers: Karen Rosenfelt – Producer of “The Book Thief” “Twilight” franchise, “Alvin & the Chipmunks”, “The Devil Wears Prada” (Note: Since 2006, Karen’s produced 13 films, 12 of which were highly profitable. Since the end of 2013, she’s got 10 different projects lined up); Gale Anne Hurd –Writer & Producer of “Terminator” (1984), head of Valhalla Motion Pictures, Producer of “Armageddon” (1998), “The Incredible Hulk” (2008); Nina Jacobson – Producer of “Diary Of A Wimpy Kid”, “One Day”, “The Hunger Games” franchise & former President of Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group; Emma Thomas – Producer of “Inception”, “The Dark Knight”, “The Dark Knight Rises” ;
- Entertainment Industry Executives: Dana Walden – Chairman & CEO of 20th Century Fox Television; Christine Langan – Head of BBC Films; Kathleen Kennedy –President of Lucas Films ; Stacey Snider – Co-Chairman & CEO of DreamWorks;
- Film Directors & Writers: Haifaa al-Mansour, Kimberly Peirce, Catherine Breillat, Jane Campion, Kathryn Bigelow, Sofia Coppola, Catherine Hardwicke, Phyllida Lloyd, Claire Denis, Andrea Arnold, Sam Taylor-Wood, Nancy Meyers, Susanne Bier, Gurinder Chadha, Lynne Ramsay, Diablo Cody, Agnes Varda, Amy Heckerling, Miranda July, Mira Nair, Dee Rees, Lisa Cholodenko, Sarah Polley, Sally El Hosaini, Lynn Shelton, Beeban Kidron
Using Gender As an Excuse
The very fact that gender inequality persists, means that gender remains an issue, a burden, that imposes on how one does in life. One way many humans famously deal with any kind of issue is to excuse themselves – to create a justification card for any failure (future ones too). Think about it, do you know budding filmmakers who’ve gone “Oh, well of course I can’t jump past this, I’m a woman“ or “Of course they’re going to choose him, he is a man“? Chances are, you have come across them – the kind of female filmmakers that actually cling on to the gender card, making it a self-defence mechanism, which backfires and halts careers. In “using gender as an excuse”, the self-sabotage occurs in accepting the victim stance of being a woman by default.
Recognising the existing barriers and inequality facts is one thing, but actually modelling your career and life around the idea of victimisation is nothing short of single-handedly killing your own dreams and aspirations.
To avoid this kind of self-sabotage, one needs to stop focusing on the ‘female’ and just be a ‘filmmaker’ – one of the best there is. At the end of the day, creatives are judged by the work that they put out and leave behind.
Using Gender As a Weapon
This is the other side of the gender coin, where any professional shortcomings are rectified (or attempted to) by playing “the gender card”. At least once, you must have come across a colleague, who has used her/his gender as some sort of an ‘upper hand’, rather than relying strictly on professional qualities. Where men might become more ruthless, aggressive and go-getting, their female colleagues sometimes flip the other extreme – over emphasise the gender-associated qualities, in order to gain career development. The range is from a ‘helpless girl’ act and flattery to down-right flirting, and even lawsuits. The guiding motto is one, “I am a woman”. Once again, focusing on the “female” rather than “filmmaker” part of the job.
This might not be so much self-sabotage, as more of destructive way of fuelling the stereotype that women are lesser professionals than men. And it is a double-edged sword when propelled by women themselves – devaluing not only their own career prospects, but those of female filmmakers altogether.
The reality is that the film industry is still very much a club with a high-selectivity level – a challenge for both male and female filmmakers. But what almost always transcends any kind of issues, including work inequality, are great projects.
We all know what goes on, we all know there is sexism. There are horrific stories out there. The key is to not let it get to you and/or let it define your career.