Episode #6 of the Radio Film School podcast saw the official beginning of their “Women in Film” series with an excerpt from a 4-person panel focused on the topic. Scilla Andreen, Stefanie Malone, Ryan Davis and Nancy Chang talk with host Ron Dawson about the challenges and issues that women face in the industry.
Ron’s experience as a filmmaker is especially relevant in this context because he’s someone who has worked to find and interview female filmmakers over the course of two programs. His insights are a window into an issue that goes far beyond the troubling statistics in film and TV.
You can listen to the full episode below or download it via iTunes. Reading what he has to say will serve as a tease of what’s in store for the episode while also providing some significant supplementary info.
ProVideo Coalition: What were you thinking when you found and saw how difficult it was to find and book women filmmakers for your show?
Ron Dawson: I was just discussing this issue today during my interview with Peabody award winning filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon (of “Hollow Documentary” fame). I was sharing with her how over the course of the two filmmaking podcasts I’ve produced and hosted since 2010 (Radio Film School and my last one, Crossing the 180), I’ve always had a dearth of female filmmakers. But not for trying. The ratio of responses-to-invites from women who’ve I’ve invited to be on my shows has always been much less than that same ratio for men (i.e. a greater percentage of men I ask to be on the show respond than the percentage of women I ask). Elaine shared with me that even when she got my invite, she had this feeling “Who am I to be on the show and speak about “women in filmmaking?”) Think about it. She’s won a freaking Peabody award of all things. Her documentary has gotten a lot of press and acclaim. Yet she still felt like that.
She went on to share with me how a friend of hers works at some Tribeca film project where she hosts a panel. This friend of hers said then whenever she asks women to be on the panel, she often gets hesitant responses. But whenever she asks men to be on the panel, they’re all over it. I can’t help but wonder if that contributes to this issue.
So the question becomes, why do so many women, even very accomplished ones, feel like that?
And to be honest, part of the problem for me has been, and this may sound superficial, but finding a larger number of high enough profile women filmmakers that I know my audience would want to hear. This is less of a problem for Radio Film School, where I’m not really interested in “celebrity” when picking guests for my show. I’m more interested in accomplished filmmakers who are eloquent, regardless of how known they are. My last show, Crossing the 180, was a traditional interview style show. So naturally having, for lack of a better work, popular filmmakers was key. And it was hard finding a lot of well-known, high profile women filmmakers that weren’t TOO popular (e.g. I’m STILL trying to get Lynnn Shelton and Ava Duvernay on Radio Film School. 🙂
I have no idea if I adequately answered that question, but I hope that gives you a better idea of what my experience has been.
It’s rather jarring to hear that within the ecosystem less than 5% of films are directed by women at major studios, and it’s only 16% in television. There are undoubtedly many reasons behind this, but in talking with some of these filmmakers for your show, what have been some of the biggest factors they’ve cited?
From what I’m hearing, the biggest factor really isn’t some sort of over conspiracy to keep women down. In fact, many of the women I’ve talked to have said that their male colleagues are supportive of the cause. It’s more of a subtle thing. Where people hire people they can relate to. Colin Trevorrow as hired by Spielberg to direct Jurassic World because he reminded Stephen of himself when he was young.
The physical resemblance of Trevorrow and Spielberg is even uncanny. From Goatee and beard, to their hairlines, and even to the shape of their glasses.
I also think part of it is what I alluded to earlier, about men being bold and asking for it. Lastly, I do think there’s a bias in the industry that men may be “better” to direct or DP a particular type of movie. I think there are enough female directors who’ve done work in every genre where there should be no shortage of candidates.
As you mentioned, the example of encouragement Ryan Davis gave was related to Colin Trevorrow’s big break from Stephen Spielberg, but Trevorrow obviously already was a filmmaker at that point. Is encouraging the next generation women filmmakers about inspiring young girls or offering encouragement to current women filmmakers?
It’s definitely both, IMHO. There are women filmmakers at Trevorrow’s level who need that encouragement; but it starts even before they get there. Little girls need to see themselves as the next “Spielberg” in the first place to get to the place Trevorrow is.
Is this issue something that we need to deal with specifically in this industry, or is it something we should look at at a broader level?
It’s an issue that is already being considered at a broader level. And it should continue to do so. I for one think we’ll have a richer and more diverse crop of stories to watch and enjoy if we had more women behind the camera. I wonder how more different the Transformers franchise would’ve evolved if someone like Bigelow or Duvernay were at the helm.
I mentioned the percentages of women directors above, but do you think the goal should be to get that to 50%? Or is it more about improving those numbers?
Just like Bill Murray’s character in “What About Bob?”, we have to take baby steps. One step at a time. For now, it’s about improving the numbers. I don’t know if there will ever be exactly 50/50, nor do I think there necessarily should be. But we can definitely do better than 95/5.
What’s one thing anyone in the industry can do to help alleviate and eliminate this issue?
What anyone can do will vary greatly on where they stand in the industry. You’re obviously going to have a much different level of influence if you’re a grip vs. a development exec vs. an exec producer. If you’re in decision-making positions, widen the net you cast when looking for talent. If you’re on the “frontlines” as it were, continue fighting the good fight. First, make awesome work. Then make more awesome work. I think the Internet can be the great equalizer. If you’re a woman filmmaker and you create work that cannot be ignored, and you garner your own audiences, audiences big enough where you can call the shots and attract the industry and sponsors who want to pay to reach your audience, then it won’t matter. Because at the end of the day, the biggest influencers won’t be the Spielbergs and the Weinsteins of the world; it’ll be the “Benjamins” and the “Wilsons”. Those are the “men” that count the most. 😉