Last week I worked on a commercial shoot with an agency from New York for a friend that is a producer and a woman. Very quickly I noticed that almost all the producers in the project were women, while all of the more creative positions such as director, creative designer and cinematographer were filled by men. Just by looking at the name popping in my inbox, I could accurately tell if an e-mail was going to be about logistics/admin or creative/technical.
Interestingly enough, when I was translating my mother’s resume, I found shocking information such as her civil status, age, and the fact that she had a son and a daughter who are financially and socially independent. I was pleased to delete information that thankfully in 2017 is unnecessary to be considered for employment, but soon I ran into other information that I couldn’t delete and not only reflected realities in the corporate world in Venezuela, but also applied to the film industry today. Despite her training, honors, and awards, her professional path was destined to involve administrative work from the beginning. My mother’s list of achievements were limited to project management positions and assistant work for vice-presidents of organizations that often had less experience and academic training than she did.
It is nothing new to say that the film industry is dominated by males, but even other industries that are considered more “fair” in terms of gender balance, often focus on the total number of employees instead of considering the kinds of positions that are being filled by different gender groups. Are too many of us modern-day secretaries? Was women’s reputation of being “good managers” born in a conference room full of men who didn’t want to track projects anymore? At least in the film industry, one can go from being an office production assistant, to a coordinator, to a manager and eventually become a producer, much faster that you can climb any other ladder that will eventually allow you to lead a more creative department. This article about gender ambition by the BCG does a good job at exploring how companies can create a path towards leadership that is equally inclusive of men and women.
When I read a line in my mother’s resume saying that she enjoys “processes and administrative work” I wonder what exactly a woman with an academic record in innovation, research and technology, finds so enjoyable about admin? Maybe the paycheck.
I enjoy the paycheck too, but what is different between her situation working in Venezuela as an engineer in the 1990s, and the situation of a filmmaker in the United States today that is never on set? I look at brilliant, successful producers that, despite their achievements, are still not getting the directing gigs that they bid for. Too often, it is hard to find what differentiates them from the men getting the jobs, aside from their gender.
This discrepancy holds true in different areas of the filmmaking industry. Even in reputable studios like Pixar you will find a predominant presence of talented women with solid credentials filling assistant roles, roles that by industry standards should lead to creative positions, but admittedly become lifelong careers, dominated by booking travel and keeping track of their bosses’ busy schedules. This distinct division of roles is even more obvious when you step into a set and find yourself surrounded by men in the lighting department talking about using a “skirt” (using duvetyne to control light sources) grabbing a “butt plug” (a 2k to 750 adapter), asking for someone to “run a whip out to me” (meaning, they need an extension cord), or someone yelling out “I need a Broad strung up between the two Blondes!” (referring to a broad lens dispersing yellowish light broadly). The use of this kind of language on a set is the equivalent of having co-workers doing push-up competitions in the office, which by the way, also happens.
I am not bashing on men or on the many women that are incredible producers, rather, I want to hold us all accountable for minding the gap. Women should be involved in all the aspects of filmmaking that interest them with confidence and men could be more aware of the impact of their dominating presence, so that, past the politics, we can continue to work towards a truly balanced work place.
Photo credits: Signature image from Mariana Rondon’s Pelo Malo, still image from Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding, still image from Alice Guy Blache‘s Fra Diavolo and last image from Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman.