What it’s like to be a Female Director

Much of the publicity surrounding sexism in Hollywood is focused on the actresses, and how their pay is lower than their male counterparts.  In the second part of my interview with director Christine Swanson (click here to read the first part), she highlights an issue that barely captures headlines: female directors don’t often get the same opportunities /leeway as male directors.

You’ve had a lot of success and you’re a woman in particularly male dominated field. What have your experiences been like and what is your advice for women who might want to get into directing but may be intimidated to join?

I would say this; there’s definitely a difference being a woman, and those  differences may be stark. [For example], stepping on set, and nobody knows you’re the director. People [are] walking past you, and ignoring you. It’s on a small-scale so  to speak. Then, it’s really working around people who typically have not worked with women directors at the helm. .. they’re not used to that.  To cut through all of the haze of unfamiliarity with the scenario of a woman at the helm, to cut through that fog, I would advise any woman to know what you want, have a plan, stick to it, and execute to the best of your abilities. If ability is an issue, then you do what you can to make sure you bolster your abilities in whatever ways you can, like getting training, going to school, talking to other mentors,  making short films, or whatever you need to do to gain a sense of confidence and acumen in your craft. So then when you are on set and you’re working with people who pretty much need you to tell them what to do, you know what you want, and you know these people are there to help execute your plan. So the more prepared you are, the better.

Christine Swanson director

Source: Film Colossus

That’s not to say that you won’t have moments where you just don’t know or where  you mess up and aren’t sure. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman: that happens to all of us, where there are moments of uncertainty. But I would say to the extent that you can bolster your acumen and ability, is really the thing that’s going to allow you to cut through the sexism fog, which there’s nothing you can do about it… it is what it is. You’ve got guys who are grips and electrics, and camera people that are just not used to working with women. I’m not sure they really care. All they care about is can we get what we need to get done between 8 and 10 hours so they can go home to their families. To the extent, as a leader, as a director, and a  filmmaker, you can execute your plan, your ideas, your creativity, in a way that is systematic, orderly and punctual, you’re already ahead of the game. That’s it. It’s as simple as that. But, as simple as that sounds, it’s not that easy. It’s not that easy. Because there are so many balls in the air at any given moment. So you have to kind of be on top of that all the time. So even when you are, things go wrong. That’s just the nature of the beast. What they say about filmmaking, it’s organized chaos. You just have to gauge your ability to handle chaos in the most systematic way you can without losing your composure or sense of creativity.

That’s really good advice for anyone, women in particular need that. Because you’ve been very successful, you’ve been able to pave the way to help women get more opportunities. As you were saying, a lot these people aren’t used to working with women. The more women they get exposed to in their work, it will hopefully bring more opportunities.

The goal is not to be the exception. Because a lot of what makes a director good, is  just trial and error. It’s practice, it’s  practice, practice, practice. So you may see situations where you see a lot of men get opportunities to fail forward. They may make a movie and they may not be a hit but they still get opportunity after opportunity after opportunity . I’m not sure that women get the same opportunities in that way. If they could, they too can learn from mistakes.. That’s how experience is gained, by doing.

think the conversation needs to go towards not just allowing women the opportunity to break in; I can’t even believe that we’re  still talking about that in 2016. There’s no way that there should not be a higher level of equity in the number of women directors directing in our industry. In terms of the number of women filmmakers in film school, they’re over 50 percent in terms of representation. What happens from film school of highly trained women in the craft of filmmaking…to the time they enter the industry? So if we’re still talking in 2016 about entering and becoming a trailblazer as women, I think we need to push the dialogue in a different direction, and that should be a thing of the past.

The conversation should be about not just one opportunity, but opportunity after opportunity after opportunity, and how we can bring more women to the table to work in this capacity. Because the ability is there. The opportunity gives us the chance to enhance our abilities. Because men do it all the time. So that’s where the conversation needs to go. I’m very passionate about that because it  just shouldn’t be the case. I took a fifteen year break actually from the time I first started in this industry. I was a trailblazer fifteen years ago. How is it that fifteen years later, we’re still having the same conversation. How am I trailblazer in fifteen years as a woman filmmaker? That should not be the case.

The barriers to entry really need to be examined in a way where maybe policies should just be put in place. Every network can change the landscape of equity in their rank, that all they have to do is mandate that 50 percent of the roles or 50 percent of the directing jobs, 50 percent of the writing job would be given to women, period. Because women represent over 50% of the population in our country. That’s all you have to do, it’s that simple. I don’t want to talk about being a trailblazer cause that’s an embarrassment to our industry.

… It’s just a matter of opportunity. The people who are deciding who those opportunities go to, don’t look like you or me. Because if they did, we cannot sanction the status quo that has been in existence since I started out in the industry 20 years ago. Something needs to give. Like I said, It’s an easy fix.  Now, who’s willing to do it?

About Sarita

I am known in my friend circle as the person who is most likely to know random television/Hollywood trivia. Thrilled to put my tv knowledge to use in writing reviews. In addition to writing, I love to read, and welcome the opportunity to talk on twitter on books, tv, or movies.

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