Filmmaking does not favor the female. Few movies feature a female antagonist, and even fewer have women at the helm as director, producer, or writer.
“Behind the Scene: Women Working in Today’s Film Industry,” Saturday at 5:30PM in Fairlie (Hy), offered perspectives from four women currently working in the industry on how to overcome the obstacles and stay positive to make a mark in the traditionally male field. The diverse panel featured Atlanta based Lane Skye, Brantly Jackson Watts, and Molly Coffee, and New York based Melanie Abramov, whose film No Milk is featured in Dragon Con’s film festival. Each has been in the industry between 5–10 years and worked their way through the ranks, taking on different roles until they found their passion.
Coffee started as a production assistant and worked as a set dresser and in props before becoming a production designer. This is typical, and most people begin as a production assistant. You have to be willing to take on grunt work and have a certain skill set to navigate the tricky world of working on a set.
Abramov, instead, went to Parsons School of Design for motion graphics and works at Ralph Lauren during the day, doing commercials. Both Watts and Skye fell into film alongside their husbands. There is no right or wrong way to get started for women as long they are willing to work hard for what they want.
Writing, however, can be particularly difficult in a market outside New York or LA.
“I still face challenges,” Watts said about being a screenwriter based in Atlanta and stressed that it’s important to get LA representation in order to get your scripts in front the right people.
The women debated about taking on roles or certain jobs before you’ve paid your dues or gained the appropriate experience. The film industry has noticed the outcry over the lack of the female perspective and is starting to address it, though not always in the best ways.
Coffee felt the “pressure as a woman to put in more time to compete with men.” She ascribes to the belief that everyone—male or female—should forgo jobs for which they aren’t qualified. Abramov, though, suggested turning them down without demeaning oneself. Saying “I’m not the right one” could send a bad message that excludes you from future opportunities. “I’m busy right now” would set a more positive tone.
Women’s tendency to be less assertive is detrimental to their advancement (and not just in film). Abramov encouraged women to not be afraid to sell yourself, even if it means stretching the truth. “Men will jump in no matter what,” she said, and women shouldn’t be afraid to do the same. But she acknowledged the hard truth facing women in film today. “Yes, you must work harder. You have to know your shit because their expectations are low, and you want to make them higher.”
Skye echoed this sentiment. “I needed to be better than the boys,” she said about trying to get the same attention men get.
Communication is key to success, and sexism is a reality everyone will have to face. Watts, who wrote the documentary AKA Blondie, which was directed by her husband, was approached by an industry veteran shortly after the film’s release and told “I don’t think I’d want my wife to make films. Someone’s got to sit at home and make sure the bills get paid.” He also told her that she would need to take a back seat if she really wanted her husband to succeed.
The panelists stressed the importance of being passionate about building your career, adapting while staying true to yourself and your vision, gaining experience, networking, and building relationships to cement yourself in the industry. But don’t be afraid to step out of your network, and don’t be afraid to exaggerate a little bit to get what you want.
“Most people bullshit,” Abramov said. And everyone knows and no one cares, so long as you get the job done.
That’s good advice for all women, regardless of their industry.
A list of good resource for women looking to get into the film industry: Women in Film Foundation, Bentonville Film Festival (started by Geena Davis), Athena Film Festival, Chicks Who Script, Ms. In the Biz, The Director List, Seed & Spark, Film Powered, The Black List, Austin Film Festival Screenplay Writing Contest, The Nicholl Fellowships, New Mavericks (a part of the Atlanta Film Festival).