Women Helmers in Media’s Brave New World

"Reed Hastings!  Help me out!"
“Reed Hastings!   Help me out!”


“TV in ten years is going to be 100% streamed.  On demand.  Internet Protocol. Based on computers and based on software.  The next generation won’t even know what live TV is— they live in an on-demand world.”
( The New Yorker – 2-3-14)

 

By Maria Giese

It’s not just the weather that’s changing these days—global media is on the verge of a seismic shift and, as we all know, change means opportunity.  This new media revolution could be the moment of opportunity women directors have been waiting for to seize a piece of the employment pie.

Les Moonves, CEO of CBS was recently quoted as saying:  “For 25 years, I’ve been hearing that Network television is dead.  We’re thriving like never before” (The New Yorker).  But truth be told, he’s a dying, old dog— and a misogynist one at that.  (Save your tears: Moonves will still get a hell of a lot richer before the game is over. He earned over sixty million dollars last year).

All of these moribund Network heads— male and female alike— of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, The CW, and so on, whose paternalist sensibilities have been keeping women directors of all ethnicities buried for decades, are about to get swallowed whole by a new generation of media giants whose universal perspectives may just suggest a sea change in thinking about gender equity.

Will the old Hollywood TV networks, that have been in rampant violation of U.S. gender employment equity laws for decades, drag their biases against women helmers out the exit door with them when they go?  The emerging mavericks– Reed Hastings, Jeff Bezos, and Susan Wojcicki– of America’s growing on-demand streaming media, like Netflix, Amazon, and Google, may be able unveil a promising new horizon for women in America’s most influential global export– media.

Netflix head, Reed Hastings, is practically a new species compared to Moonves or Sony’s Amy Pascal (a female studio head who has failed to hire a single women feature director in years).  Hastings is highly educated, an innovative thinker, and Peace Corp veteran who spends much of his time on philanthropic work for charter schools.  He could just become the model media executive for a new era of gender equity in the American entertainment industry.

What makes this possibility seem hopeful?  As the new forms of media come to power, statistics about female consumers become more important than ever.  Women today make up 51% of the population of the United States, control over 2 trillion dollars of American purchasing power, and 85% of household purchases.

In 2013, 503 billion dollars was spent on global advertising.  Seventy billion of it went to U.S. TV ads alone, and more and more of it is migrating toward digital streaming platforms.  Simple math and basic laws of good American entrepreneurship suggest that future global media success will rely in part on integrating women in accordance with their viewing numbers and purchasing power.

Getting the business model tuned just right for maximum profit will require not just creating more femme-themed content, but getting more women directors behind the camera to tell these stories from a female perspective so they resonate with women and girls around the world.  If a new world order in media is going to dominate human story-telling— a profession from which, right now in 2014, women are almost 100% excluded as creators– new media giants will limit their potential.

Right now, even though women enter and graduate from our nation’s film schools at a 50-50 ratio with men, they step onto a professional directing playing field that is at an almost vertical male-dominated tilt against women.  With women directors currently comprising just 4% of feature films and 12% of episodic TV, women’s stories are lacking authenticity.

Let’s take a quick look at just how women could ride the crest of this breaking wave into a future of parity on the emerging new playing field of global on-demand streaming media. This inevitably explosive media expansion will surely give rise to the need for considerably more content creation and could provide women with new opportunities to direct without taking work away from men.  Gender competition for such a lucrative and high-status employment resource as directing has always been one of the key barriers for women directors.

Among the new emerging giants– Netflix, Amazon, and Google– Netflix is just now shifting from its hybrid DVD distribution platform to financing and producing big-budget new series content that is released all at once for binge viewing.  Netflix recently coughed up $100 million for the first two seasons of the critically successful13-hour series “House of Cards” and Amazon is tentatively making its first series.

Google, not to be left behind, is adding professional-grade video programs to its platform.  YouTube is a platform of infinite channels and on-demand media has made it possible for new sources of financing as diverse as Microsoft, that is also producing original content.  In fact, YouTube allows the potential for every single viewer around the globe to become a content provider.  Right now the networks are lagging behind in this race, although Hulu has been created to withhold some of the business from emerging new competitors.

What this means for women is very significant.  There is sure to be a vast increase in content, but when the number of women directors is currently so low, one wonders: will the new executives begin to hire women directors?  Or will they follow in the misogynistic footsteps of their network predecessors, as was evidenced on “House of Cards” which employed zero women directors on the first 13 episodes.

Unfortunately, for myriad reasons—from conscious and unconscious discrimination against women directors among studio executives and show-runners to widespread feminist complacency during the massive economic boom— 1995 shadowed the beginning of a 20-year period of stasis for women director employment.

Today, in 2014, few TV executives or showrunners even consider hiring women helmers.  For this reason, the number of working women episodic TV directors today is on an ominous decline, down 4% since last year, from 16% to 12%.

As with any burgeoning new ecosystem, the first settlers to gain a foothold will gain a marked advantage.  In this light, fresh opportunities for women directors demand that they use their every resource to overcome the powerful forces of sexual discrimination that have kept women marginalized and excluded from the directing profession for decades.

Thanks to a large class-action lawsuit against three major studios in 1979 (led by the DGA on behalf of women directors from 1983 to 1985), when DGA women directed just .5% of TV episodes, that percentage shot up to 16% by 1995.  Coming in the wake of the the the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and the women’s liberation movement in the 1970’s, women had many reasons to believe that a new era of gender parity in Hollywood was upon them, but today that hope has not born out.

Got game?

On another front, although very nascent, we see the new dawn of interactive gaming—an exciting new platform for storytelling that hasn’t even begun to be probed by serious directors, but is certain to flourish.  To snub this new opportunity, as feature directors snubbed music videos until the 1980’s and commercials until the 1990’s, would be foolish for women, even if the stories presently comprise primarily male-oriented action.

Who the emerging leaders and decision-makers of new media will be is as yet uncharted territory, but the DGA Women Steering Committee could benefit women directors and their teams by presenting a symposium to meet the various representatives of the new media content creators in gaming— a world that is thus far completely untapped by women.

In conclusion, in fighting gender discrimination, women directors need to shift their targets from the old entrenched networks that are experiencing fractures in their foundations, to the erupting volcanoes that are certain to evolve into the new media mountains of the future.

These are the new partners the Directors Guild of America needs to focus on in future collective bargaining negotiations in order to be sure that diversity agreements are strengthened and complied with to include women directors– equally.

(The author is grateful to Ken Auletto for his inspiring article, “Outside the Box,” in The New Yorker – Feb 3, 2014).

 

 

Why Isn’t the DGA Fighting For Us?

Don't blame me! Paris Barclay is the one who said "Change will happen, but it will take time."
“Don’t blame me! Paris Barclay is the one who said: Change will happen, but it will take time.

By Rena Sternfeld

Can someone please explain this to me?

We are all proud Guild members, obliged to join our Guild because we directed/AD/UPM’d professionally.  Why are we seeing such resistance to anything we try to do to advance ourselves and other DGA women?  Trying to be as objective as possible, I can’t look back upon the events of the past 1½ years with anything but amazement and bewilderment.

The Summit (DGA-WSC Women of Action Summit – March 2, 2013) which was so successful, was objected to and canceled so many times I can’t remember all the details.  I know it was voted on again and again in WSC committee meetings and inspected and rejected by the leadership of the Guild innumerable times.  Some of us were so disgusted with the process that they now avoid taking part in our committee at all.  Despite the difficult process, it turned out to be a very successful event– the most inclusive event for women directors ever held in Guild history.  But promises that were made by Guild administrators were not kept for political reasons.

The Bylaws – Seeing that we can make things happen despite having a split leadership (2 co-chairs in favor of the Summit event and 2 co-chairs who tried their best to derail it), we got an order from the DGA National Board to pass new mandatory Bylaws.  The WSC committee existed for over 30 years without them, and now was the time to enact the rules?

Suspicious timing?  You be the judge.

We fought the bylaws, knowing very well what they may bring.  We fought and fought and it got us to theater 3 in the DGA building for a bigger meeting.  That is when we heard from Bryan Unger (Associate National Executive Director/Western Executive Director) that if the WSC committee will not sign the new (and discriminatory) bylaws, our committee may be dismantled.

Was that a threat?  Again, you be the judge.

We lost. The new Bylaws were signed and we had to have new elections for co-chairs.

New Co-Chairs – As we suspected, the co-chair positions went to people who are enmeshed with the Guild, which is not necessarily a bad thing, I had hoped.  Sub-committee leadership positions were given to people (some of whom don’t even show up for monthly meetings) who opposed the Summit and supported the mandated Bylaws.  The only thing we managed to insert into the new Bylaws was the ability to elect an Alternate Co-chair that is elected in the room.  Our bulldozer – the relentless Melanie Wagor – was elected but has not been recognized by the Guild or the WSC co-chairs, who say things to the effect of: “She is not an official co-chair and will not be privy to information or included in WSC decisions-making.”

Honoring Our Past – That is the last debacle we are facing now.  First it was said that the event should not happen because the date is wrong.  One of the WSC co-chairs and DGA Head of Diversity claimed: “The Women’s Steering Committee was not officially established 35 years ago, but in 1990/91.”  When it was pointed out that the official DGA site itself states that the committee was officially established in 1979, a WSC co-chair wrote in an e-mail:

“According to the DGA the WSC wasn’t recognized by the National Board until later despite the initial meeting. That’s the record. This was discussed at the Activities & Events committee meeting. Any inconsistency with the DGA website should be brought to the attention of the Guild Communications Department.”

After Maria Giese spoke to those pioneering women (the “Original Six” who created the committee in 1979) and published an article asking “Is the Guild trying to re-write our history?”– it was officially announced in the next WSC meeting that our committee was indeed established in 1979, and it was 35 years since the establishment of the committee (the first DGA Diversity Committee to deal with female and ethnic minority unemployment, by the way).

Finally, the 35th Anniversary celebration event was approved in the events subcommittee, but the women who denied the creation date of the committee wanted to keep the event small.  So it was then brought to the WSC Committee to vote on whether to have a small event in the conference room or big event in the large theater.

WSC Co-chair Alternate, Melanie Wagor, was the victim of much bullying that would have caused any lesser woman to run for cover, but she kept fighting.  At last, thanks to some strong voices speaking out, the large event was voted on and approved by the full committee.

And the cherry on top?  In the last WSC meeting attended by the top brass of our Guild (Jay Roth, Paris Barclay & Bryan Unger) we heard the details of the new (Collective Bargaining) Agreement.

We heard them say: “A change will happen, but it will take time…”

I’ve been attending committee meetings for 10 years.  Nothing has changed during that time.  Now we are told to be patient and wait for it…  And be quiet while it is happening.

What is going on?  Why isn’t the Guild fighting us?  All we want is for the Guild to pick up the lead in this industry-wide fight.

Can someone please explain it?

Michael Franklin – Hero to Women Directors

Screen Shot 2014-01-25 at 9.40.19 AM

By Maria Giese

In 1979, the DGA “Original Six” directors: Susan Bay, Nell Cox, Joelle Dobrow, Dolores Ferraro, Victoria Hochberg and Lynne Littman, unable to land jobs, began assembling statistics.

After a year, the presented a report to the DGA National Executive Secretary, Michael Franklin, who was stunned by the low numbers and implications of unlawful discrimination against women.

Franklin was a labor leader in the old sense, and deeply concerned with discrimination against women members of the DGA. He inspired the Guild’s conscience. He brought the Board and the Guild to a higher level of responsibility and accountability, struggling for a higher vision for all workers.

Franklin, in conjunction with the new DGA Women’s Committee, set up meeting after meeting to encourage production companies to interview women members– all to no avail.  After one final attempt, when none of the invited executives showed up for a scheduled meeting, a fed-up Franklin made his historic decision to launch America’s first DGA-led, class-action lawsuit on behalf of women against three major studios in 1983.

By 1995, just 10 years later, the percentage of TV episodes directed by women had risen from 0.5% to 16%. Sixteen percent!  This was certainly thanks to the crucial support that Michael Franklin and the DGA leadership provided women Guild members at that time.

OPEN LETTER TO MICHAEL APTED & STEVEN SODERBERGH

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WOMEN DIRECTORS IN HOLLYWOOD

November 10, 2013

Dear Michael Apted & Steven Soderbergh,

American women directors are grateful that you have accepted your appointments to co-chair the current DGA Feature Film and Television Negotiations Committee and DGA Creative Rights Committee, respectively.

You are each internationally beloved and admired filmmakers who have made inspiring feminist films including “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “Erin Brockovich” about marginalized women who have been courageous in speaking out for justice.

The DGA is the primary organization in the United States charged with oversight of studio compliance of entertainment industry agreements to hire more women in accordance with Title VII and U.S. equal employment laws.

As such, we urge you to address the ongoing unlawful under-representation of women DGA directors in the collective bargaining negotiations currently taking place until December 2013.

As champions of women and women’s issues, both in your films and throughout your careers— if not you, then who— will help remedy our nation’s unjust employment ratios among American women directors.

We count on you to wield your influence where it is needed now more than ever, in support of employment equity in the industry that creates America’s most culturally influential global export–media.

Yours sincerely,

Women Directors in Hollywood

www.womendirectorsinhollywood.com

 

How Hollywood Lists Keep Women Directors Jobless

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Voila! A woman director through the glass ceiling!

By Maria Giese

Nearly 40 years ago, pill in 1976, patient the California Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights (a bi-partisan agency of the executive branch of the Federal Government that is required to submit reports to the President and the Congress whenever the President, the Congress, or the Commission deem desirable) held an open meeting to collect public testimony on equal employment opportunity in Hollywood.

The Commission wanted to know why Affirmative Action programs of the previous decade(s) to hire more women and minorities had failed.  Unfortunately, several studios refused to meet. While Disney and Universal sent representatives, Fox, Paramount and Warner simply refused.  IATSE, the umbrella organization for the unions also refused.

The Commission wrote: “I think it raises some serious questions of commitment on the part of the studios (to address equal employment).”  The Committee requested a Commission hearing.  Federal Commissioners approved subpoena power, and in 1977 “recalcitrant witnesses” began appearing for the hearings.

Based on the hearings, in 1978, the Commission prepared a 55-page report intended to analyze and understand the industry, how it functions, and how women and minorities are excluded.  They examined the size and composition of the workforce, analyzed the studios, unions and Guilds, the “roster system” (lists) used for hiring, and how “off-roster” hires, as well as apprenticeships and training work.

The Commission understood how important the film and TV industry is to shaping our culture, and to have fair and balanced depictions of our world, the images created in Hollywood must represent the diverse perspectives of the American population.  For example, at that time, less than one half of one percent of films were being directed by women, even though women make up half the population.  Women were literally excluded as creators and directors of media content in the United States of America.

What the Commission learned is as follows:

  1. The Federal Government has been weak in enforcing Affirmative Action efforts to increase employment of women and minorities. Therefore Hollywood studios have been shirking their responsibilities. “When Government compliance efforts diminished, industry equal employment opportunity waned.”
  2. The U.S. Film and TV industry uses a “Roster System”—LISTS—to hire employees, and this makes it every difficult to enforce equal opportunity employment.

What the commission learned is important and will be stated below, however, I must preface the findings be stating that all the problems the Commission identified remain in place today.  The representation of women has increased so insignificantly as to require immediately change.  Today women direct about 3 to 5 percent of feature films—forty years later, women are still fundamentally excluded from this profession and our entertainment industry still in egregious violation of Title VII.

What happened?  Why did this 1978 report result in no significant change?  The answer is that while the United States Government has lots of excellent, very hard won civil rights laws intended to help create gender parity in the entertainment industry, when the Commission on Civil Rights presented the report to the President and the Congress, no one did anything about it.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, realizing the Federal Government was unable or unwilling to enforce Title VII in Hollywood, just dropped the ball.

Who picked up the ball?  The Directors Guild of America. The DGA came to act as the enforcement agency for equal employment in the industry.  They began to include in collective bargaining agreements with the studios equal employment and diversity articles intended to enforce Title VII.  The DGA set up a Diversity Department and (in 2004) a Diversity Task Force to oversee studio compliance of the agreements, but little compliance ever actually occurred.

The studios fell back on their old roster system of hiring, and the Guild itself began its own ad hoc roster system, arbitrarily placing names of women on the list of female directors to be submitted to the studios whenever someone made enough noise.  As is stated on the DGA.org website:

“The DGA maintains a contact list of experienced women and minority directors to make it easier for producers making hiring decisions. The list can be obtained by any production company by contacting the DGA.”

Unfortunately, because the selection of women on the DGA Diversity “List” was (and is) not merit-based, the film and TV producers were often left disappointed by the results.

The Lists themselves are today the primary way women directors get TV directing jobs.  The pool is kept very small, and is vigorously protected by the few women on it.  Getting on the list requires only to be “tapped” for an episode of directing, so whatever women gets lucky enough, pushes hard enough, or trades a favor, may end up on the List, regardless of her talent as a director.

Unfortunately, this results in Lists that do not include best of the best graduates from America’s top film schools, it does not include women who have managed to direct even very successful feature films, it is not a list based on merit at all, but rather an arbitrarily selected group of women formed on a basis of tokenism.

The Lists are comprised of women who are very successful actresses, crew-members who begged long-enough, and daughters, nieces, lovers, personal friends of anyone in an appropriate power position to hire directors.  Some of the names represent random women (perhaps a women who had just have a feature reviewed at some festival or who just signed with an agent who is owed a favor), hand-picked by some executive who just knew he had to break down and hire a women director—and she became the one.

The women on the list are “just anyone who managed to get on the list.”  This is one possible reason that women directors are often deemed inferior to their male counterparts.  Women directors in American television are merely tokens, few people really care much whether they are any good or not.  They get slotted in, the producers cover for them, directing the “difficult scenes,” and then the execs move back to their dependable male directors.

What if women were not tokens?  What if directing jobs in American TV were merit-based, and yet women were provided equal opportunity?  Then an extraordinary thing would happen:  Women would move into the profession based on education and skill.  They would be the best of the best in the profession, and because of required abidance of equal employment opportunity laws by studios, they would soon reach parity.

American film and television would achieve gender balance at last in our most culturally influential global export.  The United States would no longer be a hypocritical nation that ignores its own sacred values of equality for all.