By Maria Giese
The perennial advice to anyone seeking success in Hollywood is: “It’s all about who you know.” True as that may be, for a woman director, getting to know executives and showrunners who are in a position to hand out jobs is not a simple task. Toward this aim, The Directors Guild and other professional organizations dedicated to helping women directors seek employment often set up networking events in an effort to introduce qualified directors with those who hire. These attempts rarely achieve their basic objective, however.
In general, there are fundamentally two types of networking events: those among peers and those that bring together unequal participants. Networking events among peers are relatively straightforward and take place in every sector of society. The bringing together of peers has a proven track record of resulting in mutual benefit, where face-to-face interactions can result in on-the-spot deal-making.
Networking events arranged by the DGA and organizations intended to help increase employment opportunities for women, however, represent examples of networking mixers that bring together unequal participants. Many diversity events designed to increase job opportunities for women directors include women attendees who are not currently employed.
Some of them have little or no experience working in the category in which they are seeking employment. Often the women attendees are not repped by agents or managers and they attend the events primarily to familiarize themselves with the landscape of episodic directing. For unemployed, but experienced directors, the networking event may be a last resort.
The counterparts to the women attendees are film and TV executives who are generally arm-twisted into attending the event to fulfill contractual agreements mandated, for example, in the Basic Agreement and the FLTTA between the DGA and the studios. More often than not, reluctant to waste an evening, a more powerful executive will send a mid-level exec to take his or her place. Therefore, rarely are the executive participants at these networking events actually decision-makers in the hiring of directors.
Put simply, networking events in which mid-level executives meet up with a group of under-employed women directors who have little or no currency to exchange, usually result in nothing more than wasted time and lingering feelings of humiliation.
Beyond that, women director networking events tend to be ineffective in increasing employment for women because executives are being asked to take a chance on an unproven talent. Perhaps a woman will turn out to be a great director for that project, or maybe she will not. There is no way of knowing without seeing the results of her work.
Hence, an executive is very unlikely to risk a directing slot on an unknown candidate with no immediate proof of benefit in sight. Are there networking events with unequal participants that succeed? One good example is college admissions networking events.
In these cases, thousands of student candidates are applying for spots in upcoming classes, while colleges and universities are seeking thousands of qualified student candidates. This type of networking often proves to be a very successful way of bringing together unequal participants. The prospective tuition-paying students meet with members of the academic community who need to fill their classes with a set number of students. Everyone has something to gain.
Even so, the schools must take a chance on the applicants; regardless of grades, essays, and standardized test scores, some of the applicants will become successful, contributing members of the academic community, while others will prove less so. Unlike our industry, however, colleges and universities must admit a certain number of new students, and students of course, must find their schools.
To apply this analogy to the film industry, improving the employment ratio for women directors could potentially emerge from networking events if the studios were mandated to hire a certain number of women each season in order to work toward parity on some set schedule goals & timetables.
In this case, the executives would have a big incentive to send their top decision-making executives to cull from the women director members who attend the events. In this way, since the studios must hire a woman, they would have a stake in making sure that the woman they choose be the best qualified for their series possible.
In the meantime, the producers can make ancillary use of the meetings by noting other women directors who may not suit their current show, but whom they may hire down the road. In this case, everyone would know in advance that a certain level of success will most likely be achieved. As with any new director—male or female—some would eventually prove to be great directors and others not, but at least the women candidates would get the chance to communicate their past directing experience and potential
If this were to happen, since male-to-female ratios within the pools of qualified director candidates is much closer to parity, it is inevitable that over time, talented female directors would come to reach equality with their male counterparts. The time-scale would depend of course on the intensity of the goals & timetables.
Unfortunately, this is not the case, and until it is, we cannot expect diversity networking events to become a catalyst to improve the employment numbers for women directors.