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5 Tips for Female Filmmakers from the NYFF’s Convergence Panel

5 Tips for Female Filmmakers from the NYFF's Convergence Panel

This article was produced as part of the New York Film Festival Critics Academy. Click here to read all of the Academy’s work.

Almost every week, a new study demonstrates that women are massively underrepresented in the film industry. Most recently, research from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media showed that women filmmakers only constituted 7 percent of the directors, 20 percent of the writers and 23 percent of the producers in the 11 most profitable film markets around the globe. 

Both in the US and worldwide, producers have the highest representation of women, and half the members of the Producer’s Guild of America are female. That’s great for women filmmakers overall, said chair of the PGA Women’s Impact Network, East Coast, Caitlin Burns, who was moderating the New York Film Festival Convergence panel “Women’s Impact: Producing in A Convergent World” on Sunday, September 28. “Producers are the entrepreneurs. We’re the ones leading the charge. We’re the ones shoving the stories forward,” she said.

So how can we get more women to assume the producer’s role and take leadership in a male-dominated industry? Three successful producers — Andrea Miller, Jenni Magee-Cook and Ukeme Emem — shared their experiences and provided five pieces of advice for women pursuing decision-making positions:

1. Be Persistent

In landing their first job, all panelists had to hound their future employers and accept grunt work for low pay. Ukeme Emem used to fax Spike Lee’s office every Monday at 11 until they got sick of it and hired her. Once you get a foot in the door, absorb every detail and sit in on every meeting, so you can move up. 

2. Surround Yourself With People Who Are Smarter Than You

You can’t be an expert in everything, so forget your ego and don’t feel threatened by people who are smarter than you. “I like to be surrounded by experts,” said Ukeme Emem. “It took me a while, because I’m a bossy know-it-all, but I’ve learned to relinquish power and trust people.”

“You can’t be everyone, and if you try to be, you fail,” added Jenni Magee-Cook. “You have to have the bigger picture. You have to be not threatened by someone who knows more than you, because that’s what you want. You want them to take their expertise into the field and make the product even better.”

3. Pay It Forward

The panelists consciously work on creating interesting and empowering women on screen as well as employing other women. “I absolutely hire women as often as I can,” said Andrea Miller. “My career has been witness to the slog for women to break through the glass ceiling. I go out of my way to try to be a mentor and try to hire women, and I find them to be equally as good if they’re good.”

4. Encourage Woman Investors

Andrea Miller made the point that the reason why women have difficulties getting funding is that most investors are men. Film investment is a high-risk business, and women are averse to taking that risk, said Miller, who therefore regularly speaks to women’s groups about investments. “I think that if there were more women investors, there would be more women directors,” she said. 

5. Know Your Worth

Responding to a question about the wage gap, the panelists said they personally pay men and women the same. Disney, where Jenni Agee-Cook works, has very small pay ranges and is conscious about equal pay. Emem also pays equally and within union rates, but she’s noticed that men usually ask for more money than women do. She advises women not to hide their lights under a bushel and be better negotiators. “If they ever say yes to the number you said, you should have aimed higher,” she said. 

“Don’t take the job if you don’t feel compensated,” added Agee-Cook. “You will spend every day bitter.”

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