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What Does it Take to Be a Successful Woman in Film?

What Does it Take to Be a Successful Woman in Film?

The Portland Film Festival has partnered with the local chapter of Women in Film and the global event #directedbyWomen, the 15-day worldwide film viewing party highlighting female directors and their work from September 1-15. The third annual Portland Film Festival, which runs from September 1-7, showcased some of the films from #directedbywomen, including Heather de Michele’s “As Good As You,” Dana Nachman’s “Batkid Begins,” Lauren Shaw’s “Angkor’s Children” and Gabrielle Demeestere’s “Yosemite.”

Local Portland producer Lara Cuddy has three films in the festival, including opening night film “Birds of Neptune,” directed by Steven Richter. Cuddy was represented on the Women in Film panel at the festival, which also included veteran screenwriter Leslie Dixon (“Freaky Friday,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Limitless”), director Megan Griffiths (“Lucky Them,” “Eden,” “The Off Hours”), producer Leslie Waldman (“Weeds,” “The Middle”) and writer/producer/business affairs executive Ryon Lane.

READ MORE: The Biggest Challenges the Portland Film Festival Filmmakers Faced

Here are some of the highlights from their panel discussion, which was moderated by Alexandra Blatt and which ranged from a discussion of how they broke into the business to tips for aspiring filmmakers.

Female producers often take a different path.

“Most of the female producers I’ve met have come up through production, have been production managers and coordinators. As those women come up through the production department and come into their own as producers. They’ve climbed a different ladder than most male producers.” – Lara Cuddy

Move to L.A., but go to college first.

“The world has changed so much the way I would go about going into the business right now would be completely different than what I did which was foolhardy. I didn’t go to college. I was literate. I made my way to L.A. not knowing a single person because it was pre-internet — you had to check scripts out of AFI to see what a script looked like and meet people and talk to them and meet an agent and get them to like you.  I still think it’s a good idea to go to L.A. if you’re serious about studio pictures. I still think you need to begin your career there. If people meet you and like you, they’ll think of you for jobs. You can leave later. Don’t not go to college and move to L.A. without knowing anyone. I don’t recommend that.” – Leslie Dixon

It may be easier to break in as a writer or writer-director than as a director.

“Directing a movie is asking to become the general of the army. There’s a reason they refer to balls as something you need. There’s physical stamina as well. It’s hard to become the general of a movie army. I have never wanted to do it because my attitude is if it can’t be done from the comfort of a chaise lounge, it shouldn’t be done at all.” – Leslie Dixon

“I think if all you want to do is write, [executives] don’t care very much. The trick is: is there an audience for what you’re writing about? If your leading lady is 65 years old and lives alone and has cats, then that movie probably won’t be made….you don’t have to write an action movie. I don’t think my taste is particularly female or male and I think that’s helped me a lot.” – Leslie Dixon

Write complicated parts that attract female stars and other allies.

“In general, I’ve been told I do damaged women movies, that’s my genre, but it’s always a very complicated female leading role in all of them. I think that’s been helpful in casting. Some of these ladies don’t get offered this kind of part this often. Toni Collette was the lead in my film ‘Lucky Them.’ I think she was very excited to get offered a smart, sexy single leading lady role. She said ‘yes’ right away when she got the script. It was executive produced by Joanne Woodward, which is the only way it went to the top of Johnny Depp’s pile of scripts. Work whatever angles you’ve got.” – Megan Griffiths

Remember there are larger societal issues at hand.

“I think there’s also an underlying societal issue as to why there’s not more women in film. In a blinking contest with childcare, often the women will blink first.” – Leslie Dixon

Get experience on set.

“I spent a lot of the ten years leading up to my film ‘The Off Hours’ working as a crew member in various positions. In film school I studied cinematography, I was shooting small films, so I started AD’ing because nobody wants to do that. I got a lot of experience on set and ultimately stopped doing that and starting directing when I made ‘The Off Hours.'” – Megan Griffiths

“I worked as a 2nd and 1st AD, which I loved. It’s a great background for producing and unit managing because you know what everybody does.” – Leslie Waldman

“The AD experience was great because you just have to be on the set and have authority. If you’re like ‘maybe we should move on…’ no one’s going to. That experience really helped me when I was directing. I got comfortable with that certainty. Certainty is very good.” – Megan Griffiths

Forge your own path.

“Don’t try to be a guy. You have to be strong and clear to be heard and you have to know what you’re doing and show your appreciation for the cast and crew, but you don’t have to be overly macho, just be yourself. That’s what works.” – Leslie Waldman

READ MORE: 2015 Portland Film Festival Announces Full Lineup

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