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How Women Executives and Producers are Changing the Status Quo

How Women Executives and Producers are Changing the Status Quo

The Industry Days program at the recent Chicago International Film Festival wrapped up with a panel featuring four female film professionals who shared their experiences in the business and their thoughts on the state of gender equality in filmmaking. The panel, dubbed “Power Players: How Women Executives and Producers are Changing the Business,” was moderated by Ilyse McKimmie (Labs Director, Feature Film Program at Sundance Institute) and featured Rebecca Green (producer, “It Follows”), Alicia Sams (producer, “Amreeka”), and Amy Hobby (Tangerine Entertainment). A cautious optimism permeated the room as they discussed the issue. Below are some highlights of the discussion.

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An uneven playing field

McKimmie set the table for the conversation by bringing up some statistics. “Out of the 250 highest grossing films produced in 2014, 7% were directed by women, 23% had a female producer. We haven’t achieved parity,” she said. McKimmie then asked the panelists how they approach this climate and what are the common challenges they face. 

“I don’t sit and dwell on it. I just go forth,” explained Amy Hobby, “but you do encounter a lot of different problems. I used to have an older male business partner who I would pitch projects with. I recall having a circular conversation with an executive where I’d say something, and the exec would look at me, listen, but then address my male partner instead. And we’d go around like that. And I was the more experienced producer at the time. I’m naturally self-deprecating, so I’ll often make fun of myself, but I have to remind myself not to be in those settings because men buy into it.”

Green spoke about the difficulty of developing projects with female leads, regardless of who is behind the camera. “From the get-go they’re valued less, so it’s important to tell female stories with women. There’s a system saying we can’t have certain budgets with the low cast value of a female lead,” she explained.

Implicit sexism

The women on the panel mostly agreed that overt sexism is not the main issue they face, but rather the implicit sexism that is inherent in how the industry operates. “It’s implicit bias, people aren’t necessarily consciously discriminating. It’s systematic. It’s a lack of awareness,” said McKimmie.

“I’m constantly trying to conversationally drop my resume because it’s assumed that because of my age and gender I’ve never worked on a movie before or I lack experience,” said Rebecca Green. “One thing that my female producing partner and I frequently encounter is being referred to as ‘you girls,’ which also implies being young and inexperienced. That’s a daily thing.”

Gaining confidence

The panel broached the topic of the differences between how males and females conduct themselves, centering the idea that women lack the confidence that males seem to achieve easily.

“In my experience, men are more willing to be pushy and come up to me and talk about their project. Women are more likely to be polite and wait in the corner,” suggested McKimmie.

Alicia Sams agrees that “for women I think it takes longer for them to develop the confidence they need. If there are 10 qualifications for a job and a guy has three of them, he thinks he’s perfect for the job, but a woman wants to feel like she has nine of them.”

“We have to be role models, and train women to be confident in this business,” said Hobby.

Changing the rule book

Amy Hobby is the co-founder of Tangerine Entertainment, a production company that only takes on film projects directed by women. “We have turned being a woman into an advantage,” said Hobby. “Our mandate is simple, there just has to be a female director. It tends to lead to more females on the crew. We have no restrictions on subject matter. Now people will come to us with a script and say they want a female director so we’ve accidentally become a free agency of women filmmakers. For example, we connected Rose McGowan with “The Pines,” which was a great match.”

When it comes to imposing regulations on hiring women in the industry, however, all of the panelists agreed it wasn’t the best solution. “What matters is exploring both male and female options,” said Green. “When I’m working with a director on hiring a DP and other roles, I make sure to provide a list of men and women to consider. Agencies push men, they have more representation, but it’s not an all-male pool of people. It’s a lack of research when you see otherwise.”

Sams tries not to let gender get in the way of choosing who to work with. “I don’t ever think whether or not I want a male or female DP, I just want the best possible, but we’re working with increasingly more women.”

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Start a conversation.

One theme of the conversation revolved around the idea that men are not against women in the industry, but that they often don’t consider the situation from a female point-of-view.

Hobby shared an anecdote about running into Ethan Hawke. “He asked what I was doing and I told him about Tangerine and it only dawned on him then that he had never worked with a female director. He thought it was terrible,” she said.

Hobby cited an exchange with Steven Soderbergh as playing a huge role in fueling her confidence. “I produced ‘Everything Is Going to be Fine’ for Steven Soderbergh. There were two other producers, [Spalding] Gray’s widow, and another. I ended up doing 99% of the work, and Steven called me to his office and said ‘you did all the work and the other guy didn’t and should be an executive producer’ and I was like, ‘no, it’s okay, it doesn’t matter.’ But he insisted I stand up for myself.”

“You don’t get what you don’t ask for,” said McKimmie, calling for women to voice themselves. Change has to come from those who want it. “I don’t think it’s anybody’s place to step in and do that. It’s about what you think you’re worth,” said Green.

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