When I first came to Hollywood and started
taking meetings, I was sure it was my high-pitched voice and curvy
figure that were placing obstacles in my path to success as a film director. I
had a lot of great meetings, but very little of them amounted to more than
learning how to navigate the City of Angels. My mother suggested lowering my
voice. I stopped wearing make-up and tried to suppress smiling or laughing
I found myself second-guessing myself at all
times. I didn’t know whether to comment on the photos, toys or art in
executives’ offices — or get right down to business. I didn’t know whether to sit
on the giant couches that were made for tall men or choose the hard chair
across the room where I could perch higher but was oddly out of range. I rarely
felt comfortable in my skin, always measuring, evaluating, worrying about every
micro-decision that might or might not kickstart a career.
More than a quarter of a century later, that voice of anxiety can still well up in my head, but maturity and experience have
taught me a variety of skills that I’d like to share with you.
1. Be in the moment. There will be easy
meetings and there will be difficult ones, but you can only do your best if you
are fully conscious and honest with yourself and others.
2. Be who you are. There is no right or
wrong. For some jobs you’ll be a perfect fit and for others you won’t, but
twisting yourself into a false version of yourself will only serve to sabotage
things in the end. Be willing to fight for a job, but also be okay with walking
away, maybe even suggesting someone else you know who might be a better fit. Another
woman, of course.
3. Set the long goal. Life is long. The
journey to a career rarely happens overnight. I cannot stress enough that you
must enjoy where you are right now. It’s important to set goals and work hard
for them, but you will never be at peace if you can’t enjoy what you have right
Recently, I was working with an Academy Award-winning
producer who was considering working with me as a director on a film I had
written. I’m a highly organized person. I’m prompt, responsible, responsive and I prepare endless materials regarding my work, including look books and
various director preparation visualizations, so that producers can share my
vision for a project.
As a DGA member, a mother, a film professor and a general member of the adult human population, I’m fairly certain that
serious hard work is a commendable attribute. But this producer thought
otherwise. She told me that I was “too organized” to be a good director, that
the great directors she worked with were “hot messes.”
The point is, unconscious bias comes in many
insidious forms. As women directors, we are constantly told that the body of our
work is not enough. Too much comedy, not enough drama, too much episodic work, not
enough action. Just like I thought it might be my voice or my clothing, the
fact is that sometimes “you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” It’s
a crap shoot. The person behind that door can be a fool or an enlightened,
Women directors will succeed when those in
charge tap into their intuition instead of relying on an antiquated,
patriarchal paradigm where one’s credits must align with standards few women
can hope to prove. Not many women have already directed studio tentpoles, but many
women are fully capable. Very few of us have the sample reel that will satisfy
precisely what a producer believes they need to see. But skill, talent,
character and imagination can be evidenced by sitting down with us, getting to
know us, hearing our vision and learning about our experiences.
Until then, the only secret to success you need — is you. Remain loyal and true to your voice, your brand, your vision. It’s
the only thing you’ve got.
As we turn into a new year, I wish all my fellow
female filmmakers grand success and fulfilled dreams in 2016. Okay, the guys
too. May all our dreams come true.
Rachel Feldman is a director, screenwriter,
and activist for gender parity in Hollywood. You can follow her @womencallaction