One of the best things about SXSW is that it provides a forum not just to ask the big questions, but to look at issues and potential solutions from different perspectives. In her keynote, Jill Soloway did exactly that in addressing the question she admits she’s getting a little tired about of being asked: Why are there so few female directors?
In talking about her own transition from the writers room to behind the camera, Soloway highlighted one of the things that attracts so many to directing — fulfilling one’s individual desires.
“I want this actor, I want Natalie Portman to make out with Michael Fassbender while I film it,” joked Soloway. “I really do. Malick, I guess, beat me to it [Malick’s ‘Song to Song,’ starring Portman and Fassbender premiered at SXSW], but whatever, I wanted the same thing. I want that backdrop, I want this location, I was that sky, I want this camera, I want this shot, I want this feeling, I want, I want.”
Soloway then posed an interesting question: What does that mean for women who grow up in world that teaches them their desires are a source of shame?
She then moved into a thought and body experiment, complete with a photograph-filled PowerPoint and the “Transparent” creator’s unique brand of humor, that was designed to make the audience realize just how contradictory the way women are raised and the job of directing can be.
You can watch, or better yet, take part in the experiment below.
During the question and answer part of the session, the issue of hiring and promoting more women in the film crew came up, and Soloway made a fascinating connection between the directing issue and the need to hire more women crew. Soloway’s production company, Topple, has made it a priority to hire female directors, but there’s a very real barrier to that goal that doesn’t often get discussed.
“We bring in female directors to meet and a lot of female directors say things to us like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this. I’ve never seen a one-liner before, how does this schedule work?'” said Soloway. “We probably shouldn’t hire them because they aren’t giving us feeling that they can do this.”
On the other hand, Soloway said male directors she’s passed on will keep calling asking her to reconsider, insisting they will do a good job.
“Sometimes I just want to give [the men] the role because they are communicating to me the feeling they got this,” said Soloway. “So if I have ten episodes and I have multiple people saying, ‘If you give me episode five, I’ve got this,’ I want to give them episode five, so I can fucking deal with episode six and seven.”
Soloway’s takeaway is that, while it’s important to want to give more women a chance at directing television, it’s important to also look at the pipeline.
“You have to basically look for women, not only identify them, but you have to find them, groom them, help them in every role,” said Soloway.
“You have to invest yourself in helping the new people and help them understand how the system is rigged against them. You have to help the prepare for the emotional, political, leadership aspects of the job,” she continued. “And you have to stay on top of it every single day, because [if] for some reason that woman may fall out [a] man will be standing by ready and it’ll be easier.”