It's Stupidly Hard to Be a Woman Director in Hollywood. Still.
After many years working in the film industry, I am struggling to find work. It's hard for me to admit when I need help, and even harder to ask for it. I got into film so I could tell stories about the world from a woman's voice. It's in my nature to care about social issues and the environment. I've won awards as a director, worked as an editor and done various jobs for producers and post facilities.
It's true that working in Hollywood is tough and competitive for everyone. I've made my own mistakes, but I believe the biggest impediment has been the industry's rampant sexism. I'm not alone either. A panel of women directors at this year's Sundance discussed how they were routinely judged as not competent enough to be in charge of technical things, no matter how great their experience. The issue is getting more attention. Dozens of articles have been published recently in places like Variety, the LA Times, The Huffington Post, Indiewire, Parade, The Hollywood Reporter, and Slate with titles like:
"Percentage of Women Working Behind the Scenes in Film Drops Below 1998 Levels"
"Men Still Largely Outnumber Women in Movies and TV Shows"
"An Oscar-Nominated Director Gets Real About How Women Are Treated in Hollywood"
Geena Davis' Institute on Gender and Media says only seven percent of directors are female. What is sometimes called the "celluloid ceiling" often applies to any job that is creative or technical.
The biased factors of the film industry have hugely affected my ability to make a living and pursue a directing career. In spite of my drive and educational background, I don't think I can ever get beyond these obstacles without some help or new awareness in the industry. I know a lot of other female filmmakers can relate. Maybe my own story might help explain why.
"Hollywood Hill" by Alex Campos on Flickr
All I ever wanted to do was direct. Before I went to graduate school at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, I had directed music videos for Island Records and documentaries that were on PBS. I wanted to move on to narrative features, so I studied film and visual effects to become a more advanced storyteller. I thought I could use my computer-graphic skills to make money in the industry as I progressed in directing. It didn't quite work out that way.
I'll never forget one of the first visual effects networking events I went to right after graduating from my MFA program at the top of my class. I expected to be able to mingle and make new contacts as a fellow professional in cool 3D software. Instead, I've never been groped so much in my life.
It was an evening event. A lot of alcohol flowed, and it was very crowded, but only about 10 percent of the techies were women. Just trying to walk through the aisles, I was grabbed on my ass, my boobs -- everything. Most of the other women there were treated similarly. I remember thinking how much it reminded me of the Tailhook sexual assault scandal.
This is not atypical. Women face these obstacles constantly, which makes it incredibly difficult to get the mentoring and professional connections one needs to move forward. I had another incident just a few months ago, where a man grabbed my leg in the middle of talking with me about editing work. Sometimes it's just a silent process. I might subtly make it clear I'm not interested in dating, and then I usually never hear back from them.
I thought about making a list of all the times sexism cost me a job. I counted at least 38 specific incidents. Here are a few samples of the kind of direct comments I've gotten: I won't tell you how to get a job here unless you go out with me; You're too glamorous for the job; You're distracting; You're a Hollywood babe -- you don't need a job. These don't include the constant unspoken assumptions that you just aren't competent enough.
I've tried not to be a complainer; my natural instinct is to push on. But I think I haven't spoken out enough. The truth is, I can't solve this problem alone.
After I graduated with an MFA, I had trouble getting visual FX work. I did manage to get two well-paid directing jobs, though. Before I moved to LA, I directed two complex, feature-length interactive educational projects with Stanford, Harvard and Hewlett Packard. The clients loved my work. But it didn't help me.