Lydia Pilcher has a toolkit and she’s not afraid to use it.
The veteran film producer is working with the Producers Guild of America to develop a “toolkit” of statistics about the success of female-driven movies in an effort to debunk the “myth” that femme-led projects don’t do much box office, particularly overseas.
Pilcher, who is VP of motion pictures for the PGA, asserted during a panel session at the guild’s Produced By: New York conference that the industry has a responsibility to attack the misperceptions about femme-led pics at box office.
“There’s a perception in our industry that female-driven storytelling is not commercial,” she said. “In my mind there’s a lot of money being left on the table with underserved” audiences.
The attitude is particularly prevalent among foreign sales agents, she added, which is detrimental because foreign sales are so crucial to financing films. As chair of the PGA’s Women’s Impact Network, she is spearheading the effort to compile and distribute research material to combat “the institutional resistance to female-driven storytelling.”
The goal is to give producers ammunition “for when your sitting there with financiers, you can cherry-pick” relevant information about past performance, she said. “All of us have a responsibility to educate foreign sales agents on this data.”
Fellow panelist Stacy Smith, director of USC Annenberg’s media, diversity and social change initiative, said research done by her org and others has found that female creatives often hit a brick wall in lining up the outside financing that is now routine for getting projects off the ground.
Smith called it a “fiscal cliff” for women that amounts to a huge gender barrier that explains why the stats about female representation in movies have not budged much since 1990. Women and girls represent less than one-third of the speaking parts in mainstream movies.
“When money moves in, women are pushed out. They’re kept from really important decsision-making roles that can change what we see on screen,” Smith said. Specifically, research shows that women are perceived as less capable than men to handle the job of leading the sizable crew that it takes to produce a movie.
Panel moderator Cathy Schulman, the prez of Women in Film LA and Mandalay Pictures, noted that for all the changes in the film biz, the statistics on female creatives working behind the camera in film “have pretty much flatlined since 1998.”
Beyond the big screen, panelist Lauren Zalaznick, former NBCU Cable maven, noted that television has made strides for women on both sides of the camera. “The most powerful showrunner in television today is not seen as the most powerful female showrunner. She’s just the most powerful showrunner in television, and that’s Shonda Rhimes.”
Moreover, the volume of shows prominently featuring female characters in the 40-50 age range “is unparalleled,” Zalaznick said. “It could be a cyclical change, it could be systemic. We’re hoping it’s a systemic change.”
In contrast to TV, the level of female driven business activity in the digital and tech arenas is “pretty dismal,” Zalaznick said.
“There’s been a plethora of wealth creation in addition to IP creation that is exclusively the domain of men,” said Zalaznick, who is working as a consultant to numerous digital entities at present. “There are fantastic female (company) founders — they tend to be involved with traditionally women’s businesses like apparel.”
Zalaznick added that she sees the problem as a “systemic” issue that is “more about inertia that outward bias” as male entrepreneurs and execs tend to stick with people they know and have worked with in the past.
Kelly Edwards, vp of talent development at HBO, where she oversees diversity initiatives, said the lack of networking issue is a problem for women, especially those hoping to prosper in fields that have long been dominated by men, such as cinematography.
Of the 900 or so members of the L.A. branch of the cinematographer’s guild, “the list of cinematographers and women is so tiny, it could all fit on one page,” Edwards said. “Of that group of women, they weren’t connected” with one another, as Edwards discovered when she arranged a dinner with execs in an effort to help broaden the network’s pool of d.p. talent.
(Pictured: Lauren Zalaznick and Lydia Pilcher)