Seventy-four years after Dorothy Arzner became the first female to join the two-year-old Directors Guild of America, women comprise just 13.5% — or around 1,200 — of its members who direct. And while their employment figures are much better on major TV shows than in studio films, the overall numbers are still staggeringly low.
“I know it hasn’t gotten any better statistically since I started directing in the ’80s,” says Lesli Linka Glatter (“Nashville,” “Boss,” “True Blood”), a DGA board member and co-chair of its Diversity Task Force. “That’s crazy.”
At the very least, TV opportunities appear to be flatlining: Only 11% of 2010-11 and 2011-12 primetime broadcast narrative and reality shows were directed by women, according to the annual Boxed In study by Martha M. Lauzen at San Diego State U’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. The DGA’s analysis of more than 3,100 scripted-series episodes in the 2011-12 network season, and 2011 pay and basic cable season found similar results.
Making it to the top of the film industry is twice as hard: According to SDSU’s Celluloid Ceiling report, only 5% of last year’s 250 biggest-grossing films were helmed by women. Although another recent Lauzen study shows promise in the indie film arena — women directed 18% of narrative features and 39% of docs appearing at high-profile U.S. fests between August 2011 and August 2012 — she notes that docs’ low cost often make them DIY affairs, and many don’t find distribution.
While all film and TV figures are low, the stats beg the question: Why are top TV network series hiring women to direct episodes at twice the rate of studio films?
Lauzen says television is traditionally a more welcoming environment to women, which stems from TV’s more direct advertising connection with femme consumers, leading to more shows with female characters and a greater openness to hiring women to make them. “In addition, I have heard people speculate that television remains less prestigious than film and, as a result, the barriers to entry are lower,” she says.
Both Eileen Heisler (co-showrunner of ABC’s “The Middle”) and helmer Jennifer Getzinger (“Mad Men”) think it’s the lower costs and lower stakes involved in television, as well as a higher number of female producers and writers with the power to hire women.
“It’s easier in television to build up a track record with people who just hire you for one episode,” notes busy director Gwyneth Horder-Payton (“Sons of Anarchy,” “The Walking Dead,” “The Shield”).
Lauzen’s research reveals that having more females at decision-making levels makes a big difference in hiring. “We’ve found that when you have a woman in a position of power — for example, a female showrunner — the chances go up that you’re going to have female directors on that show,” she says.
Yet even the most positive numbers can give a deceptively optimistic view of opportunities for women. Heisler and DeAnn Heline’s “The Middle” had the highest incidence of episodes helmed by women (10 of 24) among narrative network series with female showrunners in 2011-12, but all 10 were helmed by the same woman, Lee Shallat-Chemel.
Adds “Mad Men’s” Getzinger, “On almost every show I do, if I’m not the only woman director that season, I’m one of two.”
As Linka Glatter notes, among the 11% of shows directed by women, “someone who works all the time — like myself or Mimi Leder or Karen Gaviola or Tawnia McKiernan — is counted multiple times”
Though female showrunners have above-average hiring rates, not all are created equal. A casual survey reveals that many who made their debut in the 2011-12 season had numbers closer to average, like Elizabeth Meriwether’s “New Girl” and Emily Spivey’s “Up All Night” (two of 24 episodes directed by women) and Emily Kapnek’s “Suburgatory” (two of 22).
“When you have a first-year show, the network and studio certainly have a lot to say about who’s on the (director) list,” says Linka Glatter.
Adds Heisler, who immediately tapped Julie Anne Robinson to direct the pilot for “Middle,” “It might be a numbers game, but there could be chauvinism in there when they’re setting up the first season.”
Awareness can make a difference: after the DGA’s 2010-11 report on diversity among episodic TV directors cited Jenji Kohan’s “Weeds” as one of eight shows that did not hire women or minorities in that period — and the only one with a female showrunner on the list — three of the 13 episodes in its final season were directed by two women. Among the other returning shows from the study to improve were TNT’s “Leverage” (hiring McKiernan for one of its 10 2012 episodes) and FX’s “Justified,” which hired Horder-Payton for one of its 13 episodes this year.
So what are the solutions? More mentorships are a start, say several TV vets.
“I think we (also) have to look at who’s hiring and who they feel more comfortable with. I think it’s the networks, studios and showrunners just having those names (of women and minority directors) and being open to different points of view,” says Linka Glatter, who recently moved into co-exec producing with last year’s “Chicago Code” and “Playboy Club,” and is now helming “Nashville.” “Being on those calls in the last couple years, I know at least they are aware of the diversity situation.”
4,750 41% members female
• 2 of 5 national officers female
• 1 of 3 regional/council officers female
• 13 of 24 national board members female
• 36 of 72 council delegates female
15,000 22% members female
• Within the category of director, 13.5% female.
• Of 44 officers/board members, 13 are female.
• Of 47 executive staff members, 20 are women
• Of total staff of 140, 75 are women
4,338 25% TK% members female WGAW members WGA east members
• There are five female WGAW Board of Directors members.
• The majority of senior staff positions at the Guild are held by women.
151,000 44% members female
• Staff is 63% female.
• Roberta Reardon , co-president
• Amy Aquino , co-secretary treasurer
• Gabrielle Carteris , largest local vice president and co-president, Los Angeles Local
• Catherine Brown , broadcaster vice president
• Nearly half of the top positions in staff are filled by women including the heads of finance, IT, communications, awards, industry relations and two contracts departments.
American Cinema Editors
700 33% members (comprising active, affliate and retired) female
• The board has 14 members, 50% female.
Costume Designers Guild
775 83% members female
• Mary Rose, president
• Rachael Stanley, exec director/delegate
• Jacqueline Saint Anne, Karyn Wagner, Wendy Chuck, trustees
• Julie Weiss, board member/delegate
• April Ferry, Betty Madden, Dana Woods, Kresta Lins, board members
American Society of Cinematographers
464 3.4% members female
• Stephanie Argy, Enlightenment & Virtual Production subcommittees
• 25 board members, 0% female