Femmes in film biz fare better with indies

Women make up just 18% of top roles in H'wood pics

Despite the increasing prominence of a handful of femme helmers, the number of women working in top behind-the-camera roles on feature films is still pretty slim.

Two studies released Monday underscored the uphill climb for women working as directors, exec producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors in film. The jobs picture appears to be a little better in the indie realm than for mainstream Hollywood pics, but not by much.

A survey conducted by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film of the pics selected for the Sundance fest from 2002 to 2012 found that women comprised 29.8% of 11,197 directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors on those films. The latest edition of the Hollywood survey conducted for more than a decade by Martha Lauzen of San Diego State U. found that women comprised 18% of those roles on the top 250 domestic pics of 2012.

The Sundance Institute/WIF study was commissioned as part of a broader initiative between the two orgs to open doors for femme filmmakers through a mentoring program and other efforts. The study, unveiled in Park City, cited five prime causes for the relatively low showing of femmes in Sundance pics: financial barriers, male-dominated industry networking, stereotyping on the set, the pressure for femmes to achieve a work-family balance and exclusionary hiring decisions.

“This data shows us that there is a higher representation of female filmmakers in independent film as compared to Hollywood — but it also highlights the work that is still to be done for women to achieve equal footing in the field,” said WIF prexy Cathy Schulman. Added Sundance Institute exec director Keri Putnam: “The results of this research are encouraging, and we hope they will highlight the barriers and opportunities facing women behind the camera.”

The Sundance/WIF survey found that women were most likely to serve in lower-run producing roles like associate producer in both narrative and docu features.

Among directors specifically, 23.9% of the Sundance pics from the past decade were helmed by women. And femmes were more likely to direct docus (34.5%) than narrative pics (16.9%).

The research by Lauzen, exec director of Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State, found little movement overall for femmes in top filmmaking positions since 1998. Even with breakthrough moments such as Kathryn Bigelow becoming the first femme to win Oscar’s directing trophy for 2008’s “The Hurt Locker,” the percentage of female directors in 2012 was 9%, the same level as 1998, after dropping to 5% in 2011 and 7% in 2006.

The number of femme producers has held steady at 25% for the past two years, after dropping to 20% in 2006. The ranks of femme scribes inched up to 15% last year, up from 13% in 1998 and a low of 10% in 2006. Editors have held steady during the 1998-2012 period in the 20%-21% range, while cinematographers have fluctuated between 2%-4%, with 2012 on the low end of the range.

Lauzen’s research has found that women are most likely to work in the documentary, drama and animated film genres, and least likely to be found on pics in the action, horror and sci-fi genres.

The Sundance/WIF study was conducted by Stacy L. Smith, Katherine Pieper and Marc Choueiti of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.