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Women in Film Sees Slow Pace of Change in Entertainment

Designing Change, the theme of this year’s Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards, could not be more appropriate given the spotlight on gender parity and the federal government’s probe into whether there is a pattern of bias against
hiring female directors in Hollywood.

Yet for nearly four years, WIF, which holds its Crystal + Lucy Awards on Wednesday evening, has been conducting an awareness campaign and raising funds for research on the falling-out points for women, leading to the Systemic Change Project that is already showing results.

The project grew out of extensive research and an inaugural summit for 50 professionals held last November in which executives, agents and creatives brought their ideas for solutions to the table, augmented by best practices from medicine, finance, technology and politics.

“The idea was to work together to create change,” says WIF president Cathy Schulman. “The key thing that resulted was to create a peer-to-peer fix-it system. The process has been slow because there hasn’t been peer pressure. The idea is that decision-makers will listen to progressive ideas for change from people they normally listen to, such as studio heads working with agents and producers.”

Director Catherine Hardwicke’s recent experience is a prime example. Within days of the summit, she got a call from a participant that led to a directing job on a DreamWorks television project — and then another gig, executive producing and helming the first two episodes of USA Network’s crime thriller “Eyewitness.”

Programs to Help Female Filmmakers
WIF’s programs include monthly screening and speaker series, a finishing fund, scholarship and mentorship programs, and a PSA production program.
GOAL WIF partners with the Sundance Institute for the Systemic Change Project with actionable goals to achieve gender parity. WIF documents the accomplishments of women in the industry by filming them for its Legacy Series, housed at the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
$1.5k Women in Film was founded in 1973 as a nonprofit dedicated to equal opportunities for women. It has 1,500 members.
$75k WIF awards eight to 15 grants annually, totaling $50,000-$75,000 and eight scholarships for amounts from $2,000 to $25,000.
+7k WIF’s social media campaign #52FilmsByWomen has more than 7,000 people committed to watching a female-made film every week and posting about it.
200 The Finishing Fund awards millions in cash and in-kind services to over 200 films internationally.
100 Up to 80-100 members are mentored yearly by pros.

“I’m sure that all this noise and excitement made it easier for me to get approved,” she says. “People want to be on the right side of history and do something positive instead of getting shamed in the media, like the article revealing there were no women directors on several studios’ upcoming release schedules. All this attention is great and it’s making
people think twice — and some people are already taking action.”

On the set of HBO’s “Vinyl,” director S.J. Clarkson worked with a crew of about 50% women — for the first time in her directing career. “There’s a risk aversion in this business and women get caught in that. It’s been a systemic problem, partially because of a lack of role models, which is discouraging,” she says. “But women should not accept limitations.”

Helmer Lesli Linka Glatter agrees, saying, “You have to be incredibly tenacious and everyone needs a hand. Everyone needs the door to be opened a little bit and any person who is working, male or female, has had someone grab the hand and help. And that’s what the women that are working have to do.

“And the men! I’ve been incredibly mentored by men as well, you have to do that. I’ve had so many mentors along the way but one of the first people who really sat down with me was (director) George Miller. I met him in Tokyo when I was living there and he was one of the first people who really gave me a helping hand. I got to thank him this year, which was amazing.”

Change is slow, but is coming, she says. “I think we’re at a tipping point now.”

Television writer Marjorie David has also seen change since the days when it was considered progressive to have one woman scribe in a room. “People do respond to consciousness-raising and external pressure,” says David, a WGAW board member who is on NBC’s upcoming “Taken.” “Most people now are very aware that a diverse staff is a better staff, making the atmosphere better and more creative. What we need to do is open the door even more.”

“It feels like the conversation has changed and that we’re at a tipping point — like there was for gay marriage,” says Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”), the only woman nominated in the feature film directing categories at this year’s DGA Awards. “I hope the needle will move and we won’t have just article after article about this and then nothing happens.”

Schulman also feels optimistic about change. “My colleagues are hearing for the first time interest in hiring women not just for gender-specific content or lead characters,” she says.

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