“But you’re a TV director,” the Oscar winning producer said as her face scrunched into a sneer. “Feature directors are hot-messes, you’re far too organized to direct features!”
“I’m not too worried about you as a director but we’ll have to get a top writer to polish your screenplay so his name will attract a top actress,’” said the 30-year veteran producer.
“My client loves your script but my job is to protect her reputation and you’re not a household name,” admitted the manager about his prestige actress.
These are all sentences I’ve heard with my own ears while shepherding an award-winning script that I plan to direct. I’m a director with more than two decades directing big budget episodic television and low budget movies. I rarely have the luxury to pick and choose the projects I direct, yet I’m forever grateful for learning from every job, and earning a living doing what I love — in any form that comes my way. In this fashion. I have developed a high level of skill and sophisticated artistry — but not celebrity cachet.
Despite the many fine feature films directed by women again this year, not one of them was nominated for an Academy or DGA award which sadly underscores the fact that only 3.8% of the top 100 studio films from the last decade were directed by women. In response, @TimesUpNow and @Inclusionists created the #4percentchallenge to galvanize change. The initiative prompts well-established actors and producers/studios to take the challenge to commit to working with a woman director in the next 18 months. Scores of Nearly 100 Hollywood heavyweights have joined in.
But how do we make this work?
This initiative is thrilling and a hearty brava to the activists who understood that the key to greenlighting pictures with women directing is for talent to commit! It is truly the perfect antidote for our ailing statistics. However, as a female filmmaker who has been trying for some time to attract the level of actress who financiers deem worthy of their investment, I believe this movement must take a hard look at some of the ingrained, subconscious biases that hold the statistics of women making feature films at under 4%.
We all know the names of the same ten top women movie directors, but what few understand is that these extraordinary women are only the tip of an iceberg that has been unseen for far too long. While the statistics of women directors in studio features is under 4%, the stat for women directing television is much higher, yet this labor pool of extraordinary women is often disparaged and overlooked by those who make feature films.
Perhaps our most revered and respected dramatic television director, Lesli Linka Glatter, was thwarted for many years in her goal to make movies. Thankfully, the dramatic series “Homeland” gave her the cinematic palette to make an indelible mark and hopefully we will have many movies of hers to enjoy in the future. But right now there many more women who are being overlooked as she once was, women with tremendous skill who can alter the statistics for women directing movies immediately.
There is a stigma that television directors can only follow a template, that we don’t know how to find great actors, or put a crew together, or have our own vision. These tired tropes are untrue and, in my mind, another form of gender exclusion. Working in television, production savvy, discipline, collaboration, and the highest standards of professionalism are demanded. Week after week, year after year, television directors work with the highest level of actors and technicians, using extraordinary tools, moving from prep to post, making a one-hour “movie” within a month.
Certainly our indie film director sisters also deserve the same kind of attention. There are brilliant women who have ushered independent movies for years who may not have made it into the big film festivals (some of which also have low rates of selecting women-directed films.) There is a large community of women who have directed fine films that never benefited from the publicity blast of a Sundance or Berlin (not to mention those who did and were never heard from again.)
Perhaps that producer who envisioned a “hot mess” just had an antiquated view of what it means to be a director. Perhaps that manager, repping the actor who could trigger my film was so accustomed to working in a milieu of PR buzz that anything short of that felt inconsequential.
I would like to urge those who created this initiative and those who have signed on to be audacious in seeking out directors they may not yet have heard of. If you want to change the stats, you must have open minds. Sit down with us, talk to us, hear our vision and see if you are inspired. The #4percentchallenge is just what we need right now but it won’t become a four percent solution unless we move together in a whole new way. As more feature films are directed by women, not only will the statistics grow but so will the chances for some of us to garner nominations and wins at The Academy Awards.
Rachel Feldman is a veteran director and writer working in episodic television, features, and web series. She most recently directed “Blue Bloods” for CBS and the pilot and first season of “The Baxters” for MGM. Her passion project “Lilly” is a feature film based on the life of fair pay activist Lilly Ledbetter. A former chair of the DGA Women’s Steering Committee, Feldman is an outspoken activist for gender equity in Hollywood. She is repped by Amy Retzinger &Evan Pioche/Verve, Darryl Taja/Epidemic, Gregg Ramer/Paul Hastings. You can follow her on Twitter @WomenCallAction.