Things I’ve learned as a (woman) Filmmaker

Editor’s note: the situations are purely based on my own personal experiences, it does not reflect the experiences of all women filmmakers– although, it might…

image18Let’s be honest, women in film are few and far in between. Yes, there is an emergence of women making film behind the scenes – with a ground-breaking 20 percent of the crew for The Zookeeper’s Wife being female as so excitedly stated by actress Jessica Chastain from the set. Still, we have many Ava DuVernay’s who are shockingly ignored by the Academy for their amazing directing skills (Selma). But it’s okay…she’s got a Barbie modeled after her that sold out in seconds.

Then we have the Kathryn Bigelow’s of the industry that brilliantly shell out hits that become classics like Strange Days, Point Break, The Hurt Locker, and Zero Dark Thirty – but can’t seem to escape that 95 percent of people who immediately say that she was married to director James Cameron when she shows up.

These are just a few of the things that women in film have to deal with.

Although my career is still young (3 years), I’ve already learned quite a few things, and I’ve learned them fast. Here is a list of the most important things I’ve picked up from being in this business thus far:

  1. People will underestimate me all the time (namely sexism) – don’t get me wrong, I’m used to this. Throughout my entire life I’ve been underestimated because of my gender. As a journalist I faced many people expecting me to ask soft questions because of it. However, this has been somewhat enhanced as a filmmaker. People will take one look at me and try really hard to hide a smirk or a scoff when I say I am a writer/director. They are even more skeptical or amazed when I say that my stories are non-romantic. I’m always asked if I have a production team – which is code for ‘are you working with a guy?’ on these projects. This could be frustrating, but the truth is I am aware of my ability of making good films with compelling content; I’ve already proven that to myself (which is the most important point really) and the audience. I just have to keep working and shoveling out those sexists from the path before me.
  2. Sexual Harassment is alive and kicking – I’m not sure why, but many people think that women in film are there to be hit on. A recent encounter was with a director from Spain. He contacted me online and said he thought my work was interesting. It all seemed normal enough until he started hitting on me – I acted like I didn’t hear any of those things at first (e.g, “if you move to Europe there won’t be an ocean between us anymore” and “maybe we can work together”), but then he was really blatant about it when he said “imagine we’re eating it together” after I offered to give him my recipe for rice with coconut milk once the conversation geared from work to food. It was so disappointing and frustrating. This wasn’t the first time I experienced something like this: the first time was when this guy try to put his hands on me during a writing/production meeting for his “web series”. After I told him “Don’t touch me” and asked “What the fuck is wrong with you?” He said that he just “wasn’t used to working with women and he didn’t mean any harm.” I quit working with him that very day and I don’t know what happened to his “series”. To all of the sexual harassers I say this: no person in film is to be placed on the infamous casting couch.
  3. Never give in to the stereotype – You are NOT what they say you are. Many people will say to you “women don’t know how to make good films” or ask you “women rarely make it in film, what makes you think you will?” That’s when your confidence level has to reach the roof. For me it’s knowing who I am as a creative, as a woman, as a person, knowing that I have great ideas and I know I can make it. I will not only be a successful filmmaker, I will be successful in other areas too. I have tons of projects that I’ve started working on, that are not related to film. Projects that involve clothing and accessory designs for the practical woman that will be affordable and eco-friendly. (More about that to come on another post).
  4. Raising funds is a full time job and crowd-funding is NOT for everyone – This point isn’t just for women filmmakers and this has been proven to be very lucrative to many an indie director. Still, my Patreon page hasn’t quite taken off. I find the acquisition-of-funds part of filmmaking rather frustrating. Grant applications unanswered or denied, along with two painfully failed crowd-funding campaigns, along with failed attempts to get a day job to fund my projects can be soul crushing. It’s quite challenging to finance a film career. I have to admit, the rejections for a day job are nicely worded with the always pleasant to read “your CV/skills/accomplishments is/are quite impressive” – The frustration to acquire funds is growing. So much so that there are many moments that I fully understand why Stieg Larson and Malik Bendjelloul didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. For me the key is to never lose sight and to keep on working with what you have. If the wheel continues to turn, you will continue to move forward.
  5. Success is all relative – How do you measure success? Many people think that to be successful is to be a big award-winning-anything (e.g, Pulitzer, Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA, etc.) I think that success is measured by the days you actually did something in the field you love. I felt successful once I hit the “render film” command on the software for first short I wrote, directed and produced. At that moment I felt I had arrived, I was an official filmmaker. I couldn’t stop smiling and my heart swelled with pride. Imagine how I felt when I was accepted to my first ever film festival!? Success to me doesn’t mean that I have tons of money – I mean, yeah, that’s going to be sweet once I get it – but it’s about how complete I feel when I make and release a film.  All those moments that I can say with all honestly “if I died tomorrow I’d die happy” knowing that I won’t be a sad ghost moping around earth about the unfinished business I left is pretty awesome to me – something I wouldn’t have been able to say before.
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