Aussie Sequel 2: Luci Temple

I always enjoy Luci Temple's blog Yet Another Struggling Writer. I love her close-and-careful analysis of feature projects that experiment with transmedia, with new kinds of investment, audience engagement and distribution. I learn more from her blog, every time, than from any other blog that addresses similar issues.

So when I was thinking about the Aussie women feature filmmakers doing so well as contenders for the AFI awards (yep! 42%), and puzzling about Martha Coleman's statement as Head of Development for Screen Australia ("there is a shortage of young women writers and directors putting their hand up to work in the mainstream”) and preparing to write
Aussie Sequel 1, I tweeted her, then emailed:
When I was re-reading your blog and came across your response to a comment about your own work and saw that you were having difficulty attracting state funding I was curious about your project: what it is, where it’s up to, where you perceive ongoing challenges and whether you think any of them have to do with gender. Have you got anything you’d like to share with me and/or with the world in my post?
Luci sent me this, which refers in passing to the Springboard programme at Screen Australia, "designed to forge the connection between short filmmaking and a feature film career", giving creative filmmaking teams an opportunity "to create a short film that speaks directly to their feature film screenplay, providing a strong showcase into the marketplace". Springboard's "about career building for the long term, providing an essential stepping-stone in a professional filmmaking career path". This year's four funded Springboard projects include two projects from mixed gender teams, and two from men. 
Because I was entertained and made thoughtful by what she wrote, here's what Luci sent, in its entirety. Luci asked me to make it clear that she is neither a spokesperson for anyone else, nor an 'expert'. Also, she wrote,"Whatever you do use, please don't make me sound like a 'men vs women' person... I work with male filmmakers all the time, and don't personally walk around blaming gender issues for my obstacles". A big thank you to you, Luci.

For the record, I grew up in a household playing with unisex toys, very much indoctrinated that there was no 'difference' between men and women. However, having now spent more than a decade in the real world, it's clear that things actually do often go very differently for men versus women. My mother is a psychologist, my sister a psychology lecturer, and the conversations around the dinner table frequently reference various studies. The gender lag in the film industry is common across most industries, even affecting teachers (where men may be in the minority, yet they are frequently promoted into power roles such as that of Principal). If you dip into the research, there are some 'trends' that may explain the gap:

Firstly, as most industries were established under the power of male leadership (which shaped the workplace culture and organisational hierarchy) women entering these workplaces, even several generations after the rise of feminism, are still often judged according to male values. Sometimes this presents in the form of double standards, for example a man might be called 'assertive', while the same characteristic in women could be considered 'pushy' or 'aggressive'. Men and women are often completely unaware of their own subliminal thought process that judges women more harshly than men in the workplace.

Then there are common behavioural differences between men and women:
- Men are much more likely to overestimate their ability, while women are likely to underestimate their own. Thus men can present themselves as more 'confident' and 'capable' to an employer (or film funding body) than a female with equal or even greater ability.
- Hormonal differences mean that in times of extreme stress women are more likely to cry, while men are more likely to lose their temper. A woman will then be deemed 'weak', 'unable to control her emotions', and will lose the respect of colleagues, while a man who loses his temper is still considered a strong capable leader who has just had a tough day.
- When in a group, men will sometimes tune out the higher pitched female voices, listening to, making eye contact with, and responding to other men, while the women are inadvertently ignored. Women don't tune men out in the same way.
- Women still carry the primary burden of childrearing, which means less time in the workforce, and less ability to join or remain industries that keep un-family-friendly practices

Etc, etc!

I don't want to get into a battle of the sexes conversation, but I think it's clear that 'the workplace' has not been reassessed in respect female values, strengths, or to accommodate for life events that would allow a better measure of equality.

In specific regards to the film industry...

A couple years ago at the ADG Conference the question of whether there is a difference between working with male versus female directors was put to a panel of First ADs. Amongst the discussion, I remember the observation being made that female directors are often more consultative than male directors. And that this is sometimes viewed as a weakness. If you've ever watched a reality tv show like The Apprentice, where they split the participants into a male team versus a female team, you often see this difference at play: the female team usually begins with consultative discussion, looking for the best solution, and one they agree on, while a male leader is more likely to quickly bang out a list of tasks, delegate to various people, and then the men rush to action. Both of these methods have strengths, as well as potential weaknesses.

However, working in a male dominated workplace, a female director with a consultative approach is likely to be viewed according to male values, which would interpret this common female behaviour as a sign of weakness, that she lacks confidence in her own ideas.

Personally I think that women such as myself have a consultative approach because we believe that achieving the best outcome is more important than guarding our egos. We're not short of our own ideas, however we note that perhaps the person most likely to come up with, for example, the *best* camera shot may actually be the DOP who has specialist expertise in the area. It seems silly to surround yourself with talented people, who in combination will know more of many intricacies than the director, if you don't make use of their knowledge. As such, when I direct, I view my role as one with the responsibility to ensure that decisions made are *informed* ones. And that doesn't happen without some consultation - yet crazily the act of consultation often undermines people's confidence in a female director.

While we'd agree that on a film set the whole team needs to be backing the director's vision, if cast and crew judge a female director according to male values, you will quickly see white-anting in the ranks.

Let's start by looking at the bottom of the industry, where people get their first taste of the industry. There are a lot of film schools now, and the common thing is for students to rotate through the roles, working on each others’ films. I've had female filmmakers express frustration to me when, after they've been supportive and hard working on other people's films, some of those men have then turned around and been condescending, unsupportive, and a nuisance when it's a woman's turn in the director's role. Now, some readers may be rolling their eyes at that, thinking it's an emotional woman having a whinge because they can't hack the pressure, but let me put it into perspective.

On the set of my own directorial debut, Don't Panic (which went on to win Best Comedy at St Kilda Film Festival), there was a male crew member who kept holding the shoot up by confidently informing me about something or other that I had allegedly got 'wrong'... half the time he wasn't even looking at the right page of the script! Being a first time director, and a female with none of the overconfidence common in young men, I took it on the chin and focussed on getting the film made rather than making a deal of it. It wasn't till afterwards that it sunk in what a huge line he had crossed, when the experienced professional DOP shared with me "You did a great job. Especially considering all the 'directors' in the room."

Anyone who has been on a film set knows the importance of letting the director do their job with minimal interruption. This one crew member slowed the set down, unnecessarily and repeatedly punctured the director's concentration, created doubt at moments when there was no need for it, and, in flagrantly crossing the line, made it permissible for others to also cross it, thus creating a small roll on effect. And my film wasn't even a 'film school' film - it was crewed by a mix of experienced professionals, as well as some film school grads (of which he was one... yes, the guy with little experience being the know-it-all).

That is the experience that female filmmakers are much more likely to have than their male counterparts. Men on average are just not as supportive of women as women are of men.

This also explains why more women are in producing roles than in directing: the Australian film industry places the role of director on a pedestal, with the rest of the team 'supporting' the director's vision. It is easier to find a woman willing to support a male director, than a man willing to support a female director.

And perhaps there is a second reason why women tend to be more "consultative." Consultation serves two functions: 1) to harness the best ideas, 2) to emotionally placate those around you, making them feel listened to, valued, and respected in order to gain their moral support. It's a common tactic (subconscious or otherwise) to seek approval and acceptance from those who would otherwise be obstacles. Disarm the ego. Even let them think it was their idea, and they'll be more invested in making it work.

Unfortunately, this can have the unintended consequence of people having less confidence in a 'consultative' director's vision.

Now, I must admit, I've spent far more time in development than on a film set. As such, how the cast and crew view a female director has been of less importance to me than how easily I can find a producer partner who will have my back through development and also have the nous to help get it made.

That’s the stumbling block for me. I’ve certainly partnered with many producers over the years, but in my own experience a team is assembled around a particular project, but if no funding can be gained for the project and all avenues have been exhausted, the team dissolves with each person going to work on other projects with a greater chance of success. While sometimes you’ll work again with some of the same people, it’s through a new effort on a new project that you come together, rather than belonging to an ongoing team.

This is perhaps another difference between male and female filmmakers: I’ve noticed men are more likely to jump in and just make something for the sake of it, no matter how haphazard, and I’ve heard many a male filmmaker state something along the lines of “it takes ten films before you’ll make a good one.” Whereas I feel a great deal of responsibility, to the cast and crew who are investing their time, to ensure that each film has the best chances of being a ‘good one’, and that makes me more cautious about rushing into production.

I’ll admit that I’m envious of those filmmakers who have a team around them that they’ve been working with for years, collaborative friendships sometimes stretching back to when they were at school together. It does seem to be men who are more likely to have that than women, but I don’t know why. I’ve attempted to forge such partnerships, but it hasn’t worked out thus far.

Often without a producer partner by my side, I find myself carrying the load of developing screenplays by myself (and now also developing transmedia strategies and business/marketing plans) and have started to wonder what the value is in later handing that to a producer who may not be as committed to the project as I am. I’ve had several projects crash prematurely due to producer partners, at times leaving me without ownership or control of my own work, and no chance of financial recoupment. I have learnt many lessons the hard way!

And thus, in constant development, it often seems like I've got other people's backs, but that no one has my back in return.

Taking everything into consideration, I would say it is common for women to feel 'unsupported.' Not just in the film industry, but rather it's one of the ongoing issues in our society, where there are still significant gaps between the genders when it comes to income, employment rates, and housework (most evident after a woman has had a child).

This is a pattern that becomes more evident the older that women are. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called Outliers that examines what differentiates the most successful people from the least. Examining many industries, from education to ice hockey players, he found that small, barely perceptible, societal factors, when compounded over years, lead to significant differences in outcome. For example, in one study they saw that kids from rich and poor backgrounds start school on fairly even ground, and over their first school year there was little difference in performance between the two groups. But then over the summer holidays, kids from poorer backgrounds were less likely to be intellectually stimulated, so their learning suffered a setback, while kids from richer backgrounds had more stimulating summer holidays, which meant that when they went back to school the wealthier kids had pulled ahead of the poorer kids. Year on year this effect is compounded, till final years of high school there is a giant gap.

Thus, if you consider small, barely perceptible, differences in the support that female versus male filmmakers have right at the beginning, and you compound this over the years, it’s no surprise that there are more successful male filmmakers.

While Screen Australia considers the Springboard initiative to be for “emerging filmmakers” it should be noted that their criteria actually require the team to already have a solid feature film screenplay ready, and “exceptional” film credits. Thus we’re not talking about people truly at the very beginning, but rather filmmakers who have already spent years making short films and developing feature screenplays. In fact, if you look at the successful past applicants, we see amongst them people who have directed, written, produced, and edited feature films!

These “emerging filmmakers” have probably already spent 10 to 15 years in the industry in some form. So that is 10 to 15 years of the gender gap compounded.

If Screen Australia is not getting the kind of applications they want or expect, if they want to see more female filmmakers applying, they should consider what may be currently preventing them from applying.

Because, there is no shortage of female storytellers about, as you can see at any industry get together, conference, or screenwriting seminar, however there are plenty of obstacles to them applying to Screen Australia.

I can't tell you why other female filmmakers did or didn't apply, but I guess I could give you a run down of some of the reasons why I personally didn't (and I don't think this has anything to do with my gender, but maybe I'm wrong):

1. It's just another initiative, with another deadline, there have been plenty in the past, and there will be plenty more to come. Once upon a time I kept my diary updated with Funding Deadlines, and I'd spend days or weeks pulling together all the necessary documentation. But it was a waste of my time.

Obviously I understand that there isn't enough money to go around everyone, and you can expect to get rejected more often than accepted, however, after you've had a few rejections coupled with reasons you know not to be true or fair, you stop believing in the process.

For example, one of my short films, Dodge, was rejected from government funding with the comment that the script assessor didn't believe there was any value in the script. That same script earned me an HD in a scriptwriting class, received positive feedback from scriptwriters and filmmakers who read it, and, about a year post-rejection, was produced by a different producer-director team who had the private resources to make it with an all professional cast and crew. The director, Jennifer Leacey, worked in the industry professionally for 15 years, as 1st AD on feature films including Baz Luhrman's Australia, prior to making her directorial debut with my screenplay. So I think it's fair to say that, perhaps, the assessor got it wrong?

2. Amongst the eligibility criteria: “Directors and producers must at least have one exceptional short film credit.” Remember what psychologists have found of men versus women, men being more likely to overstate their ability, and women to underestimate themselves? I would never say that any of my work is “exceptional”- there is always room for improvement - so would not consider myself eligible for this initiative.

Further, when I see who has been successful in past rounds (people with existing feature film credits), it highlights that this initiative is too far out of my reach. Applications take a great deal of work to pull together, particularly if you’re pulling a team around a project, and who has time to waste on a futile effort?

3. I don't believe that the people making the decisions on who does and doesn't get funded are
a) interested in the types of stories that I want to tell
b) have the same filmmaking goals as I do
c) necessarily have a clue about the future of filmmaking

I know, that's a big call.

Let's start with what Head of Development at Screen Australia, Martha Coleman, said: "...the emerging filmmakers are much more interested in genre films than my own generation was and they display more of an understanding of the genres they are working in than we as a whole did." It's nice for them to finally admit their bias / lack of expertise in genre, but most filmmakers I know have been voicing this complaint for years.

An example from my own life: The Valley is a thriller-horror feature film I've been developing over the past 4 years with producer-director team the Conti Brothers. After us privately funding many drafts (mostly with blood sweat and tears rather than cash), we applied for draft funding. When we received a copy of the reader's report, from a highly experienced script editor, we were pleasantly surprised that it was actually very positive. This gave us hope we might actually be successful. Then we met with the project manager assigned to our script, a serious drama filmmaker, who indicated that he disagreed with the reader's report, and that he wasn't going to recommend The Valley for funding when it went in front of the committee. He then suggested we go back to step one, write a 'killer treatment', and try applying under the pre-draft strand of funding.

In terms of filmmaking goals: I want to make films for an audience, I want my films to be seen, and enjoyed, and to be financially sustainable. The film funding bodies are caught up in notions of "worthiness" and "culture", though their idea of what is worthy and culturally relevant is clearly different to that of the people I know. As a result, Australian films supported by the funding bodies mostly tank when released.

In terms of the 'future of filmmaking'... there are significant changes going on in this industry around the world: lines are blurring between 'film' and other forms of entertainment; torrents allow people to download content they want for free; audience's are becoming participants, partners, and creators; the long tail and niche audiences means that the traditional film distribution system is not viable for the average indie filmmaker... yet the funding bodies are still very traditional in their approach. For the most part - particularly in development stage - they are looking to the past rather than the future.

A couple weeks ago Screen Australia brought Jon Reiss out for a series of Marketing & Distribution workshops around the country. Good on them for doing that, and good on them for having their marketing department sit in and take note - this is a topic Australian filmmakers needs to learn more about. However, if you've read his book, Think Outside The Box Office, you will know that what Jon advocates is a blurring of lines between creative development and marketing, to think beyond the 'film' and consider transmedia content, and build a community around the project, a fan base, and listen to them from the very beginning onwards. So, why weren't there more script development people in the room? Are they equipped to assess the feature film project of the future, which will be more than just a 'film'?

How can we look up to funding bodies, respect their decisions, and trust their advice, when they are so out of step?

This is the path I've moved towards - away from "film" into multiplatform development. And that means starting not with the script, but with the business plan.

I’m not interested in making a short film for the sake of making a short film, which will then spend a couple years on a film festival circuit, and become part of the reel that I show while trying and failing to raise the millions that I need for a feature film. A feature film that, via the traditional route, even if is made is unlikely to be seen or financially viable.

Instead: I want to create something that will get to a broader audience than that, that will be financially sustainable, and through those two things will contribute to me getting more projects up. These goals are not for the most part inline with what the film funding bodies are currently offering

4. In all honesty, I wasn’t aware that Screen Australia had anything to offer emerging filmmakers anymore. Springboard wasn’t even on my radar. My general impression of Screen Australia is that they’ve set the bar too high for us ‘emerging’ peeps to apply, unless we have an experienced EP, or are one of the ‘in’ crowd who knows people. (Which, I’m obviously not).

I guess you could say that it’s a matter of semantics of what “emerging” means. As noted, Screen Australia is giving this funding to people with existing feature film credits. As such, we’re getting mixed messages about who the initiative is really intended for, who is eligible, who stands a chance at being successful.

I’d also like to point out: while eight lots of $150,000 have been given in the past two rounds, it has been distributed to just five filmmaking teams. That’s right – there are three teams who were successful in both rounds, scoring $300,000 funding each over a five month period to make their two short films. So, what are the chances for the rest of us in the next round, if these same people apply again?

Now, none of the above reasons for myself not applying have to do with gender. But I will offer a summary that might explain the gender imbalance of applicants to the program, and steps for improvement:
a) Using language that requires filmmakers to think that their work is “exceptional” will place the initiative out of mind for some women, because they are more self critical, and unlikely to apply if they think they have no chance of success.
b) Emerging filmmakers have to go through years of practicing their craft privately or with state funding before they will come to Screen Australia. Taking into consideration the Outliers theory of compounded differences adding up, if they want more female filmmakers applying, there has to be better support for them right from the beginning of their filmmaking to prevent the gender gap from occurring.
c) There needs to be an examination on whether the values that applicants are being assessed on have inherent gender biases in place – if there are double standards at play, if common female qualities are viewed as ‘weaknesses’ rather than strengths, if their stories are being judged according to male interests. Again, this needs to occur from the beginning of their career, as many won’t ‘graduate’ to Screen Australia level if they’ve already been knocked down repeatedly by other funding paths.

I’d like to reinforce that I don’t personally look at my own obstacles as a filmmaker in the light of “male vs female.” I work with male filmmakers all the time, they’re not sexist, they’re not ‘holding me back’, they’re fantastic people who I enjoy being around.

What I’ve said here stems from noting that i) there is a discernable gender imbalance in our industry (and society in general), and ii) research has been done on this issue that would offer some reasons to explain why there’s a gender imbalance. Up close the factors may be barely perceptible, invisible from some angles, but when examined at arm’s length, there is no doubt a gap occurs when the factors are compounded over time. If we want to hear more stories from female filmmakers, then we need to address this.


Luci's blog Yet Another Struggling Writer 
Temple Films website 

Watch Don't Panic online

Watch Trapped online 

Comments

  1. Yes, absolutely. Lovely post, Marian, so glad to read Luci's thoughts on this topic. I dare say it's quite similar in the U.S. esp. as we have a very "auteur" mentality when it comes to the director -- our cinematic heroes are Hitchcock, Spielberg, Scorsese, Tarantino -- all directors with strong visions which are routinely supported by male-dominated crews, though interestingly, both editors who consistently work with Scorsese (Thelma Schoonmaker - Oscar-winner for Raging Bull!) and Tarantino (Sally Menke) are women -- but they are behind the scenes so to speak, but play a MAJOR role in shaping a male director's vision... interesting.

    I especially loved her comment: "Personally I think that women such as myself have a consultative approach because we believe that achieving the best outcome is more important than guarding our egos." I believe that's true, while not in every case of course, but generally a true and discernible difference between how women and men operate.

    Reading Luci's commentary has really reawakened my inner little girl dreaming of being a director, which I always was from my early teens until I hit my 20's and became intimidated by the daunting task of directing, then recently (after several yrs. of doing PR and marketing) moved into film publicity -- makes the most sense given my experience and potential for making a living at it -- but my dream, really, is to write and direct. I feel, as Luci does, that those funding schemes (of which there are VERY FEW in the States) aren't run by people who would want to see what I make! Same holds true for the many studios and indie production houses which typically fund films, or private investors. I like how Luci has moved toward multiplatform media production and starts with a business plan. At the end of the day, we can only consistently make our art if it makes us a living, otherwise it becomes an avocation rather than a profession. And to make it all work, we have to be pragmatic about opportunities and the reality of it all, taking advantage at every turn of any chance of getting our work out there and being paid for it. GREAT POST!

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  2. Thanks very much Kyna. I'm so pleased that you enjoyed Luci's post as much as I did, and for slightly different reasons!

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  3. A fascinating article just posted on TheRoot.com about black women filmmakers in Hollywood has a quote from screenwriter Nzingha Stewart who was the originally planned director of her adapation of a famous Ntozake Shange work before Tyler Perry stepped into that role to replace her:

    "Filmmaker Nzingha Stewart, executive producer of the upcoming film For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, based on the play by Ntozake Shange, interned with director Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand) when she was first starting out. Watching Ratner in action taught Stewart a lot. 'As women, I kind of think that there is an area where men do a little bit better than us, which is being more aggressive when getting a film made. [Ratner] talked about his projects in a way that women do not.' "

    Speaks a bit to what Luci mentions in her comments about the different ways in which female and male directors communicate. Makes me think that men, which she vaguely alludes to, are more interested in quantity and getting the job done rather than in quality and process which seems to be a concern of many female directors.

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  4. Thanks for your words of encouragement Kyna and Marian :)

    I've also received some emails from people who have read this here and wanted to let me know they'd felt the same.

    It made me wonder if more people don't comment here publicly because it's one of those topics where it's easy to be misread: for people to translate 'female equality' into 'anti-male' or something. And equally, for men to perhaps feel they can't contribute to the discussion for fear of being labelled 'sexist' if they say something controversial. It's my thought that dialogue is helpful even if we don't all agree on exactly the path forward - it's at least a start.

    Thanks again, Luci :)

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  5. Thanks Luci. Great that people are getting in touch with you to voice their agreement. And many thanks for the post on your own blog. Imagine my surprise when I sat down in my lunch hour to check out new posts on my blog roll!

    My experience is that I get most comments by email, or in phone calls or when I see people at the supermarket. There's a lot of fear around speaking out about the issues. And I know also that there are women working in film who wish I would a) concentrate on improving my filmmaking skills and making a film; b) speak only about women filmmakers' successes.

    As for men, I've found that they are often wonderful allies. This week-well, often-I think particularly of Kid in the Front Row (http://www.kidinthefrontrow.com/2010/08/gender-male-privilege-movies.html); & then there was Mac who picked up on some problems with stats in my last post.

    I hope that if we continue to speak out publicly, more people will feel able to join the public conversation and/or consider working for positive change in their own ways. And in the meantime I love hearing your voice, and Kyna's.

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  6. Yep. I get emails, phone calls, people saying tiny quiet things in the supermarket, at various events. But there's a lot of fear out there, about consequences if people (women) speak out in public, even anonymously on a blog. And some women have told me to stick to improving my filmmaking skills, to celebrate women filmmakers' successes, instead of researching & writing about the additional challenges we face, just because we're women.

    In my experience, men are often the best allies. I think often of The Kid in the Front Row (e.g. http://www.kidinthefrontrow.com/2010/08/gender-male-privilege-movies.html). And this week it was great to have that statistical analysis from Mac, who is a man, I think.

    Let's hope more people feel able to join the conversation, and to work for change, in various different ways. Right now though, I get such a lot of pleasure from hearing your voice, and Kyna's.

    And. It was a huge surprise at lunchtime to see my face in my Blog Roll, when I was looking for something to read. Thanks a lot, Luci.

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