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Media Convergence, MOFILM & Strategies

Development: Viv (Madeline McNamara) & Greta (Pinky Agnew) outside the New World supermarket in Chaffers Street Wellington

In the world of media convergence, collaboration with brands has become more important than ever to filmmakers. However, even though women account for 85% of all consumer purchases in the United States, and probably elsewhere, individual women storytellers whose work is about women and for women audiences rarely benefit from partnerships with brands. Illeana Douglas' relationship with Ikea in her Easy to Assemble web series is an exception.

Development-the-movie has benefited significantly from relationships with various community and commercial entities (see Development Project FAQ tab above) and I’d welcome more partnerships, so I’m very interested in branded entertainment. Because of this interest, I had this little Twitter exchange with MOFILM, an organisation which offers competitions and mobile distribution to budding filmmakers around the globe. As I understand it, MOFILM started out in association with Sundance, and now has links with brands like Chevrolet, who want ‘quality creative content for their ads’, and with the filmmaker organisation Shooting People. Our conversation went like this:
devt (me)
Congratulations Rebecca Clayden, a winner in latest @MOFILMugc comp: But why are there 8 men & just 1 woman?

@devt we'd love more female winners, we need more females to enter first

@MOFILMugc Aha. I wondered abt that. Have been rec. this wherever few women enter: How can you attract us?

@devt Will give it a read, perhaps we need to get closer to some Women in Film associations - any recommendations?

@MOFILMugc Sure have! But longer than 140 chars. Shall I write you a blog post on Wellywood Woman in the next few days?
So here’s the post. It’s taken longer than a few days, because we had the Christchurch earthquake. Like most New Zealanders I have beloved friends and family in Christchurch. So my head and heart have been absorbed. They still are, but an offer is an offer. And I was touched by MOFILM’s positive response, thought of it when I read a tweet from New Zealand Top Model’s Colin Mathura-Jeffree (@NZTopModelColin), who has been a champion tweeter throughout the aftermath of the earthquake. The tweet read:
Dont let someone wander off without checking on them. It can be so humiliating being an outsider. Takes 2 secs- "hi, hungry?’ #eqnz
MOFILM took those two seconds to respond to this outsider, and I salute them. The evidence from round the world shows that women storytellers are usually outsiders in the film industry. People and organisations with resources are often happy to ignore us, but not this time.

The link I sent MOFILM went to Annie Finch’s article How To Publish Women Writers: A Letter to Publishers about the VIDA Count(The VIDA Count is about the small numbers of women published in literary pages and magazines.) I think Annie’s article is great, for any organisation that wants to increase women’s participation. Annie suggests six strategies and these can also be adapted, I think, to increase participation by other under-represented groups. It’s worth reading the whole article, but here’s a summary, amended a little for this film competition context:

1. Actively solicit women entrants: research individuals and send them individual invitations
2. Educate yourself: research what women writers and filmmakers say about their (diverse) influences, ideas, aesthetics, aims, strategies, and traditions—even a couple of hours online can make a huge difference. I recommend Helen Jacey’s new screenwriting book The Woman in the Story as one place to start.

3. Read (watch) with double awareness: if you’re reacting against a pitch or a story or an ad, ask yourself if it may be because of gender. According to Annie, women’s work is often rejected by —female or male—decision makers because it has an “overly personal” or “too emotional” tone; “sentimental” diction or imagery; or “trivial” themes. Pitches, scripts and clips sometimes raise similar issues.
4. React like a woman: take note of the status of women in your project and in the work you reward—the numbers of women participants, the positioning of their work in the project, the way women are portrayed through the project as a whole
5. Create a context where women’s contributions as well as men’s will feel at home and make sense.
6. Advertise: Once you have a gender-aware programe, make the most of it by mentioning it in discussions on listservs, websites, and other venues that focus on women’s filmmaking. You can be sure that your efforts will be appreciated, and that it will become easier and easier to attract offerings from women filmmakers.

I think it’s a great idea if MOFILM people get closer to women’s film organisations, though some they approach will have other priorities, or not enough resources to engage in great depth. So, here goes with the suggestions. But they have limitations. When I ran through the list in the sidebar to choose groups that might be useful for MOFILM, I found that some organisations' sites are now unavailable (will update asap). As well, my list and the list below are very European and North American-oriented. Organisers at the listed film festivals and conferences listed in the sidebar may be able to help with groups in Asia, the Pacific, Africa and South America. Women in Film & Television may also be helpful.

The Birds Eye View Film Festival, currently with a competition of their own, could be one place to start. Also in Britain, Film Directing for Women. In Europe, CIMA, the Spanish organization that co-ordinated the Compostela Declaration. Doris Film is based in Sweden and I find them really interesting. In the United States, the Geena Davis Institute of Gender and Media (the gender and film matriarch, as far as I'm concerned), the Women’s Media Center,  POWERUP Films. In the Trenches: Women Over 40 Rock is a group which works with short film. Realisatrices Equitables is in Canada and I love what they do. Women working in animation are pretty special for me: Animating Women and Tricky Women. There's the Shashat Women’s Film Group in Palestine. And the Women & New Media in the Mediterranean Region Conference in Morocco this June would be a terrific place to visit, listen, watch, learn, and network (take me with you!). Digital Chick TV has its finger on the pulse of women's web series.

And I have more suggestions which I hope are helpful for MOFILM. If you have some too, please add them in the comments. And if you think I’ve got it wrong, please please let me know about that too. It’s a difficult topic, and it needs more, public, discussion.

Possible problems

If MOFILM follows Annie’s suggested strategy, I think they’ll also be able to resolve some potential problems which preclude women’s involvement in the MOFILM competitions: with some women’s definition of ‘community’; with the status of women in advertising, and with issues around brands; and with women’s ‘reluctance to compete’.

1. Definition of community
MOFILM and their sponsors talk a lot about their ‘community’. But many women have an understanding of ‘community’ that is at odds with MOFILM’s use of the word, because our view of community is primarily people- and social action-oriented. For instance, when I put the MOFILM link on the Development Facebook page, this is how recovering Sundance filmmaker and web series (The Louise Log) creator Anne Flournoy responded:
Thx for the link abt the branded entertainment, Marian. That they consistently refer to 'community' kind of bugs me...almost like they're trying to put a veneer of social action or something on profiting from indie filmmakers making ads for fast food chains... not that I'm not trying to figure out 'sponsors' and 'advertising' myself...
And I responded to Anne:
I feel concerned abt the language too. It took me a while to get used to using 'friend' here on FB, where I have friends like you I've never met in the flesh, & some I've never directly communicated with, though I enjoy their posts. This branded use of 'community' is another kind of problematic redefinition for me, where I have to keep asking 'who benefits, and how?' because I have the same kind of interests you have, in exploring partnerships with brands, for filmmaking. I dream of an association like the one Shane Meadows had with Eurail, for Somers Town. & this morning I'm feeling very happy about Development-the-movie's association with the New World supermarket chain, because all their checkout staff are wearing t-shirts that say 'Different, like you'. Also like it that they support netball: New World's larger 'community' is one I'm very happy to be part of.
Development: Louise (Michele Amas) & Emily (Nancy Coory) inside the New World supermarket in Chaffers Street Wellington

If MOFILM uses Annie’s list of strategies, Annie’s items 2 and 3—education and a double awareness—may help find a solution? I’d be interested to know if more women participated in MOFILM’s Red Cross competition than in the others, because I think many women would be interested in contributing to that, and to other social action campaigns. If women didn’t participate in the Red Cross competition, it may be because it wasn’t advertised in the right places (see Annie’s item 6). Birds Eye View has partnered with Divine chocolate in a short film contest, and it seems to me that this is an ideal competition for many women. Many of us love chocolate, and the Fair Trade and other ethics-oriented elements of Divine's story are likely to appeal to our people and social-action understanding of community:
Divine is the only Fairtrade chocolate company which is 45% owned by the farmers. While Fairtrade ensures farmers receive a better deal for their cocoa and additional income to invest in their community, company ownership gives farmers a share of Divine’s profits and a stronger voice in the cocoa industry. That’s good business!
(And I imagine that there are many men who feel the same appeal as many women do for this product and brand, but perhaps fewer men for whom the MOFILM definition of 'community' is an issue.)

2. Status of women in advertising, and problematic brands
Many women are uncomfortable with the way some advertisers portray, or have portrayed, women and girls. We are often wary of brands if we think their products damage human beings or the environment. Again Annie’s strategies can help with these problems: education, double awareness, and the creation of a context that helps women feel at home.

3. Women’s ‘reluctance to compete’
When I started my research into women writers’ participation in feature filmmaking, five years ago, no-one believed that there was a gender problem in the New Zealand industry, because we have high-profile New Zealand women filmmakers. And some women in the industry said to me that if women weren’t making feature films it was their own fault, because they didn’t compete.

Some of the statistics I recorded and analysed seemed to support this view. But when I looked more closely, I learned that other issues are involved. Sure, there are women who decide that the obsession necessary to make feature films isn’t for them; they choose to use their creativity in other ways. Others with family responsibilities don’t have the level of support that allows them to fulfill those responsibilities and focus on their filmmaking. But often we don’t compete because many decision makers in the industry associate ‘success’ with stories by, about, and for men. The resulting deeply embedded and measurable discrimination has made us 'outsiders'. And that's not our 'fault'.

I believe that Annie’s strategies provide a good starting point for anyone in the industry who wants to counter this discrimination, as well as for MOFILM. And then, when an organisation does the work suggested by Annie Finch, and follows Colin Mathura-Jeffree’s advice and asks us ‘Are you hungry?’, I think it’s up to us to step forward. This is sometimes very difficult to do. But, great news! This week Birds Eye View invited actor Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day, Pride & Prejudice, An Education, Made in Dagenham) to launch their festival, and what a breath of fresh air she is. She encourages women to be ambitious and redefines ‘ambition’ to make it more attractive to women. She makes me smile, makes me laugh and now I’m redefining ‘ambition’ for myself. Present me with an appropriate context, and I’ll be there.

And then

devt Marian
@MOFILMugc Morning MOFILM! Your very own Wellywoodwoman post is up now: Let me know if it's helpful? Was fun.

@devt Hello, only just picked this up - it's very helpful indeed. Will let you know what we do and how it works. Thank you!

@MOFILMugc Thank you! I'm soooo pleased it helps, and I'd love to know what you do and how it works. Every good wish--

@MOFILMugc & here's an even better suggestion, Annie Lennox's @WeAreEQUALS. Seen their amazing James Bond clip?

After the September earthquake in Christchurch I wrote about its effects on my work, and referred to Rosalind Houghton's PhD thesis "We had to cope with what we had" : agency perspectives on domestic violence and disasters in New Zealand. After the latest earthquake in Christchurch there is again a surge in domestic violence and the local refuge needs all the help it can get. You can donate here. You can also donate to the New Zealand Red Cross, here.

Cheryl Bernstein's wonderful post about the dangers of forgetting about earthquakes, "A song from under the floorboards" is here.


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