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Make My Movie, Gynophobia & Mavericks

This is the year for the female mavericks to get the same treatment as their brothers

In New Zealand there’s a new competition for feature films, called Make My Movie. The winner receives $100,000 and makes a movie. As a first step, participants submitted posters for their movies online, with a synopsis, and filled in a few more details, some in relation to the participants’ track records, from memory. One detail requested was ‘age’, which I questioned. The competition needed to know that entrants were over 18, but because of the potential for age discrimination it seemed more appropriate to ask entrants to state that they were over 18.** Twelve finalists were selected, from around 750.

Anyway, I became interested when I saw that the project's writer's name was the only personal name that appeared online with each submission. Aha, I thought, what a great way to find out more about the range of New Zealand women screenwriters. How many are there? So I started at the very beginning, alphabetically, and went to the 43rd entry. Enough to tell me that the numbers of women weren’t great and that there was a relatively high proportion of entrants using initials and/or pseudonyms. So I stopped counting and went on to other things.

Then, this week, someone forwarded me this email, from a woman I did not know:
Hi, just wondering if there have been any comments regarding the final selection in the Make My Movie competition? All but one of the final movie pitches are written by men for men. A simple scan of the many submissions will prove that there are many, many great ideas from men and women so I can't imagine that there could be a 'the women just didn't have the best ideas' argument. I'd love to know if there were any women on judging panel. If this were just a bunch of privately funded guys choosing movies that guys might want to see, then, fine. But this is a competition sponsored by NZFC, NZ on Air and the NZ Herald. One would think that the selection would be more representative of the country's talent as a whole, not just the writers but the protagonists in the stories.
So last night I went through the first 57 entries on the website (not in alphabetical order this time), added the data to my first count, and established that of those whose gender could be identified (I googled some androgynous names) 82% of the writers in my random 100 were men. Of the twelve finalists, one is a woman, so that means 92% of the finalists' projects have male writers. By chance, the apparently female writer, whose name is a little like a pseudonym, was off marrying her director, according to the video pitch they created as part of the finalist process. So unless the name is a guy’s pseudonym, and/or they’re gay and having a civil union, there's no woman director among the finalists. (3 December: Yes! Hilleke Townsend is a woman, good to have that confirmed, and lots of good wishes to her.)

Watching the twelve video pitches was a truly depressing exercise. I didn’t watch all of every pitch but from what I saw only one woman appeared on camera (a producer), and there is a voiceover from another woman. (The age range and cultural mix seems very limited, too.) I also looked at ‘The cull’ Make My Movie webisode: and established that producer Rachel Gardner and the NZFC’s Lisa Chatfield were on the selection team.

My response to the email from my new correspondent is this:
1. This competition did not attract many women writers. Why was this so?

2. The selection team did not select projects written by women in proportion to the submissions made. How did this happen?
There are related issues. The choice of finalists means that:
1. Only one finalist story appears to have a woman protagonist (or protagonist group of women), and this means a real loss of opportunity for women actors.

2. No-one on the selection panel seems to have been alert to gender issues, and/or argued successfully for at least one more project written by a woman and more projects about women. I don’t think that the women on the selection panel are solely responsible for this, and I also know that women decision makers do not necessarily consider gender equity. Anyone can do a gender analysis; in my observation some of the best supporters of gender equity in film are men who are smart enough to acknowledge that shutting out half the screenwriter/director/actor population significantly impoverishes outcomes. In New Zealand, Craig Ranapia, who is not part of the industry as far as I know, is a shining example of someone whose tweets and other comments against sexism appear regularly, on Indiewire the other day.
What’s next? How can change happen, so this gender imbalance doesn’t happen again in Make My Movie or a similar competition, especially given the taxpayer investment? The obvious organisation to facilitate change is WIFT. But WIFT is funded by the NZFC and includes many members who would like their projects to be funded by the NZFC and New Zealand On Air. If WIFT criticises funding bodies and associated decision making processes, both the organisation and its representatives could find that their funding is compromised. On the other hand, WIFT could lobby for some parallel state-funded programmes that give women the opportunities that seem to be lacking at Make My Movie and at its brother competition V48 Hours. WIFT could also strongly support women to enter both competitions, through competition-specific and time-appropriate programmes. And it could work behind the scenes to change these competitions’ culture, so that they become more attractive and fairer to women.

Another obvious source of analysis and action might be the New Zealand Writers Guild, modelling itself on the Writers Guild of America West, which releases regular reports about industry (in)equity. Same problem as WIFT though; it is funded by the NZFC. What about John Barnett, CEO of SPP, a maker of movies and television that do very well indeed, thanks to an employment policy that looks for the best storytellers and employs a high proportion of women writers who consistently shine?  Half the screenwriters who applied to the last SPP Emerging Writers Lab were women, and half the successful applicants. Could he offer Make My Movie and V48 Hours some advice?

I want to be optimistic. But back in June (20-29), there was a Facebook discussion around what constituted an ‘all-girl team’ and about the V48 Hours award for a woman director and an all-women team. And some statements from Ant Timpson, the guy in charge (also associated with Make My Movie) illuminate his views, which some women supported. For the full conversation, check out Facebook.
AT: You try and do something positive and it all goes south. The issue was that there was indeed some confusion about it from various managers. I take full blame for it. There was never supposed to be best female director in every city. Just the team. But Gaylene Preston kindly offered to give some money towards a national award that used to be welly only. And thats when it got confusing. Surely it seems silly to win best female team (with a female director) and then lose to another all female short? Just doubling up and somewhat patronising to me. Even the wording of these awards get way too much scrutiny instead of focusing on the big picture. I'm probably scrapping them for 2012 as there seems to be too much politicking about the small stuff with these awards. It was naive for me to do it in the first place.
ME: …Because women's participation is low in V48 Hours, and because—as you'll know—sometimes trying to do something positive involves trial and error, why not consult with Gaylene Preston and WIFT and the NZFC and some of the women who do take part, about the best way forward for the future? Is getting rid of the awards the most useful response to this confusion? And are there other ways to encourage more women to participate, especially as writers and directors?
AT: The only fair thing would be to rollover the award and double the prize for 2012 and make sure there are two distinct awards. BEST ALL WOMEN TEAM and BEST WOMEN director. Just remember though as much as it seems the right thing to do, many women feel that this whole separation of a gender award is somewhat demeaning as well. That's why I made it a fun thing and aimed it at young women and had it as BEST DAMN ALL GIRL. So the intention was easy to identify. And it had nothing to do with a political stance or baggage. Get young women entering the comp and let the adults compete together under one umbrella…With 800 shorts its getting really unwieldily and exhausting. This has been going on for months now and I think some streamlining will def happen in 2012.
ME: …Just hope some streamlining does happen, & that as part of that you'll experiment with new strategies to encourage more women—as well as girls—to enter and have fun. And to compete for those big prizes. And win them. Right now our numbers are far too small. And that's a shame, and probably has a flow on effect on our participation in other programmes e.g. at the NZFC.
How to get past beliefs that programmes to promote gender equity through supporting women writers and directors are ‘patronising’ or ‘demeaning’? Sweden is working towards ensuring that at least 40 percent of the films granted production funding have women screenwriters, directors and producers among their creators. This target has yet to be achieved, however, especially in relation to feature film directors. (As in New Zealand, where roughly half our producers are women, in Sweden women producers are more successful than women storytellers for film, especially when they choose to support male storytellers.) There are some great graphs for the decade to 2010 here.

Now the Stockholm International Film Festival has established The Stockholm Film Fund, in partnership with Telia as main funder and support from Svenska Filminstitutet, Cinepost and Dagsljus among others, including a distributor. The fund allocates the equivalent of US$800,000 to a woman director in her early career, who has directed no more than two previous feature films. The winning film will be produced during the following year and have its World Premiere at the festival in November 2012. This year’s recipient is Lisa Aschan, whose She Monkeys was in this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival. This introduces another possibility: what about some support for gender equity from the New Zealand International Film Festival?

Lisa Aschan receives the Stockhom Film Fund award, with her producer Anna-Maria Kantarious

This from the FAQs about the Stockholm Film Fund:
Why have you created the feature film fund?
 We do not think there is any difference between the sexes when it comes to directing films. But as it stands today, there are significantly more men who sit in the director’s seat. The statistics indicate that there is an untapped potential among female directors. We want to realize this potential through this fund. A small country like Sweden cannot afford to ignore half the population when we make films.

Who may apply?
 The fund is aimed at professional film makers and production companies. It is the producer who should formulate and submit the application. It must relate to a feature film project with a female director who has made a maximum of two previous feature films, in which the project can be kept within the given budget and time frame.

How does the selection process work?
 A nomination committee evaluates and selects projects. The committee consists of Lars G Lindström (feature film consultant, Swedish Film Institute), Git Scheynius (Festival Director, Stockholm International Film Festival), George Ivanov (Program Director, Stockholm International Film Festival)

What’s so difficult about this as a model for New Zealand and other parts of the world? And what magic would happen—thinking of my last post—if the powerful women of Hollywood and their allies set up a similar fund?

* © Lisa Gornick 2011 Lisa’s notes: "The quivering male is adored whilst the woman version is reviled. The maverick film director male is a hero whilst the female version is avoided. It shouldn't still be this way. We have to stop being scared of women mavericks in whatever field they're in." We're familiar with conversations about homophobia. Could it be that as part of making change we need to have some conversations about gynophobia, and the words and actions that come out of this, from all of us, from women and from men? I'm reminded here of Jennifer Siebel Newsom's Miss Representation and how it articulates some of these issues. Go women mavericks! I bet some of you entered Make My Movie!

** And yes, I was a little more alert to this issue having read the exchange below, within the Flicks New Zealand Cinema Census. The 'old dears' and 'old ducks' (55+ in this survey) are more than an entire generation. Some are just five years older than our Prime Minister. (On Saturday, John Banks will have been in this group for ten years ; Winston Peters has been there more than a decade, both guys currently 'relevant'?) Many people aged 55+ go to the movies often and may do so for another forty years or so. I know a 99 year old who goes to the cinema two-to-three times a month and is an avid viewer of movies on television. This demographic is not 'irrelevant'; and it's  possible that some of them had interesting ideas to contribute to Make My Movie.

  • Would be nice Ant but I doubt it. Also, this is a slightly skewed stat I'm sure. You're talking about 84% of people who are flicks users. They probably wouldn't even be aware of this survey if they didn't already use the internet to check for movie times / info. Lots of little old dears still check times in the paper.

  • Ant Timpson ·  · Managing Director/Owner at Timpson Films
    No we drove lots of people to this URL from outside of Flicks. It wasn't Flicks users but it was online users so yes that would have some effect. The old ducks did not feature much in the survey as unfortunately they will soon be irrelevant. As harsh as that sounds.

Related Posts

V 48 Hours 

South Pacific Pictures and its Emerging Writers Lab

Gender Equity Strategies (scroll down)


  1. Came to this blog particularly late but if anyone's reading this it might help shed some light. I'm a female director and when I first saw Make My Movie I got excited about a new film comp. Then I realised it was Ant Timpson. He has a reputation for being an asshole, and particularly to women that have worked with him. The audience he attracts with his projects are skewed towards angry young white men. Why would I want to put my ideas forward to be scrutinised by people who disregard me even before they disregard my story about a woman?

    And I was right, the final Make My Movie winner made a move about a quirky dude stalking a hot woman. The latest Make My Movie winner? A male director and a film about two male losers. Glad I didn't waste my time.

    Stop giving Ant Timpson money and I'll start entering these competitions.

  2. Many thanks, Anonymous! It's never too late here and I love to hear from readers. Especially women directors. Especially when they have something like this to contribute to the 'competition' debate. Yay.


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