Five years ago, I entered into the filmmaking arena a minority, an underdog. I didn’t go to film school, I’m just over 5’ tall, I’m young…. and I’m female. If you were able to place bets on me at a casino the odds would be something like 341:1.
That’s not too far from where a lot of other women feel like they are at in their filmmaking careers, but here’s the secret:
On paper, you may be the underdog. But don’t for one second let yourself believe it.
I went from working at 3M in an engineering lab to all-access on the sidelines of the Superbowl in just 19 short months. From there, I went on to take a major role in the production of A Game of Honor and, over the past few years, I’ve had the privilege to work on a number of different productions, large and small.
As I look back, I’ve discovered a lot about what it takes to succeed as a female filmmaker and I want to share five powerful ideas I’ve learned with you.
This is a tough industry. It’s a harsh landscape for any filmmaker, but it’s especially challenging for women who have dreams to succeed in this space. Make no mistake, women are still the minority, but we don’t have to be the underdog.
It’s important to point out that with immense challenges also come opportunities to succeed.
Some may say that being DP of a feature-length doc and winning some Emmys in just five short years are significant triumphs, and I wouldn’t disagree, but I also feel that is something that’s within everyone’s reach.
You just have to want it enough to go for it, regardless of age, race, or gender.
So how do we handle being repeatedly marginalized, dealing with inappropriate comments on set and making the most out of fighting an uphill battle? Ladies, this one is for you.
Here are 5 things I’ve learned about how to succeed as a female filmmaker.
1. Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You
It’s hard enough to take on a leading role in filmmaking. We have to really put in the hours, know our stuff and earn the respect of others.
For women, it’s exponentially harder.
We often have to do so much more to get the same opportunities as our male counterparts. Is it fair? Of course not. Does it piss me off? You bet it does. But we can either complain or we can go out and create our own reality.
I’ve been told I’m not fit for a shoot because I don’t do steadicam. I’ve been told I don’t know enough about football to tell the story properly. I’ve been discounted because of my physical size and strength. And I’ve heard more inappropriate sexist comments on set than I care to share.
Any one of those would make someone uncomfortable. That is the space we work in, but those same things also fuel me to push past it.
It’s easy to fold and just accept what the industry norms are when we’re faced with so many challenges but instead of fighting with words, ignoring it, or accepting it, we can turn that unfavorable situation into something positive:
If women have to work harder to get the same opportunities, then let’s push ourselves harder to not just be good, but to be better. Keep your foot on the gas pedal.
By raising the bar, you will bring more to the table. Do that enough, and you’ll make yourself so invaluable that people will want to put you in a leadership role.
It’s the same thing we say to people when they say ‘I hope to be like Stillmotion some day’. Our reply is always the same.
Don’t strive to be like us, strive to be better.
2. Cameras Don’t Tell Stories, People Do
I’ve seen so many filmmakers focus on the tech: MoVi, Epics, HMIs and all the latest gear. If you’re not a gearhead, that can be uncomfortable. The focus here is to realize that filmmaking is so much more than that.
Filmmaking is just a form of storytelling – being able to craft a story that takes people to another place, connects them to something new, and shows them a different perspective. This is all accomplished through the experience you create.
As a studio we’ve always believed that the experience is directly tied to what goes on screen.
How you make first contact, how you conduct that interview, and how you interact with the crew and the talent all translate to how your final story will feel.