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Rachel Feldman directing Amy Brenneman in HERE NOW

Venice Films Mostly Male & AFI 100 Movies List 2017, Not One by a Woman?

by Sarah Bullion, Screenmancer Correspondent

An interview with Rachel Feldman – Veteran of the Hollywood Gender Wars – Two Women Who Direct Film & TV (updated) in a Candid Conversation about the State of the Business.

Director Sarah Bullion, In a Conversation with Director Rachel Feldman

Director Sarah Bullion in a Conversation with Director Rachel Feldman

SARAH BULLION: You are a veteran filmmaker and vocal activist for women in Hollywood, how did you discover that voice? 

RACHEL FELDMAN: Perhaps because I had grown up in a political household, I came to my view of injustice fairly organically. Unconscious gender bias is so ubiquitous – it was always shocking to me how little people talked about it.

I received my master’s degree in film directing and my graduate thesis film won over 25 major film festivals. I also began to write at that time and immediately sold my first scripts. In those “15 minutes of fame” I was signed by William Morris and attended a lot of meetings. I was making a living working for well established (male) directors on big studio movies, preparing their director notebooks and pre-viz plans, while getting grants and making my own indie films – but it became clear that none of the women in my class were getting directing jobs, just the guys – some of whom hadn’t even finished their thesis films. For 10 years, I was never hired to direct, until Steven Bochco saw one of my shorts and invited me to helm an episode of “Doogie Howser M.D.” He had a keen awareness that women directors were suffering and wanted to do something about it.

Director Rachel Feldman, a Veteran of Gender Wars in Hollywood

Director Rachel Feldman, a Veteran in Hollywood Photo credit: Suki Medencevic

I sought out other directors like me at the Directors Guild of America but there were only a handful of women directing at the time and few of them attended meetings. Despite the incredible level of gender inequity all around us most women were very fearful of ruining their careers by speaking up. Even though it had only been 10-15 years since “The Original Six” motivated the DGA to go to court on behalf of women directors, causing a marked increase of employment for women, I felt quite alone.

We wanted our guild to fight for us, but their support came in the shape of “shadowing” programs that rarely led to jobs, having events that celebrated the handful of female celebrity directors, or to have “networking” events filled with executives who had zero mandate to hire us. It wasn’t until 2010 that I met other women at the DGA who felt brave enough to question the established patriarchy. We were tired of the same boilerplate responses to our lack of employment, it felt as if our own guild truly didn’t care about making things better for us.

In 2012 I was asked to run as co-chair of the DGA Women’s Steering Committee. My speech was an outspoken call for change and I won. I produced the 2013 Women of Action Summit, the first event in the guild’s 80-year history that focused exclusively on tackling gender inequity. The 250 female directors who attended were exhilarated, however the DGA actively thwarted our success. The year-long organizational process was tortuous with a punishing level of scrutiny and domination from the guild. And if that hadn’t stopped us, on the day of the event, a Guild administrator literally stole the single copy of email addresses our guests had given us requesting further contact with our coalition. This sabotage prevented us from using that event as the very catalyst for which we had created it in the first place. Then, in the final blow, adding insult to injury, soon after the event, the guild implemented a vote to change our by-laws, preventing our coalition’s most vocal members from running for office based on their lack of recent employment – caused by the very gender discrimination we face.

Though the DGA was effective in suppressing an uprising, I believe our efforts have been a tipping point in finally cracking open a new conversation with solutions now as a goal.

What makes one an activist? 

Activism is bred from rage. Being a “have not” in an environment of riches is maddening. People continue to insist that the film business is a meritocracy, that the best and the brightest succeeded, but most are blind to the fact that without opportunity one cannot possibly rise. This is true regarding class, race, or gender. It’s this frustration and exclusion that sparks the flame of needing to fight back.

What is working and what isn’t?

We have to stop accepting the status quo. We say, “The future is female” but in Hollywood that all too often means having female executives or filming a female protagonist who just acts like a man. Until we have female creators using their voices and vision to offer fresh perspectives, it’s all pabulum.

In the past few weeks, The Venice Film Festival screened only a single film directed by a woman, The AFI Best 100 Movies lists not one movie directed by a woman.  Out of 60 episodes why was only a single episode of “Game of Thrones” directed by a woman? And why, decade after decade, is it acceptable that the DGA’s own screening schedule is a sea of men’s faces? Unconscious bias is omnipresent and we must simply just keep calling it out over and over and over again in every facet of our industry until folks wake up.

Training programs are bullshit when there are already so many accomplished women directors, shadowing is downright disrespectful and ineffective. No other industry would put up with being present to simply observe others at work – with no pay and no actual plan to prepare for an actual job. Most women directors have either graduated film school or have made independent films, commercials, music videos, or worked in the industry as editors, AD’s etc. – so why are we treated as novices, viewed with suspicion, treated with disrespect? Why is this tolerated? Let’s find a route to feeding the hiring pipeline that’s equitable and sensible.

I have 25 years of high-level experience and yet I’m still called a “first time director” by feature producers and asked to shadow in television. Directing is hard and it requires a very specific set of skills, talents, and temperament but it is not molecular chemistry. Give women opportunities and they will deliver, big time. Do like Ryan Murphy and Ava DuVernay. JUST DO IT!

What would you like to see new or young activists doing and saying today? 

Female filmmakers have gotten brave, even brazen. Younger women are fearless now in their calling out inequity and that helps. Women are helping, supporting, and lifting up other women and there’s an overall sense of sisterhood today that is very powerful. Women no longer want to be the only women in the room, we want our entire community to thrive and that generous sense is glorious.

Are you ever concerned that your outspokenness will injure your career? 

I don’t believe that anyone’s activism will affect their career adversely. It’s not like there is a poisonous individual who’s the issue, it’s institutional culpability that is harming women’s careers in general.

What is the difference for a woman director on a feature film versus on TV?

The only difference is the way we have been treated, not the work itself.  In television, the director steps into a fully formed, pre-established community.  That group can be welcoming to new directors or downright hostile – and women can have a hard time with this. But in features, when the director is the one who leads the hiring of department heads she has a leadership role from the onset, which engenders automatic respect.

What differences have you seen on sets with more women represented? 

Gender is not the answer. Awareness is. Men can be great feminists and working with enlightened men who respect and love working in a team is amazing. I will say that good news is on the horizon.  Just this week I had a conversation with the studio executive who is producing a pilot of mine and when I suggested that we hire women directors he opened his laptop and already had compiled an extensive list!  I was thrilled! Also many celebrated female actors are now talking about how much they enjoy working with women directors and want to support us.  It’s happening.

There’s lots of talk about nurturing new talent but why is the industry not seeking out all the experienced women directors who’ve been struggling all these years, in television and in features?  How can they be found?

There can be no more excuses about not being able to find female directors. Producers simply have to realize that they cannot rely on literary agencies or the guild, who promote those whose careers are already thriving. There are many organizations such as The Alliance of Women DirectorsFilm Fatales, and at The Director List, where filmmaker Destri Martino has amassed searchable database of over 1000 women directors. There are over 1300 female directors in the DGA alone!

When Ava DuVernay wanted to hire women directors of color she put out the word and found great talent.  When Ryan Murphy wanted change he and Tanase Popa created the Half Initiative, creating his own gateway.  Where there is a will…

And hey, calling JJ Abrams – where are you in this?! We need powerful voices to fight for us.

What’s your personal experience with agents and managers – representation? 

I’ve directed over 60 episodes of television, but each job was as hard to get as the next and I’ve never had solid representation. It’s tricky for me.  I came up at a time when no one was talking about these issues and we few women had little support. So now I’m neither a newbie – full of promise, nor a celebrity name -who will easily slide onto a roster.  I’m a client that requires a narrative and that’s a hurdle many reps find challenging.

Talent doesn’t go away.  I think it’s actually a good thing if a director is also a writer, an editor, had children, cared for dying parents, or sailed around the world. These experiences make us stronger storytellers, not weaker ones. But the industry perceives these life waves as “gaps” and that becomes just another excuse for resistance.

How do we get more people (from agents to producers) involved in the groundswell?

It’s happening, I think people really do care, but we need to continue to call out the established practices that have not been effective, and take bold steps until change happens.

Did your activism influence your passion to bring Lilly Ledbetter’s story to the screen in FAIR FIGHT?

Absolutely! Lilly was cheated out of half her salary by a company she had dedicated her career to, just because she was a woman. Her challenges and her fight spoke to me deeply on a personal level. FAIR FIGHT is a thriller about a real life super hero. Lilly had virulent antagonists who wanted to silence her demand for equity and she wouldn’t give up, no matter the stakes.

Lilly may be the voice and face of “fair pay” but it’s gender justice, in every aspect of life, that’s the heart of our message. Women in Hollywood are cheated out of careers because of their gender, girls and women around the globe are undervalued, demeaned, and abused just because they were born one gender and all of this is outrageous and must end.

Lily Ledbetter, Activist, with Director Rachel Feldman

Lilly Ledbetter, Activist, with Director Rachel Feldman

Do you think FAIR FIGHT can change things? 

Movies are effective propaganda and our media is one of the U.S.’s most impactful exports. The stories, images, and concepts we illuminate have a global effect and girls and women, men and boys, will understand Lilly’s bravery in the face of terrible odds. This is the human story that one single person can and must speak out against tyranny and subjugation, and that the unique character who can withstand tremendous obstacles and obstruction is a super hero in the flesh. That story needs to be told over and over, especially with women at the helm.

I’m eager to conduct a cinematic symphony and this is it – to take all the skill and craft I’ve developed over a lifetime and use it to create a big, beautiful, dare I say important, story that takes an audience on a huge emotional journey. But for the world, for the zeitgeist, I hope the message will be very powerful.

What would your ideal career look like? 

What a fun question! I’ve become a very facile storyteller. It would be amazing to be able to use the skills I’ve developed and finally put them all to use. I would love to have my own production company and a pod deal, getting paid to do what I do now every day on spec. I’d like to be directing my projects and other’s, writing all kinds of movies and TV series, and working with other writers creating a broad range of projects.

I’d love to set up writer’s rooms and bring my projects to life with those like the brilliantly talented students, mentees, and colleagues I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years.

I started out in advertising so I’d also love to work with brands to create what I call “advertainment.” I long to work with a product line and web series where the characters and plot are integrated with the merchandize in a truly organic fashion. Not product placement!  But a show that sells a lifestyle from top to bottom. I really want to do this!

What are you currently working on? 

My producers Jenette Kahn and Adam Richman at Double Nickel Entertainment are currently out to actors with FAIR FIGHT.  In addition, I recently won the 2017 WGA Writer’s Access Project, run by Glen Mazzara, with my pilot KINKS, then sold that pilot to AJ Mendez at Pillar Segan who have a deal at eOne TV.  We’re preparing to take the project to buyers with talent.

I just completed a new short film, HERE NOW, starring the amazing Amy Brenneman, shot by Nancy Schreiber, the brilliant cinematographer who won the coveted 2017 ASC President’s award and we’ve recently been accepted to a couple of Oscar qualifying festivals. I was jonesing to make a movie!  We shot it in my house over 2 days and many lifelong friends came in with freebies and favors including Panavision, Technicolor, Cine Lease, Legion VFX, and even the incredible Bruce’s Catering. The rest of the budget I raised with a Seed & Spark  fundraising campaign of $10,000.

Like most filmmakers I’m in constant development. I write every single day. It’s making movies in my head and on paper; it keeps my imagination limber and my slate strong.

Sarah Bullion is a LA-based director and writer, interested in the intersection of cinema and activism. She is the Treasurer of the Board of Alliance of Women Directors and is currently completing her MFA in Screenwriting at Stephens College. She can be reached at sarah@allianceofwomendirectors.org

You can tweet to Rachel Feldman at @WomenCallAction or find her here.

Screenmancer thanks both directors, Sarah Bullion and Rachel Feldman, for this Conversation, part of a new series.For more information, contact: news@screenmancer.tv or post comment.

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Rachel Feldman 2

You Think Google Has Issues: Rachel Feldman Has Something To Say About Women & Directing, Okay?

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

One hot week in August leading up to a full moon, from Aug. 1 to Aug. 7, there was a kind of ground zero for the D-word from Hollywood to Silicon Valley. We’re talking hot-button issues inclusion, fairness, and equity under the heading of Diversity. If you haven’t heard what happened, a recap is in order. Gwood17Here’s a timeline: on July 31 “CBS This Morning” covers a new USC Annenberg study that cites “inclusion crisis” in Hollywood, based on Dr. Stacy Smith’s co-authored academic dissection of 900 films and 39,000 “characters” charted over a decade that prove demographics are not improving in re: diversity, including women behind the camera. Aug. 1 the fall-out at TCA (Television Critics Association) summer summit in Los Angeles is that, no surprise, CBS execs Kelly Kahl (CBS Ent. Pres.) and Thom Sherman (Sr. Exec. Programming) are mercilessly held to the fire by reporters on diversity stats and the fracas is covered by Los Angeles Times, even with a caveat at 6:45 pm that tellingly announces a quote correction as: “An earlier version of this post quoted Kelly Kahl as saying, “I don’t how to answer that.” It has been corrected to read “I’m not exactly even sure how to address that.””

A quote correction is a rare occurrence in journalism, and underscores that an ideological brush-fire has started. Nobody means harm, but the stats don’t lie. It’s business as usual, but with resistance now.

By Aug. 3, NBC which is owned by Comcast, also owner of Universal with the banner NBCUNI, uses TCA to introduce its “Female Forward” push that is supposed to address the underrepresentation of women in helmer positions in television. Slated for 2018-2019 season, a mere 10 women get a shot behind the camera, in a drop-in-the-ocean attempt to correct DGA-compiled stats that only 17 percent of episodes on all platforms were directed by women, with — get this — only 3% by minority women.

FX Displays One of The More Diverse Pie Charts at TCA.

FX Displays One of The More Diverse Pie Charts at TCA.

Next, over the weekend of Aug. 4 – 6, a bombshell goes off in Silicon Valley with a self-proclaimed “classic liberal” 28-year-old Google software engineer’s memo on a site called Motherboard that pretends to be a counterpoint to the lack of women in tech roles with a screed that includes charts and graphs on why women are “biologically” absent from high-profile engineering jobs in tech, as well as tech in general. Ka-Pow!

On Monday, Aug. 7, the world wakes up to worldwide coverage of James Damore’s surprising anti-PC punch in the gut to women, and suddenly the floorboards are ripped up on gender resentments from Hollywood to Silicon Valley.

By Monday night Damore is fired by Google, and Weds., Aug. 9 said memo-writer threatens (and files) a lawsuit for wrongful termination — but the cat is out of the bag, and all gender hell has broken loose. Because if you follow the Damore logic, women have just been handed their ass in every profession. Rachel Feldman 2Enter director Rachel Feldman, who is former chair of the DGA (Director’s Guild of America) Women’s Steering Committee, and wow, is she pissed off.

“James Damore, the Google engineer who wrote the controversial 3,300 word memo outlining his reasons why female employees were inferior workers, has been fired. Good for Google!  Their response was swift and their message clear; that kind of caveman thinking won’t be tolerated at Google,” Feldman begins. “But responding to pseudo-science that tries to legitimize prejudice is overt and relatively easy to spot. What’s much harder to root out, to see clearly, and eliminate is the insidious infection of unconscious bias.”

“I work in the Hollywood film and television industry as a director and I am a woman. I have more than paid my dues – with a masters degree in directing, numerous prestigious film festivals for grant funded indie films, trained on big studio movies working for famous, brilliant directors, and then directed over 60 hours of network and broadcast television – both episodic television and original movies, as well as taught directing on the Masters level – yet every job is still as hard to get as the first one, and I am called “a first time director” by many.”

In addition to being a director, writer, and filmmaker, Feldman, who is currently working on a script about equal-pay advocate Lilly Ledbetter (FAIR FIGHT), produced the 2013 DGA Women of Action Summit that was a first in the guild’s 80-year history to shine a spot on gender disparity. Ledbetter was born in 1938, and even though a “fair pay act” was named for her in 2009, she continues to fight for an equal share for women — both in representation and in the paycheck.

Ironically, James Damore’s Google platform for his numbskull pontificating about gender has opened the door for a class action suit, with some 60 female employees on board who learned via this scandal that they were paid up to $40K less than their male counterparts in some cases. Rampant sexism is the cause, as in Hollywood.

According to Deadline, an insider Hollywood news site, the EEOC is looking into gender discrimination in the industry’s most famous town in a big way.

“Decades ago producers and those who hire would say overtly sexist things to me and get away with it,” Feldman shares. “When a producer gives you the excuse for not hiring you because they “already had a woman director and the crew didn’t like her,” it was hard to hold my tongue and not point out the idiocy of that statement. But times have changed and now we are supposedly enlightened. We have diversity programs and initiatives up the wahzoo. So why has so little changed for women directors? What happened at Google was clearly terrible, but I wish my own industry were as vigilant in reacting to the perpetual gender exclusion that women directors in film and television live with every day.”

 L-R Nancy Rae Stone (producer), Feldman (director/writer), Nancy Schreiber ASC (Cinematographer), Barbara Kallier (gaffer), Pony Gold (key grip.)

Feldman’s Crew: L-R Nancy Rae Stone (producer), Feldman (director/writer), Nancy Schreiber ASC (Cinematographer), Barbara Kallier (gaffer), Pony Gold (key grip.)

You can also follow her activism on these topics on Twitter @WomenCallAction, and track Feldman as she responds to some tough questions on women and directing here:

Q:  What do you think of the recent Google memo about women (another male-heavy profession, tech), and are the attitudes in tech and movies parallel, if so why is that?

A: James Damore, the Google engineer who wrote the controversial 3,300 word memo outlining his reasons why female employees were inferior workers, has been fired.  Good for Google!  Their response was swift and their message clear; that kind of caveman thinking won’t be tolerated at Google.  But responding to pseudo-science that tries to legitimize prejudice is overt and relatively easy to spot. We have witnessed the tragedies of Eugenics attempting to rationalize genocide and most of us are lucky enough to live in a progressive culture where we strive for equality in every facet of our lives.  What’s much harder to root out, to see clearly, and eliminate is the insidious infection of unconscious bias.

Q: So why has so little changed for women directors?

A: What happened at Google was clearly terrible, but I wish my own industry were as vigilant in reacting to the perpetual gender exclusion that women directors in film and television live with every day.

Someone recently asked me if this was ageism because honestly, most of the woman I’m talking about are no longer the girls they were when they started directing in the 90’s.  But when the obstacles we face are exactly the same as the ones we faced 25 years ago, we must admit that gender exclusion is the culprit.

Q: Tricky issue – Kathryn Bigelow, DETROIT, what’s your opinion on this production, that director?

A: I thought DETROIT was very strong and I believe that the race conversation about a white woman telling this story is misplaced. Kathryn Bigelow is at the top of her game, she doesn’t need us to talk about her. I believe what we need to talk about the thousands of NON-CELEBRITY women who are brilliant, skilled, talented, proven, accomplished – and not working.  WHY?  How do we get the industry to pay attention to the women who have been ignored for way too long by gender exclusion?

Q: How about the thorny issue of wanting to be counted as a female director, but wanting to be seen on the world stage as a Director, no gender?

A: I think that women directors who have already had some measure of success can afford to take this position, but from my activist seat and from the position of having a career that has been severely affected by gender exclusion, I feel that any women who takes this position is doing a disservice to her sister filmmakers.  Not proclaiming your gender as a woman director in this day and age feels a bit like privilege to me.  We must fight for every woman to have a fair share and we will only do that if we join forces as women behind the camera.

Q: Top ten women director list, your choices (living or dead, domestic and international)?

A: It’s important that we banish the notion that there are only a handful of directors! We are a huge, underutilized labor force, and there is AN ARMY OF HIGHLY SKILLED DIRECTORS in both film and television.

Find us, hire us.There are so many brilliant, expressive voices to choose from but anyone I would name is already well known.  What I’d like to do it to invite our industry to hire new directors who they may never have heard of before.  These two links will allow for a great exploration: http://www.thedirectorlist.com/database/thedirecorlist.com and here.

Q: Are initiatives from groups like Geena Davis’ gender institute helpful?

A: The GDIGM is a great organization and quite effective. Geena is a great speaker and Madeline is a wonderful advocate.  We need more female protagonists and girls and women on screen who are not stereotyped, sexualized or victimized.  These are hugely important issues.

Q: What’s the greatest challenge of directing for women — getting funded, hiring enough women, etc?

A: The greatest challenge for women is to squash the idea that we don’t exist. Day after day we hear the same refrain – that there are only a handful of directors to hire – while THOUSANDS of us with Oscars, Emmy’s, Sundance awards, and hundreds of credits are ignored.  Why?  Why is all the focus on change to develop a pipeline for the future, with educational programs for new directors, when there are so many of us trained directors who could be working now and changing the stats NOW! The answer is that many of us don’t have agents, we are invisible – and why don’t we have representation? Because the agencies only want to hire hot celebrities who bring in fast money.  This cycle must change!!!

Q: Who is your favorite female director, or top three favorites and why?

A: I’d rather not talk about my s/heroes, but instead introduce folks to a tiny, tip of the iceberg list of hard-working, accomplished women who you’ve never heard of. This is by no means intended to be exhaustive or comprehensive, and this list focuses on television and not features.  There are thousands of talented women in the independent space, with stunning, award winning films – and many more in TV as well – let’s promote these women and get them working

Feldman’s Director Short List

Victoria Hochberg, Gloria Muzio, Neema Barnett, Debbie Reinisch, Hanelle Culpepper, Martha Coolidge, Amy Heckerling, Tanya Hamilton, Tessa Blake, Kat Candler, Shannon McCormack Flynn, Ellen Pressman, Leslie Libman, Vicky Jenson, Stacy Title, Linda Feferman, Matia Karell, Maggie Greenwald, Debroah Kempmeir, Debra Granick, Darnell Martin, Anna Forester, Heather Cappiello, Martha Coolidge, Nicole Rubio, Tanya Hamilton, Tessa Blake, Kat Candle, Leslie Libman, Beth Spitainy, Daisy Von Scherier Mayer, Jan Eliasberg, Elodie Keene, Diana Valentine, Jessica Landaw, Julie Hebert, Julie Anne Robinson, Katherine Brooks, Martha Mitchell, Nicole Kassell, Nzingha Stewart, Rachel Talalay, Rose Troche, Stacey Black, Alexis Korycinski, Allison Anders, Ami Mann, Amy Redford, Anna Mastro, Anne Renton, Catherine Jelski, Claudia Weil, Dee Rees, Helen Hunt, Jessica Yu, Donna Deitch, Kasi Lemmons, Lily Mariye, So Yong Kim, Neema Barnette, Tina Mabrey, Tanya Hamilton…

Q: Is film school a non-starter in production for women, what about AFI’s women in directing program, and is Sundance viable for women?

A: Film schools are great if you want to learn how to make movies and meet others who love the same. I have an MFA from NYU in directing and have taught directing in the MFA program at USC, but you don’t have to go to film school to learn to make films.

It’s important to note that women graduate at 50% of film school classes but the employment drops off the moment they enter the workforce.

We exist, we are interested and trained, we just don’t get the opportunities.

Q: About getting distribution and screenings — is it the same dog-and-pony show for any director?

A: If your project has a female protagonist you are in for a hard road.

If you can’t get one of the top 10 female actors who are interesting to foreign sales, your chances are slim to none.

These are insidious forms of gender discrimination and ones that need to be challenged.

Q: On how to promote a film — is it an advantage to say a woman is at the helm, or is it better to go in blind on that in some cases?

A: It’s probably never an advantage to be a woman director unless you are already a celebrity, no matter what the media might claim.

But I believe that for better or for worse, if we are not brave and proud and willing to take the heat – things will never change.

Q: What about sexism and entries into foreign (international) film festivals, any thoughts?

A: Women are terribly excluded from film festivals.  More of the same.

Final Thoughts on Similarities, Call it “GoogleWood”

In closing, here’s a metric ex-Googler James Damore doesn’t understand: the ageism against men in tech is so ingrained that by 26, most men are done in the fast lane if they haven’t migrated from the engineering track to management. In Hollywood, most women are done by 26 as ingenues, and fall out of the fast lane if they don’t accept character roles. The point? Technology was James Damore’s Hollywood, he just didn’t get the rules of the game.

 

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[Editor’s note: HERE NOW, directed by Rachel Feldman will screen on Aug. 12 at Holly Shorts Film Festival, which runs from Aug. 10 -19.]

Rachel Feldman directing Amy Brenneman in HERE NOW

Rachel Feldman directing Amy Brenneman in HERE NOW