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“With A Smile”

Posted by Rena Sternfeld on July 21, 2014 in The search |

 

A genuine man left us. James Garner.

 

James Garner1

 

When he was asked by Barbara Walters how he would like to be remembered, he answered “With a smile”.

Just a mensch that made it a pleasure to be on the set for 12-16 hours a day. I heard it  from a 1st AD who was there, on his TV show and all the TV movies (more or less) he later made.

 

James garner

 

And now I found this:

From that experience, Garner developed a lifelong sympathy for the underdog. “I cannot stand to see little people picked on by big people,” he said. “If a director starts abusing people, I’ll just jump in.”

 

 

As I said, we will miss him dearly, in this industry that ‘throwing people under the bus’ is an every day occurrence.

 

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Another Open Letter from a Female TV Director

Posted by Rena Sternfeld on July 17, 2014 in The search |

This time from my friend Rachel Feldman. The fight to be recognized and employed continues. This article has a little bit more information about what is really going on inside the television and movie business and why female TV directors are so rarely employed.

An excellent open letter to showrunners who are at the neck of this bottle in television.

Showrunning is a very tough job, but hiring more women directors is not simply a labor/employment inequity that needs to be rectified – it’s an issue that has important, global social relevance. Film and television are our culture’s most powerful influencer and ambassador. All around the world, even in the most remote corners of our planet, men, women and children see how Hollywood movies and television present the human condition. Our media is a great proselytizer, and we have a tremendous responsibility to ensure that the images and ideas we disseminate represent the most enlightened aspects of culture and are not created with a single-gender perspective.

 

You can read the whole post here.

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Film Directing – Notes From the Trenches

Posted by Rena Sternfeld on June 30, 2014 in On the set |

 

Haven’t written for a long time, and with that crossed one of the “no-no’s” of blogging. You have to be dedicated and provide new content, all the time.

But when you work 70 hour weeks as script supervisor (yes, had to do that to make ends… closer), you get sucked into a new world, and it’s all consuming.

You live most of the day in that world – the world of filmmaking, of make-believe. There is another world order in this community, with a clear hierarchy of leaders and subordinate. Things you can do in another world – like go to sleep at approximately the same time every night – are dictated here. Today you sleep at night, tomorrow you sleep during the day. You’ll eat when you are told and spend long days in places you have never been before, in condition that do not promote health and well-being. You agonize over a shot, a mistake you might have made, and words and gestures directed toward you in the heat of the moment. Behaviors that are not tolerated in other environments strive here. There is not even an attempt to disguise it to be anything else but dictatorship.

There is a clear leader who tells everyone what to do. And the character of that leader sets the atmosphere in this world. I’ve seen actors become leaders and I’ve seen directors who think they lead, but do not. Unfortunately I also had my share of leaders who are tyrants, and some who verge on mental illness and are dangerous to themselves and their surroundings.

 

It takes time to realize that this world order exists in this world alone, and slowly put things in perspective.

 

For those who want to be directors, being on sets and seeing how others do it is a valuable education you will not get anywhere else, including film school. But – how you handle questions, how you handle problems, how you deal with pressures and not finishing the day’s schedule can’t be learned – it has to be experienced.

Since I have lived in both worlds – being a crew member – and understanding the dilemmas of a director, I have a few observations about directing from the trenches.

Sometimes directors are their own worst enemy. Getting involved in the workings of every department from start to finish seems like the right thing to do in order to have total control of the process, but watching from the sidelines I realized that it takes too much of the director’s time and attention.

Trying to do everyone’s job is a huge waste of the director’s time. If you like to bump the camera operator to get the shots yourself, you achieve two things: Everyone realizes you are not a better operator than the one that does it for a living and you are so busy with the frame, the light, not to see the c-stand, that you hardly have time to notice what’s inside the frame – you know, the important stuff.

If you dictate how the production works, you sometimes don’t see the forest for the trees. Example? A director asks the make-up department how long it will take to clean up an actor who was covered in blood. The head of the department (who was replaced later in the movie) told the director it can be done on the set without taking the actor to the makeup trailer 10 minutes away, and – it will take only 10 minutes to clean him up. That is an A.D. question. As a director you should concentrate on the performance, not on scheduling the day.

As we continued with the shoot, the director added more and more blood on and around the actor. The actor’s jeans were glued to his thighs, his hair was matted, covered in blood, sand and leaves after lying dead on the ground for a few hours… When the time came to clean him up, the makeup department came to the AD department and said they have to take the actor to the trailers to take a shower and wash his hair. The AD department approved and the actor hopped into a van to go to base camp.

20 minutes later the director was ready to shoot the cleaned up actor, and was told he is on his way from base camp and will be there momentarily.

All the director heard was that the actor was taken to base camp. He went ballistic, cussing everyone from the actor to the makeup to the A.D. department, blaming them for causing him to be behind schedule and sabotaging the production. While he was still ranting, the actor arrived, all cleaned up, ready to shoot.

What was the big deal? You ask. It shouldn’t have been a big deal. All went as planned and he really didn’t wait long for the actor, but he was mad as a hatter because he was not told that the actor goes to base camp and as far as he was concerned THEY DIDN’T DO WHAT HE ORDERED.

The atmosphere on the set changed dramatically. Cast and crew who watched the director scream, 5 inches away from the 2nd AD’s nose, were terribly put off. He lost the crew that night. If before they were giving 110% to make the director’s vision come to life, now they started walking a little bit slower, giving only the necessary minimum.

Surround yourself with people you trust and let them do their job. As I was taught in The Israeli Army’s – A good officer is the one who delegates authority. A bad officer is the one who tries to do it all by himself.

 

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“The World is Round, People!”

Posted by Rena Sternfeld on March 10, 2014 in The search |

And the articles, they keep coming.  WE managed to stir things a little bit.

 

LIBRARY IMAGE OF BLUE JASMINE

 

Here’s an article by Maureen Dowd in the NY Times. She calls it “Frozen in a Niche?” in which she talks about Cate Blanchett becoming a challenger: “She chided industry colleagues “who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences,” adding: “The world is round, people.”

Thank you Cate! Thank you Meryl Steep for talking about it. Thanks you Jodie Foster for combating the establishment at higher levels. As she told the Los Angeles Times: When men hire directors they say to themselves  “I’m gonna hand over $60 million to somebody I don’t know. I hope they look like me.” She also criticized “risk-averse” female studio executives who regard female directors as too much of a risk. In Vogue, Claire Danes said she stopped working for two years before she got “Homeland” because she didn’t want to play “the girl.”

Ms. Dowd continues to say:

The percentage of women directing, writing, producing, editing and shooting films has declined since 1998, according to an analysis of the top 250 grossing films of 2013 by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. (The anticipated halo effect from Kathryn Bigelow becoming the first woman to win a directing Oscar for 2009’s “The Hurt Locker” never happened.)

The center’s latest report had some stunning stats: Women accounted for 6 percent of directors, 10 percent of writers, 15 percent of executive producers, 17 percent of editors and 3 percent of cinematographers. And women are still more likely to be working on romantic comedies, dramas or documentaries than the top-grossing, teenage-boy-luring animated, sci-fi and horror movies.

“Every time that a female-driven film like ‘Bridesmaids’ makes boatloads of money at the box office, it is considered a fluke, a one-off. Women comprise 52 percent of all moviegoers. Yet there’s still an assumption that men will not go to see a woman’s movie, but that women will go to see anything.”

Sound familiar? I wrote it on this blog in the past.

The bluntest remarks came from co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment Amy Pascal in Forbes. She talked about the “paltry” amount women make in Hollywood compared to men, about the “unconscious mountain” of rejection against female directors and how “the whole system is geared for them to fail.”

 

BUT ” … given this year’s crop of female protagonists, she feels more sanguine. “Between ‘Gravity,’ ‘Hunger Games,’ ‘Frozen,’ ‘The Heat,’ and others, that’s $4 billion,” she told the reporter. “That’s a gigantic change.” Now, when we are talking about money there’s something to fight for.

 

And the key phrase at the end of the article?: “Women have to help each other more. It’s our duty.”

Amen to that Amy Pascal.

 

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A Female Director Speaks Out

Posted by Rena Sternfeld on March 10, 2014 in The search |

Speak-Out

Maria Giese had enough.

She’s been working hard  trying to change the situation of women directors. After directing two features (“When Sunday Comes” – a British production, and “Hunger”) she tried to “break in” into television directing and found the same white, wide, tall wall I encountered, with no door in it.

She joined the Women Steering Committee of The Director’s Guild of America with the hope that the professional guild will spearhead the change we so desperately need.

She recently published an article called “After the Summit – Halfway There” in which she counts the actions of the leadership of the DGA in an attempt to put a muzzle on the women who are speaking out.

Here is what she wrote:

… Television directing, and the residuals that follow, is the bread and butter of the majority of DGA directors, and forms the bedrock of the Directors Guild’s health and pension plans. Yet when a female DGA director member attempts to gain entry to this regularly working group, entry is blocked— by habit, by design, by custom, and by the passivity of the DGA itself.  Could this be simply a microcosm of a larger primate gender war for resources?

In feature films, an art form that is the voice of our entire culture, America appears unwilling to accommodate any more women than can fit in a single-digit percentage. There are more women in the US Congress than there are women who direct US movies. Unless you are a movie star like Jodie Foster, Drew Barrymore, or Angelina Jolie, or a pop star like Madonna or Barbra Streisand, or the daughter of a famous director, like Sophia Coppola or Alison Eastwood, or an actress who is a regular on a TV series (that list is endless), you are out in the cold.”

 

Here’s another:

 “After a decade of being a DGA member, two years ago I began attending monthly DGA Women’s Steering Committee (WSC) meetings as a last resort effort to finding work.  What I found instead was a group of confused, frightened, and subservient women acceding to the unspoken demands of the DGA to be quiet and not make waves– not so different from Stepford wives, ironically.

Worse, it was every woman for herself.  The DGA women TV directors I met through the committee seemed hell-bent on keeping other women shut out and off their turf.  A few may allow another woman director to shadow on their shows, but they almost never make sure the observer can advance to actually directing an episode of her own.”

And here is what was happening behind the scenes of the Summit a year ago:

A few months after the vote, however, we had not gotten an official go-ahead from the Guild to start working.  I had lunch with the Guild’s diversity officer, Regina Render who told me, “The event is not going to happen.”   I ask her why.  She said the Guild perceived it as “negative.” According to her, they thought it might make the Guild “look bad”– it could be “embarrassing.”

We decided to write a letter to Regina. We wrote: “Jay Roth is not going to want to go down years from now as having been the guy in charge when the DGA is found to be in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII.”   Two days later, the event was officially approved.  We had the go-ahead.  About 9 or 10 months later, on March 2, 2013 (almost exactly a year ago) the most important, fully inclusive event for women directors ever hosted by the DGA took place.”

“… The Directors Guild of America is the most powerful union in our industry. Guild leaders are always quick to boast of being the richest union in Hollywood, perhaps having in excess of $100 million in their coffers.  The membership pays Roth millions of dollars a year in deferred bonus alone– that’s on top of a $750,000 salary. Yet they can’t cough up ten or twenty thousand dollars to promote equal employment opportunity for women directors?  Something they are legally bound to do in accordance with Title VII?  There is something curiously awry in that valuation disparity.

Furthermore, American media seems to be talking about the problem of the under-employment of women directors every day— in print, on the radio, on TV.  It’s ever-present now.  I know we have made great strides in the past two years, but there is much, much work to be done.”

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The Case of Wendy Davis

Posted by Rena Sternfeld on February 10, 2014 in It makes me MAD |

wendy davis

 

You probably remember Wendy Davis, the blond woman representing district 10 in the Texas Senate. She stood there with her hot pink sneakers and filibustered the assembly for 11 hours trying to fervent them from passing an anti-abortion law.

Now she is running for Governor of Texas and her life story became a hot bed of debates, attacks and contra-attacks.

Wendy started working at age 14. When she was 17, and working as a waitress in her father’s restaurant, she moved in with her boyfriend and became pregnant. She gave birth to her first daughter when she was 18.

By 19 she was separated then divorced, living with her daughter in a trailer park working 2 jobs. But it was not the end of the road for her – and for that she has become a symbol to many women in Texas and around the country.

Because Wendy went to a community college to obtain a paralegal degree, then transferred to Texas Christian University and graduated first in her class. She took student loans and with the help of her husband Jeffrey Davis went to Harvard Law School, earning her law degree in 1992 with Cum laude honors.

In October 2013, Wendy announced her intention to run for governor of Texas in the 2014 elections, then all hell broke loose.

It started with an article in the Dallas Morning News. Wayne Slater wrote a provocative piece intimating that Wendy was a gold-digger. All is fair in politics they say and no one gets a pass, was the official line.

But what were the attacks all about? Was it about her ideas? Was it about her activism? Was it about politics at all?

No. most of the attacks came after checking her bio with a fine tooth comb and coming up with discrepancies that caught the eye of every man fighting against equal rights.

She didn’t live in a trailer park for long, her detractors said. It was only a few months. (As if living in a trailer park as a single mother with 2 jobs, is easy.)

She relied on her then husband to help her pay for Harvard Law. That makes her a gold-digger.

She is not a good mother – she left her children in the care of her husband and her mother while she went to school.

It seems her worst offenses are that she is twice divorced, pro-choice, ambitious, female, sometime an absent mom, single mother and a democrat who picks political fights. If she was a man, some say, she would be earning kudos for being a real go-getter.

Would a man be called a bad father for traveling or living in Washington DC while his family stayed home? How many man have been supported by their wives when they went to school? Does that make them gold-diggers?

In the modern world we strive to have similar roles for mothers and fathers – both working, both taking care of the children. These kind of attacks look archaic and out of touch with the rest of the country, where two incomes are needed just to get by.

But that is not all. A politician from the opposing party, Todd Kincannon, has been spewing hateful tweets all week. In a span of a few hours he called her a whore, said she “has done more damage to modern feminism than Monica Lewinsky playing Human Humidor with Bill Clinton in the Oval Office” and that “Wendy Davis stimulates the kneepad economy. And a lot of penises. I wonder how many kneepads she went through in Harvard.”

A despicable, misogynistic attack that if directed toward a man would have caused heads to roll.

But he didn’t stop there. “In other news, Wendy Davis took a short break from blowing ‘campaign contributors’ today to condemn remarks made by Mike Huckabee…” and “Wendy Davis is a looker and a hooker.”

Has there ever been a man that was attacked for taking loans and pulling himself up by the boot straps? Was there ever a male politician who was questioned about his parenting skills?

“If this involved a man running for office, none of this would ever come up,” Becky Haskins a republican who served with Wendy Davis told the Star-Telegram. “It’s so sad. Every time I ran, somebody said I needed to be home with my kids. Nobody ever talks about men being responsible parents.”

Here is what Wendy Davis had to say about the subject: “The attacks won’t work, because my story is the story of millions of Texas women who know the strength it takes when you’re young, alone and a mother,” she said in the release. “I’ve always been open about my life not because my story is unique, but because it isn’t.”

 

Besides, she reminds me of Catherine Deneuve. Especially in this period of her life.

catherine_deneuve-9242

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Something I Did Lately

Posted by Rena Sternfeld on January 29, 2014 in The search |

Here is a parody I directed with friends.

 

 

spread the word.

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There is Nothing New Under the Sun

Posted by Rena Sternfeld on January 24, 2014 in The search |

The more I look into the issue, the more things I find that make me mad.

Like?

Like this report published in 1978 by a California Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights.

 

 

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The Trouble with Hollywood

Posted by Rena Sternfeld on January 24, 2014 in The search |

Another important article was published today.

It got me thinking. I worked as script supervisor on over 300 episodes of television. How many women did I work with?

Betty Thomas

Arlene Sanford

Bethany Rooney

Jan Eliasberg

Karen Gaviola

Melanie Mayron

 

That is all I can remember. 6 women out of 300 episodes.

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Female Television Director: Be Pretty and Shut Up

Posted by Rena Sternfeld on January 14, 2014 in promises, The search |

 

woman director

 

 

A blog post by a fellow director Lexi Alexander prompted me to speak out as well. We have to have our voices heard, and by the look of it our campaign is bearing some fruit; more and more reporters are picking up on stories and statistics.

I know Lexi from the Women Steering Committee of the DGA.

After directing my 7th episode of television comedy for HBO, I hit a brick wall. The shows I worked on were done and I was looking up and down for a way to get into the pool of working directors. That is when, in frustration, I started this blog to chart the way of my search for the Holy Grail – being able to make a living doing what I love to do and what I trained my whole life to do.

And I had an agent. Bless your heart Mitchell Stein for sticking with me all these years and arranging all those meetings for me. I’ve met with network executives who told me there is no directing opening in any of the shows they are responsible for, and anyway it’s up to the individual executive producers to fill those directing slots. Mitchel arranged for meetings with executive producers and show runners who told me that the studios have a list, and as long as you are not on that list, you will not be approved by the executives at the studios.

I became so frustrated with this run-around, that I was impatient with a Fox executive, who told Mitch I am way too aggressive. It became a catch 22.

I desperation I turned to my Guild. Maybe they can help me break this catch.

And indeed they tried. I suspect that with their help I got on one of the 3 programs for directors. It’s a coveted spot; over 1000 applicants for 15 spots in the program I applied for. But for me, as a director, this program did nothing. Shadowing (following) an experienced director is what I have been doing my entire professional life. That is not what I hoped this program would be.

I did meet a few executives that were very nice and supportive, but couldn’t help in the matter of hiring.

I found out the Guild had a Women Steering Committee and for a few years, once a month, I heard lectures, participated in seminars, organized events for our committee and looked in owe at the lack of real activism to try and do something. Female television directors were so used to keeping quiet and “waiting for the winds to change”.

But I did meet some women in my situation; Maria Giese who directed two great features, one she produced herself, Rachel Feldman who had 70 hours of television behind her but after taking a break to raise kids couldn’t get back in, despite the fact she wrote and sold a few scripts to “Lifetime”. There are many more in similar situation and we started talking.

And we looked at statistics, and we realized that something is not right. In any other profession a disparity of 85/15 would not have been tolerated. We have to do something about it. That’s when I met Lexi. She felt the same way.

I guess we caught our Guild by surprise. They were not used to so many letters, questions, and requests for statistics that came from the Women Steering Committee. I also guess they’ve decided to rein us in by looking into a technicality to change the leadership of our committee. Suddenly, after years of existing without bylaws, we were requested to agree on new bylaws that would force new elections. We fought tooth and nail. We were told that if we will not agree to the new bylaws our committee may be dismantled.

We lost. The new bylaws were ratified by the whole female membership and we got new leadership. It will suffice to say that two of our three co-chairs are very active in other committees in the guild.

In the middle of all this we had The Summit. In March 2013, some of my friends in the committee organized the biggest gathering of women directors. The Summit almost didn’t happen. If was approved and canceled then approved again when big-name directors said they would come. I guess the Guild thought we couldn’t pull it off.

The frustration in theater 1 in the DGA building was palatable. From the lowly ones- like me, to directors who directed big and money making features: We are not treated alike. We are not getting the same chances, the same career advancements as men do, there is definitely a gender issue in our industry.

Jay Roth and Brian Unger were there. They heard the feelings of the participants. It’s not only us in the committee who feel that way. It’s an industry-wide issue.

****

Now I come to the last meeting we had. Frankly we understood what Paris Barclay said about his early days in the guild. Those who are frustrated, those who demand change are called disgruntled and can be expelled from the guild, as happened with Jamaa Fanaka. You can get more with honey than with vinegar they tell us. The change will come, they said about the negotiations for the last contract, but it will take time. So in the meantime, be pretty and shut up.

I won’t. Nor will Alexi, Maria, Melanie and all the other women who think change is over-due.

A change in atmosphere is needed.

The new contract does not include any seismic shifts. I’m sure our very smart members of the negotiating committee did their best to get more programs going, to force the studios to have checks and balances on gender and all the other achievements. But we basically have almost the same promise as in the last contract, and the one before that. We need to try something different.

I do not want to fight my guild. Some don’t believe me when I say that, but it’s true.  I do not want to fight a guild that gives me so much. But I expect my guild to help me fight some of the fights.

Not ask me to keep quite and make it difficult for our committee to make any moves.

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