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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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