Are Men Better Filmmakers Than Women?

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Dare I even ask that question. Do I believe it? Do you believe it? Sit for a moment and think about that. Don’t just give the expected politically correct answer. What do you, really think? 

I have to ask the question because in this great divide between men and woman in filmmaking, I believe that question is the real root of the problem.

Is it not time to say it out loud - that ultimately, beneath words like ‘represented’ ‘diverse’ and ‘progress’ the real issue is that most men think they are better able to make films and most women think men are better able to handle the machinery that creates films? 

According to a study from researchers in three top US business schools, during tests in which they were asked to hire a study participant to complete a mathematical task based only on the appearance of applicants, both male and female hiring managers chose to hire men twice as often as women (1)

If women employers are discriminating against other women in other fields, it follows that it will also be a problem in the film industry. 

I have always had a quiet suspicion that even women who feel sidelined by the industry for being female, will themselves trust a man with a camera over a woman with a camera. 

Are you a female film director? Let me ask you this - how often have you used a female cinematographer or actively sought out female crew? I know a few female film directors, I don’t think I’ve seen one of them use a female DP. 

Why? 

In a report by Jeanquart-Barone and Sekaran (1994) it was found that among female civil service employees, male supervisors were trusted more than female supervisors (2)

Could it be, that maybe, despite being the feminist you claim to be and as much as you want to see other female filmmakers like you, you don’t actually put the same trust in a woman as you do a man. That you too, have been conditioned to believe that men are better at it? 

The writer AJ Dixon pretended astonishment at finding former actor Grace Davison operating a camera on a Long Island film set, even achieving trick photography effects. “I concluded that something must have happened to the regular cameraman, and that they had been forced to substitute this girl at the last moment; and I began to picture static, out-of-focus, under and overexposed negative as the result.”

During the 2016-2017 broadcast network TV season:

97% of programs had no women directors of photography

85% had no women directors

75% had no women editors

67% had no women writers

There was a brilliant book that came out in 2009 called Half the Sky. The book was focused mainly on the oppression of women across many countries and the main emphasis was to show that the world is losing half of its potential because of the oppression of women worldwide. 

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What’s the solution?

There are a few campaigns going round encouraging film directors and producers to actively start hiring female crew. That’s good.  

However, that’s hard when there is a limited pool of talented female crew. I have struggled in the past to find female DPs and approached several for short projects only to discover that they don’t ‘do that anymore.’ Why? They had amazing showreels. Why didn’t they pursue their skill?

Young women who are interested in various roles should be encouraged more. They should be offered shadowing opportunities more and they need to be told to actually pick up a camera and stop using the excuse, “I don’t understand how all that stuff works.” 

Honestly. The amount of times I’ve heard a fellow female filmmaker say that. It makes me sad. Because by telling yourself you don’t know how to do it, you are cutting yourself off from having a greater understanding of your craft and you are putting yourself at a disadvantage when you have to work with the men who know it all (or say they do) 

If you don’t understand, spend a few hours learning it. Otherwise you have only yourself to blame for the gender gap.   

Researchers from three US universities describe how they carried out a range of tests with 400 children, half of whom were girls, to probe the influence of gender stereotypes on children’s notions of intelligence and ability. also presented a group of six and seven year olds with two very similar games – one described as being for children who are “really, really smart” and the other for children who “try really, really hard”. The findings show that boys and girls were equally interested in the “hard” game, but girls were less interested than boys in the game for “smart” children. (3)

 Admit to yourself whether you believe deep down that a man is better or more adequate than a woman when it comes to mechanics. If you do, accept that this is your belief system and change it.  There’s a start. 

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Changing times?

So a woman has been nominated for cinematographer at the Academy Awards. For the first time. And when things change high up it takes a long time to trickle down to the commoners like us. 

There is such a long road ahead. 

The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), which counts Morrison as a member, was founded in 1919. It didn’t invite a woman to join until 1980, when it admitted Brianne Murphy, reportedly the first woman to work as a cinematographer on a major Hollywood studio film (4)

Are men better filmmakers? It depends on what makes someone a great filmmaker. I think it comes through practise.

If you start out with a female and a male director and the male director gets 10 times as many jobs or opportunities to make films over the female director - who builds their experience and skills faster? 

Men aren’t better filmmakers, every person man or woman has a different style, skill and talent. And we mustn’t put all the blame on men for the lack of opportunity for female filmmaker. Women need to look at their own attitudes too and not limit themselves needlessly.  

No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. - Muhammad Ali Jinnah

There is a great truth to that quote. This isn’t an “us” and “them” situation, it’s about changing our thought process, changing our attitude, being braver and educating ourselves. The loudest advocates for feminism and women’s rights are often those who overlook other women with real potential.

The mechanisms of a film set

If you have made a film or been on a film set you will know that there is a lot of, for want of a better word, machinery involved. 

Everything to do with the technical side of filming is well…technical. Follow focus, cables, cranes, gliders, motorised gimbals. It’s all very machine orientated. I think this scares away a lot of young female filmmakers who would love to learn it all, but are either intimidated by the mechanics or are quickly put off by some male crew member telling them they can’t do it or choosing not to show them how. 

Father’s tend to take their sons to fix the car with them, not so often their daughters. Girls are brought up being told it isn’t their place to work with machines. 

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I wonder if, as we head towards a more automated world of filmmaking, with pre-programmed cameras, post production focusing and no cables, whether it will become a place where more women are welcomed. 

With the absence of mechanics often manned (how ironic) by the ’keepers of the tech,’ small, delicate yet surprisingly wiry guys, with designer boxers peeking neatly over the top of their skinny jeans, who storm the film sets making sure they are in full control of all things electrical, technical and wire-able, perhaps more female filmmakers will feel confident in that environment. 

Either that or we need to teach girls that confidence before they get on a set. 

I have over 10 years experience in TV and filmmaking. That’s not a particularly long time and I am the first to say I have a lot more to learn and I don’t feel like I have even scratched the surface. 

That said, I have repeatedly been ‘taught’ or ‘given advice’ by male filmmakers about things I already know, who didn’t even bother to question whether I was at the same level of expertise as they were. They simply assumed that I wasn’t.