In honor of International Women’s Day Epix hosted a screening to debut the first episode of their newest 6-part short film series The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem.
The documentary showed guests the reality of the female struggle in the entertainment industry. Actors, directors, producers, screenwriters, filmmakers both male and female came together to give their insights and opinions on the infamous gender-gap controversy.
A panel of guest speakers followed the screening that included director Amy Heckerling, filmmaker and screenwriter Mary Harron, USC Annenberg’s Dr. Stacy Smith, producer and director Caroline Suh and was moderated by ELLE Editor-in-Chief Robbie Myers. These powerful women had a lot to say about the lack of women behind the camera, surprising statistics, the stereotypical female portrayal in movies and movie jail.
Robbie Myers: Do you think that the movie industry has a special responsibility to make sure more woman move up more quickly and tell more “female stories” or stories from a woman’s point of view?
Amy Heckerling: Yeah that would be awesome. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they don’t really like us. I had a project where it was two women and their romantic lives over a series of years and I’ve had an executive that I was working with he came in and said, “Why would two women stay friends.” You know and you hear things like this so your agent tells you “ Oh the studio already has a movie that they’re doing with a woman this year so you know.” Even that statistic of the top grossing movies only such and such was done by woman they would go “see woman don’t do the top grossing movies,” “the top movies didn’t have woman in them cause nobody wants to see woman.” I was at a point where I had a kid, and I was not doing so well cause I did European Vacation and even though it made money I was not getting a sh** load of respect, I couldn’t even look at it. I knew I had to go into the studio and pitch this idea I had about a woman and her baby looking for the perfect father and the baby was talking, so I said, “It’s all from the boy’s point of view, the baby, and I would only need a big star for a couple of days that’s a funny guy,” and they made it very much like it was about a talking baby played by a male comic. They insist that women are not funny, so it’s almost like you got to trick them. They called and they were like “You know we want to reboot it, do you have any thoughts?” My daughter and I were talking about it and I was going yeah it could be a woman cause there’s Melissa out there and other funny woman, but you’re really shooting yourself in the foot.
Robbie Myers: Do you feel like there’s a real conspiracy against woman or it’s disdain?
Mary Harron: It’s a great web of unconscious prejudice. I don’t think that anybody sets out to keep women out of things. All prejudice it’s a million little assumptions that build up to blocking things.
Robbie Myers: The New York Times did a big multi part series on the dearth of women in entertainment and all these various roles. I’m glad the New York Times did it because that means now “people” as opposed to “women” will get excited about it. I’m curious Caroline why do you think now people are really talking about it like they never have before?
Caroline Suh: I think that one of the big reasons is actually Stacy’s research because I think intuitively a lot of people thought this was an issue in Hollywood, but no one really had anything to back it up. Certainly if you are a woman working in the industry you don’t want to blame any failures or lack of progress in your career on some very amorphous thing like sexism. I think the research now allows people to actually come out and talk about it and talk about their experiences in a way which has backing by numbers. Our whole team who worked on this film when we got together tried to think what the title would be you know 4% is just a slap in the face I mean once you see that number you can not deny that there is something systemic going on. So I think a lot of it has to do with having research now that we can point to and hopefully more research in the future about how actually it’s good business to make films about women. It seems like Hollywood has relied on these fallacies for many years about how woman subject matter can’t make money as justification for the status quo. Now we’re realizing that that’s really not true, so if you want to keep your job you should start having some female content and hire female people behind the camera.
Robbie Myers: We were certainly aware that there was more than one controversy in the Oscars. I’m curious of how each of you thinks that this will affect the industry going forward and whether you think some of this unconscious bias can become conscious and maybe we can push it out of the way?
Mary Harron: I’m all for shaming actually. If you give a position were people feel embarrassed to do a big T.V. show and not have any, which has been true with many shows, not have a single female director that becomes untenable in way where it would be great to have a certain quota. If you call people on it, I think the Oscars were a big thing cause people got called on it. You know there have been many Oscars where all the nominees were white, but suddenly people have woken up to it. I’m surprised cause I’ve been on many panels over the years so when I was asked to be part of the panel for the film I was like I don’t have any thing more to say, but for the first time I actually feel like if you push long enough sometimes something just collapses, we might be on the brink of something.
Robbie Myers: They always say in the end it’s about the money. Can you tell us a little bit more about women, money, Hollywood?
Dr. Stacy Smith: That’s a bit of an oxymoron women, Hollywood and money cause those things don’t go together in terms of the perception or the belief they actually can co-occur and do quite well. I think that when we talk about money there hasn’t been real sophisticated research done on this issue. We’re actually doing it this year with women in film. A few years ago we did this investigation cause I was curious looking at some films in 2007. I was curious to what made money, but to that answer that question empirically it’s actually quite difficult because you have to think about who’s the lead, who’s the director, what’s the competition at the box office, what season does it come out it, how much is the production, how many screens is it on? This is not an easy thing to answer by just looking at averages, so we did the most sophisticated economic analysis at Annenberg and actually found that if you had a female lead versus a non-female lead didn’t really make too much of a difference at the box office domestically. If you released it on a lot of screens, you put a lot of money behind it and the story was ok you stood a shot of making a profit. What happened internationally was actually quite fascinating if you had a female lead, you actually made more money at the box office, but those other factors production costs, putting it on screens, story strength all played a role. So had we invested in female driven content a few years ago based on some of the preliminary analysis Hunger Games wouldn’t be a surprise, Divergent wouldn’t be a surprise, Cinderella wouldn’t be a surprise, Fifty Shades wouldn’t — but they’re all one offs. So this year we want to try to settle it and do the most sophisticated, not just with gender, but with race and ethnicity on screen and behind the camera as well and really put an end and answer the question, what sells?
Robbie Myers: Can you give some of us more of a peek into what actually happens in director jail?
Amy Heckerling: People are always thinking of how you’re going to get yourself out of it. There has to be a game plan you can’t just say oh things will change or they’ll suddenly like you again there’s got to be some compelling reason why you’re allowed back.
Robbie Myers: And men don’t need compelling reasons.
Amy Heckerling: I know some men who have been in movie jail. It’s harder [for women] cause [men] are allowed a couple of failures before they get sent there so it’s uneven, but sometimes they just forget about it. Like new people come in and they forget they hated you. Younger people they grew up with one of your movies and may not have worked on the one that’s f**** up and so they don’t hate you as much as the old people that are leaving do.
Robbie Myers: When women start telling stories will there be more varied ideas about men and women?
Mary Harron: The problem with many many scripts is that the female characters are so unevolved. They’re so sketched they just don’t have dimension. It’s not even counting the number of lines the female character has, it’s whether they actually have a fully realized existence.
Robbie Myers: I was interested earlier in the film when a women said, “You know I myself am guilty of that unconscious bias.” Caroline you said that too in your interview with us that you have to step back and sort of try to be aware of your unconscious bias. Do you think to be aware is the start of it?
Caroline Suh: One of our shoots Joe our director of photography said I’m going to have an all female crew this day and I walked onto the set and it was like a splash of cold water because I had never worked with a female gaffer, I had never worked with a female grip, PA’s yes but technical people no. You realized that when you look at the set it’s not what you expect and you don’t feel really comfortable at first. Obviously this is the project we’re doing so it’s crazy that I would walk onto the set … well may be a bit alarmed, but oh how is today going to go?