In this lecture, Lord Puttnam discussed the necessity of creative and practical resilience in the film industry, and touched upon the issues of role models, the importance of retaining creative control in an industry where one can be easily taken advantage of, and of giving yourself over entirely to film. I plan to write about cases where resilience might not be enough, and the cultural and industrial barriers that particular groups face in accessing funding, support and mentorship.
Andrei Tarkovsky is quoted as saying that a filmmaker must give themselves fully over to film, that they must sacrifice themselves for film. While Tarkovsky was speaking with regard to the importance of fully integrating filmmaking into your life, of the idea of living your life and how one makes films being intimately linked, and the importance of using your own personal experiences to fuel your art, he also emphasized the notion that film cannot be separate from personal passion, or else it has failed in some way; film is an artform that requires commitment and endurance, an uncompromising vision and belief. Werner Herzog, for example, has spoken about the sacrifices he has made in pursuit of art – during the making of Fitzcarraldo, he survived on a bartered bag of rice for three or four weeks, and lived in a chicken coop, all the while contending with a the threat of a nearby border war (Snyder). There are numerous, almost mythic stories of the lengths filmmakers will go to while shooting their film, battling against seemingly insurmountable odds and making films at great personal cost; these range from pushing crews and casts to the limit during filming, to constructing elaborate sets.
When beginning to make films and attempting to navigate the film industry, new filmmakers benefit from having mentors who can guide them in the early stages of their career. Mentors can help new filmmakers avoid the pitfalls of the industry (retaining creative control and intellectual rights to their work), set up meetings and facilitate connections, and give constructive advice on writing and production matters.Examples of such mentorships include Christopher Nolan and Stephen Frears, and Jean Renoir’s influence on Satyajit Ray’s filmmaking. Mentorship is vital, and as Ava Duvernay notes here, is beautiful if it’s true, and the mentor wants to help you specifically. The scarcity of visible and accessible role models/mentors, especially for minority/marginalized groups, often makes it difficult for these filmmakers to move up through the industry, or to envision the possibility of advancement.
Industry Barriers and A Culture of Misogyny
If a new filmmaker cannot see a figure like themselves in a prominent position in the industry, or find a mentor that is willing to invest in them, advocate for them, and guide them, then continuing to try and make films, or achieve progress in their career in Hollywood, becomes a draining, daunting task. Lord Puttnam, answering a question posed about female screenwriters during this lecture, argued that women tended to be less resilient,’for some reason’. I would argue that resilience is not a quality that women somehow don’t possess, or that women tend to be less adaptable and less willing to endure the slings and arrows of the industry. I would contend that the cultural discourse and discouraging responses surrounding screenwriting (and directing, and any filmmaking position that is in anyway viewed as powerful and decisive) tends to alienate female screenwriters from pursuing their craft. The great auteurs and screenwriters venerated throughout film history, even with efforts to diversify any presumptive ‘canon’, are overwhelmingly straight, white and male. While of course techniques, aesthetics, themes and inspiration can be gleaned from studying the men who are anointed ‘masters’, the veneration of male writing and male stories, stories that are always termed universal or deeply human, can be intensely hard to counter. Women’s writing and women’s stories tend to be looked at as niche and overtly gendered (for example, derogatorily consigning romantic comedies to merely being ‘chick flicks’, and the dismissal of female-led films’ box office success); these films are made for a small, specific audience and are not worth backing financially – no matter the subject, they will be in some way gendered, feminine, not relatable.
An recent example of the bias towards new male directors can be seen in Brad Bird’s assessment of Colin Treverrow, and the subsequent decision for Treverrow to helm Jurassic World – Bird is quoted as saying he saw a younger version of himself in Treverrow, and recommended him to Steven Spielberg for the blockbuster reboot. This is, as Maureen Dowd succinctly puts it, a classic case of young men in baseball caps reminding old men in baseball caps of themselves (The Women of Hollywood Speak Out). This type of career progression – from moderately successful indie to blockbuster – is something that seems to be reserved for male directors (Dowd) – we can look at examples like Josh Trank (from Chronicle to Fantastic Four and briefly Star Wars) and Marc Webb (from 500 Days of Summer to The Amazing Spiderman), and only find a few female filmmakers who receive the same opportunity – although Treverrow himself, though he is tone deaf on the issue of misogyny in the film industry and the reasons behind the dearth of female directors in big budget filmmaking, has at least provided an opportunity to a young female director.
Theses ties are incredibly difficult to disrupt; there are significant industrial barriers for women – a lack of funding (in this particular example, only 21.7% of films that were publically funded in the UK in 2014 were directed by women), or the problem of women facing a ‘fiscal cliff’ after making a short film (Anderson), as well the fact that women receive smaller distribution deals, even though at Sundance they were picked up by distributors . The statistics are sobering: in 2013 and 2014, only 1.9% of the 100 top-grossing films were directed by women (Dowd). In 2014, 95% of cinematographers were men, as well as 89% of screenwriters (Dowd). The blatant inequality is so severe that the ACLU has demanded an investigation into the hiring practices in Hollywood, claiming that studios often violate civil rights laws and are consistently discriminatory (Khatchadourian). Female filmmakers deal with deeply entrenched cultural attitudes around what (whose) stories deserve to be heard, who is the most capable in helming a huge project (would articles such as these ever need to be written about white male directors?), and there remains a false equivocation of the relative positions of male and female directors and screenwriters as they are starting out Female filmmakers have to battle against seemingly intractable misogyny – they are passed over for big jobs constantly, and it’s telling that 25% of industry interviewees in a recent study by the Female Filmmakers Initiative believe that the dearth of female directors helming blockbusters stems from women’s ‘lack of ambition’ (Kiang); male directors have vision, and their outbursts emanate from their passion and conviction; female directors are seen as flighty, or emotional, or not assertive enough, or too assertive and not nurturing enough (Dowd).
Male screenwriters are also recipients of the spoils of a deeply misogynistic industry: they may not be treated wonderfully at all times, and will have to sacrifice somewhat (their vision, their dignity), and they may be subject to a cruel and punitive capitalist industry and studio interference/restriction, but their work will be elevated and prioritized over women’s work, and they will be given more opportunities to prove themselves; even when their work is blatantly sexist.
There are a number of initiatives and programmes designed to give guidance to female screenwriters and filmmakers, such as Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and YouTube Create’s programme, which provides consultation to female creators. In Ireland the IFB has restricted its applications to the Guiding Lights mentorship programme to women only, funding one female screenwriter and one female director, as an attempt to redress the gender imbalance in the Irish film industry (Shortall). There have been calls for a reassessment of film funding in the UK, with directors’ organisations demanding 50:50 funding (Ellis-Peterson). These initiatives go some way in correcting disparities, but what is also needed is a reassessment of what stories are given legitimacy and an examination of attitudes about who is able to tell stories and command authority, and how we view creativity and how to nurture and inspire new filmmakers (Lord Puttnam talked briefly in this lecture about how far to push someone past their limits, and the curse of a filmmaker’s work being just ‘good enough’, what methods are used in mentorship, and what is humane and conducive to inspiring new filmmakers; this entry is already grossly long, so I won’t delve much further into this subject, but the normalization and glorification of abusive and, for lack of a more incisive and better term, masculine methods of mentoring – involving mental abuse, non-constructive and overly personal critiques, constant degradation and dismissiveness – needs to be critiqued and examined; so many people rail against ‘participation trophy’ culture, but pushing people past their emotional and psychological limits in order to extract ‘greatness’ does not always work; people are as likely to be discouraged and step away from their art as they are to be inspired), as well as continued support of viable alternatives outside of the Hollywood system (although independent cinema also struggles with issues of gender inequality), and greater institutional/state support for female filmmakers.
The question of creative, and practical, resilience is a complicated one to answer; navigating the industry, making compromises and accepting that your work will be diluted or co-opted is difficult enough, but adding to that institutional biases that filmmakers may face, and it is not difficult to see why there is a great deal of disillusionment, and a so-called lack of ‘resilience’.There will always be some level of compromise, some readjustments/rewrites, or studio interference – some warranted, some not. It is rare that there won’t be concessions, that you aren’t beholden to investors and producers and higher ups, if you are working in mainstream filmmaking (and even in independent cinema, one has obligations to cast and crew and backers) – film industries are predicated on making as much profit as possible. What each creator – filmmaker, screenwriter, producer etc – must contend with is how much they are personally willing to compromise; whether to stay attached to the purity of your vision or to concede and alter elements of your work, for the sake of practicality and advancement. While this is a personal struggle, and people who want to create will find outlets for their ideas regardless, it would be foolish to ignore the industrial hurdles and structural racism, sexism and other isms present in the industry, and how this impacts prospective filmmakers. Put simply, people have to be able to live and eat and prosper: facing an industry where your struggle is made that much harder by systems of power beyond your control, where there is pervasive systemic discrimination against you, where you are constantly faced with cries of ‘women just don’t want to direct‘, where you must assimilate and not speak out or risk being ostracized, where you must be the exception and also exceptional, makes working and prospering more difficult, and it could be said that anyone who pursues their craft in spite of these obstacles has creative resilience.
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