Being Constantly Sexually Harassed In The Film Industry Forced Me To Launch My Own Prod. Company

Nicole-Wensel

By Nicole Wensel

My childhood love of Blockbuster and obsession with binge watching French New Wave films led me to study filmmaking at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. I started working in the entertainment industry when I was 19. My first job was as a production assistant on an independent feature film. I ended up continuing to work in the industry in various capacities for years before starting my own production company.

As a filmmaker, who happens to be female, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about gender inequality in the industry. The statistics are disheartening, to say the least. How is it that women only directed 7% of the top 250 films in 2014? What’s going on here?

I started to think about my own experiences working in the industry. I want to honor the experiences of other women who have faced various forms of gender discrimination, but am going to tell my personal story of discrimination, which stems purely from the singular keyhole of what I myself have gone through.

I, personally, have never been told anything like, “You can’t do that because you’re a girl” and I actually never felt a shortage of “opportunity” in the entertainment industry. Quite the opposite, to be honest. As a film student at USC, I had access to every entry point into the entertainment industry and landed jobs with relative ease. At first, this sort of access felt like a crazy amazing blessing.

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The challenges I faced as a woman were perhaps far more surprising and disturbing. The obstacles I personally faced had more to do with what those “opportunities” turned out to be once I stepped into them.

First, there was the general human issue of witnessing people treating each other horribly. If you want to get a glimpse into the sort of thing I’m talking about, check out an article written by Holly Raychelle Hughes on this harrowing reality.

On top of dealing with intrinsically toxic environments, the biggest challenge I faced as a woman working in the entertainment industry was sexual harassment. It happened to me more times than I can count – in development offices, on film sets and in industry meetings.

The first time it happened was on that first production assistant job. The director gave me unwanted special attention: screaming at me one minute, hitting on me the next. I should mention – he had a wife and baby who would visit him on set in between these episodes. At one point, he asked me to move a box of props for him. His creepy eyes checked me out as he decided it was a good time to tell me, “I’m attracted to women of all ages, older, younger, doesn’t matter to me.” Cool. Where was HR protection? Oh right – it was a non-union independent film. There was no HR.

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On one set, a crew member I had never met came up to me and said, “So all of us voted and we decided you were the hottest girl on set.” Great. What about being seen as hardworking, talented, smart and resourceful? Oh right – I’m supposed to lighten up and just take it as a compliment.

I once worked at an “A-list” production company in the Film development department (emphasis on “Film”). For some reason, the head of the TV department thought it was OK to come into the intern room when I was in there alone and ask me for special favors; you know, intellectually challenging stuff like wrapping presents for him as he blurted out generally creepy things like, “You look good in that dress.” At that same production company, I was mistreated by other executives who would make ridiculous requests and then yell at me for not doing them fast enough.

One day, after a particularly traumatizing interaction, I called into HR crying. The woman I spoke with acted like what I was going through wasn’t so bad and that I just didn’t have “tough enough” skin to handle it. Oh yeah – she had a long-term personal relationship with the “A-list” director who owned the company. Conflict of interest much?

Then, there was the classy gentleman on a film crew who simply walked up to me, lifted up his shirt and revealed a tattoo of a woman masturbating. I kid you not.

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All of these experiences (and many more) culminated in the worst of all: getting offered a major writing job with the implication that at some point, the favor would “have to be returned”. I just about puked when this happened. It’s what finally drove me to leave the industry in the way that I had been working in it.

When I left the entertainment industry, I moved to New York. I worked in fashion and theater and joined a dance company. I met amazing people and reconnected with my artistic roots. It was a cathartic and healing and beautiful time in my life and helped to reveal to me my purpose.

I decided to start my production company, Lovevolve Cinema (pronounced “love-evolve”), to set a new standard in the film and entertainment communities: a standard of compassion, respect, kindness and support for fellow artists and individuals. I make films that are focused on creative personal expression, mindfulness and spirituality. I also put a strong focus on producing films ethically, with integrity and respect for all of the work that goes into creating movies. I only wish to work with others who share these same values.

Last year, I completed my first feature film, ‘Quarter Life Coach’ (trailer below), about an aspiring life coach who has a quarter life crisis. The thing that I’m most proud of about that project is the way that we made it. It was gentle, kind, ego-less, calm. I would love to start a trend of “zen filmmaking” – it’s possible guys, it’s possible.

Nicole-Wensel

Taking a step back, I realized that so many people working in the entertainment industry are living in a constant state of fear. Nothing good ever happens in life when that is the predominant emotion running the show. People get mistreated. They don’t speak up. They stay in situations that are disturbing. They give their power away.

One of the worst pieces of advice I’ve ever received was from a speech delivered by a male studio executive. He encouraged graduating film students to run and fetch other people’s coffee until they worked their way up the industry food chain – that one day it would lead somewhere. I disagree. I mean, I’m sure there are many cases where this has happened, but I don’t think it’s how you re-shape the industry for the better – certainly not in 2016! We have this magical little thing called technology at our fingertips. Tools and resources to create our own work are more accessible than ever.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten was to focus on being known for what you do, not for where you’ve worked or for who you’ve worked with. I think that’s where a huge part of the solution to the gender gap lies – in women recognizing their own worth, their own talent, their own power. Stop waiting for permission, go out, seize control and start creating the work you want to create. Start telling the stories you want to tell with whatever resources you can get a hold of.

Let your talent be your light. Do what you have to do to make money in the meantime, but protect your soul. Protect your value. Protect your integrity. Protect your kindness. Don’t let other people’s egos and issues shake the good in you.

Nicole Wensel is an award-winning writer, director and actor. She owns and operates the production company, Lovevolve Cinema (pronounced “love-evolve”), which focuses on spiritual, conscious and expressive filmmaking. You can learn more about her work here: http://lovevolvecinema.com and stream her first feature film, Quarter Life Coach, here: http://quarterlifecoachmovie.com

One Comment

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. I am in the industry as well, unfortunely women on a film set continue to be harassed in every way. The only way things will change is if we speak up and fight against bigotry and sexual harassment. In this industry, it creates a stigma. I feel it is worth it if I can help prevent another woman from going through what I’ve gone through. We are in the dark ages in the film industry in my opinion, concerning how female crew and cast get treated even in 2017. I am proud of all the women like yourself, who take a stand and say they will not tolerate discrimination and sexual harassment of any gender or race, and religion. sometimes, it is other women on set tolerating this behavior or even, joking, winking at it, that make it more miserable for those of us who are courageous enough to fight back for decent, professional behavior on set, Thank you again for speaking up.

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