Here at GTHQ we find it weird that some people have such an obsession with unicorns, because if you are looking for a mythical creature, just look no further than the female director! Oh let’s be clear, they absolutely 110% exist, but Hollywood just doesn’t know or refuses to acknowledge their existence, and therefore they have become a common myth in society.
But for realz you guys, why is it 2015 and the issue about female directors is STILL being debated?!?
There are a number of excuses for studios not hiring more female directors on some major films. Those include: “there aren’t many of them that exist”, “we just don’t think they have what it takes”, and this gem that totally ignores the inherent presence of sexism “the opportunities are there it’s the women that don’t take them”.
In May of this year the ACLU launched a major investigation, the first of its kind, into Hollywood’s apparent discriminatory hiring practices toward female directors, and we cannot wait to see what the result of that it. A study which looked at the top grossing films over the past 5 years by major studios showed less than 5% of them were directed by women, and interestingly when it came to independent films they fared a little better, directing 10% of films over the same period. But it’s still not enough!
When it comes to some of the biggest film industry awards and recognized peer groups, women are appallingly left out of the mix. There is only 1 women in history to have ever won the Academy Award for Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow in 2009 for ‘The Hurt Locker’, and only 4 women in total have ever been nominated. At the Cannes Film Festival, there has only been one female winner for the Best Director Palm D’Or award in it’s history: Jane Campion in 1993 for ‘The Piano’ (she is also one of the only 4 female directors to be nominated for an Oscar).
A recent example of why there is no excuse to be gender biased in Hollywood is ‘Pitch Perfect 2’. The sequel was director by actress Elizabeth Banks (who also stars in the film) and in its opening weekend alone made more money than the first movie in its entirely, raking in $70 million domestically beating out ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ which also opened the same weekend. It has also become one of the best openings of all time for a non tentpole film (a film that is not a blockbuster and not necessarily expected to bring in big money, usually an indie film).
It could be easy to look at the dismal statistics and believe the line that “female directors just don’t exist”, but in fact the opposite is true. So how would a studio executive go about searching for all the talented women and try to make a change? Tired of hearing this excuse over and over again, one woman decided to flip the script and launch a project that would completely eliminate this line of questioning in the future. Los Angeles-based director Destri Martino is the creator of The Director List, a growing database of female directors and their resumes.
The near-1000 women featured collectively have credits from film, TV, commercials and music videos. The site has a disclaimer saying it is by no means a comprehensive database, but we have no doubt there is nothing like this in the industry so it should already be a go-to destination for studios and production companies.
We decided to ask Destri a few questions about her awesome project and how she hopes TDL will change the way female directors are treated in Hollywood.
Tell us about your background as a filmmaker.
I was a film minor at USC, so I started making super 8 films in college. My first experience working as a PA on an indie feature at the age of nineteen, the summer after my freshman year, solidified my love for production and being on set. When I graduated, I jumped straight into the production world and did that along with assisting a producer and a director for about six years.
It took me a while to start making my own stuff again, but eventually I made a few shorts, a webseries (‘Mixed Blooms‘), and about 200 corporate videos. For the last seven years, I’ve worked at a law firm where I ran their video department. I just recently left that job in order to launch The Director List and work on getting my feature off the ground.
What inspired you to want to be in the film industry in the first place?
I always loved movies. I spent far too much time in front to the TV as a kid and one of my favorite shows was Tom Hatten’s Family Film Festival which showed old movies, mostly from the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s. He’d also give some background about the films and it just sounded like a fun business to work in. It might sound a bit weird, but I also knew I wanted to work outdoors in some way (offices seemed so dull and confining) so the semi-outdoor lifestyle of production really appealed to me.
At what point did you realize as a director/filmmaker that being a woman in this industry is a disadvantage?
Probably as soon as I started looking for work after college. A lot of guys from school seemed to team up right away and start making films, creating production companies or they’d at the very least give each other work. I did get production work on some of their films, but it was hard for me to be taken seriously as a filmmaker, and especially hard to connect with them in the way dudes connect with their fellow dudes. So, there wasn’t much loyalty there for me.
This was the late 90’s, so the DIY approach you see now wasn’t quite as viable, you needed a team. It was also hard to find other women who wanted to make movies, so it wasn’t like I could just pull together my lady team. I’m sure they were out there, but we didn’t have Twitter to help us connect with each other. If only!
Also, on bigger productions I tended to be routed to the office jobs—production secretary, office PA, even though I really wanted to be on set. And of course, any time I pitched project ideas to people in the position to produce them, they were seen as feminine and thus unsellable, unmarketable, pretty much worthless.
How did the idea of The Directors List come about?
It grew very organically over several years. From a very young age I kept an eye out for female directors. Again, pre-internet, they were hard to find—they didn’t show up much on ‘Entertainment Tonight’ or in the pages of Premiere magazine. I really felt a need to see them and see how they directed while female, and that feeling never left me.
In 2005, I ended up writing my Msc dissertation about women directors and read all I could find about those who were working in the industry, and why there weren’t more of them. There were very few big articles on the topic of the lack of women directors at that time (even after a thorough microfiche search!). Ultimately, I focused my dissertation on one of the very early steps in the hiring process—creating a director list.
With new technology I was able to make my obsession a visual project. I was really motivated to do that after attending the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and seeing several women-directed films listed in the market catalog. There were many more than even I had expected to see, so I wanted to start keeping track of all the women directors I knew of, and those that I continued to discover.
I ended up using Pinterest to keep track of them. And as my women directors board grew and gained more attention I continued to tell people that there were a lot of women directors (I wrote this in many a comment section of online articles). I felt that one of the most damaging things I read in most articles on the topic of women in film was that there just weren’t that many women directors out there or women just weren’t interested in the job of directing. So, with the Pinterest board, I was essentially saying, “SEE, there are many talented women directors. So many!”
As it grew larger and more people started referring to it, producers and other industry people told me it was difficult to search when they wanted to find women directors for their projects. It eventually became time to put all those directors into an easy to search database—and that’s what I have now on thedirectorlist.com And I also continue to share news about women directors on my very active @TheDirectorList Twitter account, which I started a couple years ago as an extension of the Pinterest board.
How did you collect your huge database?
I collected it over many years, most often referring to festival catalogs for names since fests tend to have more films by women directors than mainstream Hollywood. Any time I saw a name I didn’t know, whether in an article, credits, whatever, I’d make a pin. It is still growing. It’s now over 920 women directors and I’ve received a flood of submissions since the website launched in May, so there are still a lot more to add.
Have you had any big responses from studios, agents or production companies etc since launching?
I’ve heard from quite a few agents and managers submitting clients and independent producers who have thanked me for the practical resource as they compile their director lists. I’ve also seen a lot of industry assistants talking about it on social media, so that’s really good. They’re often the ones starting the lists for their bosses, so it’s important they’re aware of an easy way to make those lists more diverse. I still want to do a lot more industry outreach, however.
Has there been any backlash from men?
Not really anything big, just a few ignorant comments, but I quickly educate them. There have been quite a few men showing support for the project; which in some ways surprised me, but it’s a very good thing.
Can you tell us any stories of how TDL has already made a difference in the career of the women who are in the database?
It’s hard for me to say, but for the last couple years I’ve been asked by a variety of people for short lists of women who have this or that experience, so I’m always sending people suggestions. I don’t really keep track of where the project goes and it’s probably too soon to say for many of them. I know a lot of meetings and calls have resulted from my suggestions, or people looking through the Pinterest board. Hopefully, with this easier to search database I’ll start to hear some success stories!
While there is an increased need for more women’s stories alongside the need for more female directors, they shouldn’t just be pigeon-holed to only direct female-driven films. How can female directors break out of gender stereotypes that surround them in the industry?
Just make stuff and keep improving your craft and don’t worry about the stereotypes. Things are changing. At the very least it’s a lot easier to find a female support system, so make a lot of friends and support each other’s work and throw each other jobs when you can.
Or, they could try making films that are the opposite of the stereotypes; but if they aren’t feeling it, I don’t think they should push it. In other words, if you feel you need to tell a woman’s story, tell it and tell it well. At least the festival world is welcoming to those stories.
For me, I tried writing a more genre-leaning feature and it just didn’t flow easily from me. I have this one very female-centric story I need to get out and then I think I’ll be able to focus on other things that interest me, like suspense!
With the success of Kathryn Bigelow winning an Oscar for ‘The Hurt Locker’ and Ava DuVernay being nominated & lauded for directing ‘Selma’, why do you think studios are still unwilling to view female directors as capable as men?
Ignorance. Honestly, I really don’t know, it makes no sense. The belief system within Hollywood is still so backwards in so many ways. I used to say it’s so 1950’s, but I think it’s really pre-women’s suffrage. There are still a lot of people in the position to hire women directors who seem to think that women are these dainty creatures who can’t make decisions for themselves, let alone lead a team. Just totally bizarre.
If there are female directors out there who haven’t yet been listed on TDL, how would they get featured?
Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send them the form. But they should only submit if they meet the qualifications – they’ve directed a feature (narrative or doc), an episode of TV, a national commercial, or they have an extensive music video CV. I hate denying people, but the main purpose of the database is to provide qualified directors for film and TV assignments, so I need to make sure the list contains the names of women with the expected experience for those jobs.
For those who don’t meet those qualifications, I would still love to hear from them. I have a Twitter list of over 2200 women directors and/or women-directed projects and I include women at every level on that. So, they should send me their handles if they aren’t on there. And, I share news about all types of projects and women directors on Twitter and Facebook, so all women directors should feel free to send me links to any big news items (email@example.com).
You have come up with a solution that will hopefully break down the barriers to this ongoing problem. How would you encourage other filmmakers (or women in general) who face barriers in their career?
Keep creating and honing your craft and focusing on becoming a great filmmaker. And make lots of friends (don’t think of it as networking, think of it as making friends)! It can take a little while to find your tribe, so don’t be discouraged.
Finally, what makes you a powerful woman?
I believe change is possible and I’m creating ways to make it so.