WiHM: Women in Film

Women in Horror Month: Women in Film

I have always been a huge cinephile and in so being have always tried to champion not only my favorite genre-horror but also women in film and independent filmmaking. So for Women in Horror Month, I wanted to reach out to some different women in the industry to get their feelings on the subject du jour. I was lucky enough to have been on Twitter when I came across a hashtag labeled #femalefilmmakerfriday. I just put up a tweet asking if any women in film would like to answer some questions for me, and I was so grateful to get many wondrous women volunteer to answer my inquiries. I do want to stipulate that I am not disparaging men in the business but celebrating women’s contributions to film which can oftentimes go unheralded. It shouldn’t need to be said that any actor, director, writer, etc…should be judged on the work that they put out, not on their gender, race, or sexual preference. But that is usually not the case. I heard a great quote this week from Danai Gurira from Black Panther this week, she said that “if you create excellence it will be responded to.” And I truly believe that should be true. So I will let you know my questions, and introduce you to the extremely talented women who answered them for me.

My first question: Do you approach directing/acting differently as a woman?

Katherine Filaseta Director: Black Panties Web series about women’s intuition and black girl magic, and mini-documentary The Loud, Proud Voices of the Women’s March on Washington. www.kayfilums.com

The main thing that makes my directing unique is that I never thought of film as a career choice growing up – and this is, indirectly, the result of me being a woman. Coming from an academic math-centered family, the only inspiration I had was whatever books, film, & TV I consumed, and unfortunately when I thought of film directors (or even just actors or authors) it didn’t even feel like an option for me because I only ever saw names like Scorcese or Tarantino or other white men in those positions. I was always a storyteller and played with writing stories and books, but I never thought about doing that professionally, even up through and beyond college. So I have a really varied background – I studied a lot of biology, math, chemistry, anthropology, history, music… I pretty much touched everything else before realizing that film was a thing. And all of that comes into my directing style. Even though it took a long time for me to figure it out, I’m really glad I had those experiences because I think if I had been a white man, or just been born into a different family, I would be viewing film from this “film school perspective” instead of just as an audience member and consumer, and I, of course, prefer my own perspective that I’ve figured out through trial and error and consumption over trying to emulate anyone else.

Noomi Spook-Independent producer/director of film, documentaries, and music videos. Nominated for Best New Media Entertainment. LTNT-Boss Lady, The Glowing Divide, Vodum-Spirits Past. www.noomispook.com

My gender influences the creative decisions I make as a director in so much as, I care about how women are represented on screen. I find it repulsive that most women characters are often defined exclusively by their relationship to the male characters (most likely the protagonist)- the wife, the mother, the love interest. They have no agency, and most of the time they have no brains and no personality either – they are functional plot devices. Therefore I chose to work on projects that show women as fully rounded, flawed, human beings. I thoroughly enjoy any opportunity I have to show a woman being badass – and that doesn’t always mean beating the shit out of someone or behaving in a stereotypically “masculine” way, to me being a badass woman means to constructively wield one’s own power, and to not take any shit for doing that.

My next question was “what challenges have you faced as a female director or actor?”

Nihil Noctem: Izzy Lee Director/Author.  My Monster, Rights of Vengeance, Innsmouth (on Shudder), The Lake Children in “Hydrophobia: A Charity Anthology Benefitting Victims of Hurricane Harvey and a new PSA for the Soska’s Blood Drive www.nihilnoctem.com

Getting a producer to want to go on a cinematic journey with me. Getting funding. Guys thinking that my husband is the director, not me.

Noomi: I’ve been told to wait to be hired by an ad agency to direct commercials because they didn’t have any girly adds, nothing with perfume or flowers etc. Fuck that. I want to do something with tanks in it! Another problem is navigating the sexual minefield. I’ve been inappropriately touched, propositioned and humiliated in business meetings, by powerful men who offered to finance my projects if I performed sexual favors on them. And as a result, now, I always have my guard up whenever I am meeting a man who could potentially support my career.

Third Question: Do you ever have trouble with the men you direct or act with as a woman?

Emily Sheskin Director Damon at 86th Street, There She Is, and Girl Boxer: Jesszilla about Jesselyn Silva a 10-year-old boxer hoping to win gold at the 2024 Olympics. http://www.emilysheskin.com/jesszilla

Once I had an actor mansplain calling action. He was a bit of a dumdum though and I laughed it off and noted as an actor in such a competitive market, correcting a director is not the best way to keep getting jobs. I’ve also experienced older, male DoPs sometimes talk down to me but that’s been rare since I choose to work with DoPs and crew members who I know and have a good history with. In those situations, it’s hard to know if it’s me being a woman, or me being “young” that has them speaking to me the way they initially do.

Question number four: What women in film influenced you?

Ariel Hansen Bad Cookie Pictures, Actor and Director specializing in Sci-Fi, Horror, and Grindhouse Nepenthes, Ready To Burst, Paint the Town Red https://twitter.com/BadCookiePics https://www.facebook.com/BadCookiePictures/

Living in Vancouver I’m very lucky because I get to rub shoulders with some really awesome women in the horror side of the industry who constantly inspire me like Jen & Sylvia Soska, Tristan Risk and my friend Gigi Saul Guerrero who taught me the basics of directing before we started shooting my first film. I’m also inspired by Karyn Kusama’s horror films, especially The Invitation, and Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary really disturbed me as a kid

Katherine: I had the opportunity when I was first starting my career to attend the NYWIFT Muse awards where I got to hear Dawn Ostroff speak, so she has inspired me from the beginning of my career. What she did to grow CW into a network where young women could actually see stories that interested them on screen is basically what opened the doors to me being able to do what I do now. I also, through NYWIFT and very early on in my film career, heard Annetta Marion speak about her journey, and getting to know her – an incredibly kind, confident, beautiful woman who had a non-traditional path into the industry similar to mine and isn’t afraid to demand what she is worth – has been inspiring to me as well. Lastly, my favorite director of all time is Bollywood director Farah Khan, whose films all contain reverence for the Bollywood industry while also containing yet incredibly intelligent mockery of it. I also super respect how she always has her entire crew featured in a really fun credits sequence. I wish all directors had that much respect and admiration for every member of their crew, even the ones whose names would otherwise pass by in the credits totally unnoticed by the audience.

Nihil: Jennifer Lynch, Karyn Kusama, and my friend Jovanka Vuckovic. Other directors that made me think I could do this too: Maude Michaud and the Soskas. Another friend, Jill Gevargizian, is inspirational with the sheer amount of talent she has.

Noomi: My number one female filmmaking hero is Lynne Ramsay. I saw the Ratcatcher when I was in college and it broke my heart, I’ve never been more moved by a film, before or since. However, in terms of my personal style, I have always been more influenced by John Carpenter, David Lynch, and John Waters. They are all much bigger influences on my style and the kinds of films I aspire to make.

Emily: Amy HeckerlingClueless, words don’t express how much I love that film or how important it was to me growing up. Also, Penny Marshall who directed Big. Those two women managed to shelter me from the fact that not many women directed films. As a kid, I just knew that I loved these two movies and they both were by women…no big deal! It was only later that I realized how rare their existence was. Sailor Moon was also huge for me as a kid and it was created by Naoko Takeuchi (who I believe was a pharmacist before she found success with her manga). That show made me believe not only that women were great storytellers but that storytelling is universal. I figured if a show from Japan (an island I’d never been to or thought much about as an 11-year-old) could bring me such joy and impact my life in such a positive way, people are not so different and stories can bring us all together. That show made me want to do what she did for me for someone else.

Question number five was is there anything you have experienced as a female director/actor that is a great story?

Emma Dark, Award-winning filmmaker, actress, and model specializing in Horror and Sci-Fi Salient Minus Ten, Seize the Night, Island of the Blind Dead www.facebook.com/SalientMinusTen www.twitter.com/SalientMinusTen

As a female director, the fact that we have wonderful events and interviews for movements such as Women in Horror Month. We need more of this!

Nihil: I was onstage at a film festival where I was the only woman with about 8 or 9 guys. An actor who was repping the film he was in was the first to get the mic, and said, “I’m so happy to be up here with all these fine young men.” I mean, what?! When I got the mic as it was passed down, I wiggled my pinkie in front of crouch, and looked at my husband in the crowd and said, “Hey Steve, sorry, but I seem to have gotten a sex change while I’ve been up here.” You have to call people out when a situation is as egregious as that.

Question number six was “If you could direct a film about any famous woman, who would it be?”

Gemma Wilks, Actress, Alien Outbreak, Harvest of the Dead, Skullz  https://www.spotlight.com/2537-0194-7453

She’s not famous, but I am developing a story inspired by the life of my grandmother who has now passed away. My dream is to write and produce it as a feature film/tv series one day, perhaps Anne Mensah will come knocking! The themes are around my grandmother’s struggles growing up in the 20th Century when her youth was ripped away by the war. Being a WAF officer with a particular instance involving Churchill. Living through technology changes that were baffling. Watching people you cared about die as you age. There is more that I can’t go into but she was an inspiration and her tenacious spirit certainly contributed to make me the person I am.

Emma: Grace Jones was given a tough time in the 80s and treated with a degree of sexism, based on my understanding given the interviews with her that I’ve watched. Her avant-garde style and diverse creative skillset would have been something held in higher regard today. So maybe there’s a story to tell there!

Ariel: There are a few different women through history that I’d love to make films about, like the sniper Lyudmila Mikhailovna Pavlichenko from WW2, Boudica, or since they’re finding evidence of women being a part of Viking raiding parties, it would be so cool to make a film about female Vikings.

Nihil: Not sure, but a biopic about Sigourney Weaver or Charlize Theron before either made it as an actor would be cool. The story of the “radium girls” is horrific but compelling.

Emily: There’s a documentary on Bret the Hitman Hart (Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows), and now that Ronda Rousey has signed a contract with the WWE I’d be very curious to document her transition out of MMA to WWE. I have been so curious how she feels about leaving a sport that she helped open up to other women in the way she left it, and how she feels about this next chapter.

Noomi: Rosa Luxemburg. That’s a no-brainer for me, her politics were so ahead of its time, she was a genius, a fighter, a real revolutionary. She was sexually free at a time when people didn’t do that, and she stood for something she believed in, even up the point when she was murdered for her beliefs. people were terrified of her. And she was only 4foot 10 with a limp. She was a total badass.

And my last question: What does a woman bring to the film industry that a man doesn’t?

Gemma: Men bring a huge amount to any industry, but I think from my experience women bring organizational skills which help things run smoothly. This then allows them to look beyond an issue and see a series of options available beyond the confusion of daily functioning. They have an empathy and understanding of individuals circumstances which they can take on board whilst making sure the job still gets done and standards aren’t compromised. Obviously, there are men that can do this too but this is in my experience. Oh, and women don’t generally take no for an answer, even if they pretend they have!

Emma: In terms of horror the audience is increasingly female. I believe having more of an equal balance of men and women in cast and crew will help bring more diverse themes, ideas, and creativity to the table.

Noomi: Anything they can do, we can do bleeding

Katherine: I recently got the opportunity to work with an all-female cast and crew through the Women’s Weekend Film Challenge, and it was such a wonderful experience. In general, I think women and other minorities have had to be exceptional at their jobs to be taken seriously at all, so everyone had an incredible work ethic and was amazing to work with. Also, I think a lot of the stories we see are repetitive and formulaic – which is not an issue, because formulas work and it’s so cool to see what different people do with those formulas. But most of the people we’ve seen play with those formulas are men, and it’s so cool to see what a female perspective brings to those formulas. Women have a ton of stories that simply haven’t been told without a male gaze on them, and it’s exciting that finally, we are getting the opportunity to tell those stories on our own. We’ve seen a million great coming of age stories, and yet Ladybird touched me in totally new ways and honestly told an entirely different story – just because I finally got to watch a coming of age story about myself, for literally the first time ever. Which is completely ridiculous given the number of coming of age novels that are required high school reading but ONLY ABOUT BOYS.

Ariel: Women bring our own diverse experiences and stories to the industry which has been very homogeneous in what you see on screen for far too long. Having those stories told on the big screen are crucial in creating an equal society and helping the next generation to know that women can be more than just “so and so’s love interest” not just in films, but in their own lives as well.

Nihil: I hate to generalize, but I would think that empathy and multitasking could be it.

Emily: I think being a woman just gives you a different experience. There are small things that we take for granted that men never think about. It’s the reality of living in this body and going through life socialized the way we are. I think women are trained to be more sensitive to the feelings of others and as a result, tend to make very thoughtful inclusive films. This is a sweeping generalization though and I have a hard time answering this when experience varies so greatly.

In preparing for this article and putting feelers out I got a response from the very talented actor Eddy Shore (Murrays Run, White) who had such an insightful comment on the subject that I wanted to include it here:

As we all know there shouldn’t be a differentiation between genders in job opportunities, pay, etc. But there is a huge difference in the emotional connections those two genders have. Women are much more in touch of certain (deep) emotions which men are often not (or often are not allowed to be in a stereotypical image) and this emotional connection brings a whole different point of few to stories. If we keep having dominantly white male directors, we will keep having white male points of few to the majority of stories. I’m to 100% certain that women will pay attention to different details, will focus on different statements they want to portray and this which will show in a film. In my opinion, there is a huge need for a fresh wind in the film industry.

So I want to thank everyone for their very valuable time and the thought that went into their answers. All of these amazing women answered all of the questions, but so this did not become a novella I have chosen to just feature a few from each. Hopefully, this has given you some insight and awareness into the world of women in film but always remember that they are, as far as the film industry should be concerned with, they are writers, directors, producers, actors, etc… first and foremost and their vast talents are paramount.

Posted by Horrormadam

From Detroit I love all things horror, movies, reading, writing, animals, activism, medieval weapons, classic cars, tattoos, and music of all sorts.

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