Sundance Study on Female Directors

sundanceinst-310x176A great study came out of Sundance and I couldn’t be more happy with the comprehensive numbers and the proof that not only are there more women trying to succeed in filmmaking but that this study showcases where we all can target our efforts to have more females in the industry.

The research was conducted by Stacy L. Smith, Ph.D., Katherine Pieper, Ph.D. and Marc Choueiti at Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California.

The study assessed 11,197 directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors whose movies screened in Sundance from 2002-2012.  (The films do not include the world category, shorts, and movies that did not originate whole or in part in the US.)  The also interviewed many filmmakers to assess the barriers and the opportunities.

Here is the link to the study. I’ll break down a few points I’d like to discuss.

23.9% of the films in this study were directed by women.  Note: Women made up only 4.4% of directors in the top 100 box office films each year from 2002 to 2012.

That’s a much better number than my findings. Using numbers from box office are tough because not all films you see in film festivals make it to a theatrical release. Some are VOD, or sell to TV, straight to DVD or never seen again. Would I like to see the numbers of women directors closer to 50%? Sure, but because the numbers have been so stagnant since the 90’s it’s very encouraging to see the rise.

Women support women.  Films directed by women feature more women in all roles.  There is a 21% increase in women working on a narrative film when there is a female director and a 24% of women working on documentaries.

In my productions, I found this to be true. For my feature Ingenue, there is a female protagonist and female supporting characters (this was intentional). Nine of the 13 department head jobs were women. It was not my intention to hire women but the more films I make, the more women contact me looking for work who’s skills are amazing and they are underemployed. Their resumes and their passion got them the job. Am I proud that Ingenue employed so many women in leadership roles? Yes.

Almost half the women interviewed (43.1%) said that MONEY was the biggest problem.  It’s about taking women directors seriously, it’s about taking women’s visions seriously.  It’s about trusting women’s visions and that is still a major problem.

Fundraising is a big problem, for male and female producers. I find it has more to do with two factors 1) the subject matter of your film 2) your plan for recouping your investors money. If you have a subject matter that a target market is willing to pay for, along with a solid business plan of how to get to that target market, you’ll overcome the major hurdles of fundraising.

In talking with filmmakers and writers I get the feeling that most feel you need to raise a million dollars to make a film. You don’t. Equipment  talent, and general resourcefulness now lends to lower-budget filmmaking.

Here is what I suggest at my talks. Don’t make a film over $1 mill. Because distributors are slashing what they used to spend to buy indie films. Last year (2011) 24 films were bought at Sundance. The most paid was $6 mill. Most were bought for $1 mill. Make a film under $1 mill, sell it, pay back your investors and take the rest to make another movie.

Almost 40% of the women said that “Male-dominated industry networking” is a barrier.

I think of what Ronald Reagan said, There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect. I don’t see the males dominating the industry as a barrier, I see it as a closed door and I’m choosing to go out the window. Sure it’s smaller and more constricting but I get out. If you allow yourself to believe there is a barrier you’ve already sold yourself short. The ones who succeed against all odds are the ones who truly believe there is no barrier but their own self-determination.

70th Annual Golden Globe Awards - ArrivalsHere’s some free advice when it comes to networking, because it’s all about who you know. Get to know as many female producers. Get to know as many wives of the male-dominated players. Remember Hugh Jackman’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globes for Les Miserable? He thanked his wife for convincing him to do the role. Wives of play makers have incredible power and want to see a project succeed on it’s merit, not always it’s bottom line.

Now I’ve only picked out a few of the stats given from the study. What I love most about the study is in conclusion it wraps up with the opportunities:

Here are the opportunities:

– Mentor and encourage women early in their career.

– Improving access to finance

– Raising awareness of the problem

As a women who is proud to say I’m a female director, I see this as a call to action. I can work on all 3 of these opportunities and encourage other filmmakers to do the same.


One thought on “Sundance Study on Female Directors

  1. bretorious says:

    Glad to see women are supporting women. The world needs the perspective.

    Glad to see women involved in the technical aspects of filmmaking.

    Talent is talent. Smart people want to work with the most talented people they can find.

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