Women Push For Top Roles Behind Camera

By Paul Guzzo
Tampa Tribune, Fla.


Mici Falvo is living her dream of a career in the production industry.

For the past eight years, the 31-year-old Tampa woman has worked steadily as an independent contractor, accumulating a resume that includes six short films, eight features and too many commercials and marketing videos to count. Her jobs have included unit production manager — a set’s lead administrator.

Still, Falvo has yet to accomplish her ultimate goal of directing a movie — and statistics show her chances are slim.

The reason: She’s a woman.

Just 7 percent of directors who made the top 250 grossing films in 2014 were women, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

“It’s deflating knowing women are not getting opportunities as directors,” said Falvo. “I’d like to believe talent will rise to the top, but I guess not always.”

An effort to turn this around is getting a boost in Tampa and St. Petersburg through a new, local chapter of Women In Film & Television, organized by Tampa-Hillsborough film commissioner Dale Gordon.

With chapters in 40 countries, the organization helps develop opportunities for women in the production industry.

The local chapter’s first networking meeting will be 5:30 p.m. Feb. 25 at the Epicurean Hotel on Howard Avenue.
Falvo will be there.

“I’m looking forward to sharing experiences with other women in this industry who aspire for a more equal working environment.”

Future events will include screening female-directed movies, educational workshops and female-based panel discussion.
Gordon also hopes to establish scholarships one day.

“It is a problem the industry as a whole needs to address,” Gordon said. “We need to make sure that talent can equal success for a woman in film.”

No female directors were nominated for the 2015 Oscar for best director.

Only five women have been nominated in the 87 years of the awards show, with one emerging as winner — Kathryn Bigelow in 2007 for the “The Hurt Locker.”

When the 2015 Oscars are awarded Sunday, Ava DuVernay won’t be among the nominees for director, though her film “Selma” — about Martin Luther King Jr.’s voting rights march in 1965 — is up for best picture.

“The voting academy is 77 percent men,” said Melanie Lentz-Janney, president of Florida’s chapter of Women In Film & Television. “I cannot assume that has something to do with the lack of women nominations for best director, but it can’t hurt to diversify the voters. It’s been male-dominated for a long time.”

Men control more than the director’s chair and the academy’s votes.

According to the Study of Women in Television and Film, women make up just 17 percent of those working in key behind-the-scenes roles in the top 250 grossing films.

Those jobs include directors, writers, producers and editors.

It’s also an issue in front of the camera, the study says.

Just 12 percent of protagonists in the top 100 domestic-grossing films of 2014 were women.

Women directors may change this, the study shows, since women account for 39 percent of the protagonists when they’re in charge.

“Film and television is an apprenticeship industry,” said Gordon, the Tampa-Hillsborough film commissioner. “Young filmmakers get taken under the wing of someone with experience, taught the on-set ropes and then recommended for work. Because a lot of our departments have been headed by men for so long — the directors, cinematographers, and so on — they may feel more comfortable with men understudies.”

That’s why the local chapter of Women In Film & Television is open to men.

“We need the men to build a comfort level working with women,” Gordon said. “And if a man wants to mentor women, why would I keep him out of our networking meetings?”

Women haven’t always been missing from the director’s chair, said Dana Plays, a professor in the University of Tampa’s Film and Media Arts Department whose courses include “Women In Film and Popular Culture.”

The silent film era from the 1890s through 1920s gave women plenty of opportunities as directors.

Film was more of an art than a business then, and artists have always been more open minded.

A lot changed when sound was added.

Sound meant films were best produced on a closed lot protected from the noise of the outside world. Those lots were owned by the major studios. And those studios were run by businessmen.

Some of the challenges women face rising in film are similar to challenges they face across the working world.
Sexual harassment is one.

Lentz-Janey of Film Florida has 25 years of experience in the industry and produced her own film, a documentary on musician Rick Springfield titled, “An Affair of the Heart.”

Most of that time was on the public relations side of the business, where she was labeled a “psycho” when she asked for the harassment to stop.

“It’s a story other women have,” Lentz-Janey said. “If you don’t stand up for yourself you are labeled as weak. If you do, you’re labeled as hard to work with.”

Some women respond by assuming masculine attributes in style and attitude.

“We shouldn’t have to do that,” she said. “I should be allowed to be feminine and strong.”

One way women demonstrate that strength, said aspiring director Falvo, is to wear heels on a set even if their job involves hauling heavy camera and lighting equipment.

“They have an attitude that they want to prove they can do everything a man can do and do it in heels, while men cannot even walk in heels,” Falvo said with a laugh. Then she got serious. “It is difficult as a female filmmaker to find the sweet spot of playing the role of a female and also a strong leader in the production setting.”

Falvo said men have crossed the line flirting with her at work, but her main complaint is they ignore her ideas — then embrace them when they’re voiced later by a man.

“I want to scream sometimes, ‘I know what I am talking about,'” she said. “It can be frustrating.”

Falvo was quick to add that there are open-minded men in the industry, and on the film she is producing now — “Daryl and his Friends,” about a man with so many imaginary friends he can’t tell if his new love interest is real or fake.

Lentz-Janey said she has noticed no discrimination against her in years.

Still, that 7 percent figure represents a 2 percent decrease from 1998.

Plays of the University of Tampa insists things are changing for the better

She notes that 46 percent of the film students at the University of Tampa are females.

“It is not something that is going to happen tomorrow,” she said. “It took a generation to create that exclusive nature so it may take a generation — a few decades — to change it.”

Women do fare better in independent film, the film study showed, where they make up 18 percent of directors and hold 26 percent of key, behind-the-scenes roles.

It’s still far from equality, but Plays likes those odds enough that she teaches her students to go that route.

If Hollywood won’t open the doors to female directors, she said, then it is up to them to break those doors down.

“You can only ignore talent for so long,” Plays said. “Women need to pick up a camera and find a way to make a film and get noticed. Even if it a low-budget film, talent can be seen”

That is Falvo’s plan.

She would not provide details, she said she is writing a script for an independent film that will mark her directorial debut.

She is confident her talent has won over casts and crews on productions so far and hopes to call on them again.
Their gender won’t matter when she does.

“I’m not going to hire a woman just to hire a woman,” she said. “I’ll take the best people available because that’s the right thing to do.”

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