You can't be what you can't see
Unless you’ve been hibernating under a rock for the past couple of years, you’ll know at least a little about the current debate around gender division and distribution of power in the workplace, including the discussions around positive discrimination and hiring quotas, equality of opportunity vs equality of outcome. In many ways, it’s become a messy and exhausting conversation, and we hear all sorts of excuses and protestations about how hiring diverse teams is hard, that there just isn’t the talent out there, that it’s unnecessary, etc etc.
We disagree. It’s both easy and essential.
By now, the fact that the film industry is dominated by men - both in front of the camera and especially behind it - has become a truism. But did you realise how big the current gap is? In 2018, women made up just 20% of behind-the-scenes roles for the top 250 grossing films, meaning that most of the stories we see on screen are being told and shot by just one gender. Which neither reflects the audiences coming to watch those movies, nor makes for interesting, varied storytelling.
And thanks to recent studies, we know for a fact what we all would suppose anyway - that more women behind the camera means more women in front of the camera, therefore more diverse stories, and a better balance within the industry ecosystem.
At New Forest Film Co, we want to create films that are good from the roots up, meaning that not only is the product itself good, but the process by which we make it is good, too. And, as part of this pledge, we couldn’t help but have these gender issues in mind when recruiting for our team.
We didn’t set out to fulfil quotas or tick boxes, but we did want to build a team of people who are creative, passionate, candid and caring. A team who can work together and critique each other’s ideas, but where all those ideas are heard equally.
To do so, we drew up a recruitment “rubric” detailing the qualities we were looking for in the crew, and wrote questions to identify these traits in candidates. Wherever possible, we wanted to interview comparative numbers of each gender for each role, so used handy resources like Illuminatrix, a directory of female DOPs in the UK.
The most interesting thing about applying this process to interviewing and recruitment is that our end result was an almost equal split, our final team being 53% women. And getting there was easy - casting our net wide at the beginning, making a little effort to see equal numbers of both genders, and using a fair and measurable interview process, meant that we naturally ended up with an equal division of roles. It seems obvious to us that focusing on the qualities you want to see in your team, and creating a series of questions that seek out these qualities in candidates, is both a fairer way of assembling a crew, and a method that results in more a balanced, diverse collection of people, regardless of gender or background.
This balance and diversity is, of course, not only important behind the camera, but in front of it. When women make up between 49-55% of cinema audiences (depending on which study you read), it makes sense that filmmakers should be representing them on screen, and not only as girlfriends, wives, or Smurfettes.
We believe that story and character come first, but that telling and creating stories filled with rich and interesting people naturally leads to gender parity. Following this thought process gave us Death Clock, in which 80% of the roles were women, and Invisible, which had a 50% female cast.
As Marian Wright Edelman said: "You can't be what you can't see." You can't be creative and innovative unless you listen to diverse voices. You can't be in the cast and crew of a film or TV show unless someone picks you. You can't be in love with characters and stories unless you get to see them. You can't aspire to become unless it's possible to be.
At New Forest Film Co our task is to continue to find ways to create, discover, test and make seen stories and talent from everywhere and everyone. It's essential. And it's easy.