Filmmaking / Directing : All-Female Above the Line by Karen "Kay" Ross

Karen "Kay" Ross

All-Female Above the Line

In film school, plenty of groups I knew would push to have an all-female crew. While that can't always be possible, keeping above-the-line contenders is a good way to start.

What efforts have you made in the past to hire a female director or DP? What efforts are you making moving forward? Why is it important to you?

Shadow Dragu-Mihai

I ALWAYS have either or both of a female DP or a female AD when I am directing. Yes, it is possible. Usually will have a female producer or AP or Coordinator etc. on board as well.

Karen "Kay" Ross

I'm talking with a friend tomorrow on my podcast and she's the only female on her particular set. It's hard to be the only of anything, but I think it's worth it to start somewhere and then let it be the start of something more.

Shadow Dragu-Mihai Glad to hear it! Is there a particular team you usually work with? Or is it more like why Tarantino likes having a female editor?

Shadow Dragu-Mihai

(I don't know why Tarantino likes a female editor). I do use parts of the same team from time to time. However, it's always down to the work and so some people's skill set don't suit certain projects. For any director, the top non-actor collaborator is the DP. So that person's work has to be amazing to me. And of course, the AD manages the set so it is crucial that the Director-AD relationship is effective. Now some little boys may cry about what I am about to say. But truly, the relationships become an alpha-beta thing. Any time I have observed or experienced a difficulty with a DP or an AD, it's always been between males and always been a matter of who gets the final word, who's the boss. When I have a male DP, the DP is always "subordinate" in a psychological way. It's not a relationship of equals where the director is first. One is alpha and one is beta. There's no escaping that, it's hard-wired into our brains. And so very often the male DP abdicates his creative responsibilities and resides in the world of "what do you want to see?" instead of "what about this look here?" - especially if I take any kind of active direction in his work. But if I am going to direct camera completely, I don't need a DP, I just need a camera operator. I hire a DP for their creative eye. With a female DP, it's more of a collaboration. Yes, she's there to get the look I want, but because of the dynamics on set, she's more like the alpha female as opposed to the highest beta male. (And sometimes I hire her because I want the look SHE is going to design). I can direct her or require adjustments, and she will adjust and not retreat into a place where she stops collaborating. Because it's more of a mutual creative feeling. The same dynamics work with a female AD. This psychological dynamic is also automatically followed by everyone on set, who see two alphas collaborating and not one boss. Now I will say also that in my experience, when there is an instance of someone trying to stir the pot on set, for whatever reason, they tend to be more active and more effective when those director-DP and director-AD relationships are male-male. Because they can get in between that and work against the ego of one or the other. But they tend not to even try when it is male-female and I think it's for the same reason - the two are seen psychologically more as one cooperating mind. Now that's my opinion, but it's also my experience in 20+ years in production, and it's why I do it.

Also, it's a matter of promoting diversity and equality. There are many functions on set that really can be learnt on the job, so long as the basic functions are covered by experienced people. So I make an effort to fill those positions with women and often Black women. I find that in 2020, females and especially Black females are far, far under-represented on most sets. As an example, I worked on NBC's Rutherford Falls this last two weeks. The set was very "diverse" with at least two LGBQ, 5 Asians (all Chinese), at least 2 Hispanic and over a dozen women. Yet with 50 or 60 crew members, not one Black crew member, male or female. Not one. So you know that structural racism can be easily hidden within a "diverse" set, and don't kid yourself that it's not an intentional thing.

Christiane Lange

Virtually every producer I have talked to so far has been female. The DP attached to my current project is a woman. I have actually been struck by how many women are both active and leaders in the industry.

Catherine Fridey

My last two shorts, SEAGULL (WWII drama) and OVERTURNED BUCKET (historical Latinx drama), had women as producers, directors, and writers. The first one also fulfills the Bechdel test (a measure of the representation of women in fiction. It asks whether a work features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man). Hope we can continue to promote equality and diversity.

D A Stenard

The women I know who have worked on sets where the majority of crew are woman consistently report a friendlier set, a more supportive set, a set where all people are willing to listen and implement ideas from others. In short, kind of ideal.

Doug Nelson

I much prefer working with professional behaving woman on set. In general I find males to be more combative.

Shadow Dragu-Mihai

Doug Nelson I agree with you. More combative and more into gossip, in general. Just my experience.

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