In the past few years, public demand has grown for more women directors to helm projects in a field typically dominated by men. While gender equality is the primary motivation for this effort, the movie-going public particularly stands to gain from this movement.
Movies directed by women tend to possess something special that many male-directed films lack, and that’s an engaging storyline with stronger character development. Studies of the human brain reveal women are better equipped mentally to multitask, perform complex activities using less energy and fewer brain cells, and juggle existential challenges.
When it comes to human emotions, women tend to be the warmer gender, embracing their feelings and expressing them. This carries over to their storytelling—they tend to pay more attention to the emotional lives of their characters. This tendency can largely affect the impact and success of a movie, regardless of the genre.
Perhaps now, as more women are given or are claiming opportunities to direct, we will start to see more engaging original content, instead of all the remakes and special-effects-heavy action-films we have been barraged with for so many years.
There has been some progress in recent years with the success of movies directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Patty Jenkins, and Niki Caro just to name a few. Also, it was recently announced that A Wrinkle in Time director Ava DuVernay will be directing DC Comics’ “New Gods” superhero film. Additionally, female film executives’ “Alice Initiative” (thealiceinitiative.com) recently identified 20 female directors ready for hire on a studio film, and films from up and coming women directors were said to be among the best of this year’s Sundance screenings.
Actor and director Jennifer Warren had the vision to form the Alliance of Women Directors in 1997 and it has been instrumental in pushing for change in Hollywood. AWD’s mission is to increase opportunities for women and enhance relationships between its members and the entertainment industry. The organization maintains a list of highly recommended female crew members, as well as providing a wide range of resources, including trade-craft workshops, shadowing programs, and networking and mentoring opportunities. AWD is open to new and veteran female directors alike.
Warren is optimistic about the future and said that 2017 was a very successful year, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. She says AWD’s current focus is on strengthening relations with industry leaders and growing their presence in the entertainment industry overall. To make it easier for producers, executives and agents to find and connect with talented women directors, the AWD website features a searchable database of their members. (allianceofwomendirectors.org)
Below is a partial list of some exciting women directors to keep an eye on:
Kate Rees Davies is very active and well known in the industry. She is an AWD board member, director, producer, writer and actress. Her directing efforts have won her numerous awards, and she’s had several short films screen at the Cannes Film Festival. Davies makes her own films, assists and collaborates with other independent filmmakers, and serves on a panel about women in the industry. She is consistently working on projects of all types, in a variety of roles.
Prior to making films, Davies had quite the storied life, including being a highly paid business executive. However, that was not her passion and she walked away from it, taking time to travel the world and experience different cultures. When she returned to LA, she decided to pursue her passion and her dreams – a career in the entertainment industry.
It wasn’t an easy road, but she assertively broke barriers and today her filmmaking expertise and dedication have put her in high demand as a filmmaker. She’s down to earth and always eager to take the time to assist other women who have aspirations to direct.
“I love directing, creating worlds and telling interesting stories,” Davies says. “I’d like to see more women in these positions, and more stories being told from a different perspective. There is a high demand for these stories, and the box office success of Wonder Woman proves that. It’s one of the highest-grossing action movies of all time. By denying opportunities to women filmmakers in the entertainment industry, money and revenue streams are being left on the table. Audiences are hungry for something new, and this conscious gender bias isn’t working. Hulu, Netflix and other successful, forward-thinking networks like FX are already seeing the benefits of hiring more women – not only in audience numbers being up, but during awards season as well. To fix the gender bias problem in Hollywood, women need a Sid Sheinberg, the Universal Studios COO who offered a then-unknown Steven Spielberg a seven-year contract. Sheinberg made a promise which gave Spielberg the much needed confidence to do his best work: ‘I will support you as strongly in failure as I will in success.’”
In a post on writer McKenzee Scrine’s blog, The Women’s Direction, which features articles on successful women in the industry, Davies discussed the issue of when women directors will simply be called directors:
Lou Simon got her filmmaking experience and training by diving right into writing, directing and producing her own films. After completing her first project, she didn’t just sit around. Over the course of the next several years she wrote, directed and produced four more movies.
One of Simon’s strong suits is that of getting audiences to understand her characters in a few quick strokes. Establishing herself as a competent filmmaker has earned her a well-regarded reputation in the industry, specifically as a female director.
“Films are a vital medium in shaping opinions,” Simon says. “Until women are allowed an equal seat at the film development table, the narrative will not change, nor the social norms that have kept women from the same opportunities as men in many industries.” She encourages aspiring female directors with these words of inspiration: “When people don’t give you an opportunity, you create your own.“
Simon is also an active member of the AWD and was involved with the recently-launched Atlanta chapter. “We’re so excited that AWD has expanded to Atlanta,” she says. “The industry is booming here, but unfortunately directors are still being hired primarily out of Los Angeles. Hopefully, with the new chapter we can let the studios know that there are many qualified women directors living in Atlanta.“ (www.whitelotusmovies.com)
Courtney Daniels wrote and directed the movie, What Other Couples Do, about four married Los Angeles couples who get together for a dinner party and decide to play Seven Minutes in Heaven, “a kissing game.” Since becoming available on Amazon Prime, the movie has surpassed a million views, and the numbers continue to rise. Daniels had the “just do it” approach when she first got into directing.
“Supposedly, the Coen brothers had never set foot on a film set until they walked onto their own. People might ask you if you’ve gone to film school and they might discourage you from directing. But don’t let that, or a lack of money, stop you. The most important thing is the script. If it’s really good, you could even use an iPhone to shoot it and cast your friends and family. For inspiration regarding low-budget filmmaking, read Edward Burns’ ‘Independent Ed.‘”
Daniels is currently shooting episode 3 of a web series about actors looking for love and work in L.A., called, This F**king Town. Her next feature film is about a married couple dealing with a midlife crisis. Her advice to women looking to direct is, “You can’t wait for someone to give you the opportunity. I’ve lived in LA for 20 years and not once has someone said, ‘Hey, would you like to direct?’ If you want it, you’re going to have to make it happen. And if you do, it will be one of your most gratifying accomplishments.” (https://www.facebook.com/courtneydanielswriter.director/)
Jessica Cameron’s parents instilled in her the importance of hard work and the belief that a strong work ethic will help you achieve your goals. That life lesson drove her to follow her dreams. After years of acting in nearly a hundred films, TV shows, commercials and music videos, she learned the filmmaking process and started her own production company, Small Town Girl Productions, to make her own movies. This provided her the freedom and opportunity to create the stories and characters she felt most passionate about.
One aspect of Cameron’s films is she likes to add layers to her stories and characters in such a way that the film can be watched repeatedly as the audience discovers new information and more depth with each pass. In other words, look carefully or you’ll miss the clues!
Cameron went from a small town girl to one of the most prolific and admired female filmmakers in the industry. As a producer, director and actress, she is a triple threat in Hollywood, especially in the women-of-horror community. (http://jessicacameron.com/)
Lisa Ovies is a multi-talented industry professional with an abundance of experience producing, directing, writing, casting, and performing other related jobs in films, shorts, and television series. Her vast experience, passion for movies and talent for teaching actors motivated her to open up her own production company, Rogue Studios.
Ovies’ studio is one of the top facilities in Vancouver, which also houses other production companies and acting/improv training studios. In addition to Rogue Studios, Ovies owns and is the president of ANFAgency, which represents some of Canada’s top talent for conventions and personal appearances.
Ovies has made several documentaries, comedies and horror films, but she’s also worked on other films with varying genres. While she loves comedy, she is also a huge fan of horror. After getting involved with the women-of-horror community, she quickly became more passionate about the genre and set out to produce her latest project, Puppet Killer. A strong female personality herself, she incorporated that trait into the lead character. Even better, she likes to break traditions – in her latest movie, she replaced the pretty girl for eye candy with a jock that’s obsessed with himself and flaunts his body throughout. (http://roguestudios.ca)
Jessica Sonneborn directed and wrote the thriller-horror film, Alice D, which won numerous awards on the festival circuit, including Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Horror Movie. Sonneborn’s greatest qualities are her extraordinarily creative mind and her keen eye for detail. When directing, her creativity, imagination, and decisiveness shine as she turns a screenplay into a highly entertaining film. Her on-set experience taught her the tricks of how to utilize the resources you have when making a film with a limited budget. One of many examples is that she found the perfect house for Alice D that was ideal for filming and was big enough to comfortably house a majority of the cast and crew. Sonneborn also writes screenplays and when she writes, she lives and breathes the story and characters. And, of course, being detailed-oriented, she’ll work on the script till it’s perfect.
She shares some striking information from directing Alice D: “When my directorial debut, “The Haunting of Alice D” came out, I read a lot of angry comments that the movie had a hidden feminist agenda. It wasn’t my intention to have any agenda with the movie, just to create a fun story for people to watch that also made people think. It’s interesting to me that people thought it was feminist, even when the central characters (including my own) were down-on-their-luck prostitutes. Something about it made some people angry, and that’s okay with me. If I evoked such strong emotions from people, the movie was doing something. I think all filmmakers and storytellers should attempt evoking emotion. It’s important to create complex characters and stories that make people think.”
Michalina Scorzelli’s short films, TV series, and feature films have won many awards and she has emerged as a top director. Scorzelli has worked on genres including comedy, drama, crime, family, fantasy, and thrillers. Her expertise directing along with producing and acting has gotten her published in the popular publications Variety, Hollywood Reporter, and the Los Angeles Times, and she has been featured in numerous local and regional media outlets. As a filmmaker, Scorzelli says sometimes she likes to make films that might change people’s perspective, create a conversation, and/or bring awareness to issues that some people struggle to talk about. That was her inspiration and motivation for her film The New Weapon, about a high school student hiding out from bullies, but who can’t hide from cyber bullying.
Scorzelli’s slate is always full as she collectively works on various projects whether directing, producing, acting, or writing. She’s well known for assisting other filmmakers with all jobs on set, no matter how minor or major the role is. Recently, Scorzelli directed the first episode of the upcoming Amazon Prime series, The Adventures of Snow White and Rose Red, made by the production company Trident Fantasy Films. Currently there are discussions of making the series into a feature film. (https://michalinascorzelli.com)
If current indications by these very talented filmmakers are a sign of things to come, then audiences should prepare for a whole new wave of gripping, original and sophisticated movies and television shows.