Archive for November, 2013

Director’s Notes for Use Me Up

Have you seen our Project page for Use Me Up?  Here are the notes the film’s director wrote about the genesis and theory behind the piece – enjoy!

Use Me Up is a movie intentionally shot from the Female Gaze; but what does that mean, exactly?

There is quite a bit of literature about moviemaking and the “Male Gaze” but when I looked for a definition of what a counterpoint “Female Gaze” might be, I found very little.  What I did find was divided into two camps:  either a movie shot by females (director and DP, possibly producer and writer as well) would automatically qualify as being shot from the Female Gaze, or the movie industry has institutionalized the Male Gaze as the proper technique for shooting a movie, and therefore the Female Gaze must be a conscious reversal of this “conventional wisdom.”

The education I had received in moviemaking seemed to me to support the latter theory, and so I did some research on what models or techniques might help to bring about this reversal.  I found remarkably little information but did come across mention of a course taught by Rebecca Ormond at Webster University, during which she and her students consciously created a movie from the Female Gaze.  I contacted her and she was kind enough to share her materials with me, the most extensive I had thus found.

Using her model as a jumping off point and working within our budget constraints, I settled on a few simple rules to cinematically empower the female characters on the screen.  They were:

1)    women would be shot with the camera looking up at them, men shot with the camera looking down

2)    the lighting would reverse the traditional Hollywood convention of bathing the women in lighting that softened all the lines and planes on their faces, while the men are lit in a way that highlights the planes and angles of their faces, sometimes leaving parts of their faces in shadow

3)    close-ups of men would be shot in a “clean” frame (they are alone in the shot), where the camera appears to gaze directly at them, whereas women’s close-ups would be shot in a “dirty” frame, where the camera appears to be unable to gaze directly on them, but must catch glimpses from behind and around other people

4)    everyone involved in the making of the film and the shaping of it would be female; an all-female crew, female editor, female producers and female writers

5)    whenever possible, male bodies would be on display as objects of sexual desire, whereas women would be seen as those for whom the men performed

Having completed the project, we are now curious whether it is noticeable to the viewer that there is a different dynamic in play with this film.  Do viewers even consciously notice a difference?  Is it pleasing to the female viewer in a way traditional films are not?  Does it make male viewers uncomfortable?  Does the viewer feel there is something different or “off” about the film, but are unable to pinpoint what that is?  With the short now being submitted to film festivals, we are eager to hear feedback from audiences on these topics and others involving the themes in Use Me Up!

When a woman calls, say Yes

I was reading through the notes from the Women Directors Summit that the DGA held in April of this year.  The “Employment Equity Matters” panel had a summary of suggestions from the panelists on action steps to help achieve equity:

Debbie Allen:  “It’s action, not sitting in a room and talking. We need ACTION, ACTION, ACTION!”

Nancy Meyers: We need to support women execs.

Nia Vardalos: “Use our economic power.  Boycotts.”  

Mimi Leder: “Start an all-women studio.”

Debbie Allen suggests “…holding out, starting a movement, a revolution.”

Robin Swicord suggests we “…hire an attorney to go to court; a Federally protected civil rights case.  The DGA has the power and resources sitting right here.” 

Betty Thomas: “Stand up!”

Martha Coolidge asks: “What can we aim for to make the equity a reality?”

Mimi Leder: Aim to start a studio for women.

Amy Heckerling: For women to support women.

Debbie Allen: Create a committee for a movement.  Must have a concept, title, be viral, use economic power, inspire, and respect action.

Catherine Hardwicke: Celebrate & encourage people who do hire women.

Martha Coolidge: Utilize the internet to do our own publicity/promotion.

Nancy Meyers: Embrace all women executives at studios and meet w/studios.  Make noise wherever you can.

Robin Swicord: Employment access is a federally protected civil right.  Involve US labor bureau and hire a lawyer.  Approach the problem legally.

I particularly love Mimi Leder’s idea of an all women studio (Mimi, how can I help you make that happen??) but the one thing that wasn’t said directly that I would contribute is “When a woman calls, say Yes.”

Hollywood is a cutthroat environment.  Everyone is out for themselves, which means you have to be out for yourself as well, or you will continually be taken advantage of.  Women learn this lesson harder than men, I feel, because there is a definite perception that women will take and should be satisfied with less.  Financially, artistically, psychologically.  There is an expectation that women command smaller salaries than men (this is so much the paradigm that it makes news headlines when there is an exception to the rule), women are expected to be satisfied with less compelling characters (one-dimensional) who are less central to the story (the wife, the girlfriend, the f*ck), and they should be grateful for the positions behind the camera that are graciously allowed to them (offer her 2nd AC instead of 1st AC, she’ll take it because she’s a girl, whereas a man wouldn’t be satisfied with being 2nd fiddle).

This perception that women will be satisfied with less (it’s that or nothing, after all), carries over when we interact with each other.  We women use that same set of rules interpersonally, and tend to bargain harder, try to get more, and say No more easily to other women – after all, they should be satisfied with what they get, right?

If we really want this to change, one of the components is that we need to say Yes to other women in the business.  Not quite the project you were looking for?  Say Yes anyway.  Not quite the salary you wanted?  If it’s a woman’s project, say Yes anyway.  If you are in a position of power, use it to open the door for more women – remember the noise Natalie Portman made about demanding a female director for Thor II?  She made it quite clear that she would say Yes if a woman directed the project. That’s exactly what we need.  Let the business know, the way to get women to work for you is to get more women involved in the project. To put women in positions where they are making the offers.

I’m asking other women to put the ensemble above the individual – in this case our ensemble is our gender.  This is not at all what Hollywood has beaten into us, so it requires a definite mental shift.  A rising tide lifts all boats, however, so remember:  When a Woman Calls, Say YES.