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Why Representation Matters: Thoughts on the Creative Arts Emmys

The first time I had tea with Meaghan, it was a bright summer day in New York. She told me I would have to work harder than almost anyone I knew if I wanted to succeed.

It was my first trip to the city after a lifetime of aspirations. We sat in Moby’s vegan cafe on the lower east side and she told me all about her experiences and opinions as a woman and a person in post production. She’s a part of my generation, but had a lot more experience in high level broadcast content in one of the biggest cities on Earth. We’d met on Twitter a few years before. I was in corporate video and she was an assistant editor at Sesame Street.

Meaghan and I sharing our first tea in New York.

Despite this massive gap in experience, she treated me as an equal. She was sincere, exacting, and honest. She told me that as a woman in post production, I was already at a disadvantage thanks to a subconcious gender bias. We talked about why this existed and how to fight it, and she gave me suggestions for dealing with the reality of it without the empty advice of “leaning in.” Thematically, her advice boiled down to having a firm grasp of reality. Life is unfair. Accept your circumstances or work as hard as you can to change them while being a beacon for others. Also, try the vegan cheesecake. (It was really good.)

That conversation was the first time I had thought hard about what it meant to be female in a male-dominated industry. My early experiences in post production were skewed by the fact I was hired out of college to work in a trucking school. Any subtle gender bias inherent in tech jobs was massively dominated by not-at-all-subtle outright sexism in the trucking industry. I was a bystander and I was buried too deep in just trying to do good enough work to be accepted.

Meaghan and I walking to the DGA Theater for Editfest.

During the first few years out of college, life was hard. I was in the midwest and working on content I didn’t really like very much. The Great Recession was mostly still in full swing. I was massively underpaid with no other opportunities available. I worked nights and weekends on any other freelance work I could find. I spent days on free work just to learn new skills in case the economy improved. Besides my BFF and fellow recent graduate Katie Toomey, no one else looked like us in the post industry in my area. I considered myself as much less than equal.

Meaghan showing Katie and I around Sesame Workshop.

Talking to women like Meaghan (who have also had hardships) on Twitter, and then meeting them in person to find generous individuals not drowning in cynicism made it possible to climb out of the hole created by the housing crisis and by my own self-doubt. I was equal and had been for a long time, even if society did not agree. (I knew and continue to know many generous men on Twitter too. But my own subconscious self-perceptions didn’t allow me to consider myself as equal to them, and their experiences didn’t directly apply to me.)

It took many more years for me to fully form my own opinions on life as a “minority” in the tech world. Since that day, I’ve had many more conversations with my greatest mentor and other friends (and Meaghan) about sexism in post. Meaghan and I have shared a lot of tea.

Walking around New York, feeling like I belonged.

I branched off into a highly technical part of the industry — something I might have never considered possible for myself had Meaghan not welcomed me out of the hole — and now work on network television shows in Los Angeles. I’ve written a lot about sexism in post. I’m an advocate for young women through groups like the Blue Collar Post Collective, a group which Meaghan helps me with as a committee member.

In the years since, I have had many conversations with young women about their potential challenges in this industry. Each time I talk with an intern about her typically brief time in post production, I see a light bulb come on when she realizes that her experiences with gender bias are universal. She is comforted. Sometimes she’s angry and we talk about channeling that into something positive. She asks for advice and resources. She becomes her own catalyst for change that may write her own articles or start her own advocacy groups.

Meaghan was recently nominated for her first Primetime Emmy for her editing work on CONAN — specifically, Conan in Korea.

Out of the 76 people nominated for picture editing Emmys this season, 15 are women. That’s 19%. According to the latest data from San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television, 21% of editors in primetime television in 2015 were women. These numbers haven’t really changed significiantly in the last 15 years.

Meaghan's own Instagram from the Emmys ceremony on September 11.

People who represent minorities in this industry and choose to be generous, realistic, and not at all cynical with their advice and experiences are vital to changing what the face of an expert looks like in post production. Every time someone like Meaghan opens up and “holds space” (her perfect words, not mine) for someone, it ripples downward. It’s not just women helping women, but women and men helping women and men see that underrepresented people in this industry are only underrepresented by design, not by true merit.

And every time someone like Meaghan chooses to use her position in the industry to loudly advocate for women (or workers rights, or family, or any other issues), there are massive incremental effects. Someone else speaks up. And then someone else. And even if someone else doesn't feel safe speaking up, they may change their actions.

When women are visible, others that come behind them will aspire for more. And for editors, it doesn’t get much more visible than the Primetime Emmys.

Meaghan and her post supervisor Rachel Yoder.

There’s a large amount of cynicism in post production that comes from evolving software, aging business models, and grumpy people who just don’t like change. It would be especially easy for a woman in post production to be grinded into a cynical little nub by bearing the burden of those challenges plus the tight-rope walk of femaleness in tech.

But not Meaghan. Meaghan makes post production welcoming, but not without caution that hard work is on the horizon and luck is necessary and sometimes elusive.

Appropriately, it seems nearly perfect that Meaghan would be nominated for editing a show for a boss who left a very difficult time of his own with these words: “I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

Congratulations to Meaghan and the other 14 women nominated for a Creative Arts Emmy. Whether you took the statue or not, your presence is vitally important to making post production more inclusive — and less cynical.

Meaghan and I at the Eddie Awards in LA in January 2016 with other female friends gained through Twitter.

Meaghan and the Emmy nominated editing team for Conan in Korea.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Sep 11, 2016 at 5:28:25 pm emmys, editing, editors

Focusing on post-production, from editing and motion graphics to personal experiences and the psychology of being an editor.


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