Whenever I discuss gender in the film industry, someone usually pops up and says "yeah but it's waaaay better than it used to be!"
And every year, San Diego State University's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film publishes their annual Celluloid Ceiling Report on womens' employment "below the line" and shows just how not at all better things are right now.
Inevitably, someone jumps in and says it's better "where it counts": in smaller markets or in non-traditional media.
For one thing, I don't trust this assessment. There are no statistics (that I know of) to back this up, and obviously if you asked for purely anecdotal evidence on feature films, many tend to wrongly say "it's totally better, I work with women all the time now."
And for another thing, the top 100, 250 and 500 grossing films DO matter. How many movies does the average person watch in a year? I looked it up briefly, and data seems to state it's something like 20ish movies a year, but only around 5 in a movie theater. So maybe only about 5 new movies.
In any case, out of 100-500 films, only 5-20 means a person is getting a very small slice of what the film industry has to offer. If the only 5 movies a person watches in a year are in the top 100 grossing films, they are not seeing much female representation on their screen.
You may think that female employment in Hollywood isn't a topic that matters outside our bubble, but it actually matters a great deal to peoples' understanding of womens' stories since nearly everyone is watching movies. It matters to young women who are encouraged to follow the various paths in the film industry, creative or technical, and have the courage to deal with all the crap that involves by watching other women accomplish it too.
In Michelle Obama's words: “For so many people, TV and movies may be the only way they understand people who aren’t like them. It becomes important for the world to see different images of each other, so that we can develop empathy and understanding....The only way that millions of people get to know other folks and the way they live … is through the power of television and movies.”
Here are some of the highlights from the report. I encourage you to click through and read the full report -- it's very short, and it's illustrated with graphs. SDSU also has many other reports in television and on-screen visibility of women you can read.
- In 2016, women comprised 17% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents a decline of 2 percentage points from last year and is even with the percentage achieved in 1998.
- 92% had no women directors. However, on films with at least one female director, the number of women employed as writers jumped from 9% to 64%. The number of female editors jumped from 17% to 43%. The number of cinematographers jumped from 6% to 16%. This is a huge increase.
- Women comprised 17% of all editors working on the top 250 films of 2016. This represents a decrease of 5 percentage points from 2015 and a decrease of 3 percentage points from 1998. Put another way: the number of women dropped 25% in a year, on par with ongoing trends for a long time -- we're now 3 percentage points below where we were 18 years ago.
- Women in post are not fairing well outside picture editing either. 4% of sound designers, 8% of sound editors, 3% of composers.
There's lots more information in the report -- like women are most likely to work in documentary and least likely to work in action. You can logically conclude that women are seeing these problems and hiring other women, so the fact that 93% of these films had no female editor means the female employment is not rippling downward into other creative or technical roles.
So consider this. A woman born in 1998, when this data first began to be collected, is now at a point in her life where she is deciding what she wants to study and pursue as an adult. The number of women in editing on the films she has watched her entire life has remained steady or decreased every year of her life. What does this mean for her?
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
Last week, a young woman on Twitter told me she had read an old blog post I wrote and immediately related to it and needed more information. The post, titled “Professional Fears”, was published on February 5, 2010. As a recent graduate, she told me she was being held up with exactly what I wrote about and wanted to know how I moved past it.
My initial reaction: wait, I've moved past those fears? Says who? I’d forgotten all about this post and hadn't read it since I wrote it and sent it off to the internet six years ago. That’s not to say I haven’t been in the throes of job-related fears ever since. Of course I have. Everything is scary and loud and I have to make my own doctor appointments and pay bills and everything.
But I hadn’t been obsessing over a specific list, so I wondered what I had decided to commit to internet paper as a formal post and re-read the blog.
And I was surprised. I was surprised at how quickly I could return in my head to this place six years ago where I was feeling overwhelmed and ineffective, desiring direction and getting none. I remembered it all immediately.
But I was even more surprised that I have conquered every one of these things, mostly without really acknowledging it. That’s the thing with growing up: you fall into playing the long game, and your accomplishments and successes (and failures) are a part of every day life.
Here’s my list of the biggest, scariest, most crippling fears I had six years ago, and my thoughts about them now.
“1. that I don’t know as much as I should know right now. Like maybe I’m not reading the right things, studying the right books, finding the right projects.”
Maybe I knew what I needed to know, maybe not. A lot of young people fear that they didn’t get everything they needed out of college. Whether you did or didn’t, it’s your responsibility to continue learning beyond your degree or other training, forever and ever. And obviously I was reading the right things and finding the right projects, because I also blogged about them around this time — and understood the importance of continued education and building relationships.
“2. that I want to be an assistant editor yet I would have absolutely no idea what to do.”
Turns out there are a ton of amazing resources out there for whatever you want to do, and you just have to ask people about their experiences and advice to get the most valuable information out there. And for what it’s worth, I never ended up being an assistant editor, but I train people to perform many of those tasks now.
“3. that I will get a great project and totally blank out and screw up the edit.”
This never happened. Not even close. This is pure anxiety — if you think these thoughts, please remind yourself that you’ve got your work under control.
“4. that I don’t know Final Cut well enough to compete.”
Pure anxiety too. I knew FCP better than anyone in my college class, and I worked endlessly to get better. If you try to do something and you want to do it, it’s not that difficult to be competitive.
“5. that I’m spending too much time learning Final Cut and forgetting Avid. Should I dig up Avid and some books and dig into the technical side of it? Or will it become natural?”
So I learned both. I took on the rough cut of a feature and did it in Avid. It was hard, but I did it because software is finite and can be learned. Now I worked in Avid every day, and solve Avid problems 24/7. The other aspects of being a good worker are harder to learn — but you can buy books on Avid Media Composer. (And if you want to work in TV or film at a high level, please do learn Avid. It’s just software, but it does take a little time.)
“6. that I don’t know enough about After Effects. Do I need to learn more? I want to for my own interests, but if I want to edit movies someday, how does this play in?”
I struggled with After Effects in college (and wrote about this at length for the COW) because I didn’t really grasp that it wasn’t an NLE and I resented that it didn’t come naturally. When I was hired at my first real editing job, I realized that a majority of the work was going to end up being in After Effects. I was a little panicked at first because I wasn’t super fluent, but I just dove in and figured it out. I challenged myself to do something new with every video I produced so I would continue to learn instead of just relying on a handful of tricks.
I don’t necessarily want to edit movies myself now, but I think it’s perfectly clear how After Effects can help an editor. Whether I approve or not, everyone that watches a rough offline cut wants to see something finished looking — having comping skills is seriously helpful to an editor nowadays. And if you aren’t cutting movies, it’s really useful to be able to take on title sequences or have a good understanding of making a nice lower third or adding other effects to push the production value without adding labor.
“7. that the fact I don’t have 3D experience will bite me…somehow..”
Nah. While there is an overall push to be a generalist and it’s good to have an idea of how things work, I believe everyone should have their specialty. I don’t see a trend for generalists to also have 3D expertise even now.
“8. that I will get a freelance gig, go to their edit suite, and get performance anxiety. especially in front of a producer.”
Never happened. Not even close. It was obviously hard at first, but nothing like this.
“9. that I will not be able to edit at the caliber in which I want to edit.”
I think anyone thinks about this at any stage of their career, whether they’re an offline editor or some other area of post. They want to be the best. You can’t be the best until you’ve put in the work and the time. That’s the hardest part about growing up and growing as a professional: this takes time. Be patient, appreciate the skills you currently have, learn from those who have come before you.
“10. that I’ll start being told that my work sucks.”
Everyone worries about this until the end of time. If they don’t worry about this, they probably don’t care anymore. If you work for someone that literally says to you that your work sucks, maybe reconsider if they should be in charge of you. But be prepared for negative feedback. It happens. A lot. Things don’t work. Clients don’t like it. Learn to interpret negative feedback and figure out what the real issue is, and don’t take any of it personally. This is a process, and it’s a team sport.
“11. that I’m not going to get to edit the stuff I really want to edit.”
This is interesting because what I was really getting at was “I’m never going to get out of corporate trucking videos.” And through hard work, building relationships, and choosing my next moves wisely, I absolutely did. Because of the economy and other factors, I worked in corporate video for four years. I didn’t spend this time wallowing and pining for Hollywood (at least not exclusively) but rather I took other side projects to keep myself happy and learning. I read everything I could find.
I taught people things and asked them to teach me. I met everyone that would meet me. I traveled to events and trade shows whenever I was able — which was not often because I was very underpaid. I took advantage of the fact my video editing job was a 9-5 M-F gig that afforded me the ability to spend a lot of time enriching myself. After a long, difficult road where I learned a lot about my work and my self, I now work on network television and major feature films in a capacity that utilizes my entire post production skill set.
And it’s important to emphasize that I don’t go about my career fearlessly plowing through barriers to get whatever I want. Everyone has anxieties about if they’re on the right path, if they’re doing enough, if they’re working hard enough or too hard. It’s just the way life is for all of us. You have to find a way to prevent these fears from becoming so crippling that they prevent you from action.
Generally speaking, if you’re worried about this and you’re studying and doing the work to make yourself better, you’re already a step ahead of anyone who isn’t thinking about their future on a daily basis. Find good mentors that will help affirm you (or call you on your BS if you need it.) Just keep pursuing what you want to pursue. Acknowledge that you’re afraid, but don’t define yourself by your fears. And if you find yourself getting too hung up on anxieties, try to speak to a professional.
I think most of us get into post production because we thought it was fun. As time goes on and it becomes actual work, it becomes less fun and more about being the right combination of high performing and lucky. There are risks involved, and this industry asks a lot of a young person. Sometimes more than they can possibly offer.
If you’re young and trying to make peace with your new adulthood fears, just listen: be patient. It’s gonna be really hard. But if you do the work, things are going to be okay. There are people who have crawled through the barriers to entry not THAT long ago that are working and recognizing that you need your break, and we're trying to find you too.
Posted by: Kylee Peña on Aug 6, 2016 at 6:05:19 pm
Did you know the #allmalepanel is such a common phenomenon that a UN organization is urging its employees (and 8,500 member organizations like Coca-Cola and Cisco) to stop participating in them? “There is no shortage of qualified women," says executive director Lise Kingo.
The post production industry is no exception to the all male panel phenomenon. From SMPTE to NAB to ACE, our community is vibrant, filled with podcasts, articles, meet-ups and classes. Trade shows feature product demonstrations and broad concept discussion panels of all sorts. Enrichment is important to us. The most frequent recurring advice we give to young people is “never stop learning” and “meet lots of people,” which we accomplish through these extracurriculars.
But our events and podcasts and demos are not diverse, not even kind of diverse. While the post production industry as a whole is lacking in women for reasons I’ve written about in the past, the people that are chosen to speak, teach, and represent us to ourselves are even less diverse.
There is no shortage of qualified women for post either -- I would like to introduce you to a few dozen women (and counting) you can add to your contacts next time you need a demo artist, podcast guest, or beta tester with our Women in Post PR List, available as a regularly updated PDF with a version you can download now.
I’ve recently begun asking people in the post industry why their events only feature male experts.
“I don’t know any women who are interested.” “I booked a woman, but she had to cancel.” “All the women I know are working!”
There is a disconnect between the largely male pool of people in charge of these various stages and women who are experts in their part of the industry. This is true of all industries where men dominate the selection of “experts” to the public.
In the media, one journalist discovered that men are more often interviewed as experts in news articles, and men cite themselves more often than women.
In academia, women who co-author academic papers with men are less likely to get tenure than the men.
And on the site allmalepanels.tumblr.com, you can see examples of all male panels from hundreds of other trade shows and events across the world.
From allmalepanels.tumblr.com -- Royal Television Society’s Special Camera’s talk - all men including chair
It shouldn’t be difficult to find women who can speak on behalf of their work, but many men say it is. So alright, you tell me you don’t know any women who are interested or available or panels or workshops or classroom talks. Your follow up question should be: “how can I help change this?”
In partnership with London-based editor Siân Fever, I’ve put together a simple document and form for creating a database of women who are experts in different topics in the post production community. Women can fill out the form and add themselves to the list. Once a month, Siân and I will update and distribute a nicely formatted PDF containing the information of all women who have added themselves to this list.
At NAB 2015 -- Working Together to Close the Gender Gap with Me and Siân, and Megan McGough Christian, Ellen Wixted and Amy DeLouise
It’s still a work in progress, and we’re still figuring out the best way to handle the flow of names and updates (and accepting feedback and assistance to make it bigger and better.) But it’s a start. And it’s hardly a new concept — Binders Full of Women has been doing the same thing in journalism since Mitt Romney uttered the phrase in 2012, and Ms in the Biz has a database for female filmmakers from all kinds of jobs. We’re focused on post production only: engineers, editors, vice-presidents, assistants, coordinators, CTOs, supervisors, sound editors, everything post.
Here’s what everyone needs to do right now:
Women: add yourselves to this page, even if you’ve never thought of yourself as someone that should be speaking as an expert. Your voice is important in this industry. Women are less likely to declare themselves an expert and seek opportunities to be on a stage in their career field. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think a big one is because being the only woman in a room full of men makes it feel like more is at stake -- if people don't perceive you well, you're doing a disservice to your gender.
The Confidence Gap is a real thing, and I've struggled with it too. It's difficult to walk the tight rope of being assertive but not "bossy", to feel self-assured but not egotistical. We're brought up to play by the rules, and we think that if we work hard we'll be plucked from the masses to be on a stage or discussion panel instead of doing what many men do -- trouncing ahead and declaring ourselves the experts we are already. The more women we have on stage, the less likely gender bias will push them away.
Men: strongly consider not taking part in panels or events that make no attempt at gender parity. Make it your pledge to not sit on an all male panel this year. Your absence makes a difference to changing the visibility of women.
People in charge of events, groups, podcasts, and public relations in general: download this PDF each month and reach out to women. Encourage other women to add themselves to this list. Make your user stories more diverse. Seek gender parity in your beta teams. Look for fresh voices for your panels and podcasts.
On the eve of this year’s NAB Show, consider asking vendors and programmers why their panels or demo artists are mostly men, and share this document with them.
When we think of experts in post production, women should not be invisible or limited to a list of token individuals that can be counted off from memory. By making gender parity a priority for our extracurriculars, we’ll all help reinforce that women ARE experts — and that kind of influence will make an impact on the subconcious gender bias that keeps women from thriving in post. Our most public individuals should represent the working community we're striving to create.
There is no shortage of female experts in post -- let's put them on stage so they can impact the next generation of post professionals.
[If you would like to receive an updated version of this PDF on a regular basis, email email@example.com to be added to the distro list.]
Posted by: Kylee Peña on Apr 9, 2016 at 11:23:18 pm
I could safely fit three episodes of The X-Files on one VHS tape in Long Play mode.
And I did. In the late 90s and early aughts, I collected and categorized episodes in much the same way one would arrange a mixtape. Some episodes go together chronologically, others go together thematically, but maybe a few belong together instead? In the endless stream of new episodes and nightly reruns that existed when the show was running full force, I built a collection of bootleg tapes and created customized labels for them from low resolution stills I found online. In the prehistoric pre-streaming media internet, this was the only way I could preserve and re-live my favorite moments in the series.
Now the wonders of Netflix and YouTube combined with mega high speed ubiquitous internet connections have replaced the need for careful VCR programming and delicate analog formats. Animated gifs appear moments after an episode airs (or during the commercial breaks, if you’re one of the few viewing it live) so you can re-watch your favorite 10 second moment over and over, no rewinding required. Hashtags connect us in a constant torrent of feedback we don’t even have to refresh to see. So many more television shows are airing today, and on so many different services. The X-Files, which returns this weekend, hasn’t aired in 14 years. Many shows have sprung up to replace or build on its science fiction conspiracy stories.
And yet, the internet fandom — “The X-Philes” — is as strong as ever, even growing in intensity with each year since the series finale. And it’s the same as it’s always been: clever, thoughtful, and largely female.
I can divide my own participation in this fandom into three distinct periods. By the way, some spoilers ahead for season one through nine.
X-Files viral marketing at The Grove in Los Angeles. Obviously I went.
Web 1.0 — 2001
I am in the awkward summer between 8th grade and high school. I have made a habit of watching X-Files double feature reruns on FX every single night. Before the summer television break, I watch new episodes every Sunday night, following the fan reaction through frantically refreshed message boards. Some boards are powered by the FOX network, and end up heavily and frustratingly moderated. Others — the good ones — are deeper in the ‘net. You know when something really good happens because a dozen new posts show up all at once, all in caps. It’s here that I read my first internet spoiler — wait, Mulder ISN’T DEAD?
I begin to recognize the same usernames over this period, and I befriend a dozen of my favorite posters. We’re all about the same age, all female. Some are planning college soon, studying forensics or medicine or science. All are as serious about their studies as they are about ‘shipping (hoping and looking for a romantic connection between) Mulder and Scully, and seem to talk about both equally. I never really learn any of their real names, which is fine because “AgentScully1013” and “KrycekLvr” are better identities anyway. We share fan fiction on Gossamer and create tribute videos and photo collages. We talk about school. We argue over which song lyrics best fit the Mulder-Scully-Relationship (aka, the MSR) and debate noromos (people that think romance destroys story tension) about the nature of the relationship and when it became romantic and also oh my god they kissed but it was maybe a dream sequence?
As the series pushes forward into season nine, I watch live episodes with my cousin over AOL Instant Messenger. Sometimes her television broadcast is a little ahead of mine, which annoys me deeply.
DRAGON-CON — 2014
In the years since the show ended, my online X-Files related activity has mostly ceased. After a disappointing reprisal in the form of a not-that-interesting movie with a Monster of the Week plot in 2008, my appreciation for the early seasons grows as my hope for ever seeing the characters reunited in new stories wanes. In the decade without new X-Files, I have graduated high school and college and established myself as a professional. As I go deeper into filmmaking and post production, I return to my favorite X-Files stories occasionally and marvel at their construction. I take an ungraded online class on film noir and write a paper on the season four episode “Detour”. I am still as engaged with the characters as ever, but it has become a solitary activity.
With luck and good timing, I find myself at Dragoncon in Atlanta, a large convention celebrating pop culture and science fiction/fantasy that’s not so mainstream as Comic Con. I attend panels and sessions on the universe and black holes, about post-apocalyptic survival techniques, and about fantasy books. I line up around a hilly city block to watch the cast of Battlestar Galactica reunite. I make eye contact with Adam Baldwin. I attend a Hobbit book versus movie debate and cross paths with a brilliant gender swapped Rosie Cotton/Samwise Gamgee cosplay couple. I consider buying a box cutter and an autograph from Giancarlo Esposito.
I walk to my last session of the day: a celebration of the 20th anniversary of The X-Files. There is no cast or crew in attendance, just a fan-led discussion of favorite episodes. I expect a small group of die hard fans in a tiny room. I find just the opposite. The session is standing room only by the time I squeeze in, but I manage to find one empty chair. While the panel of writers and scifi bloggers is 50-50, most of the attendees are female. Much of the room has red hair, including me. I doubt that’s a coincidence.
The session is just what it says it will be, a fan-led discussion of the best episodes. A woman at the front of the room makes a list on a large poster board as attendees stand up one by one and make a impassioned case for their favorite episode. The collection of X-Philes and leadership of elected experts passes collective judgement in a way that reminds me of Parliament. Arguments break out. People clap and yell. I’m surprised blows aren’t thrown. But everyone is eloquent, and those who aren’t in Dana Scully cosplay are unusually professionally dressed for such a con. The session ends with a satisfying list of twenty or thirty episodes scrawled on the oversized board, and I’m thrilled and impressed that so many of the girls I “grew up” with have turned into gifter orators…at least when it comes to X-Files.
TODAY — 2015-2016
In response to the rising cynicism of social media, I swear off sites like Reddit and spend most of my unprofessional internet time on Tumblr, embedded in a flow of snapchats of aesthetically pleasing tea cups and David Bowie photos. I am slowly absorbed into the “X-Files” tag, where young women share pictures we all loved (see: Rollingstone photo shoot) or missed altogether (see: Gillian Anderson’s season one continuity polaroids). In between posts about self-doubt and self-empowerment, they reblog fan art that reaches new heights of artistry or satire. There are Spotify playlists inspired by specific episodes, or hypothetical micro-fanfics. Many of the women are my age, but many more are younger and discovered the show well after it ended.
It is here I first discover hints of a possible revival. Netflix carries the entirety of the series in newly mastered high definition, so I begin to re-watch it from the beginning. You can create a drinking game from every piece of outdated technology that appears on screen, from phone booths to library cards. While some plot points don’t quite work the same way under the lense of TV binge culture, many of them work even better somehow. Maybe it’s because it feels like the origin of modern conspiracy, or because TV has given us more depressingly realistic art than stylized conspiracy theories in the years since the attack on the World Trade Center. We’ve been drowning in post-apocayptic stories for the last decaide, and X-Files is a return to the pre-apocalyptic — even when the villains win for the moment, there’s real hope in the myth arc that Mulder and Scully will find the truth before colonization day.
The revivial is announced — six new episodes with the original cast — and the online fandom collectively loses its mind. I find myself with renewed enthusiasm. Yeah, maybe season nine wasn’t the best. Maybe the second film wasn’t great. But who cares? We crave these characters more than ever.
When you see a mostly female fandom of a show like The X-Files, you might be led to believe much of the motivation for worship is of Fox Mulder, for his “All-American features” and “dour demeanor”, as he is accused by the innkeeper in the season two episode “Humbug”. And while the charisma brought to the character by David Duchovny is widely appreciated and does not go unnoticed (heck yeah), it isn’t the tall, lanky G-man with the unimaginative necktie who draws us in. It’s his much smaller partner, Dana Scully — one of the first powerful, flawed and real female television icons of the internet message board age.
Many young female fan bases are dismissed as boy-crazy and silly when in reality, they’re incredibly sophisticated viewers of the show like any other demographic. And they’re often connecting with an aspect of the show beyond the given plot because of the way it makes them feel. How many of the young women I traded junky JPEGs with in 1999 went into engineering or science after seeing Scully exist in those fields with confidence and acceptance? Gillian Anderson has said countless women have told her they decided to go into a scientific field because of her portrayal of the tiny medical doctor (seriously, she’s like half the size of Duchovny when she isn’t perched on a box) who can also tackle people to the ground. How many more took the inspiration into different but similarly male-dominated fields? The artistry of The X-Files having almost as much of an impact as the character of Scully, I certainly did. (As a bonus, about 100 of the original 201 episodes were edited by women — yeah, I counted.)
Young women are still not recognized as avid fans of science fiction, even though they love the media — books, movies, TV shows — seemingly more openly and less cynically than nearly anyone else. They’re accused of being fake geek girls or not enthusastic enough in a way that reflects other gender-related catch-22s. But without the on-going intensity of a female-led fandom, would X-Files be returning?
Though references to her immortality by characters like Clyde Bruckman have been accompanied by a wink and a nudge, I think most of us feel like Dana Scully will actually never die. She will live forever because of the impact she’s had on girls and the portrayal of female characters. And the sisterhood of the X-Files fandom (lead by our queens Gillian Anderson AND Dana Scully) will keep on debating the canon and creating fan art and finding one another, the impact of these six new episodes being equal to pouring rocket fuel on an already raging bonfire.
Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jan 24, 2016 at 12:29:49 pm
Each year, San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film releases a “Celluloid Ceiling” report which shows female employment on the top 250 films of the previous year. This year’s numbers (released last week) are more of the same, with female employment hovering around the same percent for the last twenty years or so.
There’s something new in this year’s research we should all be looking at: how employment on shows varies when women are in charge.
Unlike previous years where data came from the top 250 films, this is based on the top 500 films — “top” meaning top grossing.)
On films with at least one female director, women comprised 32% of editors. On films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for 19% of editors.
Overall, women comprised 21% of editors for these 500 films. Having a woman in a leadership role makes the number of women involved with editing jump 68%.
If you were on the internet when Project Greenlight aired last year, you probably saw the diversity-related spats between producer Effie Brown and actor Matt Damon. The show searches for first time filmmakers and goes through a selection process to give one of them the chance to make a movie. During a discussion of the finalists’ films by the producers, Brown (who is African-American) brings up concerns about racist tropes and suggests the producers think closely about how to choose a director that can treat a black character hovering on the edge between one-dimensional and fully realized with the proper dignity. Matt Damon doesn’t agree this is a concern.
“When we’re talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show.”
Meaning Matt Damon doesn’t think the gender and ethnic make-up of the crew has any importance so long as you keep it mixed up on screen.
And one should only crew a show based on merit, leaving “all other factors out if it.”
Not to pick on any one dude (although with his Oscar nomination, I’m guessing Matt is doing just fine whether I blog about him or not) it’s important to realize that this is how most people think about hiring for film and television. Gender and race is a distraction and should be ignored completely. Hollywood should be a meritocracy. The best people in creative and technical roles will automatically shuffle to the top of the pile.
If that were true, then there would be a more diverse selection of Oscar nominees. But yet again this year, all the actors and most of the “below the line” crew nominated are white. And among those, mostly male. I’ve written before that equality is important when it comes to nominations — but #OscarsSoWhite doesn’t exist in the bubble of the Academy. It’s an accurate reflection of the current landscape of television and film. Most people in the industry think racial and gender blindness is the way to hiring the best people for the job, but this eliminates anyone who is outside their own circle. In other words, people hire people that look like them unless they’ve made an effort to seek out a more diverse applicant pool.
Maybe one day we’ll be able to fully separate our own bias from hiring and employment practices. Maybe someday people will stop assuming women aren’t interested in technology. Maybe someday companies will stop forcing women out of the pipeline by assuming they want either a family or a career and not both. Maybe someday people will stop thinking that women can only work on womens’ stories. Maybe someday people will stop thinking that womens’ stories are not mainstream, or that female protagonisists can’t engage an audience.
The easy way to solve these problems? Hire women. Make the consideration of women for roles you would normally fill quickly from referrals a priority. Give female hirees the resources and support they need. Listen to them.
Here’s your simple solution: hire women. We’ll sort out the rest.
Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jan 21, 2016 at 12:14:05 pm
Let’s back up a couple decades. When I was a kid, I read a lot of books that dealt with shy homebodies that took adventures out of their comfort zones for heroic or accidental reasons, or sometimes both. It’s a pretty standard trope a lot of people enjoy. The first such story I read was called “Jenny Goes to Sea”, an old hardback book for new readers my library was throwing away when I was six. I rescued it, enjoyed its old-book-smell, and read it cover to cover many times over the years. It’s about a little cat named Jenny that winds up taking a trip on a boat around the world, stopping at different ports and meeting cats that live in foreign lands who teach her about their foods and customs. I loved the feeling I got from imagining taking a trip like this with Jenny — as a fellow cat, because again, I was like six. In my preteen years, it was another cat-goes-on-adventure book called “The Wild Road.” It was a legit novel similar to "Watership Down" but with felines that involved a hesitant hero of a cat saving creatures from an evil Alchemist. After that, I graduated to "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy (not cats!) — another story of an unlikely hero who has never left home that saves the world.
I loved (and continue to love) these stories, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that my favorite stories over the years have always carried this theme. It was the opposite of how I lived. As I’ve written before, I grew up pretty shy. I didn’t leave the midwest at all until I was 23. Venturing out into the world wasn’t something I did much of, but it was something I deeply desired to do. I naturally gravitate toward the IDEA of having an adventure nowadays, but making real decisions about uprooting? Starting over? That’s an entirely new thing. I don’t know about that.
But I knew I needed to do it, and I knew it needed to be LA. I’d wanted to live and work there for a really long time. It makes sense for anyone who hates winter and loves film editing, to make a long story short. So after much meandering, I left Atlanta last Saturday and headed west alone with a few belongings. I took I-20 to I-10, going through states I’d never even visited briefly. I crossed the Mississippi river, and the Rio Grande. I visited a nice man in a record store in Dallas. I got held up in Border Patrol traffic near El Paso and my phone jumped to a tower in Mexico. I slept through a tornado. I visited good friends I’d never met. I saw some of the most amazing countryside (or whatever you call it in the desert) I’d ever seen. After five days, I arrived in California. It was the best week I ever spent with myself. I am fabulous company, if I do say so myself.
Me and Mexico-ish.
For personal reasons, I didn’t openly share a lot of this online. But the people who did know about all reacted very similarly: “I’ve always thought about doing that.” For most people, it’s more like a romantic sort of “always thought about it”, in the same way they’ve always thought about taking a safari trip in Africa or learning French and moving to Paris. But for a good chunk of people, it was different. They seemed caught up like I had been for so long. Financial barriers. Self doubt. A little too comfortable. Self-imposed or life-imposed hurdles and challenges. A lot of seemingly unavoidable reasons to say “no, I can’t do that right now."
Meeting people along the way -- animator/tweeter Lisa Poje in AZ.
I’ve known a lot of people who did what I just did, leaving with a few personal things, some loose ends and a bit of savings. It’s kind of The Dream of going to a big city to start anew, basically a story-teling trope of its own kind because it’s so common. But I know a far greater number of people that should do the Thing but won’t because of Reasons. I don’t just mean following a career path to Los Angeles. I mean, whatever The Thing is that’s sitting in their head. The Thing they know they need to do to take their life in the direction it should go. “I can’t possibly do that. I’m not the kind of person that does a thing like that.”
The *legendary* Tim Wilson himself! :screamingemoji:
I said that to myself a thousand times. But it turns out I am the kind of person that does a thing like that, so I did. And so far, I strongly recommend it. It’s difficult and scary, especially for someone like me, but why spend your finite lifespan wishing you did The Thing when you can spend it living the way you want?
So anyway, I moved to LA this week. It’s fabulous. I love it. Do The Thing you need to do. Don't just read about it in children' books. Or blogs.
And now, a crummy commercial.
I had a pretty cool gig sorta lined up for Monday that fell through today, so taking this opportunity to grovel. I’m a rather good offline editor. I’m nearly on the roster, paperwork pending, and most of those editor credits are reality/documentary. The last few months I’ve been primarily working in dailies on scripted shows for networks like MTV, Sundance, BET, and CW — mostly dedicated to The Originals. If you let me choose, I’d continue to forge my way through scripted television by whatever means necessary. But I also like working in general, so I’ll take what you have for me. Extracurriculars: I write a lot (obviously), I have red hair, I bake, I collect vinyl. I'm neat.
Posted by: Kylee Peña on May 1, 2015 at 10:38:53 pm
Today was an uncharacteristically windy day in Vegas. The wind created a dusty, almost foggy late afternoon that sent everyone running to the nearest cab or shuttle as they left the convention center for the day. Which is an oddly appropriate metaphor for the way product development seems to be happening for the end user.
As I walked around the south hall today and talked with different companies, it's hard not to be overwhelmed by the number of choices pelting you in the face like tiny granules of dirt. It's hard to say which product (or combination of products) is going to work, so you just kind of have to put your head down and go for it, hoping you don't accidentally walk off a cliff.
The amount of choice available today in who you want to do business with is unprecedented. And it's got ups and downs. I saw a number of people that seemed paralyzed by the choices available to them. I think the real challenge to come for companies is going to be finding a way to really stand out -- not just with the work itself, but the overall company image. I haven't seen that so much this year, especially between companies that seem to have identical services from the outside.
Tomorrow marks the third day of the show, and hopefully the floor will be less crowded. It is at this point that I begin to get hella sick of dodging people who are snail crawling the main aisles while texting. Get out the way!
Posted by: Kylee Peña on Apr 15, 2015 at 1:51:12 am
Yesterday was the first day of the 2015 NAB Show, and appropriately enough I got too busy to write a blog. In fact, I fell asleep in front of my laptop. That pretty much sums up NAB for most people. Especially if they're me. (To my credit, it was well after midnight, and I'm from the east coast. I'm not THAT lame.)
Part of the reason yesterday was so crazy is because my panel "Working Together to Close the Gender Gap in Post Production" happened. It was a crazy success because we filled the room and had a passionate conversation that was clearly needed. But I'm going to recap that in another blog because ya know what? I need to decompress. I've been thinking of the panel content since last November!
Instead, I want to talk about a woman I met again after the panel. I'll keep her nameless for now (but she can totally comment if she wants), but she's a really cool lady working in a technical post job that clearly identifies with all we were saying. I'd forgotten about this, but she approached me last night to tell me I had made a difference to her last year. At a meet-up of editors the night before the show, she didn't know anybody. She said I grabbed her (I don't like when people are by themselves at meet-ups!) while she was standing solo, we talked, and I introduced her to people. And that made a difference in her experience in the show, and in getting connected to other editors online for the rest of the year.
I think there are two things to learn from this story. One: what a huge difference you can make to someone just by being nice to them once. Think about that if you're at the show, or if you're following along at home. And two: imagine if all of post production were so inclusive. If we took the time to seek out people on the fringes who don't have the connections because of gender or race or a number of other factors and give them opportunities to join in. Not handing it to them -- this woman still had to take the initiative to keep talking and follow up -- but open the door so things might be different.
Not the kind of daily NAB recap you might hope for, but the theme I've heard this year even more is that the people are what matter when you come to NAB. You see the tech, but the connections you make with peers and company representatives (that you talk the tech with, or not) are what serve you year round.
Posted by: Kylee Peña on Apr 14, 2015 at 3:41:38 pm
I spent half of my day at the convention center and the other half aggressively socializing with the entirety of the online post production community. Because of this, I have some observations to make on this NAB Eve.
1. Blackmagic Design has some interesting stuff to announce, and we know this because there are like 9 different signs and banners all over the convention center exterior. It's pretty awesome that Blackmagic is taking the opportunity to paint up Vegas with visions of Ursa Mini and Blackmagic Cinema Camera Mini. And no, I'm not giving specifics until I hear them from Grant Petty himself tomorrow. Instead, accept this photo as a tease.
2. Cameras are top priority for everyone. Even those of us that don't shoot. Cameras and codecs drive the media we get, so everyone is anxious to see what new thing could be coming.
3. The theme of this year for me has definitely been collaboration, but mostly in the sense of vendor to vendor. Third party development is something I've heard from every company so far in one way or another. I bet there's a lot more to come, although it may not be as high profile. I don't remember hearing so much about making propriety systems accessible or agnostic before.
4. People are very much looking forward to our panel on closing the gender gap in post tomorrow at the convention center. If a recording is available after the panel, I'll be sharing it soon after the show ends.
Those are my expert observations. I have to go put out milk and cookies so the NAB Fairy will leave an Ursa under my pillow. (Ow.)
Posted by: Kylee Peña on Apr 13, 2015 at 1:58:41 am