CAMPAIGN REPORT ON PRODUCTION AND POST PRODUCTION: Jobs for the girls. Tradition, male bonding and anti-social working hours have kept women out of directing and in the ’supporting’ producer’s role. But industry attitudes are chang

By JANE AUSTIN, editor of Shots, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 26 June 1998 12:00AM

There are no official statistics to prove it but, after a cursory check of production companies, one overall impression is formed. While an astonishing number of women producers run their own production companies, an alarmingly small number of women directors have made the grade as jobbing commercials directors.

There are no official statistics to prove it but, after a cursory

check of production companies, one overall impression is formed. While

an astonishing number of women producers run their own production

companies, an alarmingly small number of women directors have made the

grade as jobbing commercials directors.



Only a few names of women who have succeeded spring to mind - Patricia

Murphy, Anthea Benton, Maxine Tabac, Martha Fiennes, Fatima, Mandy

Fletcher, Sandra Goldbacher, Lucy Blakstad - before the list dries up.

At the last count, there were approximately 900 directors in London, so

this list takes on an alarming significance. Does this mean that sexism

is rife and equal opportunities are virtually non-existent within the

commercials community?



James Bradley, managing director of Concrete, believes the main reason

for the lack of female directing talent and the overwhelming number of

women producers is industry tradition. ’The advertising business likes

to think that it is radical and quick to respond to change,’ he

comments. ’But fundamentally, it is one of the most conservative

industries.’



Is this reactionary attitude the result of agency management structure

and the staffing of creative departments, which tends to be male

dominated? It seems that directing talent is not enough for creatives,

clients and senior management. For creatives, the notion that they have

shared interests with the chosen director, can enjoy a few jars late

into the night and can do ’football, pubs and farting’ appears to be a

plus, Bradley says.



Frances Silor, managing director of Tomboy Films, agrees. ’The social

aspect of getting a job is changing, although men seem to be more

comfortable dealing with and talking to blokes. It affects producers as

much as it does female directors.’



Tomboy represents Fatima and Silor admits that although it isn’t a

problem getting into agencies with Fatima’s reel and getting her jobs,

she sometimes has to acknowledge the fact that the big-budget

assignments go to male directors. Silor puts this down to the lack of

women in creative departments.



’It’s almost as if the industry is happy with us doing the housekeeping

(being producers), but is not yet ready for us to become the architects

(directors) who build the house,’ she says candidly. ’Fatima really

wants to do ads for beer and cars but, more often than not, she gets

offered the Tampax-type of thing.’



Lynnette Kyme, head of production at BFCS, says: ’In this climate, it

would take a brave bunch of creatives to offer a female director an

Adidas or a Nike script.’



Anthea Benton also finds this attitude perplexing. ’My brain would apply

the same amount of creativity to blowing up a building in an ad as it

would to filming Linda Evangelista,’ she says.



’As a woman director, you hope the excellence of your work shines

through but it’s hard to say whether you get the best scripts - although

I’ve been lucky and worked with teams that are concerned with achieving

the best. Having said that, I would welcome more women creatives as this

is where I feel the loss is felt most. This isn’t so much of an issue in

pop promos. Cynics would say this is because the budgets tend to be

smaller but I think it has more to do with music being seen as a

universal thing.’



Although Emily Bliss, the joint managing director of Brave Films,

acknowledges these difficulties, she believes that many women simply

don’t recognise directing as a career option. ’On average, about ten new

directors come to see me a week and I think that only two women have

come to see me in the past three years. I think many perceive it as a

man’s job.’



Women seem to be held back from directing by agency structures, male

dominance, culture and themselves. If the industry is inherently sexist,

why are women in demand on the production side?



’Throughout advertising history, directors have always been men while

women have always been producers,’ Pink’s joint managing director, Karen

Cunningham, says. ’A lot of cliches suggest women make good

producers.



A good prod-ucer is a chameleon, self-motivated but not self-obsessed,

able to think on their feet, deal with difficult people, iron out

problems between clients, agency and production company and happy to let

the director take the limelight. Once the director takes off, no-one

will talk about how he got there. It’s like being a housewife, only you

get paid for it.’



The same rules also seem to apply to post-production. How often is a

woman seen operating Flame? The post-production company, the House, has

three female operators and Karlene Page, its sales and marketing

manager, believes the industry is evolving to let more women take on

traditionally male roles.



’Technology is more accessible than ever before and women have as much

of a chance as men in getting to the top. I think the unsociable hours

have held women back. It can be a lonely job in a male-dominated

environment and a long apprenticeship can be difficult if she has a

family. But women can do it.’



While many accept that the industry is changing and a new breed of

creatives has evolved who are more open to using female directors, for a

woman to succeed she has to be better than her male counterparts. The

day a woman director collects a gold arrow for a Carling, Umbro or BMW

ad is a long way off but not as implausible as it might have seemed a

decade ago. If she has a fantastic reel, is capable of drinking 15 pints

in a session, supports Chelsea, looks like Cindy Crawford, hasn’t got a

neglected partner at home and can fart the national anthem, the honour

is in reach.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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