Producer Ivana Mackinnon, writer Bola Agbaje and director Caroline Bartleet talk about the challenges and opportunities in the film industry.
Producer Ivana Mackinnon, writer Bola Agbaje and director Caroline Bartleet talk about the challenges and opportunities in the film industry.
15 July 2016
Matimba: This is another podcast from the BFI NET.WORK. And I'm Matimba Kabalika. After noticing a distinct lack of submissions from female filmmakers in the Postroom, I gathered together a group of women to discuss the challenges facing emerging female talent, and how to take risks in the film industry.
Simran: So we're all here today, at BFI Stephen Street, to talk about women in film over cake because we're going to have our cake and eat it too, today. My name is Simran Hans. I'm a freelance film journalist and also I produce and program a miss [SP] film festival, "The Bechdel Test Fest," you may have heard of it. And we have amassed four other very talented ladies today who I'm going to ask to introduce themselves in clockwise order.
Matimba: Certainly, okay. I'm Matimba Kabalika. And I work across BFI NET.WORK. I'm the talent coordinator and content editor.
Ivana: I'm Ivana Mackinnon. I'm a producer with my own production company called Stray Bear Films. We did a film called "War Book" a couple years ago. And our next [inaudible 00:01:05].
Bola: Hi, my name is Bola Agbaje. I'm a playwright and a screenwriter. My first feature film was called, "Gone Too Far," which was backed by the BFI, so yeah.
Caroline: My name is Caroline Bartleet. I wrote and directed, "Operator," which won the BAFTA for British Short Film this year. And I'm also doing and producing [inaudible 00:01:29] and NDS.
Simran: Great. So this whole thing started when Matimba and I were sitting down having a coffee, talking about women and film, and she confessed to me that the Postroom, which is an area of the BFI NET.WORK's website where filmmakers can...and screenwriters as well can submit their work for review by producers, and executives, and people who might be able to help them and give them money. She said that she was reviewing the submissions, trying to pick out the Postroom Pick of the Week, and then all of a sudden she realized that there were no women. Or, to be more specific, there were 9% of women?
Simran: Would you like to tell us a little bit more about that, Matimba?
Matimba: Yeah. So Postroom, or the NET.WORK website launched last June. And the whole idea behind it, as you say is the soft part of what the NET.WORK does. Obviously, the other part of it is there's £3 million of funding a year -- so my elevator pitch -- £3 million of funding a year across the UK. So we obviously partner with Creative England, Scottish Film Talent Network, and Northern Ireland Screen.
Simran: Did you know, NET.WORK: New and Emerging Talent? Get it?
Matimba: No, no one ever gets that. And Film London, and I'm sure I've missed...Ffilm Cymru Wales. So yeah, apart from that very direct funding, we launched the Postroom, which was that. It was going, "Okay, we want to engage with people who might not have gone through funding, who might've done stuff themselves. Let's see what's out there." And, yeah, all we've been getting is pretty much submissions from men, and I was...I kind of was a bit clueless as to why?
Simran: So can you tell us a little bit more, for people who aren't familiar with the website, what the setup is? So if you wanted to submit a script or a short film, what kind of information do you have to provide?
Matimba: So you go on and you create a profile a bit similar to Facebook. It takes a couple of minutes. It will ask you for your name, your location, and what your role is -- so writer, director or producer? And you can upload one short film up to, which is up to a half an hour long; and a script, which can be a feature or a short. And with a feature we say we'll read up to 20-pages. And with a short, we'll look at them all.
And it's all those execs who work across the NET.WORK who look at stuff. And so the idea behind it is that you can submit...I mean we have people who've got accounts of people who may have been funded years ago, having done a short. And they just want to submit and be like, "Hi guys, I'm still around, this is what I'm up to." Or, people who have never engaged with us who have kind of just gone out. Because lots of people do stuff by themselves. We don't do...obviously, we don't even manage everything [SP]. You did your short on your own.
So it's all that kind of stuff, that's just another way to engage, so yeah.
Bola: Can I just ask where people hear about it?
Matimba: So a lot of stuff is that we've done big marketing pushes, so that's a lot done to commons [SP] and stuff. I should get where they get one. But we do lots through social media, and through Facebook, and stuff like that. But even with Facebook, interestingly enough, we did a massive push through Facebook, and we got about 300 submissions over the weekend and 90% of those were from male filmmakers, which was part of the reason of us all getting together. Because then I was talking to Simran going, "I think we just need to be really specific about doing more focused marketing."
Caroline: I mean I wonder if that's the Facebook algorithm issue? That it just assumes that a certain percentage of people who have liked the NET.WORK's page are men? I don't really know.
Matimba: No, because we got Sprout recently. Sorry. This is the nerdy side, so we're getting into...
Simran: What's Sprout?
Matimba: Where you can analyze who's...
Bola: The data on who's on your page?
Matimba: Exactly. And we've got 45% female followers. So actually, even if you were thinking, "Okay, let's look at the makeup of who we're talking to." Even if you're talking into a vacuum, that vacuum of 45% are women. So that 9% still doesn't add up, even though we've still got a long way to go, in terms of how we market it and stuff like that. But half of the people that we're speaking to, assuming that even just Twitter was our limited pull, nearly half of that are female...are women.
Simran: So say the three of you had been on Facebook and had seen this advert pop up, what would you have thought? Would you have submitted to it? Is that kind of they thing that you'd think that you'd benefit from, from your different sort of perspectives?
Bola: Yeah, for me I mean, personally, I started off my career by submitting. So I did the Young Writers' Programme at the Royal Court Theatre, and that was...when I did it in 2006, that was literally someone going, "You could just sign up and come down, and be a part of the course." So for me, I like entering things like this because it's a way of...it's an opportunity, and I don't...it's a way of getting into something.
But what I do find with other females is that, or other people that I know of, of filmmakers who are female just starting out, especially...because I mentor a lot of young people. They feel they have to see someone else do it before they do it. And that happened at the Royal Court, actually. My year and then the year after, more female playwrights came out and were coming to these courses because they could see that there was a way, that other people had made it through that course. So they were going, "Okay. Well, actually, I can give this a go because I can see that."
And I think with the NET.WORK's it's that. And with film, it really is that. The more female producers, writers, directors that people see, the more other female go, "Oh, actually, you know, what? I can do that. And I can get somewhere far with it."
Ivana: I also think it's really interesting what you said about how you put that on Facebook, and then after the weekend that's how many people have back to you. [inaudible 00:07:19].
Simran: Three-hundred, or something.
Ivana: I think that's such a male thing of, "I'll just send it straightway." Whereas all the girls I know...women, I should say, are like, "I'm going to work on it. I'm going to make it really, really good. And then I'm going to submit it."
Bola: That's a huge difference, yeah.
Caroline: I think that's partly a kind of thing that is ingrained in us, as women. That kind of, "We've got to really kind of make sure that we're putting our best foot forward so that's it's almost perfect." But I think it's also something that's specific to the film industry. Because I think that female directors feel a real burden upon them to be incredibly competent to be able to manage a set. To do all of the things that they fear that men think that they can't do. So they don't want to put anything out there that is in any way sketchy, even if it's got absolute vision and voice. They don't want to put anything out there that can make anyone point at it and go, "She really doesn't know how to manage a production designer," because we're really, really afraid of that -- we, I say I'm a director. But I think female directors are.
And I think, actually, we've got to put ourselves out there and kind of take a lead [SP] from the fact that there are people who have made their first film, and if they look at their shorts, you're like, "There's some really sketchy stuff in that short," but there's a real voice there. And that's why they got to make their first film.
Matimba: But it's so important because I think I have been doing quite a few Q&A's and panels recently where you meet somebody after, and especially women, I'll say, "Oh, so you're a director?" They go, "Well, I wouldn't...I've made a film but I wouldn't say that." I'm like, "No, you're a director then."
Bola: But it took me years to say I was a writer, and it is that sense of going...you want to claim something once you feel that you're competent in it. Because you don't want to say, "I'm a writer." And then people go, "Okay, what have you done?" And you're going, "Oh, I just wrote one play." Or, "I've just done this." Or, "I've just done that."
Someone said once to me that men apply for jobs that they're not qualified for and women don't even apply for jobs that they're overqualified for. We still go, "Oh, I don't know if I can do that job. I'm not sure if that's for me."
Matimba: I heard that same thing.
Caroline: And then they get to get pay raises for themselves before they've got the job.
Bola: Before they've got the job, literally, yeah. Just even where I am in my own career, I'm not going to be grateful for an opportunity anymore...and I know that sounds kind of...it's not [inaudible 00:09:22]...no, but it's that thing of going...and I don't mean it in a cocky way to go...like, as a writer, I'm still learning and there's things that I'm still going to...I'm improving on.
But the idea that someone's giving me an opportunity and I should be so grateful for it and I should be like, "Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you." I think women do that a lot and men don't. And that's the big difference, that women go, "Oh my God, I've been given this amazing opportunity and I've got to be grateful, and I've got to be the best, and I've got to do it perfectly."
Simran: It's interesting that you're all kind of in agreement for the reason why you think people aren't submitting. And it seems to be this kind of internalized very female feeling of not being good enough. It doesn't matter whether you're a writer, a director, a filmmaker, a producer, or whether you don't even work in film, I think a lot of women experience that. But I wonder if that's sort of letting the institutions off the hook too much. This is a BFI podcast, I'm not trying to shade anyone here. But what I mean is it can't all be about women not feeling like they're not good enough or not feeling confident enough.
Ivana: No, but I think that self-censorship is a reaction to the way women, and certainly, directors, have been talked about in the film industry. Both, in terms of...until very recently, the way they were talked about in the media. But also the way they're talked about in all our personal experience in rooms of people who are putting women on a list and going, "She's a bit difficult." Like, every male director on that list is difficult. Why is she the one you pointed to saying she's a bit difficult, you know? So I think...
Simran: Difficult is such a charged word.
Ivana: When I talk about that self-censorship, I think it's a reflection of something that has been internalized because it's also in the industry. You were at the Geena Davis event, weren't you?
Bola: Yeah, I was.
Ivana: Do you remember that fascinating thing she said about forensic psychology?
Ivana: So she said that...I won't know stats but she said that the number of women...
Simran: This is at the Geena Davis Institute Gender Summit that they did in partnership with Women in Film and Television at the London Film Festival last year.
Bola: Oh wow, look at you knowing the whole title. I was trying to...I was just going to add that, yeah, Destiny was on the panel. [inaudible 00:11:31].
Simran: It was a whole day of talks and presentations, and it was a big thing. A lot of research had been done by the Geena Davis Institute. Destiny Ekaragha was on the panel and they...
Ivana: Yeah, you would probably remember it better than me then. Do you remember what the actual stats were?
Simran: No. I have a terrible memory for numbers.
Ivana: Me too.
Bola: Me too.
Ivana: It was about CSI and American TV shows, and how they always have these female...yeah, so it's 17% across the board in kind of like boards, in terms of...
Simran: Representationally, yeah.
Ivana: In terms of representation. And 17% was the number...the sort of percentage of forensic physiologists until CSI came onto our screens. And they always have female forensic psychologists. They just, for some reason they think it's sexy how women [inaudible 00:12:18] I don't know.
And after a few years, they looked at the stats and the number of women who had got into that job...
Bola: It had gone up.
Ivana: It was something like 17% to 35%, it was absolutely massive. And it was because they saw themselves on the screen and they thought, that's a job that I can do as a women. And it's so specific. You're like, "Wow, that..."
Bola: But it is about representation isn't it?
Simran: And visibility as well.
Bola: Yeah, it is.
Matimba: So I definitely think it's not about letting institutions...well, off the hook. It's not about that. Because I think we have a massive responsibility, and I think that it's a huge part of that.
In terms of, I can't speak about other places. But in terms of the BFI, the way that we work is that, obviously, we're not commissioning. So you're responding to an application. So I can't just be like, swing open all the doors, here. All you can say is, encourage...but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't...that there's not a responsibility on us to lead.
Simran: Yeah, I guess it kind of goes with what Bola was saying about how you need to be able to see people. So there needs to be women who are submitting to this so other women will have a knock-on effect. But I wonder what you think that the NET.WORK or women who are associated with the NET.WORK might be able to do to make it more visible as a place for women?
Bola: But it's things like this, though, isn't it? Because, where would we put this and where are we going to share this? And someone's going to see this and go, "Oh wait a minute, so I should apply to that?"
And I speak to so many young people who have that sense. There's so many young people that I know that make short films and they don't...they do it all on their own. They don't ever come to organizations like this and go, "By the way, I've got this idea. Is there any way you could help me?" Even just to get advice they don't. And so I don't know how you improve that.
Ivana: A lot of the time, when we talk about diversity and all its forms, I come back to this thing about, people...and I think this relates to your point. The institutions being quite scary and big and sort of difficult to access and people not feeling like they...like it's serious like it can ever really result in anything tangible. Like there might be meetings and there might be a scheme or something like that. But it never actually results in anything tangible.
And I've come back quite a lot to the idea of trying to pay people very small amounts of money early in their career so that they get paid. So that they're like, "Someone's paid me £100. I mean it's not going to last me more than about four days in London, but they've paid me £100. They think that I'm good. I'm real. It might be something."
And mentoring, I think is part of that. If you get someone who goes, "I'm going to give you my time for no money." You're like, "Oh, this person thinks I'm worth something. I'm really worth their time." And, therefore, this is real. This is not just lots of people who are getting paid, talking in rooms about things that they want to do. This is actually something that's tangibly getting result in something potentially me making a film at some point in my life.
I think that's really important. And I think for groups who don't have an internal self-confidence about, "I am the person who the world has always been talking to..."
Simran: Groups? Also known as not-white men.
Ivana: I am going to make my film because this is what I've been born to do and the world is going to somehow support me in that. Even if it's hard now, I'm going to get there. Then, having someone early on go, either time or money is being put into you as a resource is really, really crucial. And I think mentoring is a really good way of doing that. And also, it can kind of create relationships that last for years, and years, and years. I mean I do quite a lot of mentoring through a few programs, one called Network, which [inaudible 00:15:42] run. And pretty much everyone I've mentored I'm still in contact with, which means, basically, I have 16 people.
Simran: It's run by, who? I'm sorry.
Ivana: [inaudible 00:15:48] who's a really brilliant script editor. So I have these people who can kind of call me up any time for advice. And Kate's actually my mentor when I left my company. I said to her...
Simran: So how did the two of you meet?
Ivana: She is a script editor and I was working for a film company. And she came in to just do a bit of reading for us. And she's incredibly experienced and knows everything about everything. And is kind of brilliant and terrifyingly intelligent. And so I asked her if she would take me under her wing and teach me about script editing and she said, "You're not a script editor, you're a producer." And she's just been absolutely fantastic for me.
And I think the thing about mentoring for a producer, I think it's probably the same for rising directors. And I think it's part of the reason why with writers we have a lot of playwrights because they have support networks. I think if you don't have that then, really, if you're on your own as a producer or a writer, or a director, no one ever has your back. You're like, "No one has my back here. It's just me trying to figure this out on my own." And if you've got someone who can be a mentor to you, who's like, "I've always got your back," it's incredibly powerful.
Bola: It is. And it's really like...for me, it's peer-to-peer mentorship, that I've worked with a lot...I mean there's loads of people now that I've built up a network where I can kind of email, even the BFI. Like, I can email Lizzie here, and be like, "Can you help me? Where should I go?" And she's really, really helpful. And even Ben is really, really helpful.
Simran: That's Lizzie Francke and Ben Roberts.
Bola: I'm sorry -- Lizzie Francke and Ben...and also Amanda Nevill. Like, when she said to me recently was like, "Do you want to meet for coffee?" And I was like, "Amanda wants to meet with me?" And it was just like...but it's that thing of going like...and we just had a really nice conversation. But it was just having that, like knowing that someone in the industry that has all this wealth of experience that you could ask questions. And it's not about going, "Oh, read my script, read my script, read my script." But it's about knowing that someone's going to give you some insight into the industry and it's having that as a safety net. Having that is what pushes you through and you go, "Okay, I've got someone who I can relate to in this industry." So you're not alone, so it doesn't feel so alien, and it doesn't feel like you're just here, by yourself. As you say, it's not necessarily about their connection, what they have. But can be your soundboard. That can be like, "Listen, we're all in it."
Ivana: I think you're right, the peer-to-peer thing. But I think, also, so many people I've mentored have taught me more than I've taught them. It's just about going, there are relationships you can have in this industry that there's no money through transaction and you'll probably never work together. But that's some of the most powerful relationships you have because, actually, you need to trust people and support each other. And I think that's...I think that is a real progression I see in the industry.
Simran: That's something to think about for anybody who is looking to find who does the mentor, is to try not to think about it as transactional and it's not...when you're...I mean in my experience of kind of approaching people for advice or trying to get a different perspective on something, it's not about what you can offer them and what they can offer you. And people can smell that a mile off.
Matimba: Yeah, you can. And you know when someone's emailing you, going, "I want you to..." Especially actors, you go, "Can you mentor?" You know that they're going, "I want to be in your next thing." And you're just like...but, yeah, when you meet people have the genuine heart. Or, for me, I always...I'm always interested in people who have a story, who've kind of found things hard. Because I think that I relate to that. So whenever I'm...most of the people that's in my network, we've all struggled, if that sounds crazy.
Simran: What about you, Caroline? Have you had experiences with mentors?
Caroline: It's interesting because the first few years when I was working in the industry, I came across...
Simran: Where were you working?
Caroline: So I started as an actress, and I started then working production on a couple of features, and then...for a company where actually, this doesn't apply. But on the first couple of features I worked with, it sort of surprised me that there wasn't more of a feeling of, "Oh, you're a new girl in the industry and you don't know what the hell you're doing, and I'm going to give you a bit of extra time." And, obviously, it's a low-budget feature making, people don't have time to be like that. But it surprised me the level of which it was the other way. I would say I don't...I've actually just got a mentor at NDS who's a producer. And that's, literally, just started but she's been great so far.
But it's been more like random people. Like, for example, one of my teachers at school who's just on the same wavelength and she's super experienced, she's a script editor as well. And, she's just really encouraging. But I would say that has not been there for me. I've not had a mentor there. Then you're just like, "Oh God, how do I do this?"
Simran: That's really refreshing to hear. To know that two people who've been very successful and who've been recognized by places like BAFTA that maybe it wasn't this kind of determined scheming thing where you always knew what you were going to do, and actually you were able to make something and then find the opportunity there.
Ivana: You did really have to fight too, in order to direct your short, didn't you?
Caroline: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, it's interesting because I had a lot of people say to me, "Are you sure? Are you sure you want to direct this? You've never directed. It's quite a big deal." And I was like, "If I was a guy, though, I just know I wouldn't have been asked that question. I just wouldn't have been."
Matimba: And you all say to...I mean, sorry not to throw you on the spot. And you talked...and I asked you about producing...so basically [inaudible 00:21:25] but I asked you...you said, "I was an actress," and then I was like, "oh, I want to get into it." I was like, "Why did you choose producing?"
Caroline: I mean I think it's just like you just think, "Oh well, I'm not going to be able to do those really cool fun things. I'm going to have to go do the boring bit, because..." No, I don't mean that. Finally, I know I mean is like...because, actually, when you're producing short films, you're not just a producer. You're like a location manager, casting director, you're photocopying, you're doing all the stuff that, basically, no one else wants to do. Because maybe you're making it with other actors who are not interested in that stuff.
But I think I'm not sure that I am supposed to be a producer. But I definitely, I started on that road because I felt like, "Oh well, it would just be another thing that is too competitive and too difficult to achieve. And I'd better do the thing that seems more achievable." And I don't know why I felt like that. But I feel like it's because I was a woman I felt like that.
Matimba: But, for me, that's an important thing to address because I don't...I guess, in terms of NET.WORK and stuff, it's shorts, and you're talking about entry points. And I think not that you can't fix everything at once but I think it's the type of stuff, like when Caroline said that to me, that's the type of stuff that makes me feel the righteous anger that I don't think you should have to feel like that. That you think, "Oh, actually, that's really..." And I think that comes back to something that you were saying earlier about the shopfront window.
That I know that it was amazing that you and Nina, both took home the BAFTAs and sort of like, boom. Yes. Like, how many young women will have seen that, so you would've been like, "Right, I can be a director." That, in and of itself is so powerful, it's more than any...I can go and do lots of parts. Like, you can be that. Like, people know that it's like in FAQs and guidelines. But seeing somebody actually do it is so much more powerful than me doing a Tweet being like, "You can also be a writer." They see Bola, they're like, "Right, I can do that." They see Ivana, and they can actually do it. And I think it's about...everyone wants to be a producer but it's really hard. But it's about platforming and showing people that actually you can do it.
Ivana: I would say, for any women who have been attracted by the title, which we haven't quite decided yet, of this podcast. And, yes, they listen to this and are interested in becoming a part of the film industry, I think this is the best possible time to try. Because the last year has been a year of this just coming up all the time, and coming up in the BFI round table, which was a variety of producers, but a lot of white men in their 50s who I thought might not completely be on the cut, they got so completely passionate about the idea of more diverse voices, everyone is talking about it. Everyone is interested in it. The whole narrative has changed.
And, whereas, when I entered the film industry about 15 years ago, I couldn't point to one female producer who I wanted to be like, or who I thought was supporting other female producers. I would say my generation has a massive support network of women and men who are all passionately kind of advocates for female filmmakers. And it's definitely not the industry it was 10 years ago. And I think we are...I mean I really hope we're on the cusp of a big change. And I think it's the best time to be getting into the industry, so definitely send in your shorts.
Simran: I think it's interesting that you say that now is the time where it's kind of men and women feeling like this is relevant, and current, and important. But you've all described your mentors as women. And I wonder if you've...
Matimba: Sorry. My boss before that was Ben Roberts, and he is the number one champion of...and I'm not even just saying that. He...
Ivana: No, 100%, I can definitely say...
Matimba: He's so passionate about it, and actually having my first...working for him was my first job in the industry and he gets the righteous anger as well. Like, he cares about...because some people are like, "Oh yeah..." I'm like, "No, actually, he literally does really care about it." And so when I have my rants about, "But you know what I made?" I go to him and have the sound-off rants that I can. And he's definitely...so I definitely, in terms of the rest of the team as well, I feel like our team predominantly women actually, but the two men that are on our team also are really passionate -- David Segal Hamilton.
Ivana: Big feminist.
Matimba: Yeah, big feminist.
Simran: I just wonder if you feel like your relationships with any male mentors that you have are slightly different, than the ones that you might have with female mentors? And whether you feel like there's something specific that women can get from each other?
Bola: You want to relate. You want to have someone that you can relate to that you don't have to explain stuff to. So you don't want to have to say to a man...I mean not that I don't have male mentors or whatever but it's the idea of going, "Oh my God, I didn't get this job because..." You don't want to have to explain that and someone go, "Oh no, no, it's not because of race." "Oh no, no, it's not because you're a woman." And you'll know it is, it really is.
Sometimes in this industry you get rejected based on your gender, based on who you...those things, and not about work. And it's not always about whether your script is good enough, or whatever. It's to do with the fact that you've got black characters in it and you've got women in it. And people go, "I don't get it."
Simran: People say, "This won't sell."
Bola: "This won't sell," yeah. Or, "This won't work." And so sometimes having another female who understands that these are issues and barriers we face makes it easier because then you don't have to explain that to somebody. You don't have to go, "Oh my God, I'm so annoyed because of this." It helps...I personally...and it's that thing that you said that having someone who you can kind of measure yourself up against is good, it's nice to have that.
Caroline: I think, also, they get it in a way, especially women who are a generation above me, they had it so much worse than I've got it. And so I think they...I found that that sometimes made them tougher and harder to maybe connect on a way of actually having a chat with them, "So what do I do now?" But I think they get it in a way that, yeah, you're saying you would have to kind of...
Bola: You don't have to explain that much. There's other frustrations and there's other ways that they can help you and give you advice, but you don't need to go, "It's because I'm a woman that I didn't get this." Most of the mentors I have, just go in, okay, we understand this is a problem. Where were the solutions? And how do we...what do we do to make it better?
Simran: I think it's really important when you're trying to seek out mentorship. And a kind of feeling like you are entitled to be in the same world as them, but not entitled to their time. And I think that's a really fine one to try and negotiate. And there's a way of being persistent and enthusiastic without pissing people off.
Matimba: We could do a separate podcast on etiquette.
Caroline: And, also, when people say no, it's not anything about you. It's just they're probably too busy.
Matimba: But that's also the thing I think, me, as a women is that sometimes it's that fear of rejection. But, actually, it's about so many things. I mean the other day I just, out of the blue, I don't have a relationship. I emailed Fay Water [SP]. I was like, "Please, can I have a coffee with you." And just sat there, and I left, and it was just life-giving, it was just brilliant. I was like, "I just wish everyone was here to hear it." But if she'd said no, I would have been like, "Okay, well she's really busy and that's how it is."
Bola: Yeah, but you've been in this industry to know that. Because I think sometimes when people are just getting into it, that no is so crucial. That no is like, "I'm rejecting you. You're not fit for this." Like, "This is not the world for you." And I think that people need to understand that it is.
It's just like when I have meetings, I bring young people here for them to see the building because they don't even know that...I mean it's bad, they don't know this place exists and they don't know that you can just walk in here and sit down and use the wifi.
Matimba: Yeah, use the wifi.
Simran: Even if people have heard of the BFI, they might not know that they can use the space, and there's always interesting people around. I wonder if you can think of or can recommend some networks that are particularly useful for women. Because, I guess, there is this idea that the film industry is still very much a boy's club. And I don't think the only useful places to go are gender specific. Of course, female creatives should try to go to a range of things, just like men should as well. Although, they shouldn't come to the women's things because they've...
Bola: I don't think it's about current events that are just specific for females. I think that it should just be that we should...women out there should feel comfortable in these spaces. Like what we just said, the idea is that the BFI NET.WORK is for everybody, so everyone should try and apply, and that should just be it. It shouldn't be...
Simran: But it's not it, is it?
Bola: It's not. It's not. Because even as I talk about the Young Writers' Programme at the Royal Court, specifically the one that I joined was the Black Critical Mass Programme. Now I look at it, the title is kind of scary in itself -- Critical Mass. But it was, it was something specific to black writers.
Matimba: But sometimes positive things come out of identity-focused...so like Flare, the Flare Mentorship scheme, the people who are the mentees, they're next level. And I think, okay, they went for it because they were like, "All right, it's based on something that they kind of identified with." So I think that sometimes, if that's the way in, or if that's the way that you feel confident? If somebody said, right, there's something here, which is specific...I know some people are like, "I don't want to do something that's specifically BAME." But for some people that's like, "Actually..."
Bola: Oh, I always go...
Bola: But that's what I mean, it's a double-edged sword because it's going...because when it's so specific to you, you do feel more comfortable and you go, "I can apply for that, and I am wanted." So if it is that you're going, "We're going to create a network for women," you will go, "this is for me. They're speaking directly to me." But then, at the same time it's just sometimes you just want those titles to just go after a while, isn't it?
Ivana: Yeah. But I think, one, it's not equal. I mean...
Bola: We need it, of course.
Ivana: But I'm someone who's particularly interested in female directors so I would be much more likely to go meet the directors on something like RISE, which is all female directors than I would if someone else called me and said, "Oh, we're just running another talent scheme for anyone." Or I'll choose the female one because I'm moe interested in those young female voices, which I haven't heard before.
Simran: I want to know if you ever have felt like you have to gender neutralize anything that you were making? That, maybe, you were making something about women and that wasn't going to be as easy to get made as something that wasn't? Have you ever felt that?
Ivana: I've feel the opposite to be honest. I feel like I think at this point in the industry, if we haven't accepted that, number one, we have to diversify the stories we're telling otherwise the film industry is going to die because we're never going to reach out to enough audiences and we're just going to end up telling the same story again and again until we just explain it to our kind of level. If we haven't accepted that and if we haven't accepted that...not in terms of necessarily kind of quotas, but we have to redress the balance of history by making more of an effort.
Like, you can't just be neutral about it. Like those are just two things, between the baseline of what we have to accept in the industry at the moment. And I mean, my experience, personally is we made a film called "The Decent," which was all females going into a cave and getting eaten by monsters. And I remember the director coming and pitching that to us, and he said, "Is it a problem that they're all women?" And we wrote the treatment and it was men and women in the treatment, and we were like, "It's all women?" He went, "Yeah, I just decided when I left over here that I really want it to be all women." We're like, "Definitely 100% that's an absolutely brilliant idea." It was the thing that made that film a brilliant horror film, that they were all women. And that we worked really hard to make them not the crappiest kind of horror kind of victims.
Simran: Not horror bimbos?
Ivana: Yeah. That we tried to cast people who were more real and trying to make it a quite authentic film within the boundaries of a horror drama. And that was the thing that people loved about it. So that's a horror film in...but I sort of feel like it's a selling point. If you look at...I'm [inaudible 00:33:44] I'm forgetting which studio it is that's done incredibly well with "Pitch Perfect" and...which one is it?
Matimba: I want to say Warner Bros., but I feel like it's not.
Ivana: I don't think it's Universal. Is it Sony?
Matimba: No, it's not Sony.
Simran: None of us know.
Matimba: Lou's Googling.
Ivana: And none of us have our phones.
Matimba: Lou's Googling.
Ivana: Can we just cut this bit out of the podcast? But, anyway, whoever it is who's done "The Fast and the Furious," "Pitch Perfect," and they've nailed it, in terms of all the American studios of the last 10 years. And they've done it by reaching out to audiences...
Ivana: Universal...reaching out to audiences that no one else is serving. "The Fast and the Furious," is the only kind of sort of diverse tentpole movie that has gone onto like seven...is it seven?
Matimba: Seven or eight?
Ivana: No, are they on eight now?
Matimba: They're shooting eight now.
Ivana: "Pitch Perfect" is all women. I mean there's three or four things they've done, which have all been the movie that all the other studios would've gone, "Oh no, that's kind of niche. It's a niche film for one audience." And they've done them and they have killed it in the last 10 years. And that's the thing, when they're asked about it they're like, "We're not doing this because we're really like, "Oh, we're really into diversity." We're doing it because we know this is commercial because these are brilliant stories that people want to see."
I don't know. Do you think there's the convergence of TV, and film, and Netflix, and Amazon, and stuff like that? Do you think that's created more opportunities for female filmmakers? Someone like Jill Solloway, who did "Afternoon Delight" at Sundance, which won but no one was really doing anything with her in film. And then she did "Transparent," and now she can do anything she wants. And that was her voice and absolutely kind of unfiltered her voice, her thing.
Bola: I think that that's what's great about filmmaking now, is that it does feel like an industry where people can just go and do stuff and you don't have to wait around. And with places like Netflix, and Amazon Prime, and stuff like that, it is about going, "Well, if the big wigs are going to ignore it there are these platforms that are not going to ignore these things," and so you can write what you want to write.
But also, I just wanted to add the point. Was, when I first started writing I didn't think about gender. I just went...even with my feature film, the two boys in it, it's two boy leads. But it's about my family and about my situation. And it was about my sisters played that...well, they were the African kids who I wrote the story about. But, I made it about boys and I don't know why. It was just a subconscious thing. It was going, "Okay, they have to be boys because they're leads." And that was it. And the more that I'm in this industry the more that I'm like, "I am right," and more female staff, and my lead's going to be a women. And I'm just kind of like, whenever I go to meetings and people go, "Do you want to change?" I'm like, "No, I'm not changing that [inaudible 00:36:23]" A lot of the time.
Bola: It depends where you go. Places like here, the BFI, they're more...it's the champions so they just go, "Yeah, that sounds like a great idea. Do it." Whereas other places, you get commissioners, you go, "Oh, we need..." My favorite line that I always get is that whenever I get rejected for stuff is they go, "We need a way in for the majority to get this story." And you're going, "Okay, what does that mean?" "Well, so you've got black leads and they're women, we need a way that the average person can understand this story."
Whenever I get meetings like that, I'm just like, "You're just not really the person that I need to be working with. I'm not changing it for anybody." But I feel like, I've now made a point to go every time I write, "What are the women doing in this story and how important and significant are they in my stories and what am I saying?" And I think a lot more about the roles I write for women than I ever have done in my whole entire life. And I think then, how can I make them as three-dimensional as possible without being stereotypical, without it being...
Ivana: I think it's...so Geena Davis said something like, can you just look at your main male character and give them a female name? I think it's more complicated than that. You can't just go and give a woman's name. But I do the opposite thing. I read scripts quite a lot and go, "This is kind of a good story, but I feel like, what if you made the main character woman?" Then it's a totally...it's suddenly a fresh story. It seems 80% of this kind of film that you think that you've seen before but it's fresh because we haven't seen that perspective.
So I feel exactly the opposite. I feel like it's for me, it's much more exciting and I feel like much more able to sell that to people because I'm like, "Look, structurally, this is the film you've seen before. In general ways this is the film you've seen before. But this character you haven't seen before, so it's more interesting."
Simran: Of course the way you've all been able to create something successful in each of your own rights is having that sort of self-belief in your own ideas and having that conviction of how and what you're going to do, whether it's going to be to put a woman in a role, or whether it's going to be, "No. I'm going to have this black character." Or whether it's, for you, it's going to be, "I'm going to make this film and I'm going to direct my own script." All of those things require balls, lady [SP] balls maybe. And I wonder as something that we could close on, how you summon that kind of self-confidence in times of stress and doubt, and climate of less opportunity, and how you don't let that stop you from doing things?
Ivana: I think you need really good people around you. Like, you need a really great producer if you're a director, I think. I'm at NDS at the moment something that gets...this phrase keeps being banded around, 'emotional support,' and I think that's actually not quite true. But there is definitely an element with a director, "Like, I really needed somebody who I really trusted to work with because that makes all the difference." If you're going forward and you really feel like you're on the same page as somebody and they get all your worries, and they get all the reasons why you have to do it this way, then you're going to be fine. You're not going to have so many moments of wobbling. But, also, I've worked with this cinematographer as well was...we had such a close relationship and that again is like, you've just got to have people who you trust and people who are going to support you. And if you have that I really think...I think you can do anything.
Bola: I would say to people out there, you just have to be a part of this conversation, you have to...for women filmmakers you have to want to be a part of it because I always say that, actually, the more of us in it, the less the fire is, the less the battle, the easier it is going to be for each and every one of us. I always find people always go, "Well, there's this other writer who's going and doing this stuff now," so that means there's no opportunity for you. Or that they go, "Well, one person's doing it so there's no space." And you're like, "No, there's space for everybody."
Caroline: Yeah, I think I would agree with that. I think you need the support network around you. I think you need people who believe in you to bolster you when you don't believe in yourself.
But I think two things I would say. One is that the film industry is really difficult. But that also means that it's really difficult to do things perfectly and a male mentor of mine [inaudible 00:40:48] who's done a gazillion films once said to me, he was like, "Every single time I start producing a film, I realize that I don't know anything because every film is different." And that for me was incredibly reassuring. I was like, "I never need to know everything. I never need to feel like I know everything."
And then, secondly, I think it's really important to remember that there are probably some people who go in the film industry because they think they're going to be millionaires and they'll be really powerful. But generally they move to L.A. quite quickly, and the people who are doing the film industry here are doing it because they really love films and they really love telling stories. And that's what we're doing. And we've got to keep that joy alive and not be too put off by the difficulties because, actually, it's exciting. And if you get a gang around you and you go, "We're going to do this, and we're going to actually break the audience's walls, and we're going to do it because we love telling stories," yeah, that's the real thing in itself.
Matimba: No matter what...I mean I've been doing this for like 10 years now. And I always say to people, I'm still learning. It's still a learning curve. It's still, I don't know everything and I'm still not going to know everything in another 10 years time because, also, my perspective on the world is going to change. So what I write about is going to change. And I think we need to understand that you don't need to be perfect to get into this industry. And I think that that's an important thing for people, in terms of applying. Knowing that your script doesn't have to be perfect. Your film doesn't have to perfect.
Caroline: And what people are interested in is not your competence. They're not interested in you being able to manage on your set. They are not interested...I mean obviously they want you to come in on budget and on schedule. But what they really want is for you to say something that is yours, that is unique to you, that is your voice, and that is the thing that you need to show people.
Simran: So summon your confidence and don't worry about being perfect. And submit to the Postroom because who knows what will happen. Thank you, everyone.
Bola: Thank you.
Matimba: Thank you.
Simran: You can go back to eating cake.
Matimba: Big thanks to producer Marie, the BFI NET.WORK team, and Ivana Mackinnon, Bola Agbaje, Simran Hans, Caroline Bartleet. There's more where this came from on the BFI NET.WORK site.