Monday, 1 October 2012

Brave New Directing World... Or Is It?

Written by Delyth Thomas, Directors UK board member

It’s the 21st century.

Technology is moving forward at an extraordinary rate: miniscule cameras, DSLRs and phones that can shoot movies in HD; digital platforms transforming the traditional TV and Film landscape. Kathryn Bigelow won a Best Director Oscar and Jennifer Yuh Nelson an Annie. We have women Channel Controllers, Producers, and Commissioners, and whilst we may not have a female DG of the BBC (yet) there’s a really good gender balance on the board of BBC trustees.

So it’s a brave new world then? Of course it is - in many, many ways, and hooray for that.

Yet despite the great progress in other areas, somehow, somewhere, it would appear that for women directors, things have stagnated. Studies show a depressing decrease in the numbers of women film directors, and in TV even basic number crunching doesn’t paint too rosy a picture.

To be fair, there’s no doubt that TV production at the sharp end is tougher for everyone; lower budgets, longer hours and some pretty brutal schedules. It’s an odd one for directors though as the job, despite wonderful creative collaborations, can by it’s very nature be rather isolated. There is generally one director to a show/episode/film, and unless you’re working on a long-running in-house series, you don’t get to meet many of your peers.

It wasn’t until I went to a screening of a Hollywood film made by a wonderful British director that I fully realised how bonkers it is that directors don’t have much access to each other as a matter of course. This director generously shared the experience of a bullying actor and how it had made him feel. It was a revelation. I’d had a very similar experience and to hear that this well-respected, hugely talented director had experienced the same thing was such a relief. Not so much to do with me then, just a bully is a bully is a bully.

In 2008 what was the collecting society DPRS became Directors UK, a professional association for directors working with the moving image in the UK, and last November saw the launch of its new membership scheme. Directors UK now encompasses all screen directors - TV, Film, Animation, Music Videos, Adverts, Web - with an associate membership for students. Basically, if you direct material for the screen you can be a member. There are social events, screenings, technical workshops, an in-house lawyer, a great web-site with industry news, blogs from fellow directors, all sorts of articles, a ‘find a director’ section and so much more.

Being someone who prefers wine to a prolonged whine, it’s really heartening to see how the organisation is doing something for directors.  A new UK Rights Agreement (broadcasters pay a lump to recompense members for secondary exploitation of their works)  was negotiated which is more than double the previous agreement and there is a Creative Rights Agreement in place with the BBC (and in the future with ITV and Pact – watch this space). Directors UK lobbies the UK government and the EU commission on matters that concern directors, and is committed to staying ahead of the game in this ever-changing broadcast landscape.

I have to ‘fess up here that I’m both on the board, and chair the Distribution Committee, so in the last couple of years I’ve met more of my peers than I did in the preceding decade. It’s bloody great to be able to trade information, technical tips, provide moral support, get moral support and oftentimes recognise common problems regardless of genre and gender.

That said, not to acknowledge that women directors don’t have specific issues relating to gender would be enthusiastically optimistic, and inaccurate, so I’m particularly pleased to be able to report that the female board members recently got together to start up a women’s group (open to all members and genders, by the way).  It was great to sit in the same room with six other women directors and discuss what’s going on out there and what we might be able to do. Trading stories was funny, insightful and the room was buzzing with ideas. So, watch this space…..

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