March may have been Women’s History Month, but we should be working actively all year to have more women’s work on film and on stage. We cannot accept the lowly statistics without activism. It’s not that women aren’t writing enough or aren’t trying to get produced. There are a lot of closed doors. Rather than belabor why, we need to breed more women producers.
Let’s review what we’ve been taught as young girls that may not have been the best advice. I’m willing to use myself as a guinea pig.
- Don’t be a brat - Those of us who were called “stubborn” and “strong-willed” as children knew clearly what we wanted and tried hard to get it. As producers, this quality that is so annoying to the partners we live with, translates into “persistent” and “unstoppable.” Handy when we’re looking for investors, cold calling production companies, and disputing the terms of a legal agreement. It means we have a shot at getting what we want.
- Don’t daydream - Why not? Lying in bed at three in the morning, is the best time to let the mind drift into hope and fantasy and sketch out dreams with our best friends, the pad and a pen next to the bed. After writing a novel that an agent shopped around a bit, it was here when I could see it visually, as a film, where I could plan my strategy. I studied screenwriting, wrote the script, found a co-writer/director, and decided to self-produce. Dov Siemons’ course in film producing explained exactly how to do so, step-by-step.
- Follow the rules - As a child, I wasn’t a great test-taker; I was creative and enterprising. My mind was awhirl with ideas on how to entertain myself and my friends. Creating our own rules to advance our projects is the way a producer advances. Instead of waiting around, I pulled some money together and hired a casting director to find a lead actress. With Mira Sorvino attached, others came aboard. My film, A Wake-up Call is on its way.
- Be accommodating - To what degree? When do you hold out with what you believe in and when do you yield? Girls like me who believed in fairness and equality got into trouble answering back teachers we didn’t respect, and lost boyfriends because we couldn’t keep our mouths shut. It helps to have a measure of a backbone when finance finders want to take over your project. Ask Dee Rees who shut down the Pariah set rather than deal with a difficult financier.
- Be a lady - A lady is refined, demure, and waits to be tended to. As a child among my friends, I was considered to be bossy. I had visions of what we should do, what would work and how to implement them. Heading a creative team with leader at the helm requires strength. Think Barbra Streisand, think Oprah.
- Don’t be aggressive - When I told my 95 year old mother that I was going to produce a film of my script, A Wake-up Call, and needed to think about ways to raise money for development, she said, “Oh, Barbara, it’s not ladylike to ask for money.” I said, “Ma, that’s what producers do!” One producer advised me to be a pest. The one who makes it gets there by not giving up. So when dealing with agents and others who never returned calls, I gave up my pride and called and called again and left messages and emailed. Sometimes it paid off.
- Don’t take risks - To be a producer means you’re going to live on the edge. Deals are promised, money is requested, money is lost, risks are necessary. This is not a territory for the inhibited. It’s hair-raising. Do you have the stomach for it? Think Barbara Stanwyck, think Susan Sarandon, think Jeanne Moreau.
There are a couple of female traits, sociability and nurturing, that are useful.
- Network like crazy - Yes, it pays to leave your warm home on a rainy night to attend yet another finance or social media workshop. This may be the one that gets you the money or the producer who loves your logline.
- Be a mentor and a mentee - Ask questions of producers who’ve accomplished what you hope for. Support new people who are a step or two behind you. If you’re lucky enough to be a member of the Academy of Arts & Sciences, bring more women into the organization by sponsoring them. Hopefully by next year we’ll have more female members voting for more female films. We can do it!
Barbara Sutton Masry is a screenwriter, playwright, producer, and activist.