Martha Coolidge
This is an expansion of the piece written for the NY Times forum: How Can Women Gain More Influence in Hollywood.

Most directors work intermittently as free-lance employees and are far from rich or powerful. Only directors who make the biggest hits are sought after, well paid and are offered the best scripts. Some write which is how they got a good script in the first place. Most successful directors use their power to become producers making them more money and giving them more control. A few women have made big hits but no woman director since the early silent era has had a career anything like those of the successful men.

Spielberg was the quintessential ‘wunderkind’, and all studios look for the next “boy wonder”. Thousands of would-be-directors enter film school every year with the hope that they could be the one; but only the best achieve careers. For guys competition is fierce, but for women you are more likely to win the lottery.

To get more powerful women directors we would need more women directing, and to do that we have to start by changing our cultural attitude toward women 180 degrees.

1. Men and women would have to learn to identify with female heroes and leaders. Why? Aside from opening up all the genres to women, we need to collectively imagine a woman as the ‘wunderkind’, the “girl wonder,” a director who tells stories the mass audience wants to see.

2. Young women would have to believe this was within their reach.

3. Thousands of women would have to train for directing careers and hone their craft.

4. Producers and studios would need to hire many more women than they do now and believe one of them could be “it”. They would need to judge women on the strength of their ideas and work, not on their sex appeal.

5. Producers couldn’t limit women to lower budget films, and should expect them to handle big crews, big budgets, big ideas and big stars.

6. All of us, parents and teachers starting in childhood, and later men in the business, would have to take women seriously and never ask them to play into gender based feminine behavior.

7. Competitive women in particular would have to want success as a director before anything else, like finding a man, or having a family. Successful directors are workaholics who define themselves by their careers and seek the company of their creative colleagues.

8. These women would have to feel secure with power, employing and delegating to others and making decisions alone. They should be encouraged to produce, write and direct, love competition, push past boundaries, and welcome any opportunity to overcome failure.

9. We all would have to embrace women in command, and accept eccentric behavior, and even tantrums; frequently caused by extreme pressure – not desirable, but tolerated in men. Most women directors learn to walk a delicate line between not being bitchy and not being wimpy to keep their jobs. Male directors don’t waste time or energy on this.

I know hundreds of directors. Women directors, like their counterparts, are mother and father, general and cheerleader. Men and women who direct have strong male and female sides and frankly, are more alike than not.

What you direct is not about gender. A director can handle material that appeals to them; it’s about their point of view. Plenty of women want to do action movies with big budgets and work with fantasy and effects.

But if it was only about commerce things might be better. There is an uncomfortable truth that especially in the entertainment business many men use their position to indulge in being surrounded by sexy girls or whatever their taste may be, and don't want their wives, sisters and mothers around. Many would deny it publicly but state it privately. Women threaten some men. They say they don’t understand women, and that is why they don't feel comfortable or identify with them.