Last week BAFTA’s were full of moments of solidarity for the Time’s Up movement. As part of this long-time due reckoning against sexual harassment and towards more diversity in the film industry, Emma Watson announced the launch of a Set of Principles from the BFI and other major UK film organisations to tackle and prevent bullying and harassment in the screen industries:
As an independent filmmaker, make sure to check out the BFI principles and to commit to endorse them in your filmmaking practice. At the same time, you might also wonder how much they actually apply to you – surely if you cannot afford to pay anyone who worked in your small project, there’s no group you’re really discriminating against. In this article, I have created a short list of practical ways in which you can support the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements when directing your indie films. While the BFI principles represent an essential change from industry leaders, you can also make a change from below to make sure the film industry is a better, safer place for everyone – especially for those who are just starting out. These suggestions apply both to your own behaviour (whether you’re a man or a woman) and of others – you need to be critical of yourself, too!
1) Be proactive – present yourself as someone people can talk to, and make sure that they know they will be listened
While taking action when problems arise is important, it is equally important to be proactive and to do everything you can to prevent them from arising. When at Film School or University, students should expect to be in a safe space and to have a clear figure they can talk to if they’ve been harassed. Once out in the real film industry, this figure usually disappears and people are often out for themselves. Within such a competitive environment, they might be led to think that a certain amount of harassment and discrimination is unavoidable – something to bear and to get through in order to be able to make it in their chosen career. As a director, you have the power to preventively say that this should not be expected and that it is not ok. Before you start filming, make sure to have designated someone to help deal with these issues (the BFI recommends to have two persons, one of each gender, but this might prove a bit impractical if you have a very small crew). On the first day of set, announce who this designated person is – make sure that your cast and crew know that that person is someone they can talk to if they have concerns, and stress out that they will be listened to. If you want to know more, check out this helpful guidance from the BFI on how to prevent bullying and harassment.
2) You’re the director. You have the power to call out inappropriate behaviour
As an up-and-coming indie director who is just starting out, you might think that your power in the film industry is almost equal to none. While that is in some ways true, your choices do matter. Let’s assume that a member of the crew has just complained to you about being harassed by your DP, or that they been put in an uncomfortable position. However, this is the only DP you are in touch with and you’re worried that if you do something, you’ll lose every chance at getting this film done. But try to flip things round: without a director, the DP won’t get to work in a film. If their behaviour was harmful, you have the power to prevent that from happening on other sets in the future and to make the film industry a better place. There are many ways you can go, depending on the seriousness of the allegations – whether that’s verbally warning the person in question that what they did is not ok, or not working with them in the future, or firing them, or contacting law enforcement in the most serious of cases. In any case, be as objective as you can when assessing the claims that have been made against them.
3) Guarantee a (small) equal pay
After the All the Money in the World pay gap reveal, big-budget projects are finally starting to get more scrutinised in their salary practices. As an independent filmmaker who can only afford to give your cast and crew little or no pay, you might think that this does not apply to you – but it does. With many members of your cast and crew just starting out in the industry, it’s important to set the standard for them about what they should expect from future employers. Make sure that you’re paying female and male cast and crew the same amount of money for the same amount of work, both above and below the line, and be transparent about it.
4) Have a diverse crew
When selecting your crew, there’s no question about you wanting to find the best people who can do the job. But in reality, a gender or other type of bias can often come into play, and it is something you should become aware of, question, and address. Why does that director friend of yours keep recommending only male DPs when you ask him for contacts? Why were you surprised and doubtful when that woman at that networking event told you she works in VFX? Why do you assign on set the more menial tasks to the female PA? The sooner you become aware of these harmful behaviours, the sooner you can change them. At networking events, try to diversify the people you end up exchanging contacts with – talk and include women, BME, people with disabilities, and people from the LGBTQI community. Never assume a person’s job in the industry based on their gender or appearance, or that they will be less good at their job based on those. Take their previous credits seriously. Be fair when assigning tasks. Make sure that the younger women in your life know that they can pursue any career in the film industry if that’s what they want you to do, and that you’ll support them in doing so.
5) Question the script and casting calls
Female roles are still underrepresented on film, both for bigger and smaller parts – in 2016, there were 3 speaking male characters for each speaking female character, and crowd shots had an average of 17% women. Whether you’re writing the script or someone else is, do question it and make changes if necessary. Try to do a gender reversal exercise: what would change if this character were portrayed by a woman instead of a man (and vice versa)? While you don’t necessarily need to change the role (and in some cases, you won’t be able to), you should try to do it in some cases, and to be more aware of it when writing your next script. Also, when doing casting calls, please, please do not ask for hot models!
6) Question the content and what the actors sign up for
Creating a safe space on set already starts from the script. Whether you’re writing the script or you’re choosing which scripts to direct, question their content and set a standard – are female characters represented as more than sexual objects? Are the sex scenes justified within the plot or do they seem gratuitous? How are sensitive issues such as rape, harassment and consent represented? More generally, how much are you relying on gender stereotypes and clichés? Finally, when it comes to filming, make sure to respect your actors and actresses. In 2013, Blue is the Warmest Colour caused a big controversy because of complaints from the lead actresses about how they’d felt mistreated by the director during sex scenes, with the implication that their pre-negotiated limits had been violated. Don’t push the actors beyond what they’ve previously agreed to. Please, be nice.
Do you want to know more about ethical sex scenes and how to create a safe space on set? Attend Raindance’s own Fantasy Film Workshop by erotic film director Jennifer Lyon Bell.