Written by Nat Luurtsema

In The News

We are the 11.9%

In 2014, just 11.9 per cent of UK films had a female director, says a new report. Writer and director Nat Luurtsema wishes she was more surprised.

Suffragette, directed by Sarah Gavron. Photo: Studio Canal.

Suffragette, directed by Sarah Gavron. Photo: Studio Canal.

Directors UK has released a report called ‘Cut Out of the Picture: A study into the gender and inequality amongst directors in UK film’ and it’s fascinating, provoking and pretty bloody discouraging. In 2005, 11.3 per cent of UK films had a female director and by 2014 this had increased to 11.9 per cent.

Woohoo! Break out the world’s smallest party popper.

The report lays out all the unnecessary obstacles in a female director’s path and the high likelihood that she’ll fail. And yes, it’s a competitive industry and a lot of people fail, but I wonder what it would look like if we were all trying and failing on a level playing field? (I would like to look at ethnic representation, but this report is only about gender. Directors UK published a report last year into BAME representation in TV production but it’s a different focus.)

The report found that “female directors will direct fewer films in their career and are less likely to receive a second, third or fourth directing gig.”

Hey Nat, you say, grouchy and pre-coffee, pipe down, maybe chicks don’t want to direct flicks. (You are a cowboy in this roleplay, go with it.)

UK film students are 50/50 male and female, and entrants to the industry are 49 per cent female. There are as many women as men who want to direct film, so how to explain the dramatic disparity in outcome?

“You’re told they’re ‘desperate’ to find new female talent. That’s nice. You send them all your hard work, your treatments, scripts and loglines and nothing happens.”

The report found four explanations. They might all make you cross. They made me cross but I’m a female director so have skin in the game, and I’m trying to eat less sugar so I’m on a short fuse.

1. There’s no regulation in place to police gender equality in hiring and funding, so unfairness can continue unchecked. In 2007, 32.9 per cent of films with UK-based public funding had a woman director, and by 2014 that had dropped to just 17 per cent. So this problem is getting worse.

2. “The pervasive nature of uncertainty.” Basically, in an insecure climate, with only 7 per cent of UK films making a profit, the decision-makers want to go with a safe bet; I guess a male director looks more reassuring? Perhaps in such a skittish climate, female directors could wear T-shirts with reassuring slogans on.

3. The vast majority of producers work fast, film to film, with no time for extensive hiring practices that try for gender equality. On my last short film (WYRDOES) my producers, Jennifer Eriksson and Iona Westlake, had a crew that was 90 per cent female. It did take a little bit longer, but we managed it, and were done in a nippy 120 days. May I suggest saving time by eating lunch on the toilet?

4. “Inequality in the film industry is symbiotic.” Men are more likely to hire men, female film makers don’t see other female film makers to aspire to and eventually become discouraged and quit.

This is depressing isn’t it? Go Google a kitten, take a breather.

So what’s the answer? This report recommends a target of 50/50 gender parity within public funding by 2020, which sounds huge, but Sweden achieved it in two and half years so… you know, nbd. Don’t let Sweden make us look like chumps, guys.

Director Amma Asante makes a very good point on the Directors UK website. She says, “My issue is that as a woman and as a woman of colour, lots of people want to talk. People want to have conversations, to ask me what I want to do next. But it’s the outcome that matters. Don’t pat yourself on the back because you’ve chatted to lots of women about their projects; pat yourselves on the back if you have actually managed to bring some of those projects to fruition.”

Lu Corfield, Ruth Bratt and Anna Crilly in WYRDOES, written and directed by Nat. Photo: Chloe Pemberton.

Lu Corfield, Ruth Bratt and Anna Crilly in WYRDOES, written and directed by Nat. Photo: Chloe Pemberton.

I have also had a lot of coffees and a lot of talks, I’m sure most female filmmakers have. We’re living off caffeine and promises. You’re told they’re ‘desperate’ to find new female talent. That’s nice. You send them all your hard work, your treatments, scripts and loglines and nothing happens.

I’ve done all this as a standup comic – same old rigmarole, followed by a big silence where something helpful might have been. I guess they were desperate, but not desperate enough for me.

Back then I concluded that I must be shit at my job. People were explicitly telling me that they wanted to help me, and why would they lie? What a waste of coffee!

Disheartened, in 2013 I wrote a short film, Island Queen. Ben Mallaby directed it and we made it on a shoestring. It was nominated for a BAFTA and has played in more countries than I knew existed. It’s playing on Virgin Atlantic planes right now.

“In 2007, 32.9 per cent of films with UK-based public funding had a woman director, and by 2014 that had dropped to just 17.0 per cent.”

Three films, two books, several commissions later, I know I’m not a talent-void with dust for brains. Maybe… people who know they have to get more women in because political correctness are only prepared to waste 40 minutes having a coffee with one to show willing.

I’m getting irritated, but I’m going to tell you why I’m also grateful.

There are people and organisations doing amazing, practical work to redress everything this report is highlighting. For example, 42.1 per cent of films backed by Creative England are directed by women and their development slate is pretty much 50/50. That’s so good it’s practically Swedish!

The second short film I wrote, Three Women Wait for Death (directed by Isabelle Sieb), was made with Creative England, Big Talk and Baby Cow, as part of their Funny Girls scheme to support female directors. The first short I wrote and directed was on another scheme to support female filmmakers – Shakespeare’s Sister – with the support of Film London, Film4 and British Arts Council.

There already were proper efforts being made to up this 11.9 per cent; I have benefitted from two of them and I appreciate every bit of support that I’ve had. And I’m grateful to Directors UK, Stephen Follows and Alexis Kreager for this report. It’s clear, uncompromising and offers dramatic solutions.

I really didn’t want to write this article – it’s taken me years of waitressing, standup gigs and grafting for me to get to a point where I have creative freedom and a comfortable life from my writing and I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I know how lucky I am that my hard work has come to fruition. For a lot of talented, hard-working, overlooked people it never does.

But I’ve written it, because Standard Issue asked, because this report is good and timely and also this is a big steamy pile of unequal bullshit and things need to change.

@natluurtsema

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Written by Nat Luurtsema

Nat Luurtsema is a BAFTA-nominated screenwriter, stand-up and author.