Power Dynamics Below the Line in Hollywood (and everywhere else)

If you’re anywhere near Hollywood this week, you’ve got a hot take on Harvey Weinstein. I’ve only been here a few years, exclusively “below the line”, and I heard all the rumors too. I dreaded ever having even secondhand contact with the man and his company: a powerful star maker with the ability to squash any career he chose, a blatant chauvinist, and an indecent human being whose participation in the entertainment industry seemed immoveable.

So many of us, especially women, are or have been explicitly sexually abused, assaulted or harassed. Some of us have been raped – one in five women will be raped in their lifetimes. A lot of us have also never spoken of sexual violence. Some of us, myself included, have never publicly acknowledged being emotionally abused, gaslit and manipulated for years.

If you ask yourself why we don’t speak up immediately, look at the women who have come forward to talk about Weinstein, Bill Cosby, or — god help us — our president. Come forward when it happens and you’re lying and must show proof. Wait until you have strength in numbers to report and you’re a bandwagon attention seeker. Keep quiet forever and well I guess it wasn’t really what you said it was, drama queen. And often a lot of these accusations go nowhere. It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits are waiting in a backlog right now.

And the men still win awards, accept paychecks, get elected to office. They continue to hold their power regardless of what they’ve done. 

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A Week of Women to Celebrate the Creative Emmys

Lately I’ve been especially tired of seeing the careers and lives of my female peers in post production minimized by assumptions and ignorance. A lot of women in the community face a lot of additional barriers to promotion and growth because people think they’re less experienced, doing lower quality work, or just don’t have the ambition. These assumptions are incredibly harmful and create points in mid-career where women end up exiting.

Some women are assumed to be younger and less experienced. Other women who are younger are assumed to be inexperienced. To protest this attitude, I shared the career of one woman each day as a count down to the 2017 Primetime Creative Arts Emmys.

But you know what? Women don’t have to tell you exactly what they’re doing or where they’ve been every day to gain respect and validity. Just like men, for all the women working in the public eye today I’ve shared with you all week, there are so many others who quietly do the work and move on. Many of the women I celebrated this week have entirely invisible, thankless jobs in the industry, and yet their work is minimized and their selves are infantilized in a way that men are not. Because the default setting for women is always less than, and the burden of proof is somehow put on them to prove their value.

Instead of assuming women are new baby birds who need your guidance in the world, how about you ask yourself: what can I learn from them?

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An Oral History of My Illegal Internships

Whether by necessity or the evolution of a specific kind of culture, internships have emerged as a dominant “foot-in-the-door” for the post production industry. Among those internships, the unpaid variety tend to dominate in a way that is not seen in many other fields such as business and medicine. Sure, unpaid internships aren’t exclusive to post production; however, for some reason we’ve collectively decided that the single biggest way to prove one’s merit is by working in some capacity for free.

It’s almost as if everyone believes that because they suffered the difficulty of doing often humiliating or degrading work for free, everyone else should too.

Read more on Creative COW >>

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Growing Up on YouTube: Video Production, The Next Generation

Sabrina Cruz’s first video on YouTube was a review of a cookie. It was eleven minutes long. To be fair, she was twelve years old.

Since then, things have only improved. Sabrina is now one of the most visible YouTubers in the online creator space with over 160,000 subscribers and 10 million views on her channel NerdyAndQuirky which offers short snippets of insight on pop culture, history, and social justice. Getting into YouTube because she wanted to make content she wanted to see, she’s found joy in remixing educational content with comedy.

Read my interview with Sabrina at Creative COW >> 

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Blue Collar Post Collective London Meet-Up

Blue Collar Post Collective is having a meet-up in London! You’re invited to the first ever UK-hosted BCPC event at The Glasshouse Stores in Soho on August 31 at 6PM! With outgoing president Janis currently living in London and new president Kylee visiting from LA, we felt this would be a great time to put together one of our classic BCPC meet-ups abroad!

Drop by the pub and join a casual, non-intimidating post production meet-up culture where everyone is welcome and nobody sits alone. Come have a chat with like-minded individuals who share the same challenges with demands on life and work at BCPC’s first ever international event!

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A Letter to Incoming Female Freshmen in Media Programs

A lot of so-called “open letters” on the internet address the outgoing graduates of programs. And while they should bask in the glow of congratulations and good luck because they worked hard, they earned it, and they have some serious challenges on the horizon, this letter isn’t for them.

It’s for you: the young woman who is leaving high school behind and beginning your first year of college in the next few weeks. You have so much ahead of you.

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Bridging the Gap to Opportunity: A Conversation with 3 First-Time NAB Show Attendees

Imagine this: you’re in your early twenties, at the start of your career in post production. You come from a working class family with no connections in the media industry, and you’ve had many challenges to overcome along the way. You’ve been working hard to maintain momentum by keeping your bosses happy at your day job — a day job that doesn’t pay you quite what it should — while taking on side projects and extracurriculars at night. You do all the right things, including networking and getting involved in your community.

One day you get a notification: a technical paper you wrote as one of those late night extracurriculars has been accepted at an enormous industry conference! You’re invited to present it to your peers at the conference. Well, not really your peers so much as the kind of established industry professionals who have been interviewing and hiring you at this early stage. But at this conference, they’d be your peers. This opportunity would open many doors and grant you incalculable credibility. It’s career-changing.

But wait, back to reality. The conference is on the opposite side of the country. You don’t get paid time off, and you’re in the middle of crunch time anyway. You work paycheck-to-paycheck, paying insanely high rent and endless student loans. You don’t have family to ask for a loan, and you wouldn’t want to anyway. You have to turn down the opportunity.

A situation not so different from this is what led Blue Collar Post Collective co-founder Katie Hinsen to spearhead the creation of the Professional Development Accessibility Program, or PDAP. The program is aimed at helping emerging talent in the film and television post production industry further develop their skills by providing financial assistance to attend valuable industry conferences, trade shows and development opportunities. The Professional Development Accessibility Program helps to create a bridge between the industry and the diverse membership of the Blue Collar Post Collective, breaking down the financial barriers to prevent people from taking their careers to the next level. Bringing new faces to major events helps remind the wider industry that all professionals, including low income earners, have voices that are of equal value and importance to the post community.

PDAP was originally announced by Hinsen while she attended NAB in 2016, and the first three NAB recipients attended in 2017: Nolan Jennings, Tara Pennington, and Eugene Vernikov. They were selected by a committee who sorted through the applications for BCPC and received airfare, hotel and passes to NAB, including additional passes donated by the National Association of Broadcasters and Future Media Concepts.


PDAP recipients (L-R) Eugene Vernikov, Nolan Jennings, and Tara Pennington at the BCPC meet-up.

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News: BCPC Leadership Evolves and Expands

This week we announced some changes to the leadership in Blue Collar Post Collective, including my promotion to president of the organization.

Creative COW coverage

Post Perspective coverage

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Women are tired and I’m watching them leave post production

July 2018 edit: It’s been about a year since I originally wrote this, and it’s sparked endless conversations about paper cuts and microaggressions in the post production industry, and even a session with the Diversity Steering Committee at the Motion Picture Editors Guild last fall. This isn’t a problem that’s going away anytime soon, but when we talk about it we normalize it. We make it okay to be fed up and frustrated, and we make it essential to find each other and vent it out. I’ve updated this post a little bit with things I’ve learned since, and I hope it helps people to understand what women, especially non-white women, are facing in media industries.

For years I’ve been citing research about women leaving the post production industry in droves once they hit the glass ceiling and have had enough. A lot of people say women leave at this point because they’re just not that interested in pursuing it any further or they wish to raise kids and start a family.

Their presence at this point isn’t questioned or missed. Half the crowd says “what are you talking about, I work with tons of women” and the other half says “well, what can you do? Women just want to leave.”

I’m on the verge of being 32. In what I’ve experienced of my thirties so far, I have met more women in my age bracket than ever who have changed careers or are seeking to make a change. And this change isn’t prompted by unrest or a desire to try new things.

No way. These women? They’re tired.

For years I’ve been citing research and anecdotes from people an arm’s length away at least. Now I’m talking about my peers and seeing it happen first hand.

These women have spent the entirety of their twenties and then some trying to prove themselves like anyone does, but they’ve had to do it even harder. And once they proved themselves they had to KEEP proving themselves. (Yes, men also have to prove themselves. But not because the assumption is that they are naive and non-technical.)

They have had to work to command respect and be treated like peers and not subordinates.

They have had to remind the men (and women) around them that they aren’t children but rather experienced professionals.

They’ve had to have uncomfortable conversations about their family planning strategies or future plans with bosses in order to shake any assumptions away that could destroy their careers.

They’ve had to constantly balance between being too ambitious or not wanting it hard enough.

They’ve had to find a way to be strong without being bossy.

They get stuck in assistant editor and coordinator and junior roles while their male peers are promoted more rapidly.

They’re paid less for their work and given fewer benefits.

And they’re supposed to be grateful for these opportunities.

Women show up at networking events and get hit on, so they have to think hard about what they’re wearing and have a plan to leave when a stranger goes too far.

They get over-talked and interrupted during meetings, so they must strategize or force their hand and risk an issue with their tone.

Their opinions aren’t taken seriously, so they must carefully craft and design every argument ahead of time.

They’re infantilized by their coworkers and must find a way to demonstrate their experience and skills without insulting or threatening anyone.

Their experiences are put down by other women who have bought into the gender bias that pits women against each other.

And on top of all this, they’ve had to learn and grow as professionals in our industry, constantly meeting new people, finding more opportunities, and gaining new skills. On top of the normal stuff anyone has to do to make it in this industry, women have a whole separate agenda to focus on.

And it’s not like we really want to do that. I would love to never speak about diversity ever again. I’d love to just focus on my tech work and build my skills and go home and play video games. But I can’t stop talking about diversity until it’s resolved.

I know what you’re thinking. This industry is hard. Navigating your career is hard. Before you think these women can’t cut it, think about this: if you’re able to scale a mountain much quicker and easier than a person wearing 50 pound weights on their feet, would you say you’re better or more worth of being at the summit than they are?

Because women pursue careers in post and technology with weights on their feet.

Let me give you an example of a simple interaction in your day that exhausts me. If you’re a man, maybe you come up to me in the workplace to speak to me and place your hand on my back, a little lower than I would ever expect. You think nothing of it, and you return to your work. In the moment between when your hand touches and leaves my back, I enter a spiral of strategic decision-making: is he going to slide it down? What if he does? Should I ask him not to touch me? If I ask him that, will he think I’m overly sensitive and emotional? Will he tell my mostly male coworkers I over-react to simple things? Will they remember it, even subconsciously, when it’s time for me to be promoted? Will I miss out on a key step upward in the company if that happens? Will I stunt my career growth externally? Will I be unable to meet my professional and financial life goals because of it? If I don’t say something, am I being complicit in a rape culture? What if it keeps happening and sends a message? What do I do?

Maybe you think this is overly dramatic, but it’s vital to every woman to think about the consequences of every interaction on the work life tight rope. And yes, it’s incredibly exhausting for women.

And now these women are so tired and I’m watching them leave. They wouldn’t leave if they weren’t so spent. They would stay and use their incredible skills to tell the stories that need to be told with so many important perspectives.

This is the excessive emotional labor we put on women, which has been well-documented as a major stressor that wears women down. Tack on dealing with an industry with long days, egos, and tight deadlines, and it’s a small wonder so many of us make it at all. And women’s groups are no better: if technical women are the focus of any organization, it’s usually as a requirement to apologize and make up for their own invisibility. Groups that support women in film and women in media really only support certain subsets of privilege women in high level roles, and place the emotional labor on already exhausted women to represent themselves.

Some dissent in the comments on the original posting of this blog mentioned that women being handed the biological task of having babies is just the way it is, and it means a lot more of them are going to leave their careers behind because they have other responsibilities.

It’s true that many women do choose to leave employment to raise children. I think that’s great. I think men and women both should have that choice presented to them. However, there is no path back into the industry for women who choose to do this. There are women who spent six years raising a son or daughter and wish to go back to work, but no employer will entertain the thought of hiring someone with a gap in employment, regardless of why or how much work they did to keep themselves up to date with their tools.

There is also the matter that there are women who will not choose to have children. You can’t assume anything from anyone. Your management contingency plan for hiring women should be to treat them fairly, pay them equally, and restructure your workplace so they can thrive regardless of their choices.

But I can’t shake this idea of shrugging off child birth as a simple fact of biology handed to women. There are so many women in this industry who have children and want to return to work within a year. A lot of them can’t find a way to make it work, physically or emotionally, and leave. “Ah well,” the employers say, “we can’t help what responsibilities nature gave them.”

We can grow human organs in dishes. We can replace lost arms and legs. We can perform transplants of nearly anything anymore. We can transfuse blood. We can perform c-sections. Biotechnology has never been more advanced — and you’re telling me we can’t find a solution to helping mothers stay in their jobs when they choose to stay?

We all need to fight harder to make our workplaces more inclusive and welcoming. We need to do gender bias training. We have to aggressively seek out women to hire and provide a path for ascending within the industry. We need supportive organizations that are truly inclusive and focused.

Because if we don’t have these diverse people working in an industry that is evolving and changing so rapidly, we’re going to miss out on vital innovations that would allow it to be a sustainable business in the future.

But even worse, we’re going to keep destroying passionate women who work hard to stake their claim in our industry. And no matter what that means for your business bottom line, it’s plain wrong.

 


Further reading from me on this topic:

Sexism in Post

Open Letter to Companies Exhibiting at NAB

Sexism in Post podcast interview

Sexism in VFX podcast interview

Ten Questions on Gender Issues in Post

Gender Equality in Post Production

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Make It: My Interview on Adobe’s New Talk Show

Last month, Adobe invited me to San Francisco to be a guest on their new talk show Make It, discussing my career, my job, and my inspirations. I ran there and back from Burbank on the same day, spending a rainy day eating fresh seafood and dropping into my favorite SF shops (including Paxton Gate, where I picked up a lovely possum skull.)

It was an honor to be invited to share my experience as a workflow supervisor with Adobe’s Jason Levine. Creative COW also wrote a bit of an article on the thing.

If you’ve found me thanks to this interview and would like to know more about anything I mention (or anything I didn’t mention), please email me or reach out on social media. I rarely check the comments on this blog.

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