What it Feels Like to Be a Woman in the Film Industry

Hollywood preaches diversity, acceptance and feminism. If you look at many of the films nominated for best picture most of them contain these themes or an underdog story where a character defeats all odds to achieve their dreams.

But the question that no one seems to be asking is this:

If the film industry values diversity, then why is a film crew predominately made up of white males? 

Maybe this is a coincidence, I don’t know why, but I want to point that out before I continue with this post. Maybe it’s different other places, but so far this has been my experience.

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Originally, I was a Script Supervisor when I started working in the film industry which has traditionally always been a woman’s job on set. During the golden age of Hollywood, Script Supervisors were actually called “Script Girls,” but that was later changed to open up the role to men as well.

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Typically, women who are on set are either Script Supervisors, in the Hair/Make-up Department, Wardrobe Department, or Production Assistants. Women in the Camera Department, Grip/Electric Department, and in sound mixing, are very rare.

I am a very visual person, and so I made the bold decision to journey into the Camera Department after being a Script Supervisor for a couple of years.

Being the defiant person I am, I wanted not only to be in the camera department, but to be the best assistant cameraman in my city. I knew I was going to have to prove myself and be one of the boys to keep up. I began to spend my time outside of work weightlifting. Cinema camera bodies are heavy by themselves, but when you add the lens, the support system, the batteries and the hard drives they can weigh up to fifty pounds. Camera operators love to throw the camera at their nearest assistant when they are tired of holding it, that was usually me, so I knew I needed to be physically strong to carry the equipment.

The working out payed off. I remember my first real success on a movie set for… (retracted name since’s it’s a big company…). There was a camera operator in the department who seemed bent on making me look like a fool. I was stepping into male dominated territory, and I knew eventually I would get a push-back.

“You should go back to being a script supervisor if you ever want to sit during the day,” I remember him saying to me as we stood at a work bench about to put the camera together.

I hadn’t even complained about standing up.

He began to show me how to put the camera together.

“This is a screwdriver…” he said very slowly in a baby voice as he held the tool in front of my face. “You put the screw in the hole, and use the screwdriver to screw it in.”

Trying to hold back the urge to slap him, I stood there silently taking his insults knowing that I would get my revenge only through hard work. I would prove him wrong.

But he wasn’t done with his smart-ass comments yet.

“You know you have to work with your hands a lot for this position, and work with tools, I know that can be hard for women.”

That was it for me…

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One day we were packing up the Steadicam (a device that keeps the camera still while strapped to the cameraman as he walks) he looked at me, looked at the bulky cases, and then laughed.

“Hey why don’t you go put these cases in the camera truck?” He said to me snickering. “I’ll have to go find someone to help me with these, I’ll be back.” Walking away, he began to shake his head thinking I was a sham of an assistant.

I knew this was my chance.

I immediately squatted down and pressed my back against one of the cases.  Using the strength I had acquired from leg pressing, I dug my heels into the ground and pushed the case towards the loading bay. Grunting, I pulled, pushed and tugged the cases over the doorframe, the concrete, and then onto the lift on the camera truck. I slid them into the truck with the rest of the equipment and then fell down onto the floor, my chest expanding and contracting wildly just like after a good workout. I sat up, and headed back into the studio to casually wait on him to return. I then saw him walking towards me chewing on a banana he had picked up from craft services.

“Where the hell are my cases?” He asked looking around at the floor as if they had gotten lost.

“I put them on the truck like you told me,” I smirked tilting my head to the side then walked right past him leaving him baffled holding his banana.

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While I was working on a reality TV show for a very large network, things had been going pretty well,  until a confrontation happened during lunch break one day. I had gotten my plate of food from the caterers and went to sit down in the production office to eat it. The rest of the camera department came in to eat as well. I sat in a folding chair hunched over the plate with all of my gear beside me.

“You need to get up,” one of the cameramen said approaching me. “Chairs are for camera operators only.”

I thought he was kidding so I laughed. I was the only woman in the department, so I thought he was ragging me.

He looked back at me unamused.

I realized then that he wasn’t…

I slowly got up and stood watching all the other crew members sitting down to eat. I felt awkward and it began to stir up anxiety so I left the room and went outside to finish my lunch by myself. I felt hurt that out of all the other crew members he had chosen to say this to me in front of everyone else. Since I am a sensitive person, I struggled with shame about that little incident all day, and worried if it would affect the crew’s opinion if me. Luckily, another guy on set approached me about the situation, and comforted me about it.

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I once even got accused for sweeping out the camera truck wrong, and was told that my future husband would be very unhappy with me if I didn’t know how to sweep properly…

These stories I have shared may not have been what other women have experienced on set. The stories, however, may be shocking to those on the outside.

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I can say that I have also met incredibly supportive crew members and mentors that have pushed me to be better, and have encouraged me and written references for me. I am so grateful to them for everything they have taught me. I would not have gotten so far without them. This work has challenged me, satisfied me, and thrilled me. There is nothing better than seeing my name scroll down the screen in the movie theater.

This post was not meant to bash film crews, it was meant to show what could be worked on in the future of filmmaking to create a work environment of equality.

I hope the industry will continue to grow and open up to new possibilities.

I look forward to see what’s on the horizon.

-Meagan

 

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