There’s been a lot of talk recently about women in Hollywood. Specifically, how there aren’t enough women in positions of power, like directors, cinematographers, producers, editors, and screenwriters. In addition, studies have found that female characters make up only 30% of all speaking roles in films and 40% of all speaking roles in television shows. This is appaling considering that women make up 50% of media consumers. As a result of this gender inequality, stories we see in TV and film continue to be skewed toward to male perspective.
Enter Me, a struggling actress with a voracious appetite for anything funny. It was only a year ago that I decided I wanted to make my own project and even that was solely out of necessity. Previously, I had made 3 videos for the internet. One was about two actresses waiting to go into an audition room (duh), another was about a casting director that is a cat (clever but also duh), and the third was about an obnoxious couple that lacks any self-awareness (super cute). I got a handful of views and some much desired pats on the back from my social circle, but not really much else. However, I had gotten a taste of what it’s like to bring my own, very unique brand of humor to life and I wanted more.
So I decided to make…something. A short film? A pilot? No! A whole twelve episode web series called Fully Engaged. Why?! I have no idea. When I look back at that decision, I’m amazed at how little I knew about the world of new media. I wasn’t familiar with the important festivals, I didn’t have a plan for audience building, and I wasn’t exactly sure what “distribution” meant. I didn’t base my decision on anything besides the fact that writing a feature length story with a clear arc scared me and I wanted somewhere to put all my jokes! Good thing I’m an actress, so all my decisions are impulsive reactions to my ultimate powerlessness. Having completed the series, here are my main observations on being a first-time, female show creator:
- One of the messages in Fully Engaged that I was really excited to share was that the emotional experience of the modern bride can be complictaed and conflicted. I have watched so many movies and shows about women who have been OBSESSED with getting married since they were 6 or are adamantly against it (until the “right guy” comes along and sweeps them off their values). As a female creator, I wanted to explore the experience of the woman who falls somewhere in between. Maybe she just started to have excited feelings about getting married at this phase in her life, but feels icky admitting it or giving into it completely. What I discovered was that SO many women related to this experience and were so excited to see a somewhat more nuanced take on the modern bride. They would comment or message me saying “Oh my god, this is exactly what I’m going through!” And as the writer, executive producer, and lead actress of the show, that was exactly what I was hoping for!
- Being a staunch feminist does not mean I have escaped the subtle, often silent patriarchal messages of society. One of those messages is that women are not as capable as men. As a result, I found myself second-guessing many of my decisions. “Should we cast that actor? I think so, but what do the others think? Will the scene make sense if we use a park bench instead of a suburban house? Maybe I should confer with a few others first. Should I bring someone with me to oversee color correction? Yes, because I don’t know what I’m looking for.” Let me be clear: collaboration is everything in film and TV. I relied so much on the experience and knowledge of my director, Rob Margolies, and my producer, Jenny Sciarra. But there is a point at which I had to say “I am confident in my instincts and my taste.” Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been “my vision” of the story being told. You see, it is completely reasonable and even helpful to ask others for their input, but if you do that for every tiny decision, then the whole process gets bogged down.
- Finally, I had to get over my fear of being rude or of offending anyone. For me, this stems from my intense desire to be liked by everyone. I am certainly not advocating being mean or difficult, but in my experience, women are taught to waste a lot of time worrying about what others think. And just like constantly second-guessing myself, this is a detriment to the whole creative process. “If I follow up on this email too quickly, will they think I’m pushy?” or “If I say no to that, will they still like me and want to work with me?” This was perhaps the most difficult habit to break. It’s easy to fall into the trap of obsessing over other people’s opinions and judgements. But I found that when I kindly and confidently asserted myself, it always worked out for the best. Working from a place of fear is never the answer.
I was at an event a few months ago where Jill Solloway (creator of “Transparent”) talked about having a “feminine style of leadership.” She explained that this style is not limited to females, but in fact anyone can utilize it. She said, and her cast heartily agreed, that when you create a nurturing environment on set where people are not rushed or terrified of making mistakes, that the result is simply better work. I absolutely love this, and can attest to its truth. I only hope that Fully Engaged has an opportunity for a second season, so I can continue to share our unique perspective on weddings and champion this “feminine style of leadership.”
You can watch episodes of Fully Engaged at www.fullyengagedseries.com