Women Directors in Hollywood: Making Their Own Way

by | Oct 20, 2023

After the success of Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie”, it is hard to deny that women’s voices in Hollywood not only need to be heard, but can prove incredibly profitable as well; considering the film has grossed nearly 1.4 billion dollars globally since its release. Despite this, there is still a blatant lack of women’s representation in leadership roles for major film releases. As reported by Forbes, “In 2022, women comprised 24% of directors, writers, producers, editors and cinematographers  working on the top 250 grossing  films, down 1% from 2021.”

Hollywood has traditionally been a competitive place to start a career, but the statistics show that it is even more difficult for those identifying as females to find their way to leadership positions on major release productions. With that said, women have been present in the film industry since its inception. Filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché is considered by some historians the director of the first narrative film ever created, even before the more popularly known Georges Méliès. Guy-Blaché worked for an early camera competitor, and her directorial debut was a short film trying to model the entertainment opportunities available with the (then) new camera technology. The early vision of cameras being used for entertainment would go on to be one of the most influential shifts in how people consume entertainment in human history. 

Despite her and other female contributions to early cinema, when the money started coming in and the industry started to operate under a more corporate organization, women began to be pushed out. Many early unions wouldn’t accept women members, so for the most part, women weren’t working on major studio productions during this time in early cinema history. 

Between then and the 90’s, when female directors work had a surge in popularity, important women found their footing in leadership positions in Hollywood, including when Sherry Lansing became President of 20th Century Fox in the early 80’s. Her top level position opened the doors to many women industry members; including Barbara Streisand’s opportunity to be writer, director, and star of the award winning film “Yentil”, or Gale Anne Hurd co-writing and producing classic action movie “The Terminator” in 1984.

A still from the proof of concept film “Milo”

We spoke with an up and coming director, Sarah DeGroot about her experience trying to direct, produce, and make it in the film industry. She is an award winning writer, director, and producer based out of Atlanta, who is working hard to leave her mark on the filmmaking world. Her most recent proof of concept psychological horror short, “Milo” has garnered her four “best director” awards at various festivals around the country.

Sarah reflected on the last few years of working towards her production company’s first feature film, for which “Milo” is a proof of concept. The feature “Psychodelic” has been in the works since 2019, and in her experience working to make her vision a reality, Sarah has encountered plenty of hiccups along the way; but she notes that this is an expectation for most independent filmmakers. 

A money barrier exists for independent filmmakers, as it’s difficult to find dedicated investors looking to help up and coming creators. Budget is a struggle for all filmmakers, trying to find the right people to fund a project is difficult; but “for female directors fortunate enough to be working, they can expect the average production budget for their film to be smaller than those of their male peers.” On top of this, there is a stigma in Hollywood production culture that women are best fit to direct genres like dramas, but not other profitable genres like action or horror. 

Working to make her horror visions come to life, Sarah DeGroot wants to stomp on those stigmas and prove that she can create award winning films across all genres, including in the thriller/horror genre. When crewing her productions, she often fills leadership roles with other female crewmembers, and with choices like these, she has already become an award winning director. Groot Productions won’t let any traditionally-held industry assumptions about women directors or women in leadership roles get in their way. 

Greta Gerwig is quoted as saying that “It’s a great time to be a woman director” because of all the stellar examples of women directors making major blockbusters nowadays; like Kathryn Bigelow, the director of acclaimed war movie “The Hurt Locker”. Bigelow’s work is a perfect example of a female directing incredibly successful movies outside the stigmatic genres women directors tend to be boxed into. Gerwig is right, it is a great time to be a woman getting into film and directing, and there’s no better time than now to push back against any outdated Hollywood stigmas. 

All this said, beyond a lack of female representation in above-the-line positions, there’s an incorrect assumption on many modern sets where some fellow crew will automatically assume a woman is not in a leadership role. While working in Atlanta as a Travel Coordinator, Mrs. DeGroot recounted being mislabeled by coworkers as a production assistant. Women are often seen as limited to “wardrobe, production assistant, or makeup”, while realistically women regularly work in what people consider “male dominated roles”, working as directors of photography, grips, audio, travel coordinators, etcetera. 

Some of this can feel discouraging, even overwhelming as an identifying female in the film industry. Sarah recognizes her own moments of doubt, but also knows the importance of the inspiration that keeps her working in the industry, despite any and all struggles.

DeGroot recalls a discussion she had with her grandmother. On her deathbed, Sarah’s grandmother asked if she knew what she wanted to do with her life. Only a sophomore in high school at the time, she knew her dream was to work in film, direct her own films, and create a career in the entertainment industry. Despite that, she told her grandmother that she’d likely pursue meteorology and a stable income, knowing the financial struggles that can come from filmmaking.

Sarah DeGroot at a Q/A panel after the screening of her film

Sarah’s grandmother then made her promise to always chase her dreams, and not to live for money. She made that promise, and the next day her grandmother passed away. Sarah says she’ll never forget that promise as long as she lives, and that her promise is where she pulls inspiration to keep creating, despite any hardships. 

With that, a recommendation to any prospective filmmakers looking to get into the entertainment industry is to find your inspiration, using it as a driving force to stick with the competitive market in good times and hard times. To enhance this inspiration, seek education at a school that offers hands-on opportunities to create, and try as many positions on as many projects as you can, to see where you feel at home in the film industry. 

At MediaTech Institute, our experienced industry professors prioritize a hands-on approach to teaching filmmaking. Our culture at MTI is to uplift our students, faculty members, and staff to make their creative and career visions reality. We pride ourselves in being a safe space for all creatives to thrive, and our goal is for every graduate to leave with the experience they need to be successful in their chosen field.  

Find your inspiration at MediaTech with fellow classmates, dreamers, and creators, and join MTI’s influence in the future of the entertainment industry. Check out our programs today, and see which is the best fit for your career goals!

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