The Current State Of The Film Industry
This past month I attended the Film & Music Conference in Ft. Worth. It was hosted by Musicbed and Filmsupply. Two awesome companies that have been great for all filmmakers and creatives alike. At this conference was about 500+ attendees. It was a great networking event as well as a great place to connect with people I’ve met online. The only problem was one thing, diversity. The conference was filled with white people who all looked alike (Like myself). The amount of Women, Black, Brown, etc. Was non existent. I saw MAYBE 8-10 women and I would say honestly 5% of the conference was minorities. This of course isn’t all Musicbed and Filmsupply’s fault and I’m sure it was just as shocking to them, hopefully. The keynote speakers had some diversity but the for the most part it was male and white dominated. The irony was the main takeaway from the conference was to work with EVERY one and collaborate with someone different from you. This is a great message but it just didn’t sit well with me. I looked around and didn’t really see a huge change in skin tone or gender. I didn’t know how to interpret this. I reached out to some women who attended the conference and asked them this. “What could have been done differently?”. The unanimous answer was this, we need to balance out the playing field. Just cause you have one woman speak alongside 6 men doesn’t mean you can check off the “diversity” box. It’s still a small percentage and not good enough. From what I gathered from all minorities I spoke too was that they just don’t feel welcomed at these events or workshops. It’s our jobs as the majority to be including EVERYONE. Everyone has a story and an ability.
Of course. coming at this being a white guy is weird and almost backwards. What do I know about diversity? I’m the main demographic in the film world, I don’t know what it’s like to have work 50x harder to get jobs. I don’t know what it’s like to show up on set and not look like any other cast or crew members. I’ve had it easy.
Fortunately, I started my film career in high school shooting skateboarding and hip hop/rap music videos. Two facets of film with tons of diversity and representation in them respectively. I hung out mainly with minorities and got a small TASTE of what some of them deal with the on the regular basis. I remember walking around Chicago with my friend and someone decided to stop their car, roll down the window and scream the N word at him. We were just sitting around talking and my friend was getting slandered and treated like shit for no reason by this random dude. This was the small glimpse I got into this messed up world we live in. I think most people in film don’t mean to lack diversity on sets or purposely turn down minorities. They just aren’t exposed to it. We are surrounded on sets with the same looking people so it’s a norm to us to keep hiring the same people, because we look alike. What I’ve tried doing to get out of this limited network is reach out to people through instagram or facebook with questions like “If you are a female Director/DP reach out to me”. This has helped me find people I otherwise wouldn’t be able to if I hadn’t put out that post. It’s been really interesting meeting others and having this conversation.
What We Can Do.
The past two years I’ve been blessed to work with Ciara Boniface, a black female director superstar from Dallas. She’s allowed me to DP her last two films, Dirty Money and Skintight. Both follow heavy themes based around minorities and struggles alike. At first (and still a little bit) I didn’t feel like I deserved to be apart of these projects. I’m not a minority and I’ve never faced these struggles before. What help am I gonna bring to this project? I know nothing about these themes. Either way, she chose me and I put my heart into it. Fast forward two years, both films have won awards and skintight has been turned into a feature, which is incredible. Looking back at these experiences I can’t explain how blessed I am to have learned all I did working on these films. It was truly a blessing, I got to see into a new world I knew almost nothing about and worked with a very diverse crew. It was one of few perfect sets I’ve gotten to work on. This was a starting point for myself and a challenge to continue working with diverse sets.
I say all of this to encourage you to reach out to a creative who is a minority. Hang out with them, hear their story, create with them. I can promise you they’ve had their fair share of trials and tribulations. Most times those make the great films. Look at 2 films that have won tons of awards in the last two years. Moonlight and Lady Bird.
Moonlight, Directed by Barry Jenkins. Is a story based off his life growing up black and gay in Florida. These is of the most moving films I’ve seen in the last few years.
Lady Bird, Directed by Greta Gerwig. Tells the story of a lost teen growing up Sacramento. This was also based off Greta’s life growing up.
Both of these stories and films are fresh and original. They aren’t another superhero movie and not a reboot we’ve seen 10 times. These are real stories from incredible story tellers. My thoughts on this, it has spoken to me in the simplest way. Diversify who you are working with and great things will happen. Learn about where other people come from and hear about their challenges and struggles. Learn what makes them happy, sad, inspired, curious. Anything and everything. These conversations and these stories need to be told. They are hidden gems waiting to be uncovered by us, the creative.
It Starts With One
Let me set some things straight. This post wasn’t written to bash or slander anyone and this doesn’t mean if you are a white dude your next shoot has to be an all women crew. The main takeaway from this is just to be aware of how many creatives and collaborators are out there in the world who aren’t just the same crew you run with for every shoot. It’s amazing how many different people have a story that you can help tell. Work with every type of person you can and try to put yourself in their shoes. Learn and share stories with one another, It takes one relationship to spark ten more. Be that one. Be the person who is open to everything and anything and use your filmmaking abilities to help bring to life things you are learning. Isn’t that what creating is all about? Be the one to start it.