Female directors seem to be more thin on the ground than ever, says Beryl Richards in an opinion piece for Broadcast magazine reprinted below.
During my career in TV drama, there has been a significant and welcome rise in women producers, but there seem to be fewer female directors than ever. Women have more opportunities, but only in defined areas. Female DoPs are rare, and men continue to do most technical jobs. Some people, such as Nicola Shindler at Red Productions, have an exceptional record in hiring female talent, while Susanna White helmed Mammoth Screen’s acclaimed Parade’s End. But in other areas, especially science fiction and fantasy, there are often no women at all. Why?
I’m delighted that BBC head of creative practices Ian Critchley and talent executive Jo Hatley are undertaking a study of hiring practices in BBC drama, to determine why it seems so difficult to get a drama director job if you’re a woman.
I helped form, and now chair, the Women’s Working Group at Director’s UK last year. We’ve mined broadcasters’ annual residuals data, which gave us exact statistics of programmes made by each director working in TV drama, so we could track the gender split.
As we suspected, the number of women working in drama has dropped significantly over the past five years, averaging out at 8%; for many programme strands, it was 0%. Long running series such as soaps – typically an entry point for directors – had particularly few. There’s a whole new generation of female directors not getting through. Why?
Anecdotal evidence from DUK members throws up recurring themes. Often, women directors’ CVs are described as ‘eclectic’ or ‘unfocused’, possibly reflecting a difficulty in moving up to more prestigious jobs; women move sideways rather than progress.
Members ask whether women have the authority to lead a largely male crew, or the technical knowledge. Some male actors don’t like working with women directors. Questions have been asked about family responsibilities – can women successfully combine having children and directing? Women also feel they are only considered to direct stories centred on relationships, kids or families.
I’ve encountered some of these situations. Interviewed recently for a directing job on a European co-production, the male producer asked if I had any responsibilities that meant I needed to be back home for 6pm. I felt like asking him if he’d ask male interviewees the same question, but bit my tongue.
The BBC’s initiative should shed much more light through detailed questioning that explores why some directors get hired and some don’t.
I suspect that one factor is the increasing tendency to refer-up decisions about hiring, often to commissioning level. An interview might go well with the producer, but they’re not making the final decision. It helps if the commissioner knows or likes the director; new or unknown talent find it harder to get a break.
There also seems to be little monitoring of freelance employment. When we show the broadcasters’ HR departments the detailed analysis drawn from our data, they are surprised at the discrepancy between men and women.
I’m unusual in that I started directing professionally at 22 and set up my own production company. In the ’80s, society was more rebellious and political; women felt they had a right to ‘men’s’ jobs. I’ve never doubted that. But if I was 22 today, looking at who was directing the best drama on TV, I’d have few female role models. I wouldn’t feel welcome; I would wonder if it was even possible.
Beryl Richards chairs Directors UK’s Working Women’s Group
THE BBC VIEW: KATE HARWOOD
When many women work creatively in TV drama and comedy as commissioners, executive producers, producers and script editors, why do increasingly few become directors? I sit in an office with many talented women, several of whom – myself included – started as directors but abandoned this calling to work closer to development and production.
Over the past few years, more and more women writers have come through; now is the time to focus on directors. I am excited to be working with Directors UK to find ways of encouraging women who love drama and comedy to think not just about producing or acting but to consider a career as a director.
Kate Harwood is the BBC’s head of drama production for England