Thursday, January 9, 2014

Video production class weblog--Day 4, 2014: cinematography and gender

Today, noted alumna O.K. Keyes showed up to discuss cinematography and her many recent filmmaking projects. Recently, she shot a feature length film, footage of a Civil War reenactment that involved hiding her camera inside a device tied to her hip, a short that has done well with various film festivals, and who knows what else (I interviewed her for a post next week). As D6 Productions continued with their shoot in the woods, OK showed them how to lie down in the leaves to get proper sunny backlighting as D bludgeoned a savage with a parasol. While Average Films Studio settled on a making-of-squirrel documentary that devolves into a Blair Witch Project fight for survival in the woods, D6 Productions and I and OK discussed at length various ways to extend their apocalyptic film storyline. When Joe finds Lilian wimpering behind the sinks in a bathroom, we discover that only he shows up in the mirror as they walk by. They then go on a quest to find anyone else alive in the suddenly deserted city. As the afternoon wears on, they take to visiting various homes in the hopes of finding someone holed up inside, but meanwhile Joe's sister has taken to staring spells and moments of disconnection that implies that something's wrong. Why can't she remember their favorite childhood song? Why isn't she ever hungry or thirsty? What happened to all of their friends and family as loose sheets of paper fly over the empty streets? It took us over an hour to begin to figure out some answers to these questions.

As I've been talking to OK and Morgan, I've been surprised by their repeated refrain concerning the male-dominated world of filmmaking even today. Here's a sample of OK's thoughts as we walked away from one of the shoots this morning:

FD: "You were just saying that if you were in LA, they are just not hiring female cinematographers."

OK: "We are starting to see a lot of female directors, writers, and executive producers, which is very important positions, and I'm not saying that cinematography is the most important thing."

FD: "Why do you suppose this happens?"

OK: "Part of it is a tech thing. Historically, cameras have been very heavy. So, women did not just have access to the technology, so you started seeing a lot more female cinematographers during the video revolution when cameras got compact."

FD: "As in the 60s with cinema verite."

OK: "Yep. Agnes Varda. New Wave. So, you have a lot of feminist filmmakers in the '60s and '70s that started popping up, and they would work with documentaries, but it was difficult for them to dive into narrative when that was very much controlled by male Hollywood. You didn't have the kind of independent films like they do today. Today, you can find a handful of female cinematographers who do independent film. The Wrestler was shot by Maryse Alberti. That was a beautiful film, and everyone thought that she would get the Oscar buzz for the best cinematography, but that never happened. That was the last time there was Oscar buzz for a female. A woman cinematography has never even been nominated."

FD: "Really?"

OK: "Now we have the digital revolution when cameras are getting tinier, in a lot of DIY productions I see a lot of women. I've worked on some all-female sets. Still, part of the problem is that we have to prove ourselves as cinematographers. Men don't necessarily need specialized skill sets to get a job. So there's this pressure. I could perhaps invent something, maybe? Invent a technique, or get known for a certain style and I could possibly get put on projects, but that would require me to buy a really fancy camera, and I would still needs lots of money to do that. Who are they going to go with if they hear of a female Steadicam operator who's going to have to be on their feet for 60 hours on a given week or a male Steadicam operator? They are going to go with the male because there's this built-in sexist notion that the men can last longer. The equipment itself is sexist. Steadicam rigs are not very accomodating to a female torso, and people have actually invented hipcams or devices that use the center of gravity at the hip, and no one's using it because it was designed by women."

We also talked about the importance working an any project to get experience and the need to carry an iPhone so that you can show off your minute and a half demo reel or sizzle reel to impatient clients quickly. OK kept suggesting that cinematographers must be willing to lie on ice, endure 100+ degree temperatures, dangle off of precipices, and suffer all kinds of privations in order to get the best take.

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