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Female-dominated Hollywood crafts jobs see gender bias, according to new study

Female-dominated Hollywood crafts jobs see gender bias, according to new study
Script supervisor Dawn Gilliam, center, with director JJ Abrams, left, on the set the of the 2009 film "Star Trek." (Local 871)

As a Hollywood script supervisor with nearly three decades of experience, Dawn Gilliam has worked on major blockbusters including “Black Panther” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” But even with a stellar resume, Gilliam said she still experiences condescension and bias on a regular basis.

Some of the affronts are casual in nature, including being pejoratively called “scripty” on set. “It kind of devalues what the job is,” Gilliam said during a break in the Philadelphia shoot of “Creed II.” “We sit with the director. Our notes go to the producer. So, no, I don’t think so.”

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She said more pernicious bias comes in the form of pay disparity. “When you ask for more money — a higher hourly rate — they say, ‘We don’t have it.’ It's discouraging,” Gilliam said.

Her experience is not isolated. A new report commissioned by her union shows certain female-dominated craft professions such as script supervisors and art department coordinators typically receive hundreds of dollars per week less than their counterparts in comparable male-dominated crafts. In addition, the report found that sexual harassment and other forms of gender bias are prevalent in these professions.

The new report — titled “’Script Girls,’ Secretaries and Stereotypes: Gender Pay Equity on Film and Television Crews” — was commissioned by IATSE Local 871, which represents a wide range of below-the-line craftspeople who work on movie and TV sets.

Its findings prompted a call for industry-wide reform. In an open letter to the entertainment industry, a coalition of groups — including the ACLU, Women in Media and the National Women's Law Center — cited the California Fair Pay Act, which prohibits employers from paying women less than they pay men for substantially similar work.

“It is no longer acceptable for employees in traditionally female-dominated classifications ... to be stuck with low wages that oftentimes make it difficult to make ends meet, especially in expensive cities like Los Angeles,” the letter stated.

The new study comes as Hollywood continues to grapple with a host of gender-discrimination issues, including pay disparity between male and female actors and a wave of sexual harassment scandals that sparked the #MeToo movement.

But relatively little focus has been paid to inequities that exist in other Hollywood occupations.

The study focuses on four crafts that have been traditionally dominated by women — script supervisors, production coordinators, assistant production coordinators and art department coordinators.

It compared these jobs to male-dominated roles, particularly assistant directors, as well as key assistant location managers, both of which are represented by other Hollywood unions. Although the jobs are different, they are roughly comparable in terms of their value to productions, according to the report’s authors.

The findings show that script supervisors received minimum rates, or scale pay, that was less than those of first assistant directors and key second assistant directors. Script supervisors earned weekly scale rates of $2,573 in 2016, versus $4,465 for first assistant directors and $3,101 for second assistant directors on TV projects. The pay differential was even higher for movies.

Script supervisors are typically in charge of ensuring continuity between shots and keeping meticulous records of each shot.

Art department coordinators were paid an average weekly rate of $1,238 in 2016, which was less than the weekly minimum pay for key second location managers of $1,687.

Workers must often individually negotiate their pay with production companies or studios if they want to receive more than the minimum. Craft workers say that this is where pay disparities often arise.

Marisa Shipley, an art department coordinator with several years of experience, said she was up for a job on a Netflix movie when the production supervisor told her that Netflix would not pay above the television minimum rate and would not even match the rate she was already making on TV projects.

Shipley said that after she refused to take a $350-a-week pay cut, the female production supervisor hired a male coordinator for $100 a week more than what Shipley had asked.

“We deserve to be paid a livable wage commensurate with the work we do,” Shipley said. “It doesn't matter if you jump one barrier, they throw another one out. Some of these projects are only four months long, and you do that multiple times a year and that becomes exhausting having to justify your work.”

But she said many crafts workers in Hollywood don’t have the power to openly discuss the issue.

“It's an unfortunate truth that I'm risking potential work by talking about this,” she said.

The Local 871 study was carried out by Working Ideal, a Washington, D.C., consulting firm that specializes in issues including workplace diversity. The study also explored workplace misconduct among below-the-line workers.

The results showed that 52% of women responding to a survey of Local 871 members said that they experienced or witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace in the last three years.

“The lower pay and status of these crafts reduces the economic and social power women have to challenge harassing and abusive behavior — especially given the high fear of retaliation and the informal and highly networked hiring practices on these productions,” the study states.

The authors didn’t have access to all the compensation data they were seeking and as a result, they were unable to draw definitive conclusions. The study also didn’t take into account levels of experience when comparing compensation between different crafts.

“But we have a lot of evidence concerning the pay gap between female and male staff that perform similar functions,” said Pamela Coukos, one of the authors. "This is one more piece of that story that says the industry needs to reckon with equity and inclusion in its workplaces."

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