Celluloid Ceiling Report: Scant progress for women behind film scenes

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These might seem like idyllic times for women in Hollywood: 2013’s highest grossing film is the Jennifer Lawrence-led “Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” and the sisterhood fairy tale “Frozen,” the first Disney Animation movie with a female director, is the Burbank studio’s most successful film since “The Lion King.”

Yet the story of women working behind the scenes is decidedly less upbeat, according to a report being released Tuesday by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

The Celluloid Ceiling Report found that women held an even smaller percentage of jobs on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2013 than they did in 1998, when researcher Martha Lauzen first began compiling the data.


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Last year women accounted for 16% of directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors and cinematographers working on the top films; in 1998 they held 17% of those jobs. Among directors, women accounted for a scant 6% in 2013, down from 9% last year and 9% in 1998.

“For all of the action that we’re seeing on-screen there is almost nothing happening behind the scenes in key roles,” said Lauzen. “We seem to be in a state of gender inertia. We’re just not seeing any movement at all.”

In order to get a broader picture of employment in Hollywood, Lauzen expanded this year’s study to include some new categories such as visual effects supervisors (5% women), special effects supervisors (2%) and composers (2%).

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The stagnation on film careers sits in contrast to the steady growth of women in the TV industry over the same years, Lauzen said. Women held 28% of the key behind-the-scenes jobs in broadcast television during the 2012-2013 season, according to Lauzen’s research, up from 21% in the 1997-98 season.


“If you look at numbers in television, they tell a different story,” Lauzen said. “There’s been slow but incremental growth over that same 16-year period. It might be that the female consumer is more highly valued in TV than film ... or that film historically has been seen as the more high-status medium. It’s still seen as being more exclusive and remains more of a male-dominated domain.”

It’s been four years since Kathryn Bigelow won the directing Oscar for “The Hurt Locker,” which some in Hollywood felt might have signaled a change in the movie industry.

But this year it seems unlikely any female feature directors will even be nominated for an Oscar, and the Directors Guild of America has not nominated any women in its feature film category.

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“People expected Bigelow’s Oscar to have a halo effect on other women,” Lauzen said. “It was a bit of wishful thinking. Attitudes remain a major stumbling block. There are some harsh realities women in the film community are facing.”

Nan Schwartz, a Grammy-winning composer who worked as an orchestrator on the 2012 movies “Argo” and “Rise of the Guardians,” said she wasn’t surprised by the report’s findings for women in her field.


“I don’t think the general climate has changed for women composers in film for years,” Schwartz said. “The image of a composer is a guy. I’ve conducted hundred-piece orchestras many times in my career. But the people who are hiring can’t imagine I have the competence to do that.”

Schwartz said she recently put herself forward for the job of composing the score for the erotic romance “Fifty Shades of Grey,” a 2015 film that she felt she might have a strong chance at because of its subject matter, female director and female screenwriter. (She lost out to A-list composer Danny Elfman).

“I have to be selective,” Schwartz said. “‘Spider-Man 3’ is not gonna want me.”