In the film industry, production opportunities are vital. But is everyone qualified getting a chance?
We all know the entertainment industry is one of the toughest to break in to and that the majority of high-profile filmmakers prefer familiarity; that's why we see Elswit team with Paul Thomas Anderson, Lubezski with Alejandro González Iñárritu, Hoyte van Hoytema with Christopher Nolan, and Janusz Kaminski with Spielberg. Building a relationship of trust and shorthand creates a like-minded collaboration, and it goes without saying that the more comfortable you are with someone, the easier it is to speak with an open mind.
It almost takes a scheduling conflict to see a young, up-and-coming cinematographer pair up with an established director for the first time. Bradford Young comes to mind for Denis Villeneuve's Arrival. Not to say that Young couldn't get the job on his own (as he did), but the DP shared that Deakins was busy on another project at the time and so Young got the call.
It's not just Young to note the coincidental nature of his hiring, nor is it limited to the camera department. Production sound professionals typically use the same boom operators, editors the same assistant editors, and VFX supervisors the same post houses. We look to friends for our own projects, and it's a cycle propagated by tighter budgets and shorter schedules. Relationships matter.
"Diversity is not about counting heads" but rather "making those heads count to create a sense of participation and worth."
Will that change? During a recent NAB panel, Diversity & Inclusion in the Cinema Workspace, Britta Wilson of Pixar Animation Studios believes it can, noting that a diverse and inclusive workplace is "an open work environment that respects and values the presence and participation of difference and talented individuals—an environment where people can genuinely flourish and thrive."
Wilson pointed out a study from Dr. Stacey Smith of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative that looked at 1,100 popular films from 2007-2017. Of the 1,223 directors listed, only 5.2% were black or African American and only 3.2% were Asian or Asian Pacific (four percent of these two ethnicities were women).
There's a movement happening right now to change this and we can all be part of making sure that everyone gets a voice. There are numerous reasons to diversify your crew beyond political correctness. A major benefit is more varied approaches to solving creative and technical problems on set.
The biggest impediment to creating a culture of inclusiveness is the biases and misconceptions that accompany gender, race, politics, and socioeconomic status. What can you and the Spielbergs of the world do? The simplest solution is not to get comfortable. Don't use the same crew for major department heads; mix it up when you can. This is not to say filmmakers don't already do this, but it happens much less often. Yes, change is difficult, especially when thinking about budget, scheduling, and those on-set moments where you look over to a crewmember to give a nod and they know exactly what you mean.
New faces mean new ideas and plentiful creativity.
While that connection can take time to build, Wilson notes that "diversity is not about counting heads" but rather "making those heads count to create a sense of participation and worth." The desired shorthand will come to fold if you let it. New faces mean new ideas and plentiful creativity. It's more than likely that you will both learn from each other and grow as filmmakers in the process.
Let us know what you're doing to help ensure the inclusion of diverse voices on set in the comments section below.