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Ben Yennie: 5 Reasons Why We NEED More Women Working in the Film Industry

Last week I wrote about how despite this company being primarily run by two CisHet white guys, we still think that diversity in film and media is absolutely vital.  Well, the same is still true, but our advisory board is 100% female, so we practice what we preach when it comes to the topic of getting more women working in film, (and for that matter, more women in tech.) What follows is a list of reasons why the film industry needs to become more focused on women, and how it will help not only the overall culture of the entertainment industry (and by extension the country) but also help the bottom lines of the studios that hire them.  

But before we dive in, let’s examine the problem.  The following stats are taken from the state of the film industry report.  You can read the whole section on the topic by clicking here.  

As you can see from the image above, the film industry has significantly fewer women working in it, and women who work in the film industry have significantly less power and make significantly less money.  This is not surprising, but I did want to establish this while I could.  So here’s why we should fix it.  

1. Women are a Huge, Underserved Demographic.

According to the most recent census data, women represent around 50.8% of the US Population.  However, conventional wisdom in Hollywood is that only male-oriented films can really increase the bottom line of a film.  While I disagree with this general assessment, it’s reasoning comes primarily from a belief that women have more spending power than men, and that women will continue to see more male-oriented films than men will see female-oriented films.  

As a result, most films that are made are geared more towards male audiences.  But, as women’s purchasing power continues to grow it’s likely that more and more women are going to be looking for authentic content that resonates with them.  The only way to make the sort of content that will resonate with women is to put more women behind the camera and in the writer's room, so they can share their experience.   

2. Films that Pass the Bechdel Test Perform Better at the Box Office

For those of you who don’t know, the Bechdel test is a test developed in 1985 by a female cartoonist named Alison Bechdel, In order to pass the test, the movie must feature two named female characters, who must have a conversation in the movie, and that conversation must be about something besides men.  In this author’s opinion, that’s too low a bar by a pretty significant amount, however in a meta-analysis analyzed by 538.com fewer than 47% of films made between 1990 and 2013 passed the Bechdel test.  

The only reason that number was so high was that films have been becoming more and more likely to pass as time goes on.  

Interestingly, the study performed by 538 also found that films that pass the Bechdel test tend to be more profitable on average than those who don’t.  Passing films tended to make $2.68 for every dollar spent on the budget, whereas films that failed the Bechdel test only tended to make $2.45 for every dollar spent on the budget.  

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/apr/03/films-bechdel-test-more-profitable

In my own personal opinion, I really think that the number of films that pass the Bechdel test should be closer to 90-95%.  I’m not going to rule out the fact that there will still be some films for completely legitimate reasons will not pass, say a film taking place at an all boys school, but really the standards for passing are quite low, although it’s the best metric we currently have.  

3. Women Helmed Films can be Huge Runaway Successes

In recent years we’ve seen much more of a focus on women leading stories than we’ve seen in the past.  Two prime examples are Wonder Woman and the Ghostbusters Reboot.  One key difference is that Wonder Woman was directed by a woman, and Ghostbusters was directed by a man.  

But let’s dive in deeper.  Ghostbusters was part of a much loved and incredibly commercially successful film franchise.  The franchise had not seen a major release in film or television in more than a few decades.  It had, however, had a very successful video game with much of the original cast returning to voice their characters.  While the director Paul Feig is male, he had led all female casts to commercial success in films like Bridezillas that largely resonated with women.  The film is widely panned and considered the worst in the franchise.  It was shot for an estimated 144 million and grossed a bit over 229 million worldwide with 128 million coming from the US.  

Now let’s look at Wonder Women.  It was based on a widely loved intellectual property and was a tie-in to the DC cinematic universe.  By most accounts, the DC cinematic universe is flailing as compared to it’s main competitor at Marvel.  While the DC cinematic universe had recent releases prior to Wonder Woman, much of them were considered stale, unimaginative, and received wide panning from critics.  The character of Wonder Woman had appeared briefly in Batman Vs Superman, but aside from that the character hadn’t really had much exposure in terms of a major theatrical release or really anything other than a made for TV movies and children’s animated shows.  (Although we’re going to ignore the 15,000 dollar feature film that I’m just going to assume was unauthorized but still ended up on IMDb.)  

The director, Patty Jenkins, didn’t have much of a track record.  Outside of her film Monster in 2003, she largely directed TV episodes and a few made for TV movies.  Wonder Woman was hailed as a triumph by critics and audiences alike.  It was shot for an estimated 149 million and grossed over 821 million worldwide, with around 412.5 of that coming from the US Release.  

So from a similar status of an intellectual property, similar rabid fan bases, and similar budgets, and overall similar prospects, Wonder Woman massively outshone Ghostbusters.  I can’t say that the fact that it had a woman directing the film is the sole reason for Wonder Woman’s success, but I do think that it’s a factor that should be included when making an examination. 

Numbers and resumes taken from IMDb.

4. Women’s Purchasing Power is Growing, particularly since the Recession

 According to the Boston Consulting Group, women influence over 73% of household purchases.  Since women are controlling an ever-increasing percentage of the purse strings, it’s likely that they’re going to control more things like what movies families are likely to see, and in general, what purchases come out of the limited expendable income most American families have are going to be overseen by women.

Since the great recession and the loss of many middle-class jobs, women have taken a much greater percentage of the purchasing power for middle-income American families.  Given the current economic uncertainty, it’s likely this trend will continue.

It’s not simply about movie tickets and SVOD packages.  It’s also about who your advertisers will consider a high-value consumer and what they’re willing to pay to influence in the commercial breaks, ad pre-rolls, and other various forms of ad-supported video on demand.  If you want real women to engage in with your show, you’re going to have to show them why they need to watch.  

Source: https://www.adweek.com/tv-video/what-women-watch-tv-156621/

5. People tend to Watch what They Associate with.  

Towards the end of the Adweek article listed above, there are a few notes about how people watch certain types of content because it’s a train wreck.  Stories about the craziness that goes on at Wal-Wart are often considered to be more something we watch out of sheer morbidity and a desire to see what craziness unfolds.   For many, however, the crazy shit that goes on in Walmart is a weekly occurrence, and they watch that type of content more because they can relate to it.  

Such gave rise to Reality TV.  When it became clear how fake much of that was, viewers migrated to personalities on YouTube.  All of this is to say that people crave genuine representation in the media they consume.  While I know I’ve said this before, I also fully recognize that it’s likely something that will take a while for the studio heads of this world to fully accept.  If you want to create authentic content that represents women, minority groups, or other niche interests, you need to have them represented behind the camera.  

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