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Women Impacting Hollywood

From Storytelling to Set Design, Female Voices are Shaping Entertainment
March 16, 2021

Staff Writer

Women are growing more dominant in the film industry as the vision of Hollywood is adjusting to the female lens.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Entertainment Partners connected with a wide range of professional women, from finance to production, who have contributed years of hustle and heart to growing the business of entertainment, sharing their stories and their experiences navigating the industry. Collectively, their voices spotlight how far Hollywood has come in including new perspectives, with female leaders who are determined to create a future with more diverse storytelling across all mediums, along with a safer, welcoming work environment.

These hopeful changes are contributing to, “a more holistic perspective, because you can’t tell complete stories without true diversity in all areas of our storytelling processes and productions,” T’Erica Jinkins, Director of Controls & Reconciliation and Shared Services Payroll at Sony Entertainment, explains.

Women behind the lens and on the creative side can bring a point of view that is necessary to be seen and heard. Not necessarily only about women’s stories, but stories that are seen through women’s eyes.

Expanding perspectives in the film and television industry impacts so many other artistic industries as Sandy Lighterman, Miami-Dade County Film and Entertainment Commissioner, states, “Women behind the lens and on the creative side can bring a point of view that is necessary to be seen and heard. Not necessarily only about women’s stories, but stories that are seen through women’s eyes. It’s a different perspective. The stories change to an equal perspective of art, culture and how content is processed.”

Offering a female perspective isn’t a passing trend, nor is it about giving “special treatment” to a previously underrepresented group. It’s not about a “female-director” or a “female-DP.” Women stepping into their roles as professionals, working alongside other professionals, happened because of the years they put in earning skills and savvy that has expanded the industry with content that the rest of the world was eager to experience.

“Today, women hold top positions at some of the most note-worthy studios. Creators and Showrunners like Andrea Savage and Pamela Adlon fill their rooms with women writers and seek out female and diverse department heads for ALL departments,” says Liz Newman, a producer with over 30 years in the business, working on projects such as Ransom, Scrubs, and Maverick.

According to Ellen Mirojnick, Costume Designer of Bridgerton, there’s starting to be less of a distinction between all genders in the film industry, “I don’t think of myself as a ‘woman’ in entertainment, I am a person who contributes to our culture through entertainment.” She also added that more women are “working in every category below the line.”

This point is echoed by many women working in the industry today, including Valerie Laven-Cooper, Costume Supervisor of Homeland and Law & Order, “Diversity has been a wonderful benefit to enrich the makeup of our crews...You now expect it. You expect to see women in positions as directors, DP’s, gaffers, grips, and electricians.”

Brenda Maben, Costume Supervisor of popular shows such as Gilmore Girls, Patriot, and Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, agrees, “I have a sense of empowerment being a woman in this industry. I feel that I am free to express my opinions, that they are heard, and that there is follow through. Yes, I am a woman, but I don't really see that I am treated any different because I am a woman.”

The big push for authenticity, transparency, diversity and inclusion has been long overdue, and much needed to reflect the changing demographics in Hollywood and in our world.

Today, a level playing field for all genders is the norm, but stepping back a few years, it wasn’t always the case.

Rose Leiker, Prop Master shares, “Years ago, we were just one female entity in a sea of men. Now, we are an army of equals working toward a common goal. We represent what needs to happen across all industries.” She added that over the span of her career, she has witnessed the change, “I am now, not one of the few women on set, but am amongst all sorts of varieties of people. The entertainment industry is heavily influential on our society. The way we set an example, is a way to pave the road for other industries.”

These changes, made across all levels of the film industry, have created a ripple effect on gender equality today, and it’s only just the beginning. Shirly Davis, Co-President/Co-Founder of Rose Colored Pictures, shares “The big push for authenticity, transparency, diversity and inclusion has been long overdue, and much needed to reflect the changing demographics in Hollywood and in our world. It has begun to level the playing field."

Fran Lucci-Pannozzo, SVP Production and Finance at STX Entertainment, is encouraged by how far we have come, and hopes that more women will join in moving the business forward, “There have been great strides made on the television side with several women heads of production finance; CBS, NBCU, A&E & Legendary are several that come to mind. I realize that most seated in the highest leadership roles tend to stay in them. But when the opportunity arises at one of the major studios, streaming or independent production companies, it is my hope that one of my esteemed female colleagues will get the opportunity to step up and step in.”

Valerie Laven-Cooper paints the past in contrast with a hopeful future, “In the 80's and 90's, the few women I worked with who were producers, line producers, and unit managers were pioneers in their field. They were very determined, serious people, the women who made it were very tough. The women who are in positions of power now are more confident and relaxed and nurturing. This was my experience and may not be true of other people. This evolution is extremely positive and I believe will continue. This is a very dramatic change to me. My interaction with the women working today is much more positive.”

Ileana Tschabold, an Assistant Prop Master, shares a similar experience, “When I started, it was not abnormal to be one of only a handful of women on set and the Heads of Department were almost always men. Inappropriate comments, actions and outright bullying would often go on unchecked. It seemed the industry as a whole had a ‘Grow a thick skin or get out’ mentality. Today, I am seeing a much more even ratio of men and women in the workforce across the board and productions are taking everyone's safety and well-being more seriously.”

The future of filmmaking is female because of women like these, who have shared their voices, and who are now reaching out to teach and mentor the next generation, such as Rhonda O'Neal, a Hollywood hair stylist who added over 100 credits to her name while working as a single mom. She is the founder of Beyond the Comb Academy, training up-and-coming young industry professionals, and remarks on what she witnesses happening today, “Younger women are standing up. More want to be heard.”

And now, with a wealth of new media platforms at our fingertips, more positions are opening up for women to speak up.

[I’m] so encouraged by how many more women are now in major decision-making positions, mentoring other women to follow in their footsteps.

Lucy Bruckner, a working mom with a young family, and producer at Rotten Tomatoes agrees, now finding her voice in the world of podcasting, “I think one of the biggest changes during the course of my career is the elevation of diverse voices across various mediums – that includes everyone in front of and behind the camera...Though my career originally started off with me producing videos to promote wide releases – eight years later, I get the opportunity to stretch my producing muscles and create a podcast where we dive into really interesting movies, new or old, where we can have profound discussions around the types of stories being told in film and by whom.”

As female voices grow louder, Carolina Iguerrero, production manager of unscripted television shows, sees a hopeful future, “[I’m] so encouraged by how many more women are now in major decision-making positions, mentoring other women to follow in their footsteps."

The stories we tell today are what empower the young woman of tomorrow, who will continue this forward momentum. As Sandy Lighterman explains, “It goes a long way for women in the industry to feel empowered, which in turn shows on the screen, where it will translate into images that are seen and heard by our young women, who will carry that confidence with them into their adult years."

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