“If there’s specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can’t change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies.” – Kathryn Bigelow
Session 7 has come and gone in a FLASH! Vera called us together to begin the session and we gathered in our usual circle to answer our ice breaker question of the day: If you were from another time period, when would that be? As is par for our awesome student course, the answers ranged from hilariously original to contemplative and and heart-warming. One student answered that she'd love to go back to when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Another told us that she would love to head 100 years into the future to see how things had changed and advanced. Another mentioned that she'd love to go back to when her Father was alive, and one student stated that she's thrilled to be living in there here and now.
Vera explained that our session would be story-intensive, as we would be filming soon and need to solidify our themes and story ideas. We want the students to develop a strong draft of what kind of story or message they would like to tell. It's so exciting to think that we will be starting to put it all on film in just a few weeks!
Before we got into the story lines, however, we first screened a short piece from Feminist Frequency by Anita Sakeesian about the Bechdel Test. You may watch the video here. The Bechdel test is a basic gauge of womenʻs visibility and presence in film using simple criteria: it has to have at least two women characters in it who have names, who talk to each other, and who are talking about something other than their relationship to a man. While it is not a test about the quality of the film itself, it is one of the most enduring tools to measure Hollywood’s gender bias. It was originally inspired by Virginia Woolf and promoted by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in a 1985 strip from her “Dykes To Watch Out For” series. You can see a copy of that strip here.
The short film then applied the Bechdel Test to films that were nominated for academy awards in 2012. The film also explains the rule in relation to how the test can be applied to people of color (2 characters that talk to each other about something other than a white character).
After we watched the film, we discussed this year's Oscar-nominated films in relation to the Bechdel. We deciphered that only one of the 8 films would possibly pass the test and none of these films were directed by women. In 88 years, only 5 nominations have occurred for women directors. A quote from the movie popped into my mind while we were discussing this:
"Hollywood is clearly not interested in hearing from women or telling women's stories."
While that line is clearly proven to be true, it's heartbreaking because while Hollywood is seemingly unconcerned with women's stories, people are not. Movies with strong female characters undeniably do well. Hunger Games, Pitch Perfect II, Bridesmaids, Mad Max - all of these are recent films that have crushed it at the box office this past year; yet Hollywood still denies that women's stories are worth telling. Vera reminded the group that we have the ability to help change this dynamic. As we recognize the problem, we can also promote a solution. She explained that our filmmaking initiative exists to educate, while also hoping to place a little bit of pressure to create a sort of "call to action." We hope that by shining a light on these issues of injustice and ill representation, we can start to create media that represents women and girls in a more profound, robust way. We have the power of the pen and the power of the camera, so we need to use it!
Next, we showed the group a film trailer for the new Ghostbusters remake. Our film instructors used the trailer as a review from last week, asking the students to call out the different shots they could see...Extreme wide shot! High angle shot! Medium wide shot! :) Our film instructors also pointed out things like zooming and panning, tilts and movement - things that are pleasing to the eye and allow us to become more involved with the story and characters. We then moved into the filmmaking portion of the evening, where Lisette and Sam, two of our film instructors, taught us about title and synopsis, visual style and genre, characters and location, scenes and resolution; namely, how to piece together a strong screenplay. Lisette reminds the students that as filmmakers, we have a lot of power in our hands, and we must learn to wield it wisely.
We broke into our filmmaking teams and I chose a new group to hang with like I do every week. This group was focusing on child poverty and had detailed visuals in mind for the scenes they hope to shoot. They explained to me that one character would be a businessman and the other character would be a homeless child. When I asked the group why they chose the professional businessperson to be male, they all blinked at me, wide-eyed. Then one of the students answered, "You're right...wow, I guess when I think of business I immediately think of men. I guess that's kind of sexist, huh? We should make it a woman!!!" They all agreed and I laughed. I loved how readily they admitted their own biases. It's moments like those that make me love this project.
We talked about scene locations, ambiance, lighting, and details (like what the characters will be wearing) and if music will be involved. The group hopes to convey a "call to action" at the end of the movie, to inspire others to get involved with issues of homelessness. After working steadily on their stories for over an hour,
we all came back together as one large group to share our completed story synopses. Each group discussed story lines, shooting styles, some dialogue ideas, and location options. The room was abuzz with ideas and imagination, and the staff remains ever-impressed with the originality and creativity of our many amazing students. As always, we cannot wait for next week! :)