Several years ago, a group of DGA women banded together to voice their displeasure at the accomplishments of women directors being overlooked at the DGA Awards. Out of that grew a campaign the following year, #BestDirectHer, that saw three women nominated in the first time feature director category. One of them, Alma Ha’Rel, won. We were thrilled.

This year, as voting starts for the DGA and PGA Awards, (am a member of both guilds), there are more female-directed projects under consideration than ever. It’s been a crazy year, and not as many films have been released as usual. Usually, at this time of year, we get these expensive campaigns on behalf of bigger-budget, mostly male-directed films. But those films have been held from release because their studios and producers want to be able to make more money (they hope) releasing their films theatrically.

Whatever the reason, I’m glad women are getting this opportunity to shine. There’s some great work out there. Have you seen EMMA, directed by Autumn de Wilde? Or WANDER DARKLY, directed by Tara Miele? How about PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, directed by Emerald Fennell? Regina King’s ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI? NOMADLAND by Chloe Zhao?

There’s a lot to choose from.

Women in Film has published a ballot of ALL the talented women working this year – not just directors. And Ava Duvernay’s Array has put together a database of talented women and people of color in all categories. Women in Media has a database of talented women. There are several other organizations that have done similar work. So, no more excuses, in any category.

My hope – after this season, hiring a female director won’t be such an unusual thing. Or a woman in any category. We’re not unicorns, after all.

Fairy Tales & Star Wars

I recently picked up my copy of THE USES OF ENCHANTMENT, by Bruno Bettelheim. I was/am stuck on a story I’m writing, and was looking for some inspiration on how to work my way out of a hole.

As frequently happens, I got mentally sidetracked. I recently saw (most of) the new STAR WARS film. I say ‘most of,’ because honestly, I fell asleep. And I’m a fan of the franchise, mostly.

I have a sentimental attachment to the STAR WARS films. I saw the first film multiple times, because it was showing in an air-conditioned theater during a hot, humid summer when I had no AC. At first it was a practical way to escape, be cool (literally), and not spend a ton of money doing it. The theater was close to my apartment.

But seeing that film so many times, something started to dawn on me. Call it the Hero’s Journey, or whatever, but I became invested in the story each time I saw the film.

“It is important to provide the modern child with images of heroes who have to go out into the world all by themselves, and who, although originally ignorant of the ultimate things, find secure places in the world by following their right way deep inner confidence.”

The hero/heroine must step out on his or her own. Be willing to take the risks to accomplish the task. It can be a scary place.

That’s something the first STAR WARS film accomplished well. The rest, not so much. And as I look at the critically acclaimed films of the past few years, I don’t see much of this type of heroism.

Why is that? Is the world such a scary place, we have to stay with the ‘herd,’ and not take risks? After all, how many kids got participation trophies, as if NOT being the winner in any situation was a fate worse than death. Have we culturally bred out the courage to take risks, and now our stories reflect that?

Even politically – the herd mentality exists. You’re either ‘on the bus, or off the bus,’ as Ken Kesey would have said years ago. You can’t say, ‘I don’t like this AND I don’t like that.’ Gotta choose.

But speaking as a storyteller, I have to say, that isn’t the way to tell good stories. The most interesting places are those original, hard-won, territories where few venture to go. On the page, on the screen, and in life.

Story story story

1200px-Solo-a-star-wars-story-tall-AI am a HUGE fan of the Star Wars franchise. It started long ago, in a place far away, one summer when our air conditioner didn’t work well, and the movie theater around the corner offered matinees (during the hottest time of the day) for $3. I saw the first Star Wars film maybe 4 or 5 times. I had portions of dialog memorized.

Now, I do not pretend this was great art. I hadn’t been a sci fi fan, nor comic book geek. But I did respond to the story.

Specifically, the redemption stories. Although it would be several years until I understood the Joseph Campbell hero-story dynamic, I intuitively responded to it. Hero finds him/herself in a hostile environment, must find and perhaps learn to trust allies; must understand who the enemies are; must undergo a dark night of the soul when all appears lost, etc. etc.

In the early films, Luke goes from country bumpkin farmer to Jedi knight/fighter pilot/guy who saves the world. Han goes from self-centered jerk to giving his all to help others and save the world from the bad guys. Oh yeah, and he falls in love with the princess, too.

I walked out of that film feeling like I’d participated in the victory on screen. That’s an audience home run, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s why those early movies were so popular. We enter that darkened theater, and let our imaginations take flight. We escape from the heat, or the cold, or the dreariness of our everyday lives, and we, too, can be heroes. We can save worlds.

Today I went to see SOLO, the latest in the franchise. It’s the ‘origin’ story of Han Solo, our bad-boy space cowboy. I entered that darkened theater really wanting to go on the ride, wanting to enter that world. I really did.

The first third of the film is in a dark, gray, foggy world which looked grim. We really can’t see too much of it, because of all the fog/smoke. But it looks bad. And depressing. When we meet Luke in the first film, we see a wondrous world, unlike our own. I’m not suggesting the filmmakers make Han’s early life too ‘pretty,’ but perhaps we could see just a little bit more of it? I kept wanting to turn on a light.

I suppose it’s a measure of our times that several recent films have opted for this darker, grey, steampunk version of the future – over-industrialized, grim, hopeless.  But if the filmmakers really think that’s the world we live in, why would we want entertainment that beats us over the head with that?

However, my biggest issue is with the story arc. Or lack of it, in Han’s case. In the Joseph Campbell school of story, the hero has a journey, and comes out the other side, more of a hero. Changed. Ready to make his world better. The only thing that happens in this film is Han Solo gets away with stuff. He escapes a few disasters, is cocky about his prowess as a pilot, and is a pretty good fast-talker. But he’s the same guy at the start as he is at the end. Yeah, he helps a small group of rebels. But it’s clear he doesn’t have the resources to sell the prize he gives them, anyway.

We know from the early Star Wars films, that’s where we meet him at the beginning of that saga. So the producers had a problem – what to do with the origin story? After seeing the film, I’m not sure they successfully figured that out.

The film does tell us how Chewbacca and Han get together, and the basis for that bond. But this is not a relationship of equals. It always feels like Chewy works for Han. There is no moment when Chewy contributes emotionally. He does act as ‘assistant’ pilot, and he carries the heavy suitcases. Does that deserve a whole film?

I walked out of the theater feeling like Disney needed a vehicle to introduce a few new theme park rides, add some items to its branded product line, and this was it. Not a great reason to go to the movies, in my opinion.

#StarWars #Solo #Movies

It’s time for some straight talk

Since last fall, with the revelations about Harvey Weinstein, we’ve been awash in #MeToo. Tales of assault. Harassment. Promotions and opportunities denied.

Any woman working, whether in Hollywood or anywhere else, will tell you, yeah, #MeToo. It has been pervasive. Sometimes subtle. Sometimes not. On one of my first jobs, I complained to my boss that some of the crew had ‘sandwiched’ me in an elevator, and made some salacious comments. His response? It was the cost of doing business. “If you can’t stand the heat…” Literally, that’s what he said.

Fast forward a few years. (Okay, more than a few.) Women are speaking up. Those who have abused their positions are being outed. Good.

As the volume increased during awards season, I was disturbed to see a prominent producer, whom I know to have retaliated against a friend who refused his advances, stand in front of a microphone and decry this behavior. I supposed it’s to be expected. Another prominent individual was charged with being the mouthpiece for one of the guilds on the issue. When his response finally came, it was weak. Several of my friends defended him, others intimated there is a history there, too. Who is going to out themselves? No one.

It’s up to those who suffered the abuse to come forward, if they choose to. Not everyone will. It’s tough to stand in the glare of media attention, and claim victimhood, in my opinion. But it’s their decision. I support them either way they go.

BUT let’s be honest. We all know people who want the attention, and want to jump on the bandwagon too. They are willing to say, #MeToo, even if it’s not true. Or maybe only imagined. Or if they were offended someone even expressed interest in them. That’s not harassment, in my book. Once you say no, and if the conduct continues, then you might have a case.

Let’s not cheapen the process here. There are legitimate claims. Let’s see those people exposed for who they are.

Then let’s get back to the joy of our craft. With perhaps a lot more women participating in key areas of the process now.