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Lights, Action, but Few Women in Charge

Documentary filmmaker Jessica Luna, a student in professor Doe Mayer’s class, hopes to inspire women by directing such subjects as the only female cyclist in the Race Across America competition.

If a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, can it be said in the cinematic world that a woman is to be rewarded for the same goal?

According to, which reported that females directed only 7 percent of the top 200 films of 2005, the answer seems to be a sobering “not yet.”

Likewise, a study of behind-the-scenes positions called “The Celluloid Ceiling” by professor Martha M. Lauzen of San Diego State University, sheds light on some similarly disturbing facts: of the top 250 domestic grossing films released in 2004, 63 percent employed no female executive producers; 95 percent had no female directors; 82 percent had no female writers; 80 percent had no female editors and 97 percent had no female cinematographers.

“I had no idea the statistics were so low,” said senior Jessica Luna, who only recently learned the figures in professor Doe Mayer’s USC School of Cinema-Television class, Career Choices and Challenges for Women.

How many big-name female directors can Luna cite? Off the top of her head, she mentioned two: Sofia Coppola and Barbra Streisand. But there she stopped, saying the list becomes more challenging.

“After that, you start getting into lesser-known women who are so far under the radar,” Luna said.

According to Mayer, “The Career Choices class is pivotal because there are some successful women in all areas of the film industry. As our class guests, they provide role models for young women and give our students the opportunity to hear wonderful, surprising stories of how these women got where they are.

“The course also gives the students an overview of many jobs in the entertainment industries � including ones they may not have been aware of when they walked in the door,” said Mayer, who added that her class also delves into the history of women’s roles in cinema.

Class guests this semester have included indie director Nicole Holofcener, director of “Friends With Money,” and Robin Swicord, writer of “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Little Women.” Mia Goldman, who for more than 30 years has battled the odds to become one of cinema’s most successful editors, recently visited the class.

“The work is the same, but it’s hard to be a woman in this business,” said Goldman, who has edited films such as “Choose Me” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” and directed her first feature, “Open Window” in 2005. “Take the way that women argue,” she told the class. “Men will take harsh comments from men, and I think they can be a bit more brutal to each other. But for a woman, it’s really not attractive to be too aggressive.”

And with the grueling seven-days-a-week, 14-hour schedules that editing often can demand, Goldman, like her physician husband, is often on call.

“I’m not dealing with life and death, but from the way people feel about your work in this business, I might as well be,” she said with a laugh. “Budgets are high, schedules are tight and though every job is different, you have to remember that you are always facilitating the director’s vision.”

The fact that nearly 95 percent of the directors are men, however, begs the question of whether that vision is as broad and diverse as it might be if there were more opportunities for women.

“I feel like we don’t get a balance with the majority of directors being male,” Luna said.

As an independent documentary filmmaker, she hopes to shift that focus and also to inspire other women in the field by covering such subjects as the only female cyclist in the Race Across America competition.

“Cinema is such a powerful force in society, and it doesn’t seem right that women’s voices only make up a small piece of that influence,” she said.

In another effort to raise awareness of women in the industry, Luna and her classmates have formed a Women in Cinema club that highlights the roles women play in the industry.

“It’s a way for women to realize how few of us are working in film but also to see that we are out there. With the club, we can build on 496 and help film students find role models. Once attention is drawn to the numbers, it might be easier to start working to improving them.”

Shonda Rimes, creator and executive producer of the ABC series “Grey’s Anatomy,” was the featured guest of the inaugural Women in Cinema event held April 1 at Norris Theatre.

Lights, Action, but Few Women in Charge

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