Tell Me My Story: Creators Move Forward To Change Women Roles

Her biggest hint may have arrived in film school.As a graduate student at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, writer, director and producer Julie Kalceff says, “I found the process to have predominantly male students. Film and TV traditionally are not terribly inclusive. I was frustrated by the industry.”Working in film and television for the past 15 years, Kalceff says, “I was not telling the stories I wanted to tell; stories were about straight white men. I tried to be that person and write those stories but I was not creatively satisfied.”That has changed since she and producer/actor Rosie Lourde developed the web series, Starting From Now,one of Australia’s most successful mult-iplatform dramas spanning five seasons, earning awards, reaching 33 million views online in 230 countries around the world and now on broadcast TV.According to Kalceff, 20 percent of the fans are in the U.S., with 8 percent each in France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia. “We have a large viewership throughout the Middle East, with people literally hiding in the closet to watch.”[bctt tweet=”#StartingFromNow is working to have more diverse women’s stories in the mainstream” username=“takeleadwomen”]The show about four queer women in Australia was exclusively online for the first three seasons, then picked up by Australian broadcast TV for seasons four and five. the process has taught both Kalceff and Lourde lessons on daring, creative leadership, networking and standing up for the diverse ideas and stories that need to be told.“We were able to make a web series, make content and stories that are diverse about sexuality,” Kalceff says. “They did not have it in the mainstream. Traditional media is risk averse, people just want to keep making the same shows.”Lourde, an award-winning actress who has partnered on the series since 2013 with Kalceff, agrees. “We have had conversations with broadcasters, who said, we already have ‘The L Word,’ why do you need another one?” That Showtime series about a group of lesbian friends ended in 2009, and is available online.“I feel like things are changing, but not as fast as we would like them to,” Kalceff says. “It’s a no- brainer about women. We need more diverse stories.”Indeed.That notion is at the heart of Ava DuVernay’s latest push for more women directors working in Hollywood. As the first black woman director to earn an Oscar nomination as director of “Selma,” DuVernay is also at the helm of Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” and many other projects. Those include “Queen Sugar,” now in its second season.“For Season 2 of ‘Queen Sugar,’  DuVernay was again determined to give more women — especially gay women and women of color — the chance to work. Instead of going through the typical Hollywood channels, she sought filmmakers whose intimate, character-driven work had inspired her over the years, even resorting to tracking people down through Twitter,” writes Meredith Blake in The Day.“The ‘Queen Sugar’ roster includes women who rank as ‘some of the greatest independent filmmakers to come out of the festival circuit in the last 10 years’ but have, nevertheless, struggled to work in the business, says DuVernay, who has a distribution company called Array,” Blake writes.“According to the Directors Guild of America. a mere 17.1 percent of TV episodes in the 2015-16 season were directed by women, up a smidge from 15.8 percent the previous year,” Blake writes.The low numbers for women in Hollywood are mirrored elsewhere.[bctt tweet=“The low numbers for #WomenInHollywood are mirrored elsewhere” username=“takeleadwomen”]The study, “The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 100, 250, and 500 Films of 2016,“ for the past 19 years, has tracked the top-grossing movies and bills itself as ‘the longest-running and most comprehensive study of women’s behind-the scenes employment in film available,’” writes Lisa Respers France in CNN.“According to the study, only 7 percent of directors among the year’s top 250 grossing films were women, down from 9 percent in 2015. All told, women made up 17 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers working on the year’s top films — a 2 percent drop from 2015,” France writes.“For the top 500 films — which included more independent movies — women accounted for 19 percent of all directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors and cinematographers — also a 2 percent decline from 2015,” according to France.The paucity of women in film and TV production globally is why women need to mentor other women and foster relationships with each other in order to help each other succeed. This is an enormous opportunity for women leaders to partner, mentor, network and support other women leaders.[bctt tweet=“The paucity of women in film and TV is why women need to mentor other women #LeanInTogether” username=“takeleadwomen”]That action step is the basis of Leadership Power Tool # 7, created by Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead. “Take Action; Create a Movement,” is the Power Tool that affirms: “Things don’t just happen. People make them happen in a systematic way. And you can change systems. Apply the three movement building principles of Sister Courage (be a sister, act with courage, put them together to create a PLAN) and you will realize your vision at work, at home, or in public life.“Kalceff would agree.“This is a culture of gatekeepers,” Lourde says. “It is a real shift that women are starting to reach out and shepherd each other through. That hasn’t always been the case.” She adds, “100 percent of this industry is all about relationships. We are relying on relationships building as we go.”She adds, “We have a responsibility to women and other creatives. Information is a source of power.”Some of that power translates to economic power, as the phenomenon that is “Wonder Woman,” passes the $700 million mark at the box office.After five weekends in release, “its box office performance is an impressive feat. These numbers now ensure (barring some bizarre and highly unlikely calamity) a final cume (cumulative) between a low-end figure of $750+ million and a high-end of $800 million,” writes Mark Hughes in Forbes.“If that seems surprisingly high, and if the prospects of a high-end $800 million performance make you skeptical, think again. With around $675 million worldwide in the tank and a likely $30-35 million coming in from all global markets, even if the weekly declines rise into the 40-50 percent range, Wonder Woman is still adding tens of millions to its cume for several more weeks from existing markets before it opens in Japan in August. That’s already enough to push it well past $750 million. So declines in the 30-35 percent range (rather than the 40-50 percent range), plus a good performance in Japan, would start to make $800 million a realistic possibility,” Hughes writes.“It is not just the success of the movie that will help women in the industry, but I’ve never seen a character like her, so driven so fearless, so vulnerable, sexy without being sexualized,” says Lourde, who says she began learning the ropes in this industry by working hard and immersing herself in the skills needed. “This is the movie I had been wanting to see as a kid.”Other critics view the Wonder Woman effect not as a starting point, but perhaps as a tipping point.“Jenkins’ latest effort may have demolished female stereotypes for superheroes and director genders alike, but she is not alone. Other female directors have been paving the way by challenging the glass ceiling and breaking into the coveted $100 million club for decades,” writes Julia Pierrepont III in English. Sina.“Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2), Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight), Vicky Jensen (Shrek), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Amy Heckerling (Look Who’s Talking), Mimi Leder (Deep Impact), and Betty Thomas (Alvin and the Chipmunks) are just a few of the heavy-hitting female directors who have easily topped $100 million in receipts on their big budget releases, Pierrepoint writes.Yet, the problem of the near invisibility of the stories of women in television and film overall remains a concern.“At the Cannes closing-night jury news conference recently, the star of ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ spoke to the ‘disturbing’ narrowness of the female images she’d seen in the previous 10 days of festival jury duty,”  writes Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune.“Jessica Chastain did the math Hollywood occasionally does and then forgets, near-instantaneously. ‘If you have more female storytellers, you also have more authentic female characters,” Chastain said, adding: ‘When we include more female storytellers we will have more of the kinds of women that I recognize in my day-to-day life. Ones that are proactive, have their own agencies, don’t just react to the men around them (and) have their own point of view.’“Kalceff and Lourde agree completely.To increase the number of diverse women’s stories in the marketplace,  Kalceff and Lourde are working on a new series, “Torn.” It is about “two school friends who haven’t seen each other, one has a child, they have unresolved feelings for each other, and are torn between nostalgia and this thought that this might be my one chance at true happiness.”It is a story that has not been seen before this way. And that is what is needed in the film and TV industries. What is at the heart is belief in the story and that it will resonate.“My advice would be to trust your voice as women, and not just women, but women of color. We are taught at a young age that our stories don’t matter, we don’t count,” says Kalceff, who won the Audience Award at the Mardi Gras Film Festival for “Starting From Now,” as well as other top awards from the LA WebFest in 2016 and the SheWebFest in 2015.Her best advice of all is simple. “Trust there is a story to tell, get a story to tell, and tell it with integrity and honesty.”The rest will follow.