In light of the EEOC entering negotiations to bring female directors equal opportunity in the film industry, we got in touch with Haley Webb, an actress and director, to hear her opinion on the groundbreaking news. Webb has starred in a variety of short films and TV series such as Teen Wolf and directed her own short film, “Patti” in 2012.
What do you think the differences are between male and female directors?
I have not had the privilege to work with a lot of female directors and that is something that frustrates me. However, I have worked with a few and I cannot deny that there is a difference between them and their male counterparts. It’s not a bad difference, just a distinct one. There is a calmness about female directors, an ease that infiltrates the entire set. I’ve found that their confidence is a quieter one. I’ve worked with some lovely male directors who have a similar quality, but it has felt intrinsic to the female directors I’ve worked with and met. I have worked on a lot sets where I am the lone female actor and there have been times where it quickly turns into a bit of a boy’s club on set and I’ve had to fight to be heard or have had to defend my choices time and time again and I’ve never experienced that with a female. I’ve always felt part of a whole with them, never the odd (wo)man out. Also being a female director myself … I never want any of my actors to feel the way I have felt sometimes on more testosterone heavy sets. It’s a very isolating feeling and one that is noxious to creativity.
Why do you think it has taken so long for action to be taken when there has always been an open discussion about female directors not having the same opportunities as males?
I think it’s taken Hollywood a long time to catch up to gender equality because it’s taken our country and the world at large a long time to catch up (with still a ways to go). It is really difficult to stand up to a system that has been in place for so long and have people actually listen to you, especially when that message is coming from the very people they are shutting out. I do think there is also the consideration that a lot of people (men and women) are uncomfortable with a woman telling them what to do. There’s an assumption that a woman will be too emotional or not smart enough and I’ve never found that to be true. Women are capable of handling a lot of shit at once and doing so with grace. One of the more frustrating aspects of the lack of female directors is that if women f— up once, the chances of them working again gets cut down to size. Women have to prove themselves above and beyond and I think that’s true in many different industries. We also tend to look at women who do work multiple times and with huge amounts of money as proof that it can happen as opposed to what it is, which is an exception to the rule. There are a number of female filmmakers groups that hire mostly female and advocate for more women in film, but I would like to see a more organized effort in dismantling the status quo. It’s difficult because it may mean you won’t work as much, but it’s one of the ways we can see more women on equal footing to men in positions of power within the industry. It’s really frustrating to see that the EEOC has to step in and confirm that it has been a problem when women (and some men) have been vocal about it for so long, but these are steps in the right direction and it will hopefully be a big step in rectifying the problem.
Where do you see the film industry going now that more room is being created for female directors?
As with the boom in diversity casting, which is incredibly encouraging, I think the industry will be moving in a more inclusive direction that will hopefully move to the normalization of women in power. I can’t say for certain that it will happen, and I know it won’t happen smoothly, but I do believe that the more it happens, the more normal it becomes. It has been proven time and again (with ticket sales) that people want to see movies with predominantly female casts and aren’t put off by female directors. I think as is the case with Kathryn Bigelow, Ana Lily Amirpour, Jane Campion, Ave DuVernay, etc. that women are capable of portraying violence, emotional depth, action, drama and comedy with the same verve and vitality that men are. I think if they are given the opportunity (and permission to fail) to do so consistently, audiences, producers and investors will see that their preconceptions about women being “too soft” are really misguided. I have hope that the industry will continue to see this and give voice to women who have incredibly compelling universal stories to tell.
Do you have any advice for young females who are pursuing film, design and art?
My advice would be to stay true to yourself and your vision. It is very easy to get pushed around by the louder voices in the room, but you lose why you began your artistic journey in the first place if you listen to them. Stand up for what you believe in and don’t let anyone convince you to do something that betrays your comfort or vision. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to repeatedly stand up for myself when it comes to sex scenes in particular, but also character choices that ended up being what the director needed in post but wasn’t understanding on set, and I did so in part so that the next woman they worked with wouldn’t have to go through the same fights. It’s uncomfortable at times, but holy shit is it worth it. I have zero control of how a movie turns out (if I’m not directing), but I can confidently say that I worked to the best of my ability to deliver the performance I wanted to and have seen that come to light. You do you, girl. Tell them who you are, don’t let them tell that for you. And do not apologize. Take the word ‘sorry’ out of your vocabulary. Don’t be sorry for existing, be sorry that those who think you’re less-than don’t see your potential.