While major studios consistently fail to support female filmmakers, it seems that women working on the other side of the camera–aka on screen– have actually been doing fairly well.
In the last few days, Luc Besson’s new action thriller Lucy has (surprisingly) taken the declining summer box-office by storm, besting Brett Ratner’s testosterone-infused Hercules by about $15 million– and continuing the growing trend of successful female-centric films that have triumphed at the domestic box-office since last October. According to a recent post on Indiewire, “a raft of films (all but one outside the female romantic and/or comedy ghetto), starring Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Lawrence, Angelina Jolie, Cameron Diaz, Shailene Woodley and now Scarlett Johansson all have opened at #1. Throw in Rooney Mara and Meryl Streep and that’s at least 11 actresses who can be counted on to open a wide release film.”
What’s more is that on average, the production costs of these female-friendly films have been well below those of male-dominated franchise films. Paramount’s Hercules, for example, cost a total of $110 million to make. Yet it obviously failed to entice much interest this past weekend, as moviegoers opted to go see Hollywood’s newest female action star Scarlett Johansson instead of their usual favorite, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. So what does this all mean?
Well, despite the plethora of issues (still) surrounding a lack of women behind-the-scenes, it seems that Hollywood has finally caught onto one important fact: Women Can (and will continue to) Carry Movies That Make Money. Folks in this town have finally begun to realize that female protagonists will not only draw girls and women to theaters in droves — but also boys and men as well.
Simply said, women helped drive Lucy to success. Yes, you heard right, we, not men, are the ones responsible for this beautiful mess. The conventional wisdom that ‘girls will only see a movie about a boy but boys won’t see a movie about a girl’ has, according to Scott Mendelson of Forbes Magazine, “not only been mostly debunked over the last several years but rendered mostly irrelevant.” The films that are breaking out these days (well this summer at least)– the ones that are maintaining a cinematic presence and leaving a lasting impression on viewers everywhere– are the ones that are lady-led.
As both a performer and an advocate for #WomenInFilm, I, for one, am more than glad for this recent occurrence. It’s a bit of a milestone to say the least. For way too long now, we have been stuck in a moment in time where female characters remain dramatically underrepresented as protagonists and major characters in top grossing films. In fact, according to this report, only 15% of movies in 2013 featured a full-blown female lead.
It’s sad, truly depressing really how far behind Hollywood seems to be if compared to other industries in terms of gender parity. But maybe, just maybe, this is the beginning of something wonderful and new…
One can only hope.
As artists, writers, and creative thinkers, we have one of the greatest gifts in the world: the power to tell stories. Personal stories can indeed change the world. In fact, it seems that “we make progress by telling our personal stories.”
Those are just a few of the words Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (MILK) closes with in his latest video for Academy Originals, in which he takes us through the ills and joys of being a storyteller– of his own creative writing process.
For Black at least, writing is as much a passion as it is a laborious task. From relentless researching to laying out scenes written on hundreds of itty bitty index cards, Black, like any old 9-5er, makes an effort to rise with the morning sun everyday to begin a rigid ‘pre-writing’ routine that he sets himself up for. His research process often takes up to a year, and it isn’t until Black succeeds in getting through his story a few times without getting ‘bored’ that he actually begins to pen his first draft– a.k.a. the “vomit” draft.
“I love and hate what I do,” he says with a small smile. “It’s like an addiction. I want to solve the problems, I want to make it work. I write because I don’t think I’m done.”
Well, I think that just really says it all. Why do we write? Why do we create? Why do we choose to tell stories? These fairly simple questions can be answered in a myriad of ways, but for the most part, it all comes down to this: We make art in an attempt to change the world, to change the culture, and as Black puts it, to “move the needle”– we make art because we feel that there’s always something more to life than just this. We all have many things to say, and many of us, myself included, often go about using alternative ways to express all the thoughts, feelings and emotions we are too afraid to shout out loud.
Creative processes can be as diverse as the artists and writers who labor through them. And Black’s uniquely organized and extremely thorough process of maintaining ‘closets’ full of research may not be for all (even the obsessively-compulsed perfectionist in me). But it really is inspiring to see the time and patience he puts into crafting specificity into his stories, in creating unique and truly interesting characters that are not just ‘relatable,’ but distinct and individual. Because it is only with such not-so-stereptypcial stories that audiences can begin to see things in a different light, to begin stepping towards better days and better ways. It is only with this immense amount of care and eye for detail that films, and all art in general, can (and should) be made.
Let’s just say this will definitely calm my nerves down just a little bit more the next time I’m stuck in an artistic rut or with a horrendous state of writer’s block. We. Can. Get. Through. This. I can get through this. It’s all in the creative process.
The melodies produced by the keys of any baby grand can be quite beautiful indeed. But since my youngest years, the mere sites of metronomes and piano benches have always caused unbearable amounts of inner angst to rise quickly inside of me. Don’t get me wrong, I love the piano. I enjoy all music in general, but for some odd reason, I’ve just never really enjoyed playing any musical instruments (I never had the swift and steady hands for it either).
This was a huge disappointment for my dear mother– a classical music enthusiast– who had, since my inception, hoped to foster in her child the same passion she had for the piano (and the cello). Hence, most of my evenings consisted not only of finishing up homework but a couple of hours daily on both the piano and the cello as well.
Weekends were as similarly structured as school days. Saturday mornings were scheduled with private piano lessons at USC’s Colburn School of Music, followed then by an hour and a half of cello instruction at a young artists’ conservatory based in Orange County (take good note of the driving distance between Downtown LA and the OC. Let’s just say my Saturday mornings never began with pajama bottoms, pancakes, or silly cartoons). After almost two hours of putting bow to string, I then shuffled quickly to the nearby ice rink for figure skating practice. This, however, was an activity I wholeheartedly enjoyed (and was surprisingly good at). It was, according to Mama Chan, a well-earned reward for persisting so diligently with my instrumental music.
I’m telling you this awfully long (and boring) childhood tale in light of a recent article by The New York Times. My eight year-old self practically screamed “I told you so!” after reading it. Does practice actually make perfect? Does it truly make a difference in the development of elite performance, especially in the performing arts? Well in 1993, a landmark study led by K. Anders Ericson found that “practice time explained almost all the difference (about 80 percent) between elite performers and committed amateurs.” More recent research, however, has proved this to be wrong.
A new paper concludes that while practice is important in contributing to accumulated expertise, it is not as “important as has been argued.” It’s also not as important, according to Frederick Oswald (one of the co-authors of the paper), as inborn gifts and innate talent. Scott Barry Kaufman, the scientific director of the Imagination Institute, which funds research in creativity, adds that though practice time is critical, personality and desire are enormous variables as well. “Things like grit, motivation, and inspiration — that ability to imagine achieving this high level, to fantasize about it,” says Kaufman.
Yes, talent is important. Practice is important. But passion is key. The NYT article concludes by saying that in the end, “the most important factor over which people have control — whether juggling, jogging or memorizing a script — may be not how much they practice, but how effectively they use that time.” To properly excel in any creative endeavor, to manifest one’s full artistic potential, one must carry a deep desire to do so. It’s the desire (as well as that ‘inborn gift’) that keeps a pouty child (like myself) from dreading the sight of loose sheet music or the awful smell of rosin in the mornings. It is passion that keeps one from getting bored and irritated with all that practice. It’s also probably why about twenty or so years later, my greatest level of music-playing ability still sits somewhere at ‘proficient.’
Unlike acting, singing, skating, or some of the other performing arts, I just never loved ‘playing’ enough. So does practice make perfect? Are you good at doing something because you love it? Or, do you love something because you are good at it? It’s a chicken and egg question– but it really is something very interesting to think about.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “art” as a skill– “an expression or application of creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting, drawing, or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”
Italian film director Federico Fellini cites “all art [as] autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.” Saul Bellow, an American novelist, on the other hand, credits art as “something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos”– his fellow writer/poet Robert Frost claims that what “art does to life is to clean it– to strip it to form.”
In contrast, Russian artist Marc Chagall once remarked: “Art is the unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers — and never succeeding.” In Plato’s society in The Republic, art is merely an imitation of an imitation. It is detrimental to the soul and unable to provide any truth.
So what exactly is art? Is it good or bad? A skill or an idea? Does is have to be beautiful or expressive, original or highly intellectual? Must it always need to serve a specific purpose?
Different thoughts and criticisms surrounding this question have persisted for centuries. And it’s safe to say that the definition of art has (and will continue to) constantly evolve. But at least for me, art is all of these things. And so much more.
It uplifts; evokes feelings of nostalgia and happiness. It is a form of self-expression, an act of pure catharsis, and is born out of the everyday ups and downs that bombard our frenzied lives. Sure, it can often times serve a political purpose, giving quieted voices a chance to be properly seen and heard in an alternative manner. Art can make the invisible visible, it can expose truth and create harmony all at the same time.
It is also wildly good for us as human beings. Physiologically it’s been known to reduce work-related stress and go as far as helping cancer patients. Psychologically, it can improve “effective interaction” between parts of the brain, as reported in a recent cognitive study done by neurologists in Germany. It is, interestingly, a natural part of human existence (a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a post about a related study proposing that the human brain was actually made to enjoy art).
Well, art, in more ways than one, has impacted our world (my world) in ways words cannot fully describe. It’s filled empty spaces with beauty and warmth; it’s started protests and caused much concern. Yet, in the end, art is simply something that can be wholeheartedly cherished for a lifetime. It has the power to change, to educate, to create new beginnings– and having recently moved out on my own, I’m all about new beginnings.
Pablo Picasso once famously proclaimed: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Although I’m incredibly frightened (and terrible excited) of all the adventures awaiting me, it’s a comfort to know that I’ll always have my love for art, film, music, and literature. I’ll always have that creative essence bubbling deep inside of me.
So a few weeks ago, I wrote a post lamenting the seriously sad state of women directors in Hollywood– even now. Sure we’ve managed to make some slight progress here and there, but as writer and blogger Melissa Silverstein so bluntly puts it in a recent feature, “it’s clear that institutional gender discrimination still governs daily business at the Big Six.” We still have a ways to go– a long ways in fact– and this recent infographic created by Indiewire’s Women and Hollywood Blog only reiterates the seriously depressing state of women directors in Hollywood 😦
Just thought I’d pass it along.
There are two types of people in this world: those who enjoy art and those who do not.
It’s always been intriguing to me how differently we all come to see and process art– how one man’s rubbish can turn out to be another man’s treasure. What one individual sees as visually stunning may turn out to be distasteful and unimpressive to another. A film or piece of music that touches me emotionally may, in fact, go on to rattle even my closest friend in an entirely different way.
Moreover, there are some people who pride themselves in having especially sophisticated aesthetic palettes. You know who they are. Those high brow aesthetes who seem to have no difficulty deciphering a Jackson Pollock painting or finding meaning in an image by Georgia O’Keeffe. Or those overly contemplative experts who always so easily figure out exactly what ‘message’ Antonioni or Miyazaki were trying to convey in their films– the confident individuals who unintentionally further the divide between the arts enthusiasts and the not so easily enthused.
Well, it turns we are not all that different after all, that the human brain is actually hard-wired to appreciate art, as reported in a recent June 2014 issue of the scientific journal Brain and Cognition. According to The Wall Street Journal, “the study found that [art] activated areas of the brain involved in vision, pleasure, memory, recognition and emotions, in addition to systems that underlie the conscious process of new information to give it meaning” — which means that having a deep appreciation for the arts is more of a natural, biological process than we originally thought it was. Somewhere deep inside of us, we all have a capability (and a willingness) to find pleasure in art. I, for one, am silently saying ‘I told you so.’
Based on meta-analysis reports compiled by researchers at the University of Toronto from 8 years worth of international studies, the findings basically reveal that “viewing paintings activates various regions of the brain,” triggering high order mental processing, as well as experienced or anticipated pleasure. “Our minds just might be organized to engage with visual art,” explains Katherine Brooks of The Huffington Post. And in a day and age where the fate of the ‘arts’ hangs by a very thin thread, especially in the education sector, this could come as no better news.
The relationship between art and the general public has waned quite drastically over the years and this new study–these fantastic findings– are perhaps just the thing to get us going (artistically) again.
The human brain is made to enjoy art. It really is an interesting concept, something to ponder deeply about.
Once upon a times and happily ever afters pervaded my childhood thoughts. I’d always had a voracious appetite for fairytales, for those feel-good stories of good triumphing over evil, of true love conquering all– of mysterious wizards, mystical fairies, talking mirrors and handsome heroes. Yes, I would let my thoughts and imagination soar into a fable-lous world each and every night before I jumped into bed. A wannabe princess-in-training, but a true storyteller at heart, I loved being whisked away into a magical land where none of life’s multitude of worries would ever find me. It was pure bliss, well, at least for a couple of hours.
Sadly, as the years past, the ups and downs of reality began, inevitably, to sink in, keeping me further and further away from my perfectly imagined dream world. Fairytales, I was taught, are strictly for little girls and boys. They are not at all practical and can often cloud our judgements, offering only feel-good versions of the epic lives we wished we all had.
Yet in Hollwyood, where all things are (and can be made) possible, this is apparently not the case anymore.
We’ve entered a new age where magical stories of evil queens, feisty dwarves and fantasy adventures have become extremely appealing– even to full grown adults. Angelina Jolie’s “Maleficient” is currently ruling the big screen while HBO’s “Game of Thornes” is taking over the smaller one. According to Betsy Sharkey in a recent LA Times article, “these are magical times for adults. We are awash in fairy tales made for the grown-up set. And given their tremendous popularity, fairy tales are becoming the escapist antidote of choice to help weather stressful times.”
Well, I for one, could not be happier that we’ve finally (re)entered into a new age of enchantment.
Albert Einstein once remarked, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairytales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairytales.” Yes, fairytales, at least in my mind (and Einstein’s), are much more important than we may give them credit for. They can loosen the chains of the imagination, for young and old, providing things and images to think with and about– as well as the sense that anything is possible.
These are, as Sharkey so poignantly points out, “thorny modern times saturated with entrenched dilemmas, fractious politics and endless global uprisings.” In just the past few months, the U.S. alone has experienced more number of school shootings than anyone would ever imagine could occur in a lifetime. Over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls still remain missing from the April 2014 attacks in Chibok. What has this world come to? It’s a difficult question to think about, an even harder one to try to answer. But one thing’s for sure: our sudden fascination with magic, mysticism and mystery is no mere coincidence. These gripping stories serve as an outlet, a fanciful escape, gently handling problematic subtext by allowing us a fresh look at things without them being “clouded by contemporary culture”– by the ongoing hazards and heart breaks experienced in our everyday lives.
With the help of brilliant digital advancements, fairytales have been reinvented by the industry of entertainment. Films and television will no doubt continue to offer both young and old crowds a variety of selections that are sure to extend these magic-obsessed times we currently dwell in. In 2016 alone, sequels to 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman,” 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” (the 5th installment) are due to hit theaters. “Once Upon a Time” will continue to light up the small screen for another season on ABC starting this fall, while NBC is slated to premiere its own new adventure series, “Crossbones,” with John Malkovich starring as the notorious pirate Blackbeard.
Oh yes, this is certainly a magical time for adults. And it is quite a comfort to know that in the months to come, I’ll be able to experience many more moments of the same childhood ‘bliss’ I so eagerly looked forward to every single night.
As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve always been a terribly anxious person. I worry, I fret, and was a dedicated nail biter for most of my childhood. And after twenty-four years of this roller coaster ride that is my life, I’ve finally discovered what it is that may be triggering all of my unnecessary anxiety: The love I have for film.
I’ve always been one to show tremendous interest towards cinema and entertainment, and according to this new article by The Guardian, anxiety “has always been woven into the fabric of filmmaking.” Hence, film (and film scripts), as an aesthetic and an arts medium, can actually help people gain further understanding of anxiety as a clinical condition.
In fact, the topic of anxiety takes center stage this month at Anxiety 2014, a new London-wide arts festival that will explore anxiety, look at its causes, how it affects our lives, and how it can act as the ultimate creative force. Bringing together leading and emerging artists to address anxiety from different angles and viewpoints– whether medical, social and historical or individual, collective and contemporary– ‘Anxiety 2014,’ according to Festival Director Errol Francis, promises to “look at the relationship between anxiety and modernity and how feeling anxious has become part of our contemporary condition.”
Well that right there lifts a giant weight off of my shoulders, as I, for many many years of my life, have often struggled with the question of why it is I think the way I do; do the things I do sometimes; worry about even the most minuscule of details oh so much? It’s been a bad ‘habit’ I’ve been trying to shed, one that I’ve always been scolded for, and honestly, it makes me feel a little better knowing that maybe it isn’t all just me.
For as film curator Jonathan Keane so boldly puts it, “The history of film is the history of anxiety.” Well, to put it lightly, the history of Pamela C. is as well– and probably will be continue to be. All I can do is learn new ways to understand it, to tackle it, to channel it, to use it for creative good. Bring. It. On.
The movie industry is failing women—this has been a long known fact.
In 1978, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that women were “significantly underrepresented” in the entertainment industry. About thirty years later in 2009, New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis– who’s more than well known for expressing her distaste for the lack of progress in Hollywood films for and about women—wrote about the plethora of promising female directors who were not being recognized. In 2012, I wrote an arts journalism piece about the Cannes Film Festival that year and how the lack of women directors in competition to win the Palme d’Or caused one of Europe’s most glamorous cinematic events to come under scrutiny for sexism. NPR’s Linda Holmes, in 2013, wrote that Hollywood has “entirely devoted itself to telling men’s stories,” and just a few weeks ago in the beginning of May, Lily Rothman of TIME reported ‘more bad news about gender equality in Hollywood.’
That’s a flood of pieces lamenting the lack of women on both sides of the camera, and sadly, these routinely printed ‘Women in Hollywood’ stories will continue to bombard readers with the same (and tired) beat of maybe there should be some more women without truly ever getting to the heart of the matter. Like the major studios and the Director’s Guild who have stayed busy for the last thirty years paying lip service to the world’s need for more women directors, it really is, all in the end, just talk talk and more talk—but no real action.
It seems that the trend will remain once again the same this summer. If you are looking to find a wide release film about women in June, it’s going to be quite the struggle, as only one movie with a female protagonist will be opening. Even art house and indie theatres won’t feature much for and about women in the next couple of weeks, offering only a scarcity of films that include Gillian Robespierre’s debut, Obvious Child. What’s more is that only one of this summer’s upcoming studio movies was even co-directed by a woman—that being Jupiter Ascending from the Wachowskis, which was, until just this afternoon, set to be released in mid July. Now, according to the Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. has abruptly bumped the sci-fi epic to a February 2015 debut because it supposedly still needs “more special effects work.”
So what does this means for us women? One might think that when in recent years when a white woman and a black man have both attracted unprecedented voting numbers when running for President, Hollywood might be on the verge of changing its tune. Yet the film industry, unlike other sectors such as politics– which have continued to make dramatic strides towards gender parity– seems to had, at least historically, headed straight from male domination to post-feminism without ever stopping to enjoy a true feminist age.
The problem is not that there is a dearth of women vying for the chance to shine in the industry– it’s that they (we) are not being given that chance. There is a profound lack of opportunities for women to direct studio features in general, as indicated by this year’s short list of summer tentpoles. It’s time for the entertainment industry to play catch up and even the playing field for women. It’s time to change the current conversation for and about women in film. It’s time for the movie industry to stop failing women. Until serious changes begin to be made, nothing really is ever going to change.
Just a little over two years ago, I created this page as a means to immerse myself in the art of blogging (and, of course, to fulfill the new media requirements for an undergraduate journalism course). I had declared myself ‘truly novice blogger,’ expressing a distaste for the impending digital age, for the overtaking of gadgets and gizmos, for the loss of personal connection. I understood, however, that these changes were inevitable, that with the passing of time the virtual world would conquer all and that I would need to equip myself with ample knowledge to prepare for a new age in writing, in journalism, and the performance arts– for all the the fields I planned to pursue in life.
Fast forward to May 16, 2014. It’s over ninety degrees and I’m clad from head to toe in a cap, gown, heels and my lucky pearl earrings. I have a bouquet of sunflowers in one arm, my Master’s diploma tucked in the other, and I stop just for a moment under the burning hot sun to think about how far I’ve come.
I have indeed embarked on an extraordinary journey these last couple of years and hope to continue as I begin a new chapter in my life as a writer, a performer, an all around creative artist. This blog will serve as a place for my thoughts, my inspirations–the many words I may not always be brave enough to express out loud. Happy Reading…