2nd Annual Hollywood Game Changers: A Conversation with the Women Behind Popular Film and TV Projects: Hollywood Game Changers is back with another exciting panel featuring women behind popular film and television projects like Halston, Shadow & Bone, Why Women Kill, Drunk History, and Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical! Get insight into how they navigate their careers and how they use their craft to champion women empowerment, diversity, and inclusion in the industry! These fearless women are revolutionizing Hollywood and they’re here to stay. Panelists include Mairzee Almas, (director, Shadow & Bone), Jeriana San Juan (costume designer, Halston), Macy Schmidt (orchestrator, music director, Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical), Jennifer Smith (music supervisor, Why Women Kill, Deadly Illusions), and Monica Sotto (production designer, Drunk History). Moderated by Joy Donnell (co-founder of the Center for Intersectional Media and Entertainment).
How has the Hollywood landscape behind the scenes changed for women? This panel gathered women from various Hollywood departments to discuss the evolution of women in Hollywood and to share some advice for women coming into the industry.
Jeriana San Juan began by talking about the costume design department, which has historically been more women-centric. However, as a Latin-American woman, she has noticed the lack of women of color which has made it hard for her to find a voice in the custom designer role. She did note that, in general, scripts are getting better because women are being written better. San Juan said she has been enjoying reading scripts more now than ever before because of this. Yay for progress!
Monica Sotto spoke at length about the lack of women in production design. She said that being a woman in the entertainment industry is like being part of a constant transition. But it’s also a ‘silent, extra job’ that women have to do, which can be exhausting. While previous generations of women made strides, equality is still something women in Hollywood are fighting for. As Sotto said, there has been a visible change within the last generation but there’s still a lot of pushback and lack of trust in women behind the scenes. As a result, self-doubt creeps in. Sotto joked about this being the reason she gets therapy, which a lot of the panelists seemed to agree with. While Sotto was flippant about it, it was obvious that she was dead serious about the toll it takes on women to have to constantly battle doing their jobs under scrutiny.
But there is reason to be hopeful. Sotto mentioned meeting more women who have been hired and mentored by women. This is in stark contrast to when she first started because she was only ever hired by men. Not having anybody who looked like her or had the same experiences was a difficult thing to deal with all the time.
On the musical side of things, Macy Schmidt categorically said that there aren’t many women in her industry and that has been a struggle. She is seeing people make more of an effort towards diversity now, though.
Jennifer Smith agreed, saying she still tends to be the only woman as a department head, an imbalance that has become more obvious during virtual calls in the pandemic. Interestingly, Smith spoke about not having any problem standing up for herself, especially when it comes to pay for music supervisors, who are very poorly compensated. Because, Smith explained, when she stands up for her department, she’s making a difference for everyone else, not just music professionals, but women and POC in music. This also helps train old Hollywood men to change their mindset. “It’s a great time to be a woman but also a very stressful time.” Isn’t it always?
When speaking of breakthrough moments that impacted how the panelists, as women, could change the industry, Schmidt surprisingly said the pandemic was a huge factor. It gave her the opportunity to create something that was hers, and not someone else’s. Schmidt, like so many of us, had always believed that working hard would get her up the corporate or industry ladder, but all she was doing was serving other people’s projects and dreams, instead of her own. Because of the constraints of the pandemic, Schmidt got the chance to ‘create her own ladder’ by hiring an all-woman — and almost 80% WoC — orchestra for Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical. She also spoke about how going virtual for theatre productions has given theatre-makers an audience of hundreds of thousands of people, instead of 1-2000, which is a huge stride forward for women.
Mairzee Almas talked about how she’s seen things change from the perspective of a director. She used to be the only woman on set and the men on set always made her feel like she was only there by their good graces, and not because of her own work. But things have been changing and more women have been appearing among the crew and in special effects teams. With more diversity, she has seen an elevation in the quality of the storytelling. I agree with this so much! Almas also spoke about the importance of consent in Shadow and Bone, the Netflix show where she directed two episodes. I’m not sure I completely agree with this, though. I certainly felt that consent was brought up in the interactions between Alina Starkov and the Darkling, but not so much with regards to the Nina and Mattias pairing? That may have just been my reading of it.
Moderator Joy Donnell also asked the panelists to share advice for women coming into the entertainment business, based on their own experiences.
Almas offered an important piece of advice that surpasses the entertainment industry. She said that women don’t need to know everything before they try something, because that’s going to hold them back. “You don’t have to be an expert before you try.”
Schmidt concurred but also suggested that women should be bold enough to ask for things they need. Smith followed this up by saying women should feel confident in themselves as an artist and a person because nobody else will be confident in them.
Sotto spoke about her experiences with Drunk History and how, when the show started focusing on women in history, they brought in women historians as consultants. Sotto felt like she learned a lot from that experience and from the women she met. According to Sotto, her best work and success have come from hanging out and working with other women. She suggested that being confident can feel like a risk but that women don’t need to spend time with just men to gain that confidence. Women can be whoever they want to be, and however feminine they want to be, to become their best selves. If women fail, that’s still a learning experience. Sotto also mentioned the importance of women knowing that they can push back and that their presence and work are valid in the industry.
I found this panel quite hopeful to watch. I understand that a lot of work still needs to be done but it’s good to see some positive changes coming through. I think the advice shared during this session is pertinent to any and all industries. I will definitely be using it going forward.