On Hiring Women

Photo by Erica Lewis 

No Job Too Great

At one of our early meetings, Julie Rubio exclaimed, 

“I want to be the first woman in history to hire an all-female crew!”

I objected. The first? Surely there must be many films made by all-women crews. So she challenged me to give some examples. I thought about it for a second, not wanting to be caught off guard — but I was stumped.

I went back in my mind to when I first started filmmaking. I was self-taught and I learned by doing. And when I set out to make my first film, I was determined to use only women. It was a short film starring performance artist Iris Rose. We shot at the nightclub Siberia in downtown Manhattan, during closing hours. I was the producer, and my friend, painter Jenny Ross, was the camera grip (to my amazement she built a full camera platform for the DP and her gear on the morning of the shoot). The cinematographer was a young Tami Reiker, who was an undergrad at NYU film school at the time, and our film was her first project as DP. Tami later became the first woman to win an ASC award for her work on Carnivale, and to shoot many other high profile projects.

My next film was a documentary. I tried hard to stick to my all-women crew commitment, but I admit that over five years of stop and start shooting, I did hire men as well. My primary audio engineer was Rosa Howell-Thornhill, who taught me what audio is all about. Usually an afterthought to image, we all know that the audio recordist is actually the unsung hero on set, and Rosa taught me that. Rosa went on to work on Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, and according to IMDB is on her 14th episode of Power Confidential. My primary cinematographer was a young Ellen Kuras (oh hell, we were all young). Ellen went on to shoot many feature docs and narratives, including Internal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, among many, many others. I also worked with Maryse Alberti, who is best known as the cinematographer on Creed, and countless others. These skilled women taught me what I didn’t know about the craft of filmmaking.

But back to Julie’s question. Could I name a mainstream (non-experimental) film that was shot and edited exclusively by women? I couldn’t do it.

I hadn’t kept my own promise to myself, but I had tried. So maybe the most important thing is not that a crew be 100% female, but rather that it strive to be as many women as possible. By making a conscious effort to hire a woman for a role, we will sooner rather than later even out the gender balance on set. Having a robust Bay Area job database of skilled women means we can know who to turn to when it’s time to hire. It will make us visible to each other, and it will create more jobs and connections for us all. And young women coming up can see a place for themselves. 

Because that’s where it starts -- with us.

Amy Harrison

Women In Film
San Francisco Bay Area