Women have nothing to fear from pursuing a career in cinematography

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A moving image and its impact on viewers has always fascinated me. I love to create, I love to work in an intense environment, I love being surrounded by passionate people, and I love film. All these factors combined lead me towards an education in cinematography.

As an aspiring cinematographer, I study light, framing, and lens choices in hopes of one day being the head of the camera and lighting department on a film set. As a cinematographer, I would be responsible for making all the artistic and technical decisions in relation to the film image.

Currently, I am studying in the SFU film program in order to reach this goal, and though I am currently in a supportive and inclusive environment, I know that as a woman I will face discrimination that my male classmates will never have to deal with as aspiring filmmakers.

In 2013, women accounted for less than three per cent of cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. No female cinematographer has ever been nominated for an Academy Award, and those females who have succeed in the field — such as Ellen Kuras, Mandy Walker, and Maryse Alberti — are not very well known or celebrated.

While the film industry has its own unique problems regarding sexism in both the content it produces and the treatment of its own working members, I believe it originates from something deeper in our society. Starting from a young age, women are not encouraged to pursue technical careers in general, and instead are pushed towards more traditionally female-occupied fields. This phenomenon is commonly spoken about with regards to jobs in the sciences and maths, but also applies to other technically-based careers such as cinematography.

No female cinematographer has ever been nominated for an Academy Award.

I’ve heard several different excuses for why there is an underrepresentation of female cinematographers: it’s too technical, the equipment is too heavy, women can’t handle the brutal hours.

But I feel cinematographer Claudia Raschke put it best by stating, “When you go to an interview or onto a set, as a woman you are incompetent until you prove you know your stuff. As a man, you are considered competent until you are proven totally incompetent.” Too often, women aren’t trusted to execute this kind of work.

When I first developed an interest in cinematography, I was quite intimidated by the technical knowledge that seemed to be required. This type of ‘shop talk’ can make it hard for already isolated aspiring female cinematographers to break into the field. I know that without the mentors I had teaching me along the way, I would still feel very lost, and might not have pursued cinematography at all.

Unfortunately, many women haven’t been lucky enough to find the support and encouragement I have. The boys’ club mentality is still going strong, and many continue to use the physical, technical, and leadership aspects of the job to justify the lack of females in the field. Existing female cinematographers have proven that these are falsehoods, and that women are just as capable cinematographers as men.

My talent, style, creative choices and skills as a cinematographer are not dictated by my gender, and it is extremely important that women continue to develop an interest in cinematography. We need female cinematographers for the same reason we need female writers, directors and editors: cinematographers are storytellers. Through all the equipment and technology, they are telling a story. They bring their own style, story and perspective to their work. To shut women out of this field would be a profound loss for the film community and its audiences.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I read your article and it was really uplifting to realize there are more women out there who will not stumble upon what society tells them they could (not) do. And yet, you mentioned something in the article that made me think; you said about all those excuses often used to explain why there are so few women working in this area. So my question to you is if they are reality-based: is it true that the equipement is that heavy(especially if you are not the solid type) and how about that brutal hours? What concrete information can you drop on that? I’d be really interested to know as much as possible about it as I know 0 persons working in the industry.

    • Hey,

      This is Paige, author of the article. To answer you two questions directly: (Based on personal experience)

      1) Is it true that the equipment is that heavy?
      The equipment can be heavy, but so can many objects be in many different jobs that both men and women are employed in (I’m thinking jobs like Starbucks). On bigger sets, it isn’t even the responsibility of the cinematographer to lift any equipment – they don’t even have to touch the camera if they don’t want to. They have a whole crew of people to move and set up equipment based on their creative choices. It is true though that on smaller sets the cinematographer often is helping moving gear and setting up. But you know what? I’ve never seen any sort of problem related to a lack of brute strength of anyone on any film sets I’ve worked on in regards to just moving equipment. The only problem I’ve encountered is camera operators, which sometimes are also the cinematographers, struggling to hold up heavy cameras on their shoulders all day. I’ve struggled with this in the past, becoming very tired by the end of a 12 hour day with a 20lb+ camera on my shoulder, but so have almost all of my fellow cinematographer friends – male and female. My cinematographer friends and I who choose to operator the camera on our own sets do have to make an effort to keep our strength up, but again, this applies to both the male and female cinematographers I know. In the end, it can be a physically tiring job for anyone, but it doesn’t have to be.

      2) Brutal hours?
      This one never made sense to me. What makes women less capable of handling brutal hours? It is very true that film sets can go on for insane amounts of time (think 16 hour days sometimes), but like, really, what does that have to do with being a woman? Never had any experiences with someone struggling with the hours just because they were a woman. Everyone struggles on long days, regardless of their sex.

      Basically, both of these points come down to the idea that women are weak and incapable of preforming physical based jobs. And in the end, this just isn’t true. I’ve never heard of or experienced a situation where a woman was so weak compared to her male coworker that she was unable to do her work. It is such a small part of the job (lifting equipment) and really isn’t that hard. I once was not the strongest person, and I always got by. You really don’t have to be that strong to lift the gear, most of it is quite light in actuality. It’s just a wall people put up, when, in actuality, it really doesn’t have a very big impact on the people doing the work. I’ve seen loads of female classmates be cinematographers on films and never have a problem with very small physical part of the job.

      Hope this helps!