10.17.2014

Black Magic Design and the Inexplicable Floating Woman

I wish I had a Harry Potter-esque illustration to accompany that title, but alas, what I have is this:


To quickly describe this image, this is a mock set, featuring the Black Magic URSA camera in action. Here we see three appropriately muscled and 5 o'clock shadowed white male filmmakers, capturing the serious scene between two appropriately muscled and coiffed white male actors, while a white bikini-clad woman-cast-as-sex-appeal looks on passively from the background.

My initial reactions were:
  1. That LED light is in the shot.
  2. The woman-as-gratuitous-sex-object is NOT in the shot.
  3. Are these cops worried about the devastating flood outside their penthouse?
In the smaller scheme of things, this is just another run-of-the-mill, heavily photoshopped, sexed-up ad full of pretty white people, where the cis-hetero male gaze + women's sexualized bodies are used to sell an attitude, lifestyle, and/or/plus a product.

Yawn.

Black Magic is not the first and will definitely not be the last to do this. It's a very old, clichéd approach to advertising. I was actually shocked at just how clichéd this was, as it feels like a desperate Don Draper wannabe threw back a can of Coke Zero, loosened his skinny tie, banged his fist on a board room table– making the Dorito crumbs briefly dance– and cried, "let's make filmmaking cool and sexy again."

 This deliberate objectification of female bodies (and all-white casting), in order to sell product is so over-used and over-consumed in our culture that many of us don't even notice it anymore. When I saw the ad for the first time, I tweeted out this snarky sentence:
And within five minutes, I got at least three responses from my very well-meaning followers that it was, in fact, an advertisement for the Black Magic URSA. Once I pointed out what I actually meant, the normal response was "Oh. Yeah, that."

Yeaaaaaah. That.
(Meanwhile most of the filmmakers I knew were like "I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS IS REAL?!")

I have reached a point where I can only roll my eyes at axe commercials that portray women as drooling animals because a dude made a weak attempt at poor personal hygiene, or cleaning product commercials that portray men as fumbling, helpless buffoons who have a chronic cranberry juice-spilling problem, because silly men, cleaning is a woman's domain! There are just so many of them that, while still harmful, they are almost parodies of themselves.

But I am not brushing this one off as just an ill-thought out advertisement that fell "prey" to the usual sexist advertising tropes. These ideas feel outdated and silly to us when examined directly, but this image that Black Magic put out? It's terrifyingly accurate. It reflects a very real sentiment throughout the film industry today. Now. In 2014. Which is that the voices and talents of women and people of color aren't needed behind the camera.

I penned the following to Black Magic's press contacts for the US and Europe:



Many of my other filmmaking friends did the same, but I decided to make it public again on my twitter feed. My followers are mostly a lot of young people interested in film, and I thought it was important to call bullshit on something I found very damaging. Here is the text in entirety:

Hi Terry/Patrick,
     I'm writing to express my very real concern about this Black Magic advertisement for URSA that contains a very unfortunate depiction of women in film.
     I'd like to be very clear: This is not about being offended, or a matter of taste. Despite being a ridiculous-looking ad, it is truthfully very harmful. It demonstrates a choice to be exclusionary to women and people of color in the film industry. It reinforces the erasure of women and POC behind the camera and objectification of women in front of it, glorifying it and further promoting it as normal and desirable. You are not just alienating women and filmmakers of color with this ad, but erasing them from the picture entirely. This perpetuates harmful thinking that is disadvantageous to women and POC who are looking to enter the industry, and to those already within it.
     I'd also like to point out that the bikini-clad sexual object in the background is not even "in the shot."
     I work primarily as a cinematographer for one of the most popular digital web studios in the world (7 million subscribers/fans), but I dedicate a large part of my time to teaching and mentoring, young women in particular. This kind of image-- placing white men front and center while relegating women to background sexual decoration and erasing all people of color entirely-- is sexist, exclusionary, and destructive. So many young girls I know are looking at the film as a way to tell their stories, and the film industry is outright telling them "you don't belong here."
     I and many of my friends in the industry want to express our deep disappointment and concern that this advertisement was even created. We hope that it will be removed and properly addressed.
     Thank you for your time,
     Lauren Haroutunian

Women made up only 2% of cinematographers in 2013, and only 4% of directors. Minorities overall made up only 12% of directors.**
**And before you say "But if there were more female/POC writers/cinematographers/directors they would get hired, there just aren't any" just stop. No. Just, no.

Unknowingly (or maybe even knowingly, because everything included in an advertisement has to be decided upon, approved, and produced, and is designed carefully to appeal psychologically to humans) Black Magic Design, unfortunately– and however inadvertently– is glamorizing a scene that upholds the industry's erasure of the contributions and roles that women and POC have held/currently hold in film. They have accomplished this, again, however inadvertently, by packaging this problematic image into a cool and sexy advertisement that is literally telling us, "this is desirable, this is what you want and need, this is the ideal." That is, of course, the job of an advertisement.

These are the responses I received from BMD Press:



So, I will give Patrick and Terry– hereinafter referred to as "Perry"– the benefit of the doubt that they did not set out to write an incredibly condescending email. But dudes, don't be that guy who implies that a woman who wrote a very thoughtful and professional email to you about the negative implications of your advertisement does not understand what the advertisement was for.
I would even be as so bold to assume, actually, that most women know how advertising works, because I live to make wild and grandiose assumptions. 

How could have Perry responded differently? Well, let's look at what is happening in their emails.

Me: "This advertisement for your camera is harmful to women and POC filmmakers and here is why."

Perry: "Thank you for the email. Actually, this is simply an advertisement for our camera. I have passed on your note to the advertising department."

......NO WAY WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME THIS WAS AN ADVERTISEMENT? I MUST LOOK A FOOL!  LOOK. A. FOOL.

In contrast, here is my corrected version of the exact same PR response without the insult:

Me: "This advertisement for your camera is harmful to women and POC filmmakers and here is why."

Perry: "Thank you for your email. This was not the intent of the advertisement for our camera. I have passed on your note to the advertising department."

A subtle wording change that acknowledges me as having critical thinking skills. It's obvious, but not dismissive.

**And to be fair, the identical images Perry included in the email to demonstrate that Black Magic's advertising team is indeed Not Sexist™, did in fact have clothed women in them. There was this nice white blonde lady being a script supervisor, in one. Cool. And then the same white blonde lady was pushing a button on a board in another. She must be very busy, because she was also marking focus on a focus ring, and showing all the men on set the last take on the DIT cart. I went to their website, expecting to see these photos in a visible place, but had to spend a good 5 or so minutes clicking through different menus to locate more than one. Meanwhile, the floating woman remains smack dab front in center on the camera products page, gazing sadly at the men who won't help her out of the pool.  But good news, I saw a photo of a different white brunette lady near an editing work station!!


GET BACK TO THE POINT, LAUREN: 
WHY SHOULD WE CARE ABOUT THIS?

Okay okay fine, we get it, it's a sexist ad, what are you trying to accomplish with this? Realistically you can't expect them to remove all their advertising and send you an email apologizing and begging forgiveness. Why are you STILL harping on this?

Well first, thanks for letting me know what is realistic because initially I was super disappointed that my list of demands (which included Perry personally sending me a free camera rental with a case of mountain-sourced sparkling water inside a bubble bath-and-loofah gift basket) was not immediately met. I know better now.

Second– and to finally be serious for a moment– what I am trying to accomplish is simply to get Black Magic Design to look at this ad (the symptom) critically, and thus the current diversity problem of the film industry (the real problem) critically, and acknowledge how they are contributing to it.

Real awareness can take that uncomfortable-thing-we-know-about-but-don't-want-to-admit-we-perpetuate-through-inaction mush, and shape it into an Actually Acknowledged Problem™ with real tangible consequences for the industry, thus with a real impetus to change it.

Ultimately, I am asking for a future where a young girl can look at an advertisement for a camera and not feel like cinematography is a world unavailable to her. She's got stories to tell.

That's it.

9.03.2014

Streamy Award Nomination

Long time no write! Still trying to decide what to develop this space into as I move forward with the RocketJump Film School. But I have some news:




I got nominated for a Streamy Award for Cinematography. First woman nominated in that category!!! (although the Streamy's are only 4 years old... but still, shouldn't have taken 4 years.) Anyways, just had to brag. Tune in at 7:30 PM PST for the awards ceremony :)

(And don't forget to vote for VGHS for Show of the Year!)

5.12.2014

Finally, the big new project is announced!


I know this blog has been pretty anemic in the last year or two. I am so humbled people are actually still reading it and writing to me about it. I can't tell you how much I value the people I get to talk to and meet.

I've wanted to do something educational for a long time now, to be able to provide tangible resources and content for aspiring and struggling filmmakers that are intimidated or blocked out by the industry. (This happens most often to women filmmakers, which is why it became the focal point of my writing.)

Becoming an accessible and inclusive resource was the ultimate dream goal I had for the blog, alongside an "I Should Write This Down/I Should Shoot This" YouTube channel to make simple, helpful videos to talk and teach cameras, tech, film, story, and industry.

I am only one person though, and over the past couple years I found it almost impossible to even find time or energy to write, let alone raise money or shoot anything on my own. So it ended up on the back burner.

So, as some of you know, as of February 2013, I have been working with a production company called RocketJump. I was brought into the RocketJump fold by my friend Freddie, producing and shooting exclusive behind-the-scenes documentary content for Video Game High School Season 2, and they kept me on after that to do some more BTS work for the shorts on their website and youtube channel. I was also given opportunities to DP for them as well. Particularly fond of these:



So as I was getting integrated more into this company, I began chatting with Freddie about possibly getting my cinematography tutorial series produced through the company, and suddenly the idea of having a whole section of RocketJump dedicated to film-education was tossed around. It remained in limbo for a while though as we got caught up in VGHS Season 3. 

But! Now that production is slowing down as we move into post, the company decided to pull the trigger and get going on the film education idea.

So I was put in charge of the development of the RocketJump Film School (yay!) with real resources and a real production company behind it.

So what does this mean?!

While I will finally be able to create the cinematography series that I've always wanted to make, we will also have MORE courses available (i.e.: series of videos and tutorials) for eight different tracks of filmmaking, from directing, to editing, to visual effects. It will be online, free, and easy to follow and absorb, un-intimidating, and most of all, fun and entertaining to watch. I am particularly excited to have the opportunity to steer this new project in what I think will be the most inclusive, accessible and beneficial direction. I want to have a variety of people represented in the classes, in the videos, on and behind camera. I will get to pull friends and colleagues in to contribute their own knowledge and experience. I'll have the ability to team up with outside partners as well, to eventually provide you guys with access to resources larger than just our website and forum. Most of all, I want this to be a safe and fun space for all young filmmakers without feeling exclusive. I want the women who wrote to me about feeling intimidated and ignored by the industry to feel welcome there. So I'm pretty damn stoked.

So what does this mean for my blog?

I am keeping this blog separate from RocketJump and catered to the female/cinematographer demographic. But I will be linking posts, videos and resources about the film school's camera track here so you guys can see it. It will not be a "RocketJump Film School Blog!!!!" (we have a whole other site for that!) but I will be able to provide the videos I've always wanted through RJ, and will write some more posts based on the content I am focusing on that week or month. So basically, same angle, same style of writing, but you'll be getting more updates. FINALLY, RIGHT?

3.10.2014

DIGITAL BOLEX GRANT FOR WOMEN CINEMATOGRAPHERS

For those of you who are discouraged, who keep fighting for work and still feel behind, who just can't seem to get the mysterious "experience" producers want you to have, who can't afford all the expensive gear your male colleagues seem to acquire as they get hired on job after job...

You're not crazy.

It is not that you are not good enough, talented enough, or strong enough.

This industry has been set up to work against you.

Elle, one of the co-creators of the Digital Bolex D16, knows this.



We have had several lengthy, frustrated conversations about this over various asian foods. And while we all keep fighting for the industry to change, the best thing we can do now as women in the industry is actively help out other women.

That's why I SHRIEKED in absolute glee this morning when Elle announced the Digital Bolex Grant for Women Cinematographers. Elle is seriously a badass for doing this.

A snippet from Elle's post:
Starting this summer, we will be offering a pair of Digital Bolex D16 kits, featuring $10,000 in gear and accessories from some wonderful soon-to-be-announced sponsors, on a rolling basis to any narrative short or feature film project to be shot by a female cinematographer. 
As one of a handful of female cinematographers at the SXSW Film Festival, I am acutely aware that my ability to purchase, train with, and bring equipment to gigs over the past decade is what has gotten me to this wonderful festival with a feature film. I want to give other women that same ability to use their potential. 
The relationship between a director and cinematographer is perhaps the most important in filmmaking–we see male duos with collaborative relationships spanning decades creating masterpieces. I’d like to see women involved in that kind of intimate collaborative process, and I hope that I can start to help move our industry in that direction.

They will be releasing information about sponsors and the application process over the next few weeks. If you want to touch base with Elle now, you are encouraged to email her at elle@digitalbolex.com.

I've worked with this camera. It's truly unique and produces beautiful images with some amazing control in post. You can read more about the D16 and see Philip Bloom's unbiased in-depth review, as well as footage he has shot with it, here.

d16

I know how discouraging this field and this industry is. Don't let it break you. We have a ton of work to do!

2.27.2014

Slates for Sarah

Sarah Jones, awesome lady and awesome AC, was hit by a train and killed while on set due to negligence from the production company of the film Midnight Rider.

It was not an "accident" or hazard of the job. It was a blatant disregard for the safety of the crew. Her death has greatly impacted the film community and was a harsh wake up call to make all of us question whether our safety is always considered.

Tons of productions have begun to put Sarah's name on their slates in memory and support of her family. You can share yours and see others at Slates For Sarah:

 

Read more here:

We're Just Making Movies - Zach Goldberg

Train Accident Kills Crew Member of Gregg Allman Biopic - Variety.com

And please sign the Petition to Add Sarah Jones to Oscar Memoriam Tribute

12.20.2013

Haifaa Al Mansour is a badass



Support this film if you can!! It's the first feature film made entirely in Saudi Arabia, AND the first feature film made by a Saudi woman. INCREDIBLE.


Trailer here!

12.11.2013


It's All About The Game!


All the BTS work for Video Game High School I've been doing is fully available online! Also, Seasons 1 and 2 of the show itself are both available on Netflix!