6 Ways This Man (and Power Agent) Would Fix Hollywood's Woman Problem
In THR's Women in Entertainment issue, Verve owner Bryan Besser — whose staff is nearly 50 percent female — shares his secret: "It’s f—ing great to have tons of smart women working at our company”
This story first appeared in the special Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Five years after Besser and agents Adam Levine and Bill Weinstein left WME to form Verve, nearly half of the boutique talent and literary agency's staff is female, including partner Amy Retzinger."It's f—ing great to have tons of smart women working at our company," he says. "I don't know why everyone doesn't do that!"
1. INSPIRE WOMEN EARLY
If you look at the writer business, there are more women writers in the talent pool than there are female directors in the directing pool. Why are there not more women filmmakers? When I ask producers or studio heads if they would hire a female, they say, "Of course" — but there are just none that they consider qualified. I asked our female assistants who were film students why they didn't pursue filmmaking. Their answer: "I didn't think that was available to me." There aren't a lot of big female directors for younger girls to look at and say, "I want to be like that." If we're not finding enough women to direct Thor 2 or Interstellar, then we need to dig deep and go into education. That's why we're in conversations with film schools to create a directors lab for female directors, where women are educated about what studios are looking for when they're hiring someone to make The Hunger Games.
2. CONSIDER "MALE" GENRES
For the longest time, Kathryn Bigelow was the only one making the kinds of movies traditionally made by men. Then you hear Patty Jenkins' name for a Marvel movie, and news breaks that Michelle MacLaren will direct Wonder Woman.
Trust me, agents would love to rep super-talented women in unconventional genres, because the novelty is an extra advantage. We represent a young female director named Leigh Janiak, who did a smart horror thriller that premiered at SXSW. Everyone picked up on her story, not just because they loved the film but also because there are no other women making this type of movie.
3. ENLIST ESTABLISHED FILMMAKERS
In a world of profit and loss and risk aversion, we try to provide an insurance policy for newer directors, like Chris Nolan executive producing a Zack Snyder movie. The next thing Angelina Jolie should do is produce a movie for a female director. That is one model that works effectively. So I'd like to say to these iconic voices: "Pick somebody whom you believe in. Help mentor these new voices."
4. TRY SMART, SMALLER PROJECTS
Jerry Bruckheimer built franchises hiring commercial directors like Michael Bay off of fancy reels. In general, visual splendor is fun, but if you don't have characters to care about, the movie doesn't work. Some people started hiring off of smart short films or Sundance dramas. Patty Jenkins did Monster, then The Killing, and people started wondering what a female perspective could bring to a movie of greater scope. It just takes one studio's endorsement. I give Marvel credit for wanting Patty to do Thor 2. It didn't work out, but suddenly you hear all over town: "What about Patty for this movie or that movie?"
5. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF TV
About 20 percent of our directing clients are women, and of that 20 percent, 90 percent are working in TV. There's an incredible disparity between the number of directing jobs in TV versus studio movies, and budget sizes have something to do with it, too. But there's never been a better time to use TV as an incubator for a film career.
6. START WITH YOUR OWN STAFF
When we started this company, I looked at my alma mater and thought about how we could build something new. To succeed in such a competitive world, you have to be different. Diversity is more forward-thinking, and having many eyes and ears out there with different perspectives is an advantage. We promoted female assistants and recruited women from other areas: One of our latest agents, Melissa Darman, was a TV executive at Lionsgate. And the digital era, with access at home to the Internet and email, is a massive game-changer, but we could go further to retain female talent. If you look at Motorola or Xerox, they have phenomenal child care programs right on campus. I'm not sure any agencies do. You'd imagine an agency with 6,000 employees could offer something like that.