The Sophomore Slump: Crunching the Numbers on How Male and Female Filmmakers Fare Post-Sundance

6:20 AM 1/25/2019

by Mia Galuppo

Fest organizers have reached gender parity in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, but a closer look at what happens to directors after they leave Park City reveals that many lose momentum — and it's worse for women.

Steven Caple Jr. and Lulu Wang-Split-Getty-H 2019
Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images;Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Since its inception, Sundance has been considered a springboard for directing talent. However, sometimes directors have trouble finding their way out of the snow, with festival momentum soon stalling in Hollywood.

"We found a lot of filmmakers didn't quite have that passion project ready to go, and there was a lot of pressure to get to the next film," says Michelle Satter, the founding director of the Sundance Institute's Feature Film Program and champion of FilmTwo — an initiative that specifically helps first-time feature directors who are coming out of Sundance navigate the sophomore slump. Satter and the Institute were inspired by an Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study that outlined a "one and done" phenomena, where 83.7% of women directors behind the top grossing films of 2007 to 2017 only directed one film (this compares to 55% of male directors).

Through FilmTwo, they hope to inspire not only a second feature, but career longevity. Grads of the program, which is entering its third year, include Creed II director Steven Caple Jr. and Lulu Wang, who is behind 2019 fest competition title The Farewell, starring Awkwafina. "The anecdotal was that it is even harder to get your second feature off the ground," notes Satter. "Also … that it was harder for women."

This year, the fest hit a major milestone. Over half of the films in the U.S. Dramatic Competition are directed by women, with eight solo directors and one male-female directing team. Looking at each of the follow-up features of the directors of Dramatic Competition titles over a 10-year period — from 2008 to 2017 — THR took a look at how helmers, which includes both freshmen filmmakers and indie vets, performed on both sides of the gender divide.

Tara Bitran contributed to this report.

  • Crunching the Numbers

    This story first appeared in the Jan. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.