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Why aren’t there more women directors? That’s a question that Transparent creator Jill Soloway is frequently asked. So she spent her time as the opening film keynote speaker at SXSW addressing how to enact change.
“My entire career could be simply talking to documentary directors asking me why there aren’t more women directors,” Soloway said to laughs before joking that, most of the time, it’s male directors asking her that question.
She attributed the lack of gender diversity in directorial roles to a laundry list of societal problems, including patriarchy, men, white men and white supremacy. Soloway also acknowledged that, as she has become a director, she has also “become less of a woman.”
“My hair and my suit are the markers where you can tell I’m a little bit more masc-presenting, dare I say,” she added. “I’m still a woman, of course, but five years ago, I wasn’t a director, I wasn’t queer, and I probably would have identified as a fem person. After my parent came out as trans, I began to question my own gender inheritance, and I had a fantastic idea for a TV show, and I got very successful very quickly.”
Soloway, who wrote for Six Feet Under and served as showrunner of United States of Tara before creating and selling Transparent to Amazon, passed out cards at the start of her panel, explaining that they contain the principles that guide her production company, Topple.
She then went on to offer up a new set of tools for aspiring directors that aren’t necessarily taught in film schools. “For anybody who feels that they have been other, we’re taking a step to claim our subjectivity when we grab that camera,” she said. “That movement from object to subject can be so impossible.”
Her tools include “trying to be in my body.” For Soloway, that means being able to feel the actions that her actors are performing. She doesn’t call “action” on set, calling it a “fake tool.” She added: “There’s nothing worse for taking people out of their bodies than yelling the word ‘action.’ ” Instead, Soloway will start a shoot by saying, “Whenever you’re ready, we’re going.”
Other tools she offered were to use a pen and paper to take down notes during a scene, which she said has allowed her to embrace her ideas. “A lot of my realizations as a director came from just going, ‘OK, I have everything I need. I have to just be here, I have to be able to tell my instincts from my impulses or my instincts from my anxieties.’ “
In a short Q&A at the end of the talk, Soloway discussed how it can be challenging to provide women with more roles on set, calling it “something you have to do over and over again, all day, everyday.”
Soloway, who has become an outspoken advocate of the LGBT community and a voice of modern feminism, explained that when interviewing directors for her shows, the female candidates frequently doubted their abilities, while the men were more self-assured. “Sometimes I just want to give them this job because they’re communicating to me that they’ve got this,” she said of the male candidates, adding that hiring a woman isn’t just about that one decision, but also committing to mentoring them throughout the process. “It’s not just about finding the person; it’s about protecting the person all the way through.”
In addition to creating Transparent, Soloway adapted the novel I Love Dick into a TV series that will premiere May 12 on Amazon. She is also writing and directing the feature film Ten Aker Wood for Amazon.
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