'Someone Great' Director on the Difficulties of Hiring Inclusively as a First-Time Filmmaker

Someone Great with an inset of director Jennifer Kaityn Robinson-H 2019
Courtesy of Netflix; Getty Images

Director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson talks about the obstacles (and successes) she found when hiring for below-the-line positions on her first feature film.

Heading into production on her directorial debut, Netflix's Someone Great, first-time feature director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson was determined to hire inclusively behind the camera. For THR's Empowerment in Entertainment issue, Robinson talked about the barriers she encountered.

Going into Someone Great, there was never a version of this where I wasn't going to make it a point to hire as many women and people of color as I could. Being in a position of power, I was the person that could say how I wanted the set to look, and it was really important to me that the set reflects the film that we were making and the audience that it was for.

But the obstacles are there, and they're not obtuse obstacles. What you're really up against is the fact that there are only so many women and people of color at a certain level that you can hire for your project. There are also only a certain number that have been working long enough that can execute what you need them to execute. 

Once you get through the pool of people that are working constantly and do have the résumés that make the producers and the studio and everyone feel comfortable, they are already working on something. So, then you get to a place where there are two paths. There's the path where you can hire the next guy down the list because there is always a next guy down on the list. Or, you have to look at the people that you're working with and say, "No. There's no way that there's only five women. Please find more."

It's easy to get railroaded by that process, especially for first-time directors and younger filmmakers when you have producers and a studio that say, "No. No. No, let's jam this through. We got to go." Fortunately, I had a team behind me led by my producers Paul Feig, Jesse Henderson, Anthony Bregman and Peter Cron. 

You have to push and you have to knock on doors. You have to be open to getting creative. It's very easy to hire the people that have always worked, but there’s also a gut check. It happens when you're in a room with someone and they may not have six movies under their belt, but you're vibing in a way that makes [you open] to taking a chance.  

That’s was what happened with our cinematographer, Autumn Eakin. Autumn had made a wonderful movie but a smaller movie, and [Someone Great] was a big jump in terms of budget level — but that is how people are going to be able to move up in this industry. For so long, so much of the hiring has been done based on credits and based on experience.

But if we close doors to people because they don't have experience how are they supposed to get the experience to get the next job?  

It's about feeling comfortable with being pushy, and that’s scary for women and for young people and, especially, for people of color. Because you worked so hard to get your seat at the table and then you are like, "I have to do everything I can to stay at this table." Just because you have the seat doesn't mean you've got a nameplate.

It's not just about hiring inclusively for the sake of hiring inclusively; It's deeper than that. The best thing that you can do as a storyteller is bring as many people to the table as you can that are different than you because then you're going to create something that is full of so much life. It's going to elevate your project.