Female Cinematographers, Not Content to Hide Behind the Camera

When Ms. Eakin graduated from film school, she said, she had little sense that her trajectory might differ from a male cinematographer’s. She began her career in St. Louis a dozen years ago, then moved to New York and worked steadily on commercials, documentaries, television and features.

But along the way, she said, she discovered that perceptions about her gender mattered. “There’s an assumption of incapability, a lot of times, when it comes to women, as opposed to the assumption of capability when it comes to men,” she said.

Rachel Morrison, a cinematographer who shot the indie favorites “Fruitvale Station” and “Dope,” agreed that women have to work harder to prove themselves. “I’ve had something like seven films at Sundance, one of which won the Grand Jury Prize,” she said. “I’ve noticed male counterparts who had similar successes getting a phone call” to do a big-budget studio film. “I wasn’t getting those phone calls.”


Kerry Washington in “Confirmation.” Rachel Morrison, the film’s cinematographer, worked on it shortly after having her first child.

Frank Masi/HBO

Women can still reach that level, she added, but have to shoot two $1 million movies before getting a $5 million assignment, and so on. “There’s never a call like, ‘You did great on your $5 million movie, here’s a $100 million project,’” she said. “My experience is that guys get to take the fast route.”

As in most fields, the timing of motherhood and balancing its demands are added hurdles. “Producers hear that you’re due in February, and they don’t want to hire you for a job that ends in January,” Ms. Morrison said.

Ms. Morrison shot “Dope” while she was pregnant, and the HBO movie “Confirmation” while she was breast-feeding, so she found ways to pump on set. (Both were directed by Rick Famuyiwa.) Pregnancy, she said, should be “viewed as working with a broken wrist.”

“It’s not something that has take you out of the equation,” she said.

Sharing ways to navigate issues like these is one goal of the meetings held by Cinematographers XX. It’s not affiliated with the union, although there is crossover; Ms. Eakin is a Local 600 member, and Ms. Rhine, the union director, said she viewed it and other sites as a complement to her work.

Ms. Eakin said she hoped that Cinematographers XX, which has about 40 established directors of photography and 18 who are starting out, would serve as a resource for hiring: Producers and studios can no longer pretend they don’t have access to any female cinematographers. Women must apply to join, and are vetted by Ms. Eakin and others; some have been turned away, or asked to update their production reels. For now, the focus is women who can work in New York or Los Angeles, although the group is allied with the International Collective of Female Cinematographers, which has over 150 vetted members. Ms. Eakin said Cinematographers XX and its Facebook group have already resulted in jobs for some members.

Ms. Morrison, one of the few women registered with Local 600 as a director of photography (most are camera operators or assistants), said she was inspired to join Cinematographers XX because she saw studios and producers responding to the renewed discussion about the dearth of female directors. “This dialogue is having an effect,” she said, though she added that she looked forward to the day when she could “just be referred to as a D.P.,” and not a female D.P.

Ms. Eakin said spotlighting the range and diversity of female cinematographers underscored their strength. “Everyone can stop questioning whether women can command a set and a crew and be creative and technical at the same time,” she said. “We can and we do. We just need to get past it being this rarity.”

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