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In Conversation

Female Representation in Film Production with Amanda Sayeg

While representation of women in front of the camera is growing, the additional influence of women in directing and producing roles is still vitally important.

October 6, 2020

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Our guest Amanda Sayeg reflects on her own personal experiences often being the only woman on a film crew, and how female representation is most needed in positions of power on film productions.

The following interview is an excerpt from our video series, Production In Conversation. To watch the full interview and see more video content, click here. Or you can listen to the SHIFT - In Conversation podcast here.

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Amanda Sayeg - Producer/Director  
Grace Amodeo - Program Manager - SHIFT 

Grace:
Tell us a little bit about yourself. 

Amanda:
My name is Amanda Sayeg and I'm from San Paolo, Brazil. I've lived in LA for a little bit over six years now working on productions. Mainly music videos, commercials, short films and documentaries.

Grace:
For those not familiar with film production, would you say that it is a male-dominated industry?

Amanda:
Yes, absolutely. And I think we are moving forward, but we have a lot of work to do on that. Overall I think it depends on the production. I’ve worked on some smaller productions that were female-led, which is wonderful, but overall bigger-sized productions are 60-70% male. 

Grace:
Why do you think that is?

I think it's not, unfortunately, something exclusive to the film industry. I think it's part of all industries, it's part of the society we live in which is a male-dominated society.

Amanda:
I think it's not, unfortunately, something exclusive to the film industry. I think it's part of all industries, it's part of the society we live in which is a male-dominated society. You see in positions of power not only just males, but white males -- so it’s a racial question too. It’s part of a very archival concept that we are still breaking from. The industry that we work for works like any other one, you have a hierarchy of position and power and roles. But also as an industry that forms opinion, we create a very big impact in the society and in trends and behavior. So it makes sense that everything we have lived so far also has a lot of white male dominance. 

Grace:
Have you ever had the experience of being the only woman on a film set? What was that like? 

Amanda:
Yes, I have. Many times. And I’ve been lucky for the most part to work with amazing people, and amazing men that I admire and respect a lot. Many of them are role models to me. But it is different when you have a crew that is only male, and you can’t relate to anyone. When you see people that you look up to it’s very different when you see a man versus a woman. How do you see yourself in those positions? That’s a huge part of it, it’s very important to have representation on set. Production is problem-solving, 24/7. That’s what the role is. So by having different perspectives, that helps a lot. 

Grace:
When you have a position of authority on a film set, like as director or producer, do you think people relate to you differently than they might relate to a man in the same position?

Amanda:
Yes. Coming from the structure we are coming from where it is a male-dominated industry, when you start to have women in positions of power there can be a lot of second-guessing the authority of a woman that’s in charge. Something that bothers me a lot is if you are strong and you know what you want and you are taking charge of the situation, for men those traits are respected and admired by everyone. But when you are a woman that can easily come across as being upset, or bossy, or loud. It can seem like something small or silly, but the impact that it has makes you rethink your behavior or think you are doing something wrong. There is so much pressure on women to be nice and to please everyone, and those things can’t work well together on a film set. This pressure is immensely bad for us.

There is so much pressure on women to be nice and to please everyone, and those things can’t work well together on a film set. This pressure is immensely bad for us.

It creates such a hostile environment to work in. That second-guessing feeling from the crew, and even from women too! It’s something that happens with us as well. It’s something we need to break too, the work is not just for men. I had an experience on set working with this woman that wore her hair up in a ponytail the whole time. At the end of the day I ran into her in the bathroom and she had this long, beautiful hair when it was down. I asked her why she always wore her hair up, and she said, “I feel that we are not really respected and listened to on set. So I just always wear a ponytail, so I kind of look more like a man”. That made me so sad, because I know it’s true and I know she had reasons to do that. 

Grace:
Why do you think it is important that films have female directors and producers? What difference does it make?

Amanda:
Our job is to tell stories that represent our society. In order to tell the stories and in order to portray an accurate picture, we need to have diverse people behind the scenes. We’re slowly seeing diversity on camera, but it’s very important in order for the stories to be told right that we have representation behind the cameras too. Those are the people writing, those are the people crewing up, those are the people making decisions. There is so much more authenticity and truth when you not only see diverse actors on screen, but you have a whole crew of diverse people supporting that actor. It’s important to come from a place of truth. I can write any story I want, but the work we are doing is meant to connect people. I don’t think we can truly connect if it doesn’t come from a place of authenticity and truth. 

Grace:
Do you think the audience can see that difference when they are sitting in the theater watching that film?

Amanda:
Absolutely. From women to women, we know what we go through. And we know what we are going to keep going through. When stories come from that place, as an audience you’re listening to and watching stories that you can relate to versus watching content that tells you what you should be based on some stereotype that society creates. There is such a difference in seeing big female directors and big producers and writers, because you can project and you can see yourself in positions like that too. The representation is so important to inspire young girls and adults at any age. When a little girl watches a movie and of course she thinks, “I can be an actress”. But if she sees an amazing female director, she knows that she can do that, or she can produce, or she can write, she can do absolutely anything. Until very recently we couldn’t really see that because there were just so few of us.

If a young girl sees an amazing female director, she knows that she can do that, or she can produce, or she can write, she can do absolutely anything.  

Grace:
What is your vision for the future of representation in the film industry?

Amanda:
It definitely looks like a much more female-led industry. And of course there is space for men, there is space for everyone, but right now we are in a moment where we need to prioritize. Guarantee that there is female representation in all departments. We need to create more situations for female-led projects and fully female crews. There are so many associations and organizations doing a beautiful job on that, and it is so valuable. I know this is going to keep going because there is no way back right now, thankfully. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the future is much brighter for us. We’re going to get there. We’re also realizing as women that we don’t need to compete against each other. Society has made us believe that it’s a competition, but it’s not. I see women bringing other women on board and supporting each other, there’s such a beautiful sisterhood going on. The more we enjoy that the farther we are going to go together, there’s going to be more space for us at the table.

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Would you like to participate in a future In Conversation video interview? Email grace@shift.io for more information. 

 

Grace Amodeo is a program manager at SHIFT, where she oversees the annual SHIFT Creative Fund grant program. She is a graduate of Emerson College, where she studied film with a concentration in directing narrative fiction. Grace lives in Los Angeles.
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