It happens way too often that director and cinematographer Tasha Van Zandt shows up on a set to find out she’s the only woman there.
She wishes it weren’t such a common occurrence, but it is and even though she’s gotten used to it, she keeps trying to fix it, to change the ratio.
So it was refreshing when Van Zandt got a call to shoot a commercial for ThirdLove that requested as many women as possible be involved in the project, including a female director.
“It was very exciting to hear they wanted a female-driven crew and leadership on the project,” Van Zandt said. “There are no excuses to not have a balanced set. Women make up half of the population and therefore are half of our audience. Not only is the unbalance of women in film an employment discrimination issue, it’s also an issue of relevance. You can’t talk to the whole world by only using a male perspective. It benefits everyone when women are given accurate representation and an equal voice behind the camera.”
Making the decision to shoot a new commercial was a huge deal for us. We didn’t just want to showcase our brand, we wanted to make sure everything about the commercial, including how it was made, reflected our values.
“Both the lingerie industry and the film production industry have been male-dominated for most of modern history. As a company paying for a commercial we knew we had the power to ask that more women be employed in our production,” explained Kate Kittredge, ThirdLove’s Head of Brand.
After a long vetting process, we hired the agency Near Future to help us produce the commercial. In our first meeting we pushed them to pull together a female driven crew and insisted on having a female director. We felt that by having a female driven crew on set, our product would shine and the authenticity of real women’s experience wearing bras, both the good and the bad, could come through.
Jason Jurgens of Near Future is a very evolved man, the kind of man who wants to make space for women. He was eager to take on our challenge of finding a mostly female crew and produce an authentic commercial about women’s experiences, but no matter how evolved he is, he doesn’t have breasts. So he doesn’t get bras, at least not in the way we needed him to. The language just wasn’t in his vocabulary. In order to understand what we were trying to do he had no choice but to start with extensive due diligence—asking every woman in his life from his wife, mother and sister what they loved about their bras and what they hated.
“It opened my eyes a lot. The poking wires, the uncomfortable straps, the awkwardness of dealing with sales associates. The first thing my wife does when she comes home is tear her bra off and leave it on a chair. That image was burned in my brain. But that story just couldn’t be told authentically through the male voice,” Jurgens said. He knew he wanted Van Zandt and her keen eye for detail leading the set.
Near Future set out to secure the director, who also runs her own production company focused on getting more women into production. They were huge fans of her work, but didn’t know if they could get her. She’s busy, in high demand. But once Van Zandt heard about the plan to make sure the set was mostly female she made time in her schedule.
The common refrain in response to why aren’t sets more gender balanced is that there just aren’t enough women doing production crew jobs. But once Jurgens started looking for more women to work on our commercial he found that just wasn’t true. It was one more of the myths that men in power like to tell to explain away a century of discrimination.
“I think a lot of times we get caught in doing what is easiest, what is comfortable, instead of expanding our reach. We get caught in the easiest route. We just did a little digging and we found plenty of women to work with,” Jurgens said. “We opened up into a whole new network just by asking around.”
“Women filmmakers exist. There are legions of us who are equally qualified to make films but aren’t given equal opportunities. There are talented women available for each role on set and there are no more excuses not to seek out and hire them.” Van Zandt said. “Systemic discrimination has, for decades, denied opportunities to far too many talented women in filmmaking. Now we are in a unique time in our industry where change seems possible. All it takes is a focused agenda to hire inclusively. There are no more excuses, the women are out there and they are ready.”
There ended up being 17 crew members in total on our commercial. Only three of them were men. That represents a complete reversal from the ratio typically found on sets.
“We’ve always pushed boundaries, asked for more, and done things in a non-traditional way,” explained ThirdLove Chief Creative Officer Ra’el Cohen. “If brands and companies lead the charge, demand more and ask for a more diverse representation on commercial sets and within their workforce, we will be fundamentally changing these industries from the inside out.”
At the end of the day we didn’t just change the ratio, we made a better commercial, a more authentic commercial that truly captured the female voice and perspective.
“Working with Tasha was a dream, her sensitivity to the product, the scenarios, the struggles, the triumph, it was all authentic and intuitive. We felt really comfortable going straight to her when there was a particular sentiment we wanted to capture or when there was an angle we thought would really capture the moment or highlight the product best,” explained Kittredge. “I don’t think a male director would have been so receptive to our input on set. Tasha always listened to us, interpreted our perspective and directed in a way that only a highly sensitive and intuitive female could do.”
Both Jurgens and Van Zandt also noted that there was a marked difference for everyone in involved in having a female majority crew.
“When I’m on set with a female-driven crew, I find that there’s more balance. And that balance ripples through each level of the production. An equitable production amplifies an equitable perspective, which has a far-reaching impact on our ability to reach audiences around the world. More inclusivity in filmmaking benefits us all. ” Van Zandt said.
Our new commercials are a small part of the vast filmmaking industry, but they’re a step in the right direction. Brands can tout #METoo all day long on Instagram, but we also need to be taking action. We need to ask for more women. We need to demand more women. At the end of the day, that is how we will change the ratio.
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