The Business of Making Movies: Including Women’s Voices

Posted on August 28th, 2019 by Melissa

Guest Post by Barclay DeVeau

Barclay DeVeauLike a lot of business, when a woman is in the lead, movies make more money, whether that lead position is on screen or off. As a director, I depend on my investors to get my movies made. Yet recently, investors I’ve made several films for over the course of the past two decades announced that they would not invest in my next movie, Opal. In spite of having shown these investors an extremely generous return on investment over the years, they refused to even read the script for this project because the lead characters are women.

I wasn’t shocked – I am well aware of the rampant gender bias in the movie business. But I am also not deterred by these investors’ lack of interest in telling a story from a female perspective. Instead, their bias has served to further ignite my passion and has propelled me forward with an even greater determination to get this movie made.

A Southern Gothic Thriller, Opal is filled with long buried mysteries, deep-rooted traditions, ominous plot twists and shocking secrets, but, at its core, Opal is a story of strength, empowerment and the hope one badass  woman leaves to the world.

Set against the backdrop of a contentious mayoral election in picturesque Hartswell, Georgia, Opal is centered around the relationship between an abused young woman and a reclusive matriarch, who will stop at nothing to expose the sins of the town.

When Luna, a headstrong woman in her 50’s, is introduced to the young woman, Purdee, she immediately senses the girl is in jeopardy. Against the advice of her friends, Luna begins investigating. She inserts herself into the young woman’s life – following her, attempting to befriend her, and, ultimately, breaking into her house where she witnesses Purdee’s brutal rape by her own husband, Ray, the son of one of the leading mayoral candidates.

As the rest of the town focuses on the impending election, Luna fixes her attention on freeing Purdee from her life of abuse, whatever it takes.

Luna’s determination is much like my own. I will get Opal made, whatever it takes. Luna’s story deserves to be told and movies featuring strong females must become the norm, rather than the exception.

Movies can be magical. They have the power to transport us into wondrous worlds, take us along on fantastic adventures, move us to tears, laughter and reflection. They serve as communal and cathartic experiences that remind us we are never alone, and, most importantly, movies have the power to inspire our creativity, open our minds, fill us with hope and make us believe that anything is possible.

Child Actor to Director

When I grew up acting, the world of filmmaking enchanted me and enveloped me in its magic. I was most alive on set, soaking in everything around me like a ravenous sponge – the shimmering lights, dazzling costumes, the sweet taste of strawberry lip balm swiped from the make-up artist’s bag of goodies, the smell of freshly sawed wood on set combined with wafts of coffee from the craft services table, the warmth of freshly printed script pages…All of it cast a spell on me.

For much of my childhood I had a wondrous experience as a young actor, working frequently on stage, television and films. I was very blessed to have steadfast support and guidance from my mom, my grandma and from the various directors I worked with.

OPALAcademy Award Level Mentorship

Alan J. Pakula (Klute, All the Presidents Men, Sophie’s Choice) was particularly wonderful with me when he noticed me looking at the director’s monitor one day when I was about twelve. When Alan asked if I was interested in directing, I enthusiastically answered “yes”, sharing that I had already directed several films starring my younger siblings and the kids in my neighborhood – all shot with our family’s VHS camera, a beast that was only a few pounds lighter than I was at the time.

If Alan was amused by my precocious response, he didn’t show it. Instead, he embraced the role of mentor and promptly stood me on an apple box to show me the difference between 35mm, 50mm and 75mm lenses. He explained why he and the production designer had chosen a particular color pallet for the walls and asked me what I thought. He discussed the writing process, the way he worked with the director of photography and the thrill of the scoring stage. He took me along to the wardrobe room to “help” him decide on costumes. He was a wonderful, generous man and he enhanced the magic of movie making for me.

After working with Alan, my neighborhood movies became much more elaborate as I meticulously determined every detail of the costumes, production design and music. By the time I began high school, I had made scores of these films and knew with absolute certainty that I would be a professional director when I grew up.

Gender Imbalance Began in College

A few years later, at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, I was one of only a handful of women in my graduating production class of approximately thirty students. Despite the gender imbalance in my program, I never considered that I would be shut out from pursuing a directing career. I wasn’t cocky, but I was confident. This was what was I born to do, I’d known it since I was seven, and I had never once questioned whether I would be allowed to do it.

I was extremely naïve back then, unaware of the gross underrepresentation of women’s voices in film. In the years since college, many of my male classmates from USC have gone on to directing careers. None of the women in my class has directed a feature film. Not one.

These days I am acutely aware of the non-magical side of filmmaking. Men run most of the studios and agencies in Hollywood, they comprise a majority of the film critics, and it is their viewpoint that largely determines which films get greenlit. In spite of the success of a handful of incredible female filmmakers like Kathryn Bigelow, Sofia Coppola, Ava DuVernay and Patty Jenkins, 93% of the top 100 films in 2018 were directed by men.

Pre-Depression Women Ruled Hollywood

This revolting gender imbalance wasn’t always the case in the movie business. In the early days of Hollywood (1900-1920’s), women ran several of the independent studios and made up a large percentage of writers and directors. When talkies entered the scene in the late 20’s and films like The Jazz Singer became huge box office successes, a handful of studios (all run by men) began rising to the top. The onset of the Great Depression a few years after talkies hit the scene rendered it nearly impossible for the smaller indie studios (many run by women) to stay afloat. Alicia Malone states in her wonderful book, Backwards & In Heels, at this time “filmmaking started to be looked at as a business instead of a creative enterprise, and corporate structures were implemented, complete with executives in charge. Women were not perceived as being business-minded or executive material, so positions of power on a movie set, such as directing, now were given to men. From the 1930’s onward, Hollywood became a boy’s club. And women have been trying to make their way back into the industry for almost 100 years.”

Shamefully, not much has changed in the film business since the late 1920’s/early 1930’s when this marginalization began. Oh sure, our visual effects are lightyears better, our cameras and technology have advanced by leaps and bounds, but in terms of gender parity, women are still not considered to be leaders. Or, more often, not considered at all.

Lack of Gender Parity Actually Bad for Movie Business

According to the Geena Davis institute on Gender in Media, in 2018 only 7% of directors, 13% of writers and 20% of producers were female. On screen, female leads comprised only 17% of major films produced in 2014 and 2015. Yet, according to a recent study released by CAA in conjunction with Shift 7, female-led films consistently outperform male-led films at the box office across all genres and budget categories. In 2015, films led by women grossed 15.8% more than films led by men, and in 2017, all three of the top-grossing films at the box office were led by women.

It is a myth that films starring men perform better than female-led films and it’s time to capitalize on the truth – women on screen mean a higher return on investment. The marginalization of women on and off the screen in the film industry is, quite literally, bad business. This toxic myth is a fallacy rooted in longstanding gender bias.

Whether this gender bias is conscious or unconscious matters little. What matters is that we fix it. So what do we do? What can we do?

Let’s start with what we shouldn’t do – we shouldn’t sit around lamenting the dire situation. We must take action, because action is what is needed to move the needle. Action from people – women and men – who recognize that the gender imbalance in filmmaking is a disservice, not just to the women being excluded and the young girls who aren’t seeing themselves represented, but to the entire world that is missing out on the voices and creative visions of half the population. We must work together to bring more female-led films to screen. For my part, I will continue moving forward with Opal, a film with an incredibly powerful female lead, which will be directed by me, a woman with a lifetime of directing experience.

Opal Overview—Women Finding Their Voices

Opal is a film about transition, transformation and one woman’s power to change the world. Luna has reached her breaking point. By standing up to the systemic misogyny and unpunished atrocities that have permeated the culture of Hartswell for decades, Luna gives hope to future generations of women in this fictitious town – and the town becomes a symbolic representation of the country as a whole as it struggles with its long history of silencing women, perpetuating racism and burying ugly secrets. Luna’s story and the story of Hartswell are parallel tales, intertwined and complementary. Just as the town experiences dramatic changes – with new industry picking up, Confederate statues coming down, and the first female candidate running for mayor – Luna experiences her own transformation, breaking years of silence and, ultimately, making a decision that will change the course of the future.

Examining issues of domestic abuse, abuse of power, heinous crimes and complicit cover-ups, Opal lives in the nebulous territory between the law and justice, good and evil, the past, present and future. The time for Opal is now. Like countless women in cities and towns across the country, Luna has finally found her voice. She joins the chorus of women banding together, speaking up, fighting for and with each other to put an end to contemptible injustices.

What Opal Needs

Opal has a total capitalization of $5 million. We are currently accepting investors beginning at the $10,000 level. If you are interested in investing in Opal, if you believe the undeniable statistics which consistently show female-led films lead to a higher ROI, and if you are interested in being a part of ending the contemptible injustices women have experienced on and off the screen for nearly a century in the movie business, please reach out to request a comprehensive creative deck and an investment opportunity packet at barclay@opalmovie.com.

When we actively work together to allow women’s stories to be told on the big screen, we can literally double the magic in the movie business. Because in movies and in the business of making them, if we finally give women the opportunity to share their voices and visions, anything really is possible.

*To contact Barclay for a comprehensive creative and investment packet for the film, Opal, email barclay@opalmovie.com.

*To learn more about the past, present and future of women working in film, read Alicia Malone’s book, Backwards & In Heels and see the brilliant documentary This Changes Everything. To research more statistics on the current state of female representation on an off the screen in media, visit the website for the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media: https://seejane.org

 

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