SCAD Savannah Film Festival presents Wonder Women: Below the Line
Taking place on a Thursday morning in late October at the Gutstein Gallery (or online for pass holders who don’t mind the rain), the Wonder Women: Below the Line panel at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival in this year (October 23-30) was like a breath of fresh air. Moderated by Variety‘s Jazz Tangcay, attendees included talent agent June Dowad, editor Pamela Martin (king richard, Battle of the sexes, The fighter), and decorators Diane Lederman (CODA, Americans, Leftovers) and Ina Mayhew (Sugar queen, The sensitive cords of Dolly Parton, Second Generation Wayans): All middle-aged women, fiercely sure of themselves and rich in knowledge. Not to mention careers long enough for them to call BS bluntly on a still sexist system.
Kicking off the discussion, Tangcay addressed the only Briton on stage, wondering how Dowad came to be as a talent agent in LA. It was a pretty circuitous route, she explained. In fact, she had started as a personal assistant and had worked in the field of non-fiction for a long time. It wasn’t until she had children that she moved to California and started buying equipment. And then I went back to school. She hadn’t really thought about becoming an agent until a friend offered to join his company. Dowad did – and eventually bought the agency. But now she has returned to the UK, where she signed as a partner agent at WPA. “It’s never too late to start over,” she added eagerly.
Although Dowad also lamented the fact that for a long time people did not even know that department heads had agents. She was convinced that the skills below the line had yet to be fully recognized. She recalls her debut as a documentary at Channel Four, where she once worked with a framed director on her feature debut by Michael Grigsby. Unfortunately, the two didn’t get along. So, at the age of 23, she found herself in the awkward position of having to fire a legendary documentary maker, which she quickly did. Grigsby then turned around and hired her as a producer for his next film.
Martin’s path to a career in cutting, on the other hand, was much more conventional – until he attended NYU Film School. That said, she too made her documentary debut – and a stroke of luck when she went to interview for an internship, as the production company’s editor had just left the week before. Still in college, she ended up working on a PBS series about Beckett. This led her to develop essential skills and subsequently collaborate with Ang Lee on her first three films. Tangcay wondered if there had been a âchangeâ for her over the years. The editor noted that it was only after cutting The fighter that she tended to get calls for dramas (whereas previously it was mostly dark comedies). Now, however, these are sports movies. While still preferring dramas “with comedic elements”, she considers herself lucky to have been able to try so many different genres.
As for Lederman, although she studied art in college, she knew nothing about production or film design. She signed up for a film class as an elective, started an internship as a personal assistant, and fell in love with the art department. She climbed the (strongly masculine) ranks of master accessory, decorator, production designer. Remembering the early days, she started working with Tupac on the set of Above the rim, where she first met Mayhew. Her job was the prop master’s assistant to a prop master who kept ‘playing around’, angering the legendary rapper / actor. To calm things down, she stepped in to help, especially with the “blunt rolling”. “The white girl knows how to roll blunts!” Tupac exclaimed, and they were friends from that day forward. The moral of the story? âYou have to have skills. Lederman learns something new about each project. That’s why she loves what she does.
Mayhew, the child of an African-American father and white mother, appeared to be the only panelist to know from an early age (15 to be exact) the field she would pursue. Deciding that she was a set designer, she finally started working in the theater. At SUNY Purchase, Mayhew hung out with âthe movie peopleâ and held various jobs on their sets, which saw her acquire a skill set that she hadn’t quite anticipated. It was there that she befriended Charles Lane and reconnected with the filmmaker (she met him at a Macy’s over Christmas) once she moved to LA. Lane invited her to conceive on Sidewalk stories and soon she expanded her network, which included Spike Lee, with whom she also worked extensively.
Lamenting the lack of racial and gender equity in the industry, Dowad stressed, âYou have to start with the pipelineâ¦ Bring people in earlier. Today, she receives more calls for women and BIPOC, but too often it is only for “optics”. In the UK there is actually a program where production companies are required to have interns (from under-represented demographics) on each project. But she stressed that there must also be financial incentives, as people from disadvantaged backgrounds certainly cannot afford to volunteer for free.
Martin added that she actually signed up with an agent because you just can’t get your foot in the door with studio photos otherwise, especially if you’re female. She has worked with the same agent since the mid-90s, a woman who has helped shape her career. As for the other mentors, she mentioned Tim Squyres, Ang Lee’s longtime editor. She remembered when an editing job opened on David O. Russell’s feature debut, Spank the monkey. The publisher was afraid to take it, as Russell had a reputation for being difficult to work with. And then a job as an assistant on another project also opened. She decided to turn to Squyres for advice. âYou should always take the cutting job over the assistant job,â he said practically. She did and got on really well with the controversial director.
Besides being “a hard worker” and thus being recommended for concerts, Martin also cited the Sundance Institute as “huge” for her career. Thanks to this, she had connected with Tamara Jenkins and Miguel Arteta. For a long time, however, Martin didn’t see any women or BIPOCs in the editing room – let alone as members of ACE – which is why she is proud to be a mentor on the diversity committee. of ACE. That said, Martin herself has always hired women and people of color – not for “diversity” per se, but simply because she thinks they are better able to see her point of view. She added that the Paid Diversity Mentorship Program that IATSE was developing recently could be a start to expanding the pool of writers. Demanding equal pay – she’s delighted that studios are no longer allowed to ask questions about the old rates – and setting limits were her two personal crusades. âWomen are the ultimate multitasking,â she warned, so they need to be especially vigilant in taking care of themselves to avoid burnout.
Lederman raised his first and most important female mentor, the late ThÃ©rÃ¨se DePrez (Black Swan, Sam’s summer, High fidelity), heartbreaking even considering the impact the designer has had on her life. She’s had many different jobs on the set over the years, which she says makes her all the more complete. “If that’s what you want to do, you find your way.”
The designer also spoke passionately about the Equity Through Design mentorship (of which Mayhew is also a member). She still asks to be matched with a mentee girl. She reflected on the feeling of disrespect when she started out as a props – an area that continues to be dominated by men. So much, especially when it comes to compensation, still needs to change. Her male counterparts continue to earn 10-20% more than her, even after nearly three decades of conception. This is why she categorically refuses to work below her rate.
Reflect on your time with Sian Heder CODA, Lederman added that she was “delighted to see a deaf interpreter today.” Every day of production was a struggle, she admitted. The director had to fight to make sure that every actor came from the deaf community, and herself just to give the film “the look it deserved.” That said, Lederman has faced a lot worse. “I took part in two productions where people lost their lives on their way home”, lamented the creator, referring to the recent negotiations of the IATSE and the Rust define tragedy. The Alec Baldwin incident was just the industry tragedy that made the news. (Dowad noted that productions were hiring drivers to take the team home – and now they only rely on the overworked PA. “And that PA was the first person on set.” A recipe for disaster is coming. it is.)
As for Mayhew, between “Charles and Spike”, she felt lucky to have worked with men happy to have women on the crew. Although she and Lee had their differences, the creator nonetheless admires the way the author handles her ensemble – everyone is treated the same, everyone is held to the same expectations. Even though he is “tough, not nice,” Mayhew has learned a lot about Lee’s productions. She now sees it as her “duty” to give back and lead others. Initially invited to the Academy to broaden its diversity, she sits on a mentoring committee and focuses on reaching high school students (because not everyone has the luxury of going to college). It’s important to ‘know your talent’ and stick to it (she herself turned down projects outside of the design realm even when she didn’t have a job), but also to ‘be nice and generous â. The key to keeping both your foothold in a chaotic industry, and the relationships that ultimately lead to a long and fulfilling career.
Above Photo: SAVANNAH, GEORGIA – OCTOBER 28: (LR) Ina Mayhew, Diane Lederman, June Dowad and Pamela Martin attend the Wonder Women: Below The Line panel at the 24th SCAD Savannah Film Festival on October 28, 2021 in Savannah, GA . (Photo by Monica Schipper / Getty Images for SCAD)