“Historic Highs” For Female Directors, Writers & Producers Of Indie Films, Study Finds

Female independent filmmakers made historic gains in 2019-20, according to a report released today by Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. The report, titled Indie Women, cites more than a dozen categories in which women attained “recent historic highs” as directors, writers, producers, editors and cinematographers of indie feature films and documentaries.

“We have now seen gains over the last two consecutive years for women working as directors, writers, and producers in independent film,” Lauzen said. “The percentage of women working as directors on narrative films has more than doubled over the last decade, rising from 15% in 2008-09 to 33% in 2019-20.” She noted, however, that men continue to outnumber women nearly two-to-one (66% to 34%) when all behind-the-scenes roles – directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers – are considered.

Read the report here.

Lauzen’s Indie Women study, which she’s conducted since 2008, also found that films with at least one woman director had substantially higher percentages of women working as writers, editors, and cinematographers than films with exclusively male directors. On films with at least one woman director, women comprised 73% of writers. On films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for 12% of writers. On films with at least one woman director, women comprised 43% of editors. On films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for 18% of editors. And on films with at least one woman director, women comprised 27% of cinematographers. On films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for 8% of cinematographers.

The historic gains for indie women filmmakers mirror those that Lauzen documented last month in a report about women employed behind the scenes on streaming shows.

“Historic Highs” For Women Employed Behind The Scenes On Streaming Shows, Study Finds

Documentaries continue to offer more opportunities for women than narrative features. The report found that women comprised 40% of those working in these key behind-the-scenes roles on documentaries, but only 29% of those working on narrative features. “For years, documentaries have provided more opportunities for women than narrative features,” Lauzen said. “However, over the last couple of years, the employment gains made by women in the world of documentaries have outpaced the increases on narrative films. At 47% of producers on documentaries, women are approaching parity with their male counterparts. The same cannot be said on narrative features where women comprise a little more than one third of producers.”

The study looked at over 8,000 credits on more than 800 domestically and independently produced feature-length documentaries and narrative films selected and/or screened from July 2019 through June 2020 at 22 major U.S. festivals, and more than 88,000 credits on almost 9,000 films over the period of 2008 to 2020.

Here are all the “recent historic highs” cited in the report:

• In 2019-20, the percentages of women working as directors and writers on independently and domestically produced films continued to climb, reaching recent historic highs. Women comprised 38% of directors, up from 33% in 2018-19, and 29% in 2017-18. Women accounted for 35% of writers, up from 32% in 2018-19 and 26% in 2017-18.

• Women comprised 34% of directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and cinematographers working on independent films in 2019-20. This represents an increase of two percentage points from 32% in 2018-19, and a recent historic high.

• Women accounted for 40% of producers in 2019-20. This figure represents an increase of three percentage points from 37% in 2018-19, and a recent historic high.

• Women comprised 33% of executive producers in 2019-20. This figure represents an increase of one percentage point from 32% in 2018-19, and a recent historic high.

• Women accounted for 33% of directors working on narrative features in 2019- 2020. This represents an increase of three percentage points from 30% in 2018-19, and a recent historic high.

• Women comprised 32% of writers working on narrative features in 2019- 2020. This represents an increase of two percentage points from 30% in 2018-19, and a recent historic high.

• Women made up 35% of producers working on narrative features in 2019- 2020, up three percentage points from 32% in 2018-19. This represents a recent historic high.

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• Women comprised 42% of directors working on documentaries in 2019- 2020, up seven percentage points from 35% in 2018-19. This also represents a recent historic high.

• Women accounted for 42% of writers working on documentaries in 2019- 2020, up seven percentage points from 35% in 2018-19. This represents a recent historic high.

• Women comprised 44% of executive producers working on documentaries in 2019-20, up four percentage points from 40% in 2018-19. This represents a recent historic high.

• Women accounted for 47% of producers working on documentaries in 2019-20, up four percentage points from 43% in 2018-19. This represents a recent historic high.

• Women accounted for 19% of cinematographers working on documentaries in 2019-20, up three percentage points from 16% in 2018-19. This represents a recent historic high.

• Women comprised 32% of editors working on documentaries in 2019- 2020, up one percentage point from 31% in 2018-19. This represents a recent historic high.

Not all the signs are pointing in one direction, however. The report found that women lost three percentage points as editors of narrative features – down from 27% in 2018-19 to 24% in 2019-20. Overall, including narrative features and documentaries, women editors also lost one percentage point – down from 29% in 2018-19 to 28% in 2019-20. And women cinematographers of narrative features lost two percentage points – down from 14% in 2018-19 to 12% in 2019-20.

The report also looked at gender imbalances of films shown at 22 major U.S. film festivals. “Overall, high-profile festivals in the U.S. selected and/or screened an average of 16 films (narrative features and documentaries) directed by at least one woman versus an average of 22 films directed exclusively by men.

“High-profile festivals in the U.S. selected and/or screened twice as many narrative features directed by men as by women. The festivals selected and/or screened an average of 6 narrative features directed by at least one woman versus an average of 12 narrative features directed exclusively by men

“High-profile festivals selected and/or screened almost equal numbers of documentaries directed by men as by women. The festivals selected and/or screened an average of 10 feature-length documentaries directed by at least one woman versus an average of 11 directed exclusively by men.

“Thirty-four percent of the independent films considered employed 0 or 1 woman, 43% employed 2 to 5 women; 17% employed 6 to 9 women, and 5% employed 10 or more women. In contrast, 12% of the films employed 0 or 1 man, 33% employed 2 to 5 men, 29% employed 6 to 9 men, and 26% employed 10 or more men.”

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