Women outwit Hollywood bias with help from industry insiders

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Kaitlyn Yang knows women rarely work with visual effects, but wanted to find out how much company she had.
Earlier this year, she created an informal survey and carefully searched 24,000 LinkedIn posts for female visual effects supervisors in North America. Your balance: 30.
"So you do the math," she said of the tiny percentage that represents. It's not far from in-depth research that shows that despite recent advances in behind the camera positions, including writing, directing and producing, women are underrepresented.
A study by the Center for Women's Studies in Television and Film at San Diego State University of the 250 most successful films in 2019 found women were 6% of visual effects supervisors, 5% of cameramen, and 19% of writers. A central report on last season's television shows found similar patterns.
Yang, whose persistence led to the founding of her own company, Alpha Studios, is a success in Hollywood. This also applies to Layne Eskridge, a former Netflix and Apple TV executive who just launched POV Entertainment. Writer Gladys Rodriguez, whose credits include "Sons of Anarchy" and "Vida"; and Sandra Valde-Hansen, cameraman for more than a dozen independent films.
The four share an important merit: each had an industry internship with the Television Academy Foundation, the academy's nonprofit branch that administers the prime-time Emmy Awards.
For Valde-Hansen, the internship offered the experience of working with veteran cinematographer Alan Caso, who was part of the acclaimed series "Six Feet Under".
Learning to learn from the man who "created the look of this show, this very cinematic look, I thought," Oh, this is better than going to college, "she said." The internship opened so many doors for me. "
The program offers 50 paid, eight-week summer television productions internships in Los Angeles for students nationwide.
"We couldn't be more proud to start the careers of these extraordinary women. They are proof of the foundation's crucial work," said Madeline Di Nonno, Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees.
As the former interns have made progress in their field, they have gained hard-earned insights into Hollywood and the barriers to women and people with color. Yang, who uses a wheelchair because of spinal muscular atrophy, faces different challenges. In recent interviews, the women discussed their experiences and how the industry can develop.
Bias may or may not be subtle.
Rodriguez recalled a stretch where she worked as a writer's assistant on shows with mostly white male typists.
Men in jobs comparable to theirs were "invited to play ping-pong but they wouldn't invite me or they would invite them for after-work drinks and I wouldn't be invited," she said. "I was definitely not part of the boys' club so I was excluded from certain opportunities," such as developing ideas for stories.
Eskridge found that older writers can feel uncomfortable with a younger and black executive. This appeared to be the case with a sitcom creator whom she took to her office for an initial meeting.
"Maybe he thought I was an assistant, but when I closed the door and sat down, he realized I was Layne," she said. "He was so nervous. And I think we sat there for about two minutes while he tried to collect himself. And then he finally said he had to call his agent and he wouldn't be attending the meeting."
Yang, who became more public after starting her company, found that she was not living up to expectations.
One man "was very surprised that I attended USC film school in a way that almost questioned whether my resume was being drawn up," she said. "I said," You want to see my student loan? "
(Women are well represented at the USC School of Cinematic Arts: they are 56% of students this fall, the school said.)
Valde-Hansen said she owed her indebtedness to Florida-based cinematographer Tony Foresta, who accepted her as his assistant when no one else would.
“I remember going into the rental (equipment) houses and they (clients of the film crew) literally came up to me and said, 'Oh, I've worked with another camera assistant before ...' like I was an alien. "she said." It was annoying at times. I was so grateful to have that one person who saw me unlike everyone else. "
After Rodriguez finished her internship, she worked on CBS 'Cold Case, which was created and produced by Meredith Stiehm.
"It's not that she gave up my leg, it's that she saw me and didn't fire me," Rodriguez said. On the show she met Veena Sud, a "wonderful writer who became a kind of mentor for me".
"She was the first person to take me aside and say," I'll read your stuff when you write, "Rodriguez recalled." I think Meredith empowered her, and she gave me something back by empowering me. "
A colleague recently told Valde-Hansen that a director wanted to hire her on a project, but the producer thought the budget was out of her league - although there was a relatively small gap between him and other projects she had worked on.
"That happened to me. Why? Why does this story happen when a white man makes a $ 500,000 movie that does really well and then suddenly hands over a $ 80 million Marvel movie, "said Valde-Hansen." That needs to change. "
Rodriguez says when studios complain they can't find diversity among writers, they have lists on hand.
"It starts at the top, and executives are realizing that they have to get the work done to find color writers, hire color writers, and give people opportunities," she said. "Just like you would risk a white director or a white writer."
Eskridge remembers a few times when she was the "tallest colored person in the building" and I'm not president or part of the C-suite. That shows you that this is a problem. "
Yang wants the industry to think diversity for every aspect of production.
"The more credits you move, the older, the same age. And I don't want to be the first of the few," she said.
Lynn Elber can be reached at lelber@ap.org or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber.

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