Inspiration February 1, 2018
Wherein male directors outnumber female directors by 72 percent
It’s hard out there for female film directors. This, we know. But it doesn’t get any easier when it comes to directing episodic TV. In fact, only 14 percent of episodes in the 2015-16 TV season were directed by women.
And when you look at minority female directors, that number drops even lower, to a paltry THREE percent. Yeah, even though women are watching more TV than men… almost everything is being made for us by men.
Thankfully, women like Vanessa Parise are pushing back against this insanity. The award-winning director has helmed seven episodes of television, including tonight’s episode of Freeform’s supernatural drama “Beyond.”
ENTITY was lucky enough to chat with Parise, who shed some light on everything from her best advice to up-and-coming directors to what it was like working on the upcoming, high-profile biopic, “The Simone Biles Story: Courage to Soar,” based on the book by the celebrated Olympian gymnast.
ENTITY: What first inspired you to get into directing?
VP: I have been acting since I was a little girl, and after college I decided instead of going to med school to go pursue acting. I went to a theater school in New York and a conservatory, before I began auditioning in Los Angeles.
I was getting some small parts, acting-wise, but I just felt like it was too out of my control. I wanted to be more proactive with my career, and I had always thought about directing eventually anyway. So I just decided to start right away. Now, that was about 16 years ago.
I ended up doing two features that I wrote, directed, produced and starred in. They each took three years, and that was my hands-on, six years of directing. It was a long and challenging endeavor to create your own projects, but so completely fulfilling.
ENTITY: Have you ever hit a roadblock and found yourself thinking about quitting or pursuing something else?
VP: Oh, I think I considered quitting about 1,624 times. In fact, I’m still considering it. No, I’m just kidding. I’m not. But it does continue to astound me how difficult it is to get the job. It feels like I am pushing a boulder up a mountain all the time.
In terms of the work and the directing itself, it’s completely as exciting as it was the first time. It’s so collaborative. It’s so challenging in all of the best ways, to be present and trust your instincts, and be a good listener — all these great things that are good for your personal life as well. The work itself is unbelievably incredible — but getting the job continues to be shockingly challenging.
ENTITY: Speaking with other talented female directors in the industry, such as Rachel Feldman, we know that it seems like an industry with such a slow pace of change. It’s quite shocking.
VP: It is crazy. Now, especially, we’re hopeful that things are changing. There’s so much talk about wanting to open the pool of people and wanting to hear other voices, stories and perspectives — particularly female and minority perspectives. So, there’s a ton of talk about it and we’re just hopeful that that will actually translate into change. So far the numbers don’t reflect much change at all, but I have to believe that all of this talk will lead to something better.
ENTITY: It’s wild, because you see the reaction to a movie like “Wonder Woman” and how much women — and everyone else — loved it. And yet there’s still a hesitancy to hire female directors.
VP: It doesn’t make any sense. And women make up so much of the audience! Now women are more aware of it, so across the globe they are trying to support each other by going to see female directors’ projects and support more stories they align with.
ENTITY: But it seems like you’ve done a great job of finding these amazing, inspirational projects. What is your process for choosing a project?
VP: I like when a story has characters with shades of grey. I always find that really exciting, because I feel like that’s real life. It’s not all good and all bad. It’s shades of grey. And then I really love visual style — like my show that airs tonight on Freeform, it’s called “Beyond.” It’s Tim Kring’s show, and it just has such a great visual style to it.
It’s about this family dealing with their son coming out of a coma. It’s really about these people and all the levels of confusion and pain and love and jealousy between the brothers, and then it’s a great visual style that’s slightly elevated, which I think is wonderful when we’re watching something that is a little bit larger than life, but still based in reality.
ENTITY: Simone Biles is such an inspiration to so many people. What was it like working on her biopic for Lifetime?
VP: She’s spectacular. I feel like I’ve been blessed to have worked with a lot of incredible women. And Simon Biles is 20 years old and she’s so strong and so courageous. She came from a challenging upbringing, at least the beginning of her upbringing was challenging, in and out of foster care. So it’s such a great story in how you can overcome the challenges in your life, and also why great parenting is critical.
Her adopted parents (her grandfather Ron, and his wife Nellie Biles) surrounded her with love, but they also taught great lessons. They taught her that you couldn’t have everything, and that you do have to make sacrifices. It’s been really inspiring, and I feel like the world needs a story like this right now. We need to be around positive, inspiring, courageous people.
The film also shows the friendship between Simone’s coach, Aimee Boorman, and her mom, Nellie Biles, based on their real relationship. It’s so awesome to see because you so rarely see women coming together and supporting each other in movies or on television shows. It was really fun to be able to portray that.
ENTITY: That’s so true. And I think that’s why shows like “Big Little Lies” become such talking points, because you see women on TV being catty or jealous of each other, but not really the supportive side, which is so much of who we are.
VP: We see ourselves as a sex object or a beauty object for the man, or you know, as some kind of support for the man, but we don’t often see real relationships where we’re powerful and we’re owning our space, which we do, in our lives, and continue to do more and more, which is so great. So that was a really fun aspect of this story.
ENTITY: That’s a good point, too. Because women need to support each other for us to all be able to advance.
VP: Exactly. We move forward together. We have to believe that we move forward together. I’ve been a part of a lot of women’s directors groups now, such as We For She, and we call ourselves the new class of women directors, because there’s a lot of us and we’re really supportive of each other. I love that. I think that’s important. We can all share experiences and our ups and downs and be there for each other in lots of ways.
ENTITY: What advice would you give to women trying to break into such a difficult field?
VP: Do it, first of all. Go for it. If you can’t get a job, create it yourself. But I do feel like it’s important not to just create things for yourself, because I feel like women have had to do that so much. That’s why women are more welcomed into the independent film world, but there’s less money there.
But I think it’s important to get into the system so that it is equal. We’re working to make it equal for men and women. And hopefully today is a better day than it was yesterday to do that.
The issue that people are always hearing is that we don’t know any female directors, or there aren’t any female directors. People are afraid of the unknown. But I personally know so many amazing female directors. So, the question is, how do you get people to know about who they are and what they’re doing? I think that’s a large part of what will help change. Then it suddenly becomes… oh, there are female directors. They’re becoming more and more known. So if we can make them know them better, that will be a massive help. Educate them.
ENTITY: Exactly. Patty Jenkins is not an anomaly. She’s great, and there are lots of amazingly talented women just like her, if we would just give them the chance.
VP: Yeah. And then after we get hired, it’s like, oh and women can do a great job. Maybe we should hire them again. That’s the thing. I feel like women know that they have to do better. We have to do better to keep getting hired. Women go in and they work so hard and they make sure that they over-deliver because we can’t get away with half-assing anything. Actually, it’s almost better to hire women because you know that they’re going work really, really hard to do a great job. Because they can’t afford not to.
ENTITY: What advice would you give to your younger self?
VP: I would say that you can’t have everything. I thought you could have it all. I was taught that you could have it all. But I would say you can’t have everything — at least not at the same time.
So there’s still a lot of work to do when it comes to evening the playing field for directors. But thankfully women like Vanessa Parise are slowly, but surely chipping away at that glass ceiling and breaking into the boys’ club.
“You just have to work harder. That would be part of the advice I would give women,” Parise tells ENTITY. “You have to know you’re going to work harder, and to not be mad about it. Just know you’re going to work harder, and keep working harder.”
Check out Parise’s work with the latest episode of “Beyond,” on Freeform tonight at 8pm and Lifetime’s “The Simone Biles Story: Courage to Soar” at 8pm on Saturday, February 3rd.
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