Dinner With Dames: Dinner #1, With Simon Barrett (Recap)

Dinner With Dames: Dinner #1 Recap - photo credit: Michele Blackwell of MAB Studio Multimedia

Dinner with Dames Case File

Who: Simon Barrett, writer of Blair Witch and The Guest, & Cinefemme board and volunteers – Michele Blackwell, Kimby Caplan, Lagueria Davis, Rory Gory, Heidi Honeycutt, Michelle Kantor, and myself, Jenna Payne

What: Dinner 1.0 – a casual discussion on industry issues facing women and ways to excel in their careers over dinner and drinks

When: Thursday, September 22, 2016

Where: Tam O’Shanter

Why: To propel women to bigger and better career opportunities within studios and networks

Last fall, I submitted my pilot script for my Appalachian Godfather television series ‘Shiner to a manager, thinking maybe I had finally gotten a big break. I received a polite, professional reply that said the screenplay was very well done but no thanks. I had watched my boyfriend and his writing mates get representation and a variety of jobs, either through their agents or their male friends, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I had been passed over for being a woman.

I want to push open the doors for women in Hollywood, so I worked with 501(c)(3) non-profit Cinefemme, which provides a range of resources and support for women filmmakers including fiscal sponsorship, to launch Dinner with Dames. It’s a monthly mentorship series that pairs up and coming women filmmakers, ranging from writers to producers to cinematographers, with industry leaders for a frank conversation on the film industry and being a woman in the industry, as well as career advice.

Dinner With Dames: Dinner #1 Recap
photo credit: Michele Blackwell of MAB Studio Multimedia

Whether the manager said no because I’m a woman or not is irrelevant as I can guarantee that some managers, agents, producers, and executives have and will continue to do so if we don’t make it easier for them to say yes (and harder to say no). There is a pernicious rumor floating around various women’s networking groups that agents and managers are reluctant to take on women clients due to their lower rates and, therefore, the rep’s smaller percentages. Have men in Hollywood heard the rumor?

Last Thursday, we sat down for an intimate dinner with Simon Barrett, writer of “Blair Witch” and “The Guest,” at Tam O’Shanter. This was the first Dinner with Dames, and attendees included members of the Cinefemme board, fiscal sponsorees, and a couple of women volunteers to help capture the moment.

More Women In Their Network

After a few jokes about women running late (mine), diets (Etheria Film Festival Director of Programming Heidi Honeycutt’s), and Barrett discovering the secret for getting women to join him for dinner (his own), we dove into the topic of women in Hollywood. Barrett agreed that the representation of women in film and television is poor and used to be abysmal.

He said that if he and his frequent director/collaborator Adam Wingard were to do the anthology V/H/S today, they would have more women directors in their network to reach out to for a segment. Barrett also said that they had reached out to a couple of options at the time but were turned down due to the low budget. Cinefemme Founder and Executive Director Michelle Kantor spoke about women building their own business and infrastructure and pursuing creating their projects without permission from the industry, which aligned with Barrett’s advice to keep making movies.

Representation Passing Over Women

Barrett hadn’t heard the rumor about representation passing over women because the people responsible for negotiating our rates think our rates are too low to bother. A lightbulb seemed to switch on, though, when I mentioned it. He said many of his peers only achieved representation after they no longer needed representation and that he recommends focusing on completing projects, especially features, instead of chasing representation.

Dinner With Dames: Dinner #1 Recap
photo credit: Michele Blackwell of MAB Studio Multimedia

We agreed to disagree on certain classics of cinema with many women at the table saying that it is hard to watch, say, a Sam Peckinpah movie due to the treatment of women, and the Cinefemmes agreed that we would rather see a movie with no women than see such a two dimensional portrayal or lazy plot exploitation of a woman character.

Overall, the dinner was a great start to a conversation that Cinefemme looks forward to continuing with many Hollywood movers and shakers on a monthly basis. Our next dinner is October 4th with Jessica Sharzer, writer of Nerve and American Horror Story. Barrett was a gracious host who seemed very in tune with much of the plight of women in film and in America on the whole, and we love that his scripts feature a variety of women, including strong, smart, and damaged heroines and accomplices. We didn’t solve the problem of parity in Hollywood, but we spread the rumor that change is coming.

About Cinefemme:

Cinefemme is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded by women filmmakers, for women filmmakers in 2002.  Cinefemme provides fiscal sponsorship to women filmmakers and artists, as well as peer-to-peer networking, mentorship, and strategy for project fundraising.  By advancing women’s careers in film and the arts, we empower women’s voices to create gender parity in the arts and equal representation in the media.

I’m a scrappy, DIY New Yorker who fell in love with movies at a young age. My first short film is the award-winning “Feline Frenzy,” which screened at festivals, and I’m developing an Appalachian Godfather tale called “’Shiner” for television. The “‘Shiner” pilot script was nominated to the 2016 #WriteHerList and made the Hot 100 of Capital Fund’s Screenplay Competition. Aside from writing and directing, I have long advocated for gender, racial, and LGBTQ parity and representation inside and outside of the film industry. To that end, I created and run Cinefemme’s Dinner with Dames as the Program Director. More information at www.jennapayne.com.
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