Why are there so few women filmmakers? In a word, money.
Conventional wisdom says that producers and investors won't back female filmmakers because they don't have a track record of proven successes. But women can't build such a record if they don't have the backing to make movies.
Hoping to end this vicious cycle is the aptly named Gamechanger, a new company whose mission is to fund narrative fiction films made by women. "It's a big name to live up to," acknowledges Mynette Louie, Gamechanger's new president.
Louie, an independent producer with several movies under her belt (the latest, a thriller called Cold Comes the Night that stars Alice Eve and Bryan Cranston, is currently playing the festival circuit and will open in theaters in January), notes that only nine percent of 2012's 250 top-grossing films were directed by women. That's a slight improvement from the average yearly rate of seven percent, but it's still a tremendous imbalance.
"Women are systematically disadvantaged when it comes to raising financing because financing is controlled by men," she says. "That it the number one-cited reason why women directors' careers get stalled."
Gamechanger, however, is run by a woman and founded by three women and a man. (They are veteran documentary producers Julie Parker Benello, Wendy Ettinger, Geralyn Dreyfous and Dan Cogan.) Their goal is to put more women behind the camera, period. "We're not necessarily looking for films with female themes," says Louie, adding that Gamechanger is interested in stories of any genre or subject. "We want to support the woman director as an individual with a unique voice, whether or not she wants to tell a story about women."
To that end, Gamechanger plans to fund as many as 15 films over the next few years, with budgets ranging from $1 million to $5 million. The drive comes at a time when the independent film world is poised for upheaval anyway, thanks to new technologies in filming and distribution that are changing the way everyone does business.
For one thing, Louie notes, digital filmmaking has lowered the barrier for entry into the world of film financing for both investors and directors. "It's all become very, very cheap. A film that would have cost $2 million before can cost $300,000 nowadays," she says. " You can make a really great looking film for not a lot of money. There have been a lot of movies made for under $100,000 that have done well, recouped their budgets and put directors on the map. And for financiers now, you don't have to pay a lot to play."
Even so, lower costs do have a downside, Louie says. "It's hard to pay people decent wages on those kinds of budgets," she says. Plus, she adds, "You end up having a glut of content out there. There's a lot for audiences to sift through. It's harder to rise from the masses and market yourself."
There used to be a film critic establishment that could help viewers sort through all that content, but it's been wiped out by the economic decline of the print media and the surplus of cheap opinion available on the Internet. So the job of gatekeeper and curator has fallen largely to film festival bookers and to film finance companies like Gamechanger.
"It's such a difficult landscape right now," Louie says of the independent film scene. "With audience behavior shifting, with TV getting better, with Netflix and Hulu getting into the distribution game, it's hard to get yourself known as a filmmaker."
Her advice to aspiring directors, both women and men? "Just go out there and do it. Use your iPhone. Get your friends to star. Just make your movies, submit them to festivals, and get noticed that way. If you get it in front of the right people, you can get noticed and get institutional financing."