Study: Indies Are Better for Women — but Not Much

“The perception is that all over the independent world, women are very well represented. That's not the case.”

It's not a pretty picture out there for women looking to break into filmmaking, a new study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film contends.

While prospects for women in the independent film world are rosier than for studio films, the number of females employed in key behind-the-scenes roles in both low- and high-budget movies remains piddling.

In fact, the study showed, the number of female directors and cinematographers actually has declined over the past decade.

The study, "Independent Women: Behind-the-Scenes Representation on Festival Films," found the percentage of women working as directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors on domestically produced feature-length films appearing at film festivals is higher than the percentage of women working on the top 250 domestic grossing films — 24 percent versus 16 percent.

Although women are better represented in films released outside of the studio system, that number does not jibe with the fact that women statistically make up more than 50 percent of the population and the work force, the study said.

"Honestly, I would have expected the numbers of women in independent film to be higher," Martha M. Lauzen, the center's executive director, told TheWrap. "The perception is that all over the independent world, women are very well represented. That's not the case."

Worse, said Lauzen, the perception that women are making strides in the industry is also false.

"These are the architects of our culture. They're our cultural storytellers and that job is currently being dominated by an increasingly diminishing slice of the population," said Lauzen. "It wasn't always this way. In the Golden Age of movies — from 1900 to 1927 — women were writing half of the scripts for films out in the marketplace, across all genres, including westerns.

"Once people realized that filmmaking was not just a novelty act, it was big business, women were forced out. They've been trying to get back in ever since," she added.

Lauzen maintains that the lack of female directors and cinematographers is attributable to a disproportionate number of males in film schools — along with  a tendency by those schools to steer women out of directing and certain technical jobs that have traditionally been seen as the purview of men.

Another factor is the lack of women in the executive suite of major studios, she told TheWrap.

"In our research, we have found that when women are in a position to hire other women, they do," Lauzen said. "Women are outnumbered in executive offices at these place. Even when you have an Amy Pascal at Sony, these are smart individuals. They see what the prevailing culture is and become coopted by the system. They can't say, ‘I'm going to make movies with more women in them,’ or they'll lose their jobs."

Lauzen's study culled employment information gathered from 25 film festivals including the Austin Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival, Cinequest Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Festival, New York Film Festival and Sundance, and compared it with top grossing studio releases.

Of the 8,051 female film professionals working on the 906 features it examined, women fared best as producers (33 percent), followed by editors (23 percent), executive producers (22 percent), directors (22 percent), writers (19 percent) and directors of photography (9 percent).

One bright spot was that women were better represented on documentaries than on narrative films.

Of directors working on documentaries, 28 percent were female and 72 percent were male. On narrative films, 15 percent of directors were female and 85 percent were male. The same discrepancy could be seen with cinematographers.

Eleven percent of directors of photography were female on documentaries, while a mere 6 percent were female on narrative films.

"I think this is a non-issue in Hollywood, but it shouldn't be," Lauzen said. "We did another study on women at the box office, that shows that though there is a perception that films made with women don't have same earning potential, that was not true. It's not the sex of a person that determines box office grosses, it's the size of a budget."

Other notable numbers from the study:

– 77 percent of festival films employed no women directors.

– Women accounted for 19 percent of writers working on films appearing at festivals, but only 12 percent on top-grossing films.

– Women comprised 22 percent of executive producers working on films appearing at festivals, compared to 16 percent working on top-grossing films.

– Women accounted for 33 percent of producers working on films appearing at festivals, but only 20 percent of those working on top-grossing films.

– Women comprised 23 percent of editors working on festival films compared with 17 percent of those working on top-grossing films.

– Overall, women comprised a larger percentage of behind-the-scenes workers on documentaries than on narrative features. Of all behind-the-scenes individuals working on documentaries, 29 percent were female and 71 percent were male. Of all behind-the-scenes individuals working on narrative features, 18 percent were female and 78 percent were male.