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‘Blue Night’ Producer on How to Get a More Gender-Balanced, Diverse Film Set (Guest Blog)

”First chances are a major part of this conversation,“ writes Sarah Jessica Parker’s producing partner Alison Benson

They ask how we can make a difference, tip the scales, shrink the disparity. And it’s an important question, a necessary one, given how long this imbalance has been in place. For me, the answer seems crystal clear: Bring more women and people of color into productions, both in front of and behind the camera. Hire them. Period.

In making my new film “Blue Night” alongside my producing partner, Sarah Jessica Parker, and our all-female company Pretty Matches Productions, we made a conscious effort to hire as many female and diverse crew members as possible. I find that it’s best to start at the top: We had a female writer, line producer, production designer, 1st AD, production manager, props master, and set decorator.

Our crew hailed from Spain, Peru, France, Australia, Croatia, Italy, Mexico, India, New Zealand…the list goes on, all the way across New York State and maybe even New Jersey! It’s also a below-the-line conversation. Who are the up-and-comers who can fill out the myriad departments that make up a film production? That first big job is incredibly difficult to secure, especially for people who don’t have the connections that come with privilege, and it’s vital to give access, so anyone who’s up for the challenge has an opportunity to prove themselves.

I think that “first chances” are a major part of this conversation. If you’re in the position of making the hiring decisions, go out of your way to give someone a shot. They might not have the hours, the relationships, or the résumé — so be bold, take a chance. “Blue Night” was our writer Laura Eason’s first feature, but she has an extensive background in theater (“Sex With Strangers”) and television (“House of Cards”). We believed in her talent and were willing to take a bet and finance the script through our own discretionary fund. The results were spectacular, and the working relationship that blossomed was unlike any other. As much as we took a chance on her, she was taking one with us, and I’m confident that future collaborations will reflect the trust of that foundation.

I think it is our responsibility as producers to make ourselves available to others, to be willing to get to know talent outside of our immediate circles and be open to meeting fresh, emerging voices. We can’t rely on submissions alone, as those lists so often look the same — we need to be proactive. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, throw out the list, be curious and meet as many different people as possible.

It’s up to us to mentor those who wouldn’t otherwise gain access to the work that they deserve. On our HBO series “Divorce,” each season we’ve had a shadow program for emerging directors. It also comes down to going above and beyond the mandates. This past season, female directors outnumbered the men 3:2. At the end of the day we just need to break the pattern. If we can lay the groundwork for those who are normally shut out, the benefits will be far-reaching for everyone.

Alison began her film career at Tribeca Productions, where she worked on such films as "Marvin's Room" and "Wag the Dog." In 1998, she joined Stanley Tucci's production company, First Cold Press Productions, which developed documentaries, TV series and feature films, including the award-winning "The Mudge Boy." Since 2005, Alison has worked with Sarah Jessica Parker at Pretty Matches Productions, which has a first-look deal with HBO. Together, Parker and Benson have produced scripted and unscripted television as well as narrative and documentary feature films, including HBO's Golden Globe-nominated "Divorce," Bravo's "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist," the award-winning documentary "Pretty Old," and AOL On's "City.Ballet." Benson also serves on the board of the Scholastic Alliance for Young Artists & Writers.