Jamie Babbit, a director who has worked on everything from “Girls,” “Silicon Valley” and “Only Murders in the Building,” always tells her teenage girls if they want to get things done, “imagine yourself as an entitled white guy.”
It’s Babbit’s lesson about having confidence in yourself, your abilities and your worth, and it’s something she’s learned along the way in her Hollywood career, dating back to when Ryan Murphy went to bat for her as a director on his show “Popular,” despite her lack of credits at the time.
“I’m sure Ryan said to the CW, ‘I want to hire Jamie and I want her to be the producer,’ and they were like, ‘She’s never done anything. She can’t do that.’ And he said, ‘Go f— yourself,” Babbit said at the “View from the Director’s Chair” panel during TheWrap’s Power Women Summit. “He had literally done nothing, but he, I think was just very self-assured from a very young age that even with zero experience and zero anything behind him, he basically told them to f— off and that if he was going to do the show, he wanted me.”
Babbit was joined on the panel by peers including “Cinderella” director Kay Cannon, “Respect” director Liesl Tommy, and “Becoming Cousteau” director Liz Garbus for a conversation moderated by Women in Film CEO Kirsten Schaffer. Each of the filmmakers explained how they broke into the business and worked their way up from directing indies, TV or theater to landing major studio projects.
In each instance, they found themselves learning from their mistakes, developing experience on the fly and trying to find the courage to ask for the job and put themselves out there while their male colleagues seemed to be able to do so with ease.
In Cannon’s case, she directed her first feature “Blockers” and had been approached to rewrite the script for what would become “Cinderella” with Camilla Cabello.
“They said they were going to give me another round of notes and I was like, ‘I’ll rewrite this all day long if I’m the director of the movie. If I’m not the director, then let’s shake hands and God bless and I hope it gets made and…’ And to their credit, and I’m very grateful for this, they said ‘yes’ and supported me,” Cannon explained. “I did the whole thing. It’s never a conversation… If I can give any advice, it’s always come in triple prepared for whatever you think that meeting’s going to be and that’s what I did.”
“I can’t wait for the day when women can just shake hands on the golf course and not have to be over-prepared,” Schaffer responded. “It’s going to happen. We’re going to get there, but I hear so often from female directors, writers, producers to photographers, how over-prepared everybody is and we don’t always hear the same from the guys.”
Tommy agreed with Babbit that she had to tell people off and be ready to walk if she didn’t get her way or the crew that she felt she needed to make “Respect.”
Landing the job of a studio film director for a buzzy biopic for a first time film director was a challenge in and of itself, but she also recalled insisting that her crew be made up of women and people of color, and was frustrated by some of the battles she had to fight in the process, including recommendations on who to include in the crew.
“When I would get those lists, it was always the same middle-aged white dudes with awards,” Tommy said. “And what I’m talking about is access because when you say experience, I hear that there is a lack of access that you have literally shut the doors to women and people of color given those jobs. And I know what I’m capable of in terms of collaboration and it’s not my problem that you don’t understand what that means.”
Garbus has observed similar issues to access for women in the documentary world.
“When we’re looking at candidates, if they haven’t done that exact thing before, if you have a vision and you’re in this business, you should be able to say, ‘Oh, this person can do this or not,'” Garbus said. “I mean, I tend to work with people, bring them up with me, young women, continue to promote them, keep them around.”
Babbit said she was “ignorant” early on in her career as to why other women weren’t coming up alongside her in the business, but that the #MeToo movement finally shamed the industry into realizing that representation matters.
“And thank God. So I think now, I see a ton of people coming up, a ton of people in the pipeline, a ton of young people getting job breaks. I mean, it’s still not great, but it’s definitely, there is some representation,” she said. “They’re starting to realize you actually can’t hire an old white guy to direct Liesl’s movie. That’s the studio being shamed basically and saying, ‘Oh right, we’ve done this for hundreds of years. We hired these guys and they got shamed and thank God,’ because we’re really talented and we want to work.”
Watch the video of the full panel here.
The Power Women Summit is the largest annual gathering of the most influential women in entertainment, media and technology. The event aims to inspire and empower women across the landscape of their professional careers and personal lives. This year’s PWS provides three days of education, mentorship, workshops and networking around the globe – to promote this year’s theme, “Represent.”