The New York City film office has launched what it’s calling a “groundbreaking series of initiatives targeting the under-representation of women in film and television.” The film office said that this is the “first time ever” that a municipal agency has launched such a program. Part of the program, however, asks women writers to work for free.
The five-part program includes a $5 million fund that will provide grants to support film and theatre projects by and about women: a script-writing contest; pitch workshops and a film financing conference; a report analyzing the gender inequality of directors in the film industry; and a block of programming on one of the City-owned TV channels that will focus on women and their perspectives.
“We are thrilled to be launching these five groundbreaking initiatives – concrete actions that will serve to elevate the role of women in the entertainment industry,” said Julie Menin, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. “Women are not a niche market. It’s incredibly discouraging that while women comprise 52% of the City’s population, less than 10% of the top grossing films are directed by women. I hope that our efforts pave the way for others to follow suit, and look forward to seeing these initiatives make a substantive impact on filmed entertainment in New York City.”
“The de Blasio administration is committed to expanding employment opportunities and making sure New York City is a great place to live for all,” said the Mayor’s wife, Chirlane McCray, who serves as the honorary chair of the Commission on Gender Equity. “As we grow our entertainment industry, it is only logical to make sure our women and girls have the skills they need to fill these jobs. We will encourage more women to follow their dreams of working in the entertainment industry and give them the tools to do so. And thanks to the good work of Commissioner Menin, our young girls will see more women in media and have more role models.”
The grant program will award $1 million in grants in each of the next five years to filmmakers, playwrights and theatre producers working on projects by and about women. “The grants will provide funding at strategic moments to help the applicants shepherd their projects to successful completion,” the film office said.
The script-writing competition will invite New York City writers to submit 30-minute pilot scripts for an episodic series spotlighting stories by, for, or about women living in the city’s five boroughs. Two winners will be chosen, and both will have their scripts produced as a pilot that will air on one of the city-owned TV channels. One of the pilots will then be turned into an episodic series. Advanced students from the Barry R. Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema will produce the winning scripts under the mentorship of founding director Jonathan Wacks and other industry professionals. The Made in NY IFP Media Center will administer the writing contest.
The winners will not be paid, but the film office said that “this is an opportunity for the winning scriptwriters to have their work viewed by millions of people and earn a much-needed credit, which will help propel them to the next rung in their careers.”
“The winner gets the show,” said a spokesperson for the film office. “There’s not an extra payment.”
In a statement, the WGA East said that it “applauds Commissioner Menin for taking direct action to address the lack of diversity in the entertainment industry. These initiatives will create more opportunities for marginalized people to build sustainable careers in film and television.”
The guild is currently partnered with the film office and the NYC Department of Small Business Services in a television writing program that will award six-month fellowships and mentoring to 12 participants from diverse backgrounds.
The film office will also host a “speed funding” event for 50 filmmakers who are working on projects by, for, or about women. “Participating filmmakers and their producers will be given an unprecedented opportunity to meet venture capital firms, angel investors and other funders,” the film office said, noting that eligibility requirements include a finalized script that’s been registered with the guild and a director and producer who are attached to the project. Filmmakers will also be invited to attend a pre-pitch workshop.
The film office has also commissioned what it’s calling “an unprecedented and much-needed report analyzing the relationship between women and men directors based on an extensive database of information on the career trajectories of directors in the film industry. The study, which will be released later this year, “compares the career paths of male and female film directors and tries to determine whether gender plays a role in determining their success.”
The film office will also air two new documentaries on the City’s Channel 25 as part of a weekly evening of programs focused exclusively on women – one about leading women in media, and the other about NYC-based women entrepreneurs.
“Fostering talent and diversity is paramount to keeping media and entertainment engaging and reflective of the evolving world around us,” said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Through these initiatives, women, LGBT-identifying individuals, and communities of color will have access to the resources and mentorship necessary to thrive in the film industry.”
“Gender equity is central to fighting inequality at large, and I am glad to see MOME make a concerted effort to increase representation of women in our media and entertainment industries,” said Azadeh Khalili, executive director of the Commission on Gender Equity. “This set of initiatives provides women with numerous and significant opportunities to gain exposure and recognition in this traditionally male-dominated field.”