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The script for women behind the camera is not a comedy, new studies show

Documentary filmmaker Brandy Yanchyk.

Rachel Boekel photography

It's happened so many times, she's lost count. Documentary filmmaker Brandy Yanchyk will be out on a shoot, and someone – the interviewee, a passerby – will approach her cameraman, figuring it must be his film. It's because, Yanchyk is certain, her cameraman is male, and she's not.

"They always ask him about his film, and they never, ever assume that it's my film," says the Edmonton-based producer/director. "All the time. It's very, very frustrating for me."

In fact, in an industry that's so dependent on women in front of the camera – hello, Rachel McAdams, Jessica Paré, Kim Cattrall – the situation for Canadian women behind the camera is a bit of a horror movie.

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The gender divide in the industry isn't Yanchyk's imagination, two new studies to be discussed at the Banff World Media Festival report. The festival kicks off Sunday, when a panel of Canadian Media Leaders will feature, tellingly (thanks to the departure of Kirstine Stewart from the CBC), four men: broadcast executives at the top of Bell, Rogers, Corus and Shaw.

What these studies show is that while Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg may be confidently instructing women to lean in, in terms of their careers, these data suggest there is reason, at least in this industry, to freak out.

Focus On Women 2013, the most comprehensive national report to date on gender equality in unionized positions in the Canadian independent screen-based production industry, paints a picture of a "heavily gendered" industry, where females are ghettoized in areas considered "women's work" – hair, makeup, costume, and production and office staff. Released this week by Canadian Unions for Equality on Screen (CUES), the report shows gender balance in entry-level positions, but that men progress to decision-making levels (and higher-income brackets) in roles such as director at much higher rates than women, who encounter "systemic barriers" to advancement. Onscreen, meanwhile, ACTRA figures show men make more money than women, as they age past 30.

The study Women in View on TV 2013, released last week, was also sobering. The non-profit organization dedicated to greater racial and gender equity in Canadian media industries examined 21 Canadian series – the live-action TV series that received the most money from the Canada Media Fund (CMF) for 2010-11. Eleven of them did not employ a single woman director. Eighty-four per cent of the 272 episodes were directed by men. None of the episodes employed a visible-minority woman director or a female cinematographer. In the writing room, things were a little less bleak: 36 per cent of the screenwriters employed by these shows were women.

"You know things are not as they should be, but there's still a bit of a breath intake when you actually see the numbers," says Women in View executive director Rina Fraticelli, who will be at Banff to present the findings.

Her report calls for "sustainable measurable practices" – possibly a 60-40 rule on CMF funding to balance things out.

Fraticelli knows this will be controversial; more regulation for this industry is bound to meet with resistance. She suggests there may be other options, pointing to the model the Ontario government is looking at, in which public companies would be asked to set targets for women in senior positions.

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You can't have change on-set if you don't have change at the top, says Siobhan Devine, who stood up at a CUES event in Vancouver Wednesday (an event incidentally filled with women and exactly one man) to suggest solutions lie higher up the food chain. "Someone has to hire us," she said. "Someone has to take that risk."

Devine landed a job as trainee camera co-ordinator on the YTV series Mr. Young and immediately picked up on the male vibe on-set.

"TV is such a boys' club. It really is. Except for those girl departments," says Devine, who is an award-winning short filmmaker. "When I first started, I noticed that all the men would bond over the game that was on; I thought I'd better start watching hockey."

Devine rejects calls for more training to fix the inequity; she says the stats need to be presented to the decision-makers.

"I think that the people who order the shows and put the shows together, they need to see that it's not just a bunch of women whining. It really is real. That's what they need to see. It's not that we all run off and have babies. It's really real that women are not moving up in these male-dominated fields."

Way up the TV food chain until recently was Kirstine Stewart, who left her position this spring as CBC's executive vice-president, English services to head up Twitter Canada.

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"I think we've had enough studies at this point, and it's time to start really thinking about some sort of action plan," says Stewart, who argues diversity should be a factor in decision-making. While she was at CBC, the network began asking independent producers to submit a diversity plan – looking at race and gender – as they were getting into production. It was a way, says Stewart, of getting the issue on the table.

"The problem is so systemic that it's difficult to change with just one piece of procedure, but at least the opportunity to have a discussion around each of the roles and whether there was an opportunity to reach out to a diverse person in those roles becomes a topic of conversation when it's something that the producer has to submit."

Stewart says any discrimination she encountered was more subliminal than overt. But she believes women in high-profile jobs are subjected to a different sort of criticism.

"Women do get attacked more personally. ... They're held up to a different kind of assessment than a man in the same role is, and that makes it difficult for some women. ... I don't blame them, but some women opt out and say that's not really what I need. And I don't think it makes them unbrave for doing so; I think it just represents unfortunately a really bad situation.

"It's a different form of bullying, to be honest," she continues. "It is a form of bullying to be pointing at a woman and describing her differently than they would a male executive."

Still, Stewart points to the CBC as a place where the gender balance at the decision-making level tips slightly toward the female.

One of those decision-makers is Sally Catto, executive director of commissioned and scripted programming.

"It's a huge concern. There are not nearly enough women directing in Canada," says Catto, who suggests the limited number of scripted programs at the CBC means fewer opportunities for new directors to get their shot.

"I think it is incumbent upon us as broadcasters who have those approval rights to really be pushing and pushing to allow new directors opportunities."

In the United States, NBCUniversal executive Beth Roberts says the proliferation of cable networks and growing need for more programming should translate into more opportunities for women.

"The more available slots there are, the greater the likelihood that those slots will be filled by women," says Roberts, executive vice-president of business operations, NBCUniversal, Cable Entertainment Group and COO, Universal Cable Productions.

Roberts is one of a number of high-ranking female executives who will be at Banff, along with Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, who will give the keynote address on Monday. Says Banff executive director Ferne Cohen: "The chair of our board is a woman, our keynote speaker is a woman, many of our moderators, industry experts, development executives are women. So I'm surrounded by experienced and high-powered industry women all the time."

So if women are making it close to the top of the industry, what's preventing them from taking on the power roles on-set – as directors, in particular?

In a recent U.S. study, people in the industry who were surveyed listed "gendered financial barriers" as the top factor barring female advancement in the film industry: The perceptions were that financiers are predominantly male; that female-driven content was not as commercially viable; and that women are less confident/trustworthy with large budget films. Male-dominated networks were also a prime concern. Only 16 per cent cited stereotyping on-set, and 14 per cent exclusionary hiring decisions. Twenty per cent mentioned family-work balance.

Children won't be an issue for Yanchyk, 36. She has decided not to have kids so she can concentrate on her career – a choice she believes a man in her position does not have to make.

Yanchyk, who will be at Banff next week looking for a broadcaster for her next doc, deliberately works with women as often as she can. Her latest documentary Oil Calling (airing on CBC's Documentary Channel Monday and Tuesday) has a female editor, and Yanchyk served as director, producer, writer, director of photography, sound mixer and assistant editor. Her lawyer, accountant and bookkeeper are women – and most importantly, she says, most of her interns are women.

"I think more than anything as a female, the fact that you have a female role model changes everything," she says.

On Mr. Young, Devine made her own change. Last year, working as camera co-ordinator for the series, Devine – at 50 – finally got her shot at directing. She recalls "this quiet joy" on-set as other women congratulated her.

It almost didn't happen. She had wanted to be a director since she was 12, but contemplated a career change when she turned 45. Then Devine, who has two daughters aged 9 and 16, changed her mind. "I thought if I can't do this – a middle-aged woman, I'm tough – if I can't break through this ceiling, how can I look these young women in the face and expect them to do it," she asks. It took her five years to get into the director's chair, but she's glad she persevered. "A lot of women my age, they drop out. It's not time to drop out. I won't win the Academy Award I wanted when I was 12. But maybe the next generation will or the generation after that. But to drop out now felt wrong. I kind of galvanized myself and I put my foot on the gas. And I made it happen."

The Banff World Media Festival runs Sunday to Wednesday. Canadian Media Leaders: What the Future Holds will be moderated Sunday by Marsha Lederman.

The Power List

Ten of the women who matter in English Canada as film and TV content creators and decision makers

Barbara Williams, senior vice-president, content, Shaw Media

Corrie Coe, senior vice-president, independent production, Bell Media

Sally Catto, executive director, commissioned and scripted programming, CBC-TV

Susan Schaefer, vice-president, head of networks and marketing, Corus


Christina Jennings, chairman and CEO, Shaftesbury Films

Sarah Polley, film director

Carolle Brabant, executive director, Telefilm Canada

Valerie Creighton, president and CEO, Canada Media Fund

Margaret O'Brien, president, Canada, and COO, Entertainment One Television

Prem Gill, director, content, Telus

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