In this image provided by Kaitlyn Yang, Yang poses for a photo on the set of “Polaris Primetime.” Women of color who work behind the camera in fields including writing and visual effects are finding career support, including from the Television Academy Foundation and its internships. But four former interns say the industry must do more to foster diversity. (Kaitlyn Yang via AP)

In this image provided by Kaitlyn Yang, Yang poses for a photo on the set of “Polaris Primetime.” Women of color who work behind the camera in fields including writing and visual effects are finding career support, including from the Television Academy Foundation and its internships. But four former interns say the industry must do more to foster diversity. (Kaitlyn Yang via AP)

Women outwit Hollywood bias with help from industry insiders

Women comprise only 6 per cent of visual effects supervisors

LOS ANGELES — Kaitlyn Yang knows it’s rare for women to work in visual effects but wanted to find out just how much company she has.

Devising an informal survey earlier this year, she painstakingly searched 24,000 LinkedIn entries for female visual effects supervisors in North America. Her tally: 30.

“So you do the math,” she said of the tiny percentage that represents. It’s not far afield of in-depth research showing women are underrepresented in behind-the-camera positions, including writing, directing and producing, despite recent progress.

A study of the 250 top-grossing films in 2019 by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that women comprise 6% of visual effects supervisors, 5% of cinematographers and 19% of writers. A centre report on last season’s TV shows found similar patterns.

Yang, whose perseverance led to the creation of her own firm, Alpha Studios, is among those succeeding in Hollywood. That’s true as well of Layne Eskridge, a former Netflix and Apple TV executive who just launched POV Entertainment; writer Gladys Rodriguez, whose credits include “Sons of Anarchy” and “Vida”; and Sandra Valde-Hansen, cinematographer for more than a dozen independent films.

The four share a key credit: Each had an industry internship through the Television Academy Foundation, the charitable arm of the academy that administers the prime-time Emmy Awards.

For Valde-Hansen, the internship provided the experience of working alongside veteran cinematographer Alan Caso, who’d been part of the acclaimed series “Six Feet Under.”

Getting to learn from the man “who created the look of that show, that very cinematic look, I thought, ’Oh, this is better than getting into college,” she said. “The internship just opened up so many doors for me.”

The program offers 50 paid, eight-week summer internships on Los Angeles TV productions to college students nationwide.

“We couldn’t be prouder to have helped launch the careers of these exceptional women. They are a testament to the foundation’s crucial work,” said Madeline Di Nonno, chair of the foundation’s board of directors.

As the onetime interns have progressed in their fields, they’ve gained hard-won insights about Hollywood and the obstacles to women and people of colour. Yang, who uses a wheelchair because of spinal muscular atrophy, faces other challenges. In recent interviews, the women discussed their experiences and how the industry can evolve.

THE CLUB STILL EXISTS

Bias can be subtle, or not.

Rodriguez recalled a stretch in which she worked as a writer’s assistant on shows with primarily white male writing staffs.

Men in jobs comparable to hers were “invited to play Ping-Pong, but they wouldn’t invite me, or they would invite them to after-work drinks and I wouldn’t get invited,” she said. “I was definitely not part of the boys club, so that excluded me from certain opportunities,” such as developing story ideas.

Eskridge has found that older writers can be uncomfortable with an executive who is younger and Black. That appeared to be the case with a sitcom creator she ushered into her office for a first meeting.

“Maybe he thought I was an assistant, but when I closed the door and sat down he realized I was Layne,” she said. “He was so flustered. And I think we sat there for about two minutes while he tried to gather himself. And then he eventually said he needed to call his agent and that he wasn’t going to take the meeting.”

Yang, who became more public-facing after starting her company, found she wasn’t what some expected.

One man “was very surprised that I attended USC film school, in a way that was almost questioning if my resume was made up,” she said. ”I was like, ‘You want to see my student loans?’”

(Women are well-represented at the USC School of Cinematic Arts: This fall, they’re 56% of students, the school said.)

GETTING A BOOST

Valde-Hansen said she owes a debt of gratitude to Florida-based cinematographer Tony Foresta, who took her on as his assistant when nobody else would.

“I remember walking into the (equipment) rental houses and they (film crew customers) would literally come up to me and say, ’Oh, I’ve worked with another woman camera assistant before…’ like I was an alien,” she said. “It was unnerving at times. I was so thankful to have this one person who saw me, unlike anyone else.”

After Rodriguez completed her internship, she worked on CBS’ “Cold Case,” created and produced by Meredith Stiehm.

“It’s not that she gave me a leg up, more that she saw me and she didn’t dismiss me,” Rodriguez said. It was on the show that she met Veena Sud, a “wonderful writer who became a sort of mentor to me.”

“She was the first person that took me aside and said, ‘I’ll read your stuff if you’re writing,’” Rodriguez recalled. “I think Meredith empowered her, and she was giving back to me by empowering me.”

TRUE SYSTEMIC CHANGE

A female colleague told Valde-Hansen recently that a director wanted to hire her for a project, but the producer thought the budget was out of her league — although there was a relatively small gap between it and other projects she’d worked on.

“This has happened to me. Why? Why is that story happening, when a white man makes a movie for $500,000, it does really well, and then suddenly he’s handed an $80 million Marvel movie,” Valde-Hansen said. “That has to change.”

Rodriguez says that when studios complain that they can’t find diversity among writers, she has lists at the ready.

“It starts at the top, with execs realizing they have to do the work to look for writers of colour, hire writers of colour and give people chances,” she said. “Just like they would take a chance on a white director or a white writer.”

Eskridge recalls a few times when she was the “highest-ranking person of colour in the building, and I’m not a president or part of the C-suite. That shows you that’s a problem.”

Yang wants the industry to think diversity for every aspect of production.

“The more down the credits you move, it’s still the same old, same old. And I don’t want to be the first one of the few,” she said.

By The Associated Press

Entertainment

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sgt. Andrew Harnett, 37, of the Calgary Police Service is shown inthis undated handout image provided by the police service. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Calgary Police Service
Bail hearing continues today for teen accused in Calgary officer’s hit-and-run death

CALGARY — A bail hearing for a teen accused in the hit-and-run… Continue reading

President Donald Trump speaks near a section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, in Alamo, Texas. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor via AP)
Trump bids farewell to Washington, hints of comeback

‘We will be back in some form’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, January 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada in touch with Biden admin about disputed oil pipeline

Premier Jason Kenney says ‘rescinding the Keystone XL border crossing permit would damage the Canada-US bilateral relationship’

The wreckage of a fatal crash involing the Humboldt Broncos hockey team bus outside Tisdale, Sask., is seen on Saturday, April, 7, 2018. A number of Broncos parents are angry there has been little action on seatbelts on buses since the crash that killed 16 people and injured 13. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
‘End of the road:’ Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash awaits deportation decision

Jaskirat Singh Sidhu was sentenced to eight years after pleading guilty

.
B.C. to still administer second doses despite loss of Pfizer shipment next week: Dix

VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s health minister says the province is still on… Continue reading

A view of the stage on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, ahead of the 59th Presidential Inauguration on Wednesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Susan Walsh, Pool
Canadians tune in to Joe Biden inauguration amid pandemic threat, violence concerns

TORONTO — Canadians tuned in Wednesday with a mixture of relief and… Continue reading

The constituency office of Derek Sloan, Conservative MP for Hastings-Lennox and Addington is show in Belleville, Ont., on Tuesday Jan. 19, 2021. Sloan says he’ll fight efforts by his party’s leader to boot him from caucus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg
Expelling Derek Sloan from Conservative caucus not entirely up to Erin O’Toole

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole wants Derek Sloan booted out of… Continue reading

Early morning fire destroys grocery and retail store in Igloolik, Nunavut

A fire has destroyed a grocery and retail store in Igloolik, Nunavut.… Continue reading

Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux waits to appear before the Commons finance committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday March 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
PBO says reformed fiscal stabilization program to cost Ottawa $4.5 billion

OTTAWA — Reforms to a federal support program for provinces will nearly… Continue reading

Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem takes part in a news conference at the Bank of Canada in Ottawa on December 15, 2020. Canada’s central bank will update its economic forecast for the country that will offer a window when it expects a recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic to take hold. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Bank of Canada keeps key rate at 0.25 per cent, warns of economic decline in 2021

OTTAWA — The Bank of Canada says the national economy will go… Continue reading

President-elect Joe Biden speaks during a COVID-19 memorial, with lights placed around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Sighs of relief accompany a sense of unease as Biden takes oath, Trump departs D.C.

WASHINGTON — Relief, apprehension and a touch of pandemic-tinged festivity washed over… Continue reading

FIL - In this Nov. 7, 2020, file photo Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaks in Wilmington, Del. Harris will make history Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, when she becomes the nation’s first Black, South Asian and female vice president. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Vice-President Harris: A new chapter opens in US politics

Harris moves into the vice presidency just four years after arriving in Washington as a California senator

Most Read