Focus Group – scribe

As WordPress prevents me from uploading audio files for free, I have posted the minutes from the recording I made on my phone:

Billy: This is to everyone in the group, do you feel that the film industry, as a whole, based on the kind of films that have been released say in the last 5 years, like the big blockbusters, have a suitable amount of women in top roles?

Kitty: No.

Group: [murmuring]

Billy: Do you feel there’s enough female influence?

Group: No

Kitty: ratio wise, you’ll have 5 main guys and 1, maybe 2, women

Billy (to James): Does it feel like there’s a lack of women involved in the filmmaking process as a whole, like it could be lack of female actors?

Milly: It’s not necessarily the amount of women tho, because I think a part of what it is within the films and stuff is that female characters are mostly portrayed as a certain number of archetypes. We’ve done this in english a hundred times and it shows that, because we have to study it, that it’s there. I think that even we, when we’re writing plays or watching plays or whatever, that it’s a part of what our society is. It’s not necessarily about the amount of women, it’s about how men and women are.

Kitty: you don’t have female characters without expecting that they’re gonna hook up with male characters at some point in the film. I’m not super knowledgeable about films but I can only name two female directors, that I know, that’s Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.

James: I only know the one who did Hurt Locker.

Group: Kathryn Bigelow

Billy: all of this is very broad so you can talk about representation of women as well because the stats I’ll show in a sec, it all links together. So it links to the amount of women behind camera and it links to the amount of women on screen as well. Has anyone else got something to say to that. 

Jesse: I think that even if there was a massive number of women involved in the film, they’d all be centered around one man. One man would probably have more power than all of those women in the film. And if they’re seen as making their own decisions or something like that, there’s something bad that’s behind that, rather than it just being normal. It’s not normal for them not to be centered around a man.

Billy: just to say, anyone that can counter anything, if someone wants to debate certain things, it can become a debate, but I don’t want to force anything. It’s a free discussion.


[…group gives big reaction to fact about salaries of female stars]

Billy: So bearing all of those facts in mind, do anyone of them surprise you? 

Group: No

Kitty: Well they don’t surprise me

James: Well they’re interesting, but I’m not really that surprised, because I expected it to be like that.

Milly: It was like a confirmation of what you already knew anyway.

Jesse: Well yeah you do feel like you already knew but then also when you watch the BAFTAs and Oscars and stuff, the amount of amazing female actors there are, it’s quite surprising that it is that different. Because when you think about female actresses, you think that they’re very successful, but in terms of the proportion to the people behind the screen…

Cameron: I think you gotta take it away from the film and arts industry and bring it back to just normal jobs…women and men….men are paid more, so that will obviously be affected in Hollywood and that, so it’s just taking it, in a way, from the norm of society. It’s not a good thing, it’s a bad thing but yeah, it’s nothing to do with Hollywood

Jesse: Maybe as well its about the stereotype of having a family, that women just can’t dedicate themselves as directors and writers or whatever because when they reach a certain age, still there’s that stereotype of having to, not go back to the home but…basically…men have more freedom

Milly: I’m not disagreeing but that said tho…now, to be honest, I don’t think that any girl in this room, or pretty much any girl that I know, think, like perhaps they would have done 30 years ago, that we will leave here, maybe get a degree, and then get a husband. And I think that actually the family thing, I don’t think has as much of an effect.

Jesse: I don’t think it has as much but I think it’s definitely still there, I’ve spoken to so many girls who are like…

Kitty: I think if I was wanting to go into the film industry behind the screen, then in the forefront in my mind there would always be, that above me there’s a huge majority of men and that it’s very very hard to make your way up the ladder as a woman just because they think, when you’re in that kind of directorial position, you’ve got to have a lot of respect and you gotta have people who are gonna listen to you. But I do think there’s a bit of compromise when you’ve got a woman in charge compared to when a man’s in charge, and she’s gonna need a certain amount of respect and…she’s gotta have a certain amount of prestige, before men will start listening to her, I think.

Josh: Well this goes back to what you were saying about that there’s not enough females playing the main roles in films, because that kinda sums it up really cos, the main role in a film can rinse of the film’s budget completely so if you’re just a supportive member of the cast, you’re just kind of…they can just distribute the money a lot more thinly than if you were the main character…so it kinda just goes back to that in a way. If you’re set in the top 10, female actresses are usually going to be playing the supportive roles of the main character…..when you were saying with a lot of the independent films, a majority of them aren’t going to make a lot of money out of that , so it all goes back to that really

Kitty: I think in general, with male and female actors, quite a lot of male actors have one particular part that they’ll play in a lot of films, whereas female actors have to be able to, in order to get by, have to be able to play anything so that they can fight off all of the other actresses for particular roles

Cameron: But then usually, the female plays, in films for me, usually, in mainstream films, its usually the woman who’s the damsel in distress, or the bloke’s sidekick, or trophy, I don’t wanna go that way but 

Kitty: But it’s like with things like Chick Flicks, you’ll have men who, cos there’s been a massive thing with Matthew McConaughey this year because he’s suddenly he’s got out of the particular role that he’s been playing for years and he’s had the exact same role in so many films, and you wouldn’t have that with a woman where she did the exact same thing, in all these different films

Cameron: But Scarlett Johansson takes a lot of the same roles…Action girl…she does that a lot

Kitty: She also has to be like the super sexy 

Jesse: Yeah you have to be really hot to be able to do that

Kitty: And in all the superhero films there’ll be like one and maybe two 

Josh: He’s still like, even if he’s playing serious roles, he’s still gotta be seen as the hunk in the film. it’s just that it’s more apparent because people will direct their views towards that. McConaughey will still play those sort of roles with a similar vibe, he has to present him self in the same way, but it’s just the way that people approach it. With women, people are a lot more sympathetic towards that. I’m not saying that’s right but because the way society sees things, its just that sort of attitude is then changed towards those two people. So it’s a similar situation but which two different approaches, because there’s a sensitivity sort of barrier between McConaughey and these actresses.

Raphy: The way I see it with the whole film industry, in terms of acting and stuff, it kinda reflects the whole atmosphere of today’s social context. You got predominantly men in the police forces, predominantly men in the army, in these kind of glorified roles within society which are reflected in the show business industry, or the film industry. And so you get male actors and its often to do with egos and being sort of, it’s quite pretentious in a way, because it sort of built up stuff based on stuff that’s not really there, sort of like showing off. Then you get these big actor egos, and you get women who are sort of more real. People like Helen Mirren, she’s not someone who’s gonna go on a show and just show off, but someone maybe like Russell Crowe would go on Graham Norton, you’ll get this big bravado thing from him. People kind of respect that, they buy into that, and that’s why I think the whole thing is how it is. 

Kitty: you have guys who are allowed to be like, ‘im the shit’, ‘Im worth this amount of millions of quids’ or whatever and if I’m in this film it’ll be worth this amount of money but if a female actress was like that,everyone would be like ‘oh my god what an up myself bitch’ and no one would like her and no one would sell anything.

Jesse: I agree with that.

Billy: By the way guys, you can also link this to the theatre industry.

Katherine: I’m going to use The Hunger Games as a perfect example here because you’ve got Jennifer Lawrence as this strong, almost soldier-like character, and I saw that film Divergent that just come out the other day and again its got a very strong, soldier-like female lead but then again you got films coming out like Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle where the women are literally playing hookers and receptionists and stuff and that’s fine, because its representing a certain period but Jennifer Lawrence again is play both the housewife and then the strong soldier-like woman. So with actors playing the same roles, that’s the actors choice because the roles are written, whether or not the actor is around. So I definitely think there are strong roles for women out there, the actresses just need to find them.

Milly: You say she’s strong tho, like saying that Katniss Everdeen is a strong character, she is strong but it’s like what Kitty said before is that, she ends up getting with…like the whole romance thing, for me a classic example is Homeland where you have Carrie Mathison who’s so sassy and she knows what she wants. I suppose you can argue it either way in that when she gets distracted by love,she kinda goes off the rails which is kinda like, like I said that could be portrayed as being like that’s what women do or it could be like, look what happens, women are stronger than this. I think quite often its LOOK THIS IS A STRONG WOMAN THEREFORE SHE DOES THIS, there’s no intrinsically strong character that are just strong.

Jesse: Yeah, there has to be something special about them, like critically it would be pointed out more that she is a strong woman, like ‘Oh my God!’ like its not just a normal thing

Kitty: Female characters aren’t allowed to make mistakes, you got male characters who are like ‘the fallen heroes’ who aren’t perfect and still do shit wrong but you still love them, but that doesn’t happen with women if they do something wrong’

Raphy: Well wouldn’t that say something about the audience tho

Group: Yeah

Raphy: We love these male characters, regardless of what they do and yet when you see a woman do it, you start freaking out…that just says something about society

Cameron: Film is like a mirror on society and audiences, it reflects what people think. Films are mostly only made to make money so you have to make a film which normal, ‘Fred and Frieda’ at home, will like. You can’t have something that goes, ‘oo this is a bit interesting’, they gotta go to norm. Men are powerful in the film, good looking girl, good looking girl has problem, men fixes problem, the end.

Milly: do sex, the end

Cameron: do sex, the end.

Zach: Back to what Raphy said earlier, how there’s industries that are dominated by males anyway generally in life, and film is obviously a representation of life in most cases, in a lot of cases it isn’t but, I think film shouldn’t be directly blamed for doing it, it should come back to more of the wider picture, so it shouldn’t be film that gets all the grief from it.

Girls: They don’t

Zach: No no I’m just saying. I also think there’s always a stigma attached to a woman falling in love with a guy in a film. I can understand why there’s a stigma but I think people should look at it a lot lighter in the sense of, men also fall back in love with the woman so men fall in love just like women fall in love in the films. I know a lot of women don’t like it but in my case of watching films, I mean I do watch romances, I’ve just declared that to all of you, I just feel that there shouldn’t be a stigma attached to it because some romances are actually brilliant films. So just because a woman falls in love with a man, I mean, can every woman in this room say that not one of you has had a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Kitty: No but it’s like, if you can’t have a film that has…you hardly ever have a film that has a woman in and there’s no type of romance.

Zach: Yeah but that’s not such a bad thing sometimes. 

Milly: But it’s disproportionate, how many films do you see that star a main guy and perhaps the romance is in a sub-plot with someone else and a woman. I’m trying to think of an example, there’s so many.

Raphy: (…..) He’s normally like a broken, emotionally broken, character, and the woman is normally a sort of person who’s in touch with that side and is able to connect with more than the man is. And that’s what they play him. 

Billy: Q to Girls – before I read those stats, did you already feel quite discouraged to try and get into a n industry like the film industry. I mean some of you might not have any interest in going into the film industry but even as an actress.

Jesse: it encourages you, knowing things like that encourages us to change it. 

Milly: It’s made me want to change it, it’s made me want to prove something.

Jesse: Especially with theatre, like when I’m trying to find monologues for drama school and all of the monologues I can find for my casting are about men and how I’m like in love for a man. It encourages me to write things, like scripts or whatever. 

Billy: And some female directors said that one thing they like about there being a lack is that their work always gets viewed as edgy and expected to be different

Jesse: I’d kinda like that to be diminished, I’d like it to just be normal and for it just to be okay and not to be like  a ‘feminist-crazy’ thing. 

Milly: I see it as more opportunities for women because there’s less of them in the industry, rather than all the spaces are filled up by men, so I don’t think that’s the case. 

Billy: (to the boys) Okay, so one last question, one reason that some give to the fact that there’s less female characters on screen is that male writers feel that they’re not confident enough to write female characters well enough, and so put men as protagonists. Now, would you personally feel that that’s a valid thing to feel.

Zach: Well, I would actually agree with that a little bit because, for me as a writer, writing women is obviously something that…I’m not saying that I don’t understand them because they would just be the most unintelligent thing to say but it’s almost like, I’m more comfortable writing men but that’s just cos of who I am and the gender I am as I am a man so I write about men. But I do believe in a thing called the Bechdel test, I’m guessing you must of heard of it. It’s where you have two or more women in a film but it has to pass every question. Like do you have two or more women in your film, yes or no, and do they speak about anything else, other than a man, and do they share a scene together in which that subject isn’t spoken about? And I believe that that thing if you can try and install that then it does slowly make an industry better for women. 

James: Well in this case when you’re talking about male writers not feeling confident enough about female characters, it doesn’t necessarily land straight away on politics, but it does. It usually completely lies on whether the writer can write because there’s one writer who did One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest that basically said write what you don’t know and there was another one who said write what you know. So it’s just, its kinda about where the write is at that certain moment in their writing career but yet that lies down in politics because it’s how that writer’s been thinking lately, what he’s been doing, yeah what he’s doing, but it doesn’t solely  rely on politics.

Cameron: I think also maybe that men don’t write females, not because its confidence, maybe because when they’re writing, sometimes many of them might see that when they’re writing, the way they’re writing about a female is not right, it’s their point of view of a male. So maybe sometimes they’re writing and the woman is that Trophy Girl, bla bla bla, they’re stereotypical as a man, that’s why they’re writing.

Jesse: Because that’s what they’re feeling. 

Cameron: Yeah because that’s what they see in life. 

Kitty: I was just gonna say, you get ugly guys in films because they can be the funny best friend and you never have any ugly women.

Cameron: Yeah you do, you get the fat one.

Milly: Or you have like one woman who plays all the ugly characters in every Hollywood film.

James: Or you have the fat one to make the skinny one feel better.


Milly: What we have to remember is that thousands and thousands of films are written in America, if we’re talking about Hollywood yeah, thousands of films are written and I don’t think anyone realises how few get made, and out of all the films that are picked, out of all the so many films get written, so many, and then they pick, however many they make a year, I mean it’s nothing, if you think about how many films that are actually in the cinema within a year, it’s very very few. And out of all those thousands, there’s got to be hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them, that represent women equally, there must be but they don’t get chosen. 

Cameron: Well that’s gotta be tricky because you can’t get production companies to proportionally make films that are good with women and good with men. You can’t go, ‘now this year we’re gonna do it 50/50’.

Milly: The stats seem to show that if you employ more female writers and more female directors, there’ll be more female roles. The stats show that.

Cameron: Final point, give it 50 years, and it’ll be better. If you look at films in black and white, 1940s, it was always the guy in the suit lighting the nice pretty girl’s cigarette, and it was all very very sexist in that way, and every 1940s film was like, man is protagonist. And it’s slowly getting there, and it’s got better than the black and white films, so give it another 50 years…

Katherine: But we shouldn’t have to wait another 50 years.

Cameron: I know we shouldn’t and maybe it’ll be quicker now with technology like the internet, I think we’re smarter as humans now these days, it’ll be quicker but still that time because that’s how life goes, that’s how you evolve. It’s not going to be tomorrow, [clicks] all of the films are gonna be very very balanced and it’s all gonna be happy-dandy and we’re gonna skip down the hallways and be happy, you’ve got to give it time. And now we got people like us who’re young like us and thinking like this, when we grow up and we start correcting that, we’re the next generation with that new idea.

Zach: And then it’s going to be the men who’re complaining.

Group: yeah, [laughs]


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