Diversity is an important issue in any industry, but particularly in filmmaking. I guess it’s pretty easy for people outside of it to judge because they watch them in the cinema, on TV, on Netflix. People can tell when there’s a lack of diversity in a film, and it makes a big difference. Having a diverse cast and crew isn’t just about giving more people opportunities, it’s about an audience being able to see themselves represented on screen.
For example, I only got a quarter of the way through Django Unchained, not because it’s a bad film, but because there’s nothing in it for me. From a purely selfish perspective, you’re alienating audiences by not having a diverse cast. If you’re selling your film to audiences… well, you can work out how alienating audiences will affect your sales.
But of course, this is never just about your sales or your audiences. Personally, I don’t care if your film is just marketed to one target market, you still need a diverse cast. The problem with the industry though is that, right now, you don’t need one.
The BFI are totally leading the way with diversity. They now have a set of guidelines that you have to stick to in order to get any funding from them. It’s a good system, although in my mind it’s strange that an exercise to increase the range of cast and crew should feel so limiting.
When I was interviewing people for the assistant job, I had an okay-ish mix. Not everyone had the right, or enough, experience though. So when I got my top three candidates (spoiler: I hired all three of them) I had two women and one man, but they were all white. I could have gone through every applicant I had to find someone of colour, but I knew I only had one, and they didn’t have enough experience for the job. It made me think of the BFI’s guidelines and wondered, ‘how many productions or companies have hired people just so they can tick a box?’ I wondered if I’d ever been hired just so the producer could say, ‘great, now the crew is x% female’.
I don’t know about you, but I would hate to be given a job just because I have a vagina. If I’m not right for something, then why the hell would someone give it to me?
So while the BFI’s guidelines are an amazing step in the right direction – and frankly, there haven’t been many steps in the right direction – somehow it doesn’t quite work. Sure, it will keep producer’s mindful of the diversity of their cast and crew, but it doesn’t change the choice of applicants the producer has available. Like when I hired my assistants, I could have hired different people based on their ethnicity, but they were really wrong for the job.
How do you increase the variety of candidates applying for jobs? Simply, educate them. It all starts with education. How does anyone end up in film? They probably did a film course. I did the BFI Academy, you might have been to the NFTS or the MET Film School. While the BFI Academy is subsidised and happens in multiple regional locations, not many others do. Most of them are £400+ and London-based. This already hugely limiting the potential students, it’s no wonder that the candidates for jobs are pretty limited.
I don’t run an film school, or a film course, or anything educational, so I can’t comment on diversity within film schools. But I do think that if productions that want BFI funding have to adhere to diversity guidelines, then schools should absolutely be sticking to that. Diverse sets of students means diverse sets of employees.
But if you don’t run a film school, then how can you affect the diversity of your crew? Hiring someone just for their ethnicity, I think, is wrong. You might disagree, I don’t know. But I know that film jobs are specific and involved, and if someone isn’t ready or experienced enough for that job then really you’re risking your film shoot. So while looking for diverse applicants, why not also offer on-set work experience-type roles, specifically for BAME applicants?
These jobs mean that you can hire people (even if they don’t have enough or the right experience) and they can be trained up while on the shoot. I call them ‘extended runner’ positions, although I’m not sold on the name yet. I like to offer three, but it’s not always possible. In an ideal world though, I have one runner for the producer, one for the director and one for the DP. In a perfect world, you can have one for sound, for wardrobe, for make up, and so on. The idea is that they do all the usual runner jobs, but get to shadow a HoD and get a bit of training in that department.
On your next shoot, you can hire them again as a 3rd AD, or part of the camera crew, or whatever you like, knowing that you trained them up on your last shoot. Not only are you educating BAME filmmakers, you’re increasing your pool of applicants for next time.
So that’s what I do. It’s not a perfect solution, but as someone desperate to see change, it is a fairly quick one.