It’s no secret that Hollywood is a tough place to succeed – and tougher still if you are a woman. The discussion is ongoing – perhaps inescapable for those living and working in the industry day after day – and it’s true that efforts are being made to promote inclusion, such as mentorship programs and specific grants for female writers and directors. Still, continuing studies on women in film show a stubborn lack of progress in addressing Hollywood sexism. In 2015, for example, Dr. Stacy Smith at the University of Southern California Annenberg published an investigative report on gender equity in Hollywood, both on and offscreen, analyzing 700 popular films from 2007-2014. The study found that “the prevalence of women and girls on screen has not changed in over 50 years,” and that of the 700 films analyzed, 28 had a female director or co-director attached.
The Annenberg study was key to another investigation, this one driven by the American Civil Liberties Union; the ACLU launched an investigation into the widespread discrimination women have been facing in Hollywood, particularly with the studio system in Los Angeles, and requested further examination from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs to detail evidence of systemic “overt sex stereotyping and implicit bias.”
Any woman who has worked in the industry is familiar with the harsh realities of struggling to find paid work and retaining a certain momentum to keep their careers afloat. But while investigations continue, forums are held, mentorship programs are launched, and discussions abound, the female creative forces in entertainment continue to push on, with or without the support of the Hollywood gatekeepers. Statistics are one thing, but the reality is, Hollywood is full of innovative female creators in all aspects of the industry – and each and every one of them have a unique approach to embracing an industry that is both chaotic and comfortable, rewarding and devastating, or inspiring and discouraging.
Here, I’ve asked several of these talented women to tell me about what inspired them to get started in this challenging industry – and more importantly, what inspires them to keep chasing their dreams.
Sophia Kiapos, Filmmaker
Sophia Kiapos is a filmmaker from Los Angeles, CA. Her first short, Olivia, Martha, Ilsa, premiered at Cannes in 2015.
What was it that inspired you to start working in film?
It started as a passion for expression. I grew up as a dancer, I did ballet for ten years, and then I went into theater and started acting and going on too many auditions… I got way too many people saying “you are the perfect prostitute!” or “you’re the perfect best friend!” And I was like, “no, I’m going to create roles for myself.” That lead to me directing and writing and producing and realizing this is my truest calling, being that artist for people and for myself. When I’m on set and I’m able to work with an actor, it makes me feel more driven as an artist. It’s really special.
You had a short premier at Cannes. How did that come about?
It kind of happened over night, but it all happened for a reason. I believe everything happens for a reason and I believe that things that are imporrant in life come back to you in full circle. You may not know it when you’re in the middle of the journey, but you will know it when it comes back around.
When I was in drama school in London, we were studying Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, and five years later, I was asked to produce a short film inspired by three Sisters, then just days before production began, my friend who was meant to direct it handed me the reins and said “I can’t act, produce, direct, and do all these things at once at this point in my career. You know the material, you were in the play, take it.”
So I kind of fell into directing; tt was never my intention or my plan, it was just one of those cosmic happenings. It was a three day shoot with a quarter of a million dollar budget – so imagine never directing anything in your life, and… [laughs] it was huge, huge, huge for a short. It was a period piece set in the 1930s in Mississippi. It was a beautiful film, it beautifully depicted the South and the racial issues with the aristocracy in the South…that inspired me to continue on as a storyteller and director.
The film premiered at Cannes; was that the first big moment in your career?
That whole journey of making that film was big for me. Just like getting into Cannes was a surprise, the whole film and being a director was a surprise. Looking back at it, there was a lot of momentum for about a year, from pre-production to the film festival circuit, and all of that is a blur. [Laughs] It really pushed me to limits I didn’t think were possible for a young woman, to speak to the people I was speaking to, to collaborate with the people I was collaborating with, to be working with some of the actors…I was working with Tammy Blanchard, who had just wrapped working with Woody Allen…it was just a lot [laughs] but it was absolutely amazing and I don’t take any of it for granted, because in every freelance filmmaker’s life, you go through periods of immense success and momentum and periods of harnessing and hibernating. Some people think of it as hunger or failure, those slow times, but it’s not – it’s just manifesting yourself for the next big project.
Do you remember the first big setback you had in your career?
It happens all the time. I have a bunch of things I’m working on right now and a feature film I’m trying to finish writing. I woke up today and I had to finish this edit, and I had to remove myself from my space and go outside and breathe to bring myself back down and say “yes, I don’t want to be editing this thing right now, but I’m grateful for someone hiring me and seeing the potential in me so I can bring their vision to life.” As a freelancer, you always have to be working to survive. So even though I don’t always feel creatively and artistically satisfied, I’m still breathing a little bit of my life into other people’s’ visions. I have to constantly remind myself I’m not a nanny anymore [Laughs] I’m constantly working on my craft, and even in these slow times, I have to remind myself I’m a part of this huge picture. That’s what keeps pushing me to keep going.
What other firsts are you looking forward to in your career?
I’m so excited about my first feature film. I have a few stories that are coming into fruition. Then again, it’s all about timing. Even if you think that you’re at the right place and it’s the right time, it may not be the right time for whoever you bring on board with you. I’m so stoked to bring to life another one of my stories, but the timing is everything, and when that time comes, I’m ready to send it out into the world.
You’re currently working on a project called Portraits in Motion. Can you tell me more about that?
I’m really excited about the portraits. We congregated 134 different people from different backgrounds – different races, religions, shapes, sizes – and brought them into a very sacred space in my home and I basically did a guided walkthrough of emotions. I took them into different places in their life and different scenarios, and I asked them to express back to me the feelings of the human condition without voice. We cut the trailer and sent it out to a bunch of people and got amazing feedback, and we’re working on this amazing score.
This project is unlike anything I’ve done before, and it’s so special because it’s about bringing people together. You will see yourself in these people.