If you’re anywhere near Hollywood this week, you’ve got a hot take on Harvey Weinstein. I’ve only been here a few years, exclusively “below the line”, and I heard all the rumors too. I dreaded ever having even secondhand contact with the man and his company: a powerful star maker with the ability to squash any career he chose, a blatant chauvinist, and an indecent human being whose participation in the entertainment industry seemed immoveable.
So many of us, especially women, are or have been explicitly sexually abused, assaulted or harassed. Some of us have been raped – one in five women will be raped in their lifetimes. A lot of us have also never spoken of sexual violence. Some of us, myself included, have never publicly acknowledged being emotionally abused, gaslit and manipulated for years.
If you ask yourself why we don’t speak up immediately, look at the women who have come forward to talk about Weinstein, Bill Cosby, or — god help us — our president. Come forward when it happens and you’re lying and must show proof. Wait until you have strength in numbers to report and you’re a bandwagon attention seeker. Keep quiet forever and well I guess it wasn’t really what you said it was, drama queen. And often a lot of these accusations go nowhere. It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits are waiting in a backlog right now.
And the men still win awards, accept paychecks, get elected to office. They continue to hold their power regardless of what they’ve done.
A lot of the conversation has been among above-the-line people over the last week: directors, actors, writers, and similarly visible individuals in the entertainment industry. Abuses by these kinds of people on below-the-line individuals — art department, editors, camera department, technicians, make-up artists — aren’t at all uncommon. But for those of us below-the-line, most of the abuse we face each day isn’t necessarily manifested in a villain like Harvey Weinstein who we can now shame and run out of town. Not everyone has been cornered by a man who tries to expose himself to us or asks us to take a bath with him (although good god, too many of us have).
But all women in our below-the-line workplaces – especially technical roles like in post production where we are vastly outnumbered – are affected by these same power dynamics. It’s the same gender power dynamic that would convince a man to try to force himself on you which exists to some degree in the mind of a man in charge of hiring or promoting you (or not), by nature of how our society is constructed around bias and stereotypes.
And in many ways this is even more damaging and dangerous: the villain isn’t the vile man with the “open secret” of abuse, he’s the Self-Described Nice Guy who thinks he’s doing nothing wrong.
The Self-Described Nice Guy* is different from the Abusive Monster. The Abusive Monster in these circumstances often knows explicitly what he’s doing is bad and just doesn’t care. He’s drunk on power, taking it out via sexual violence. He gropes, touches, rapes, suggests, intimidates. There’s no grey area to what he’s doing to everyday folk: it’s definitely bad and easily condemned once airing the dirty laundry is normal. Go away, Abusive Monster.
(Whether he actually goes away or gets another powerful job is a whole ‘nother thing.)
The Self-Described Nice Guy is more pervasive and harder to avoid. The Self-Described Nice Guy’s implicit gender bias prevents him from making good judgements about what women are capable of in tech jobs. Nice Guy thinks his assumptions about women are progressive and helpful – women just want to have babies (no they don’t), they’re not as mathy (yes they are), they need my protection (no they don’t) – when in reality they’re backwards and harmful. The Nice Guy sees himself in young men and naturally wishes to mentor and promote a younger version of himself. The Nice Guy seeks to make hiring decisions through a meritocracy, ignoring privilege and artificial barriers that exist.
He too is drunk on power, but he doesn’t know it until it’s threatened: he hears the word “diversity” and writes a 100 page memo on why women are biologically unsuited for this work. Thanks Nice Guy, people say, maybe we should listen to your insight.
But these wrongful assumptions and scientifically incorrect facts are actively keeping women from being successful in below-the-line technical jobs.
Only about 18% of picture editors and 3% of directors of photography in television and film are women, and that number hasn’t improved in 20 years and continues to drop off in other technical classifications. Expanding beyond the entertainment industry into adjacent fields where data is more widely collected, we see women graduating at increasing rates in engineering and computer science and leaving their jobs by mid-career. In fact, over 40% of female engineers leave by age thirty, and only a quarter of those leave for family purposes. The other reasons? A lack of promotional opportunities and mentorship – far more barriers to climbing the ladder than men -- yes, they also leave jobs because they're frustrated, but at a much lower rate.
And it’s not just the big picture stuff, like mentorship. Women die a death of a thousand cuts from Nice Guys during their career, eventually exiting when they’ve had too much. Things like being overtalked in meetings, having credit for their ideas co-opted, being passed over for a gig because they probably can’t lift a camera, being called a bitch or a prude depending on the circumstances, or being corrected on tone happen every single day. Being accused of making everything “a gender thing” when suggesting more inclusive language is common. Being laughed at for suggesting an organization seek a woman for a panel of experts. Being complimented on appearance but never job performance. Being accused of tokenism for hiring another woman.
Reed Morano, ASC -- Emmy winning director/woman able to lift a camera.
In a ten year pan-industry study, IZA Institute of of Labor Economics found that this gap didn’t exist because of skill or bargaining power or motivation. Men just valued women less than they valued men.
These acts are committed by Nice Guys who just want to keep things fair in the industry. They often consider themselves allies, but they don’t internalize the fact that the industry’s narrow path to success was built to sustain only people like them. And many women choose never to speak of it. When we come forward when it happens, we’re accused of embellishment and must show proof. If we wait until we have strength in numbers, we’re bandwagon feminists who get pushed in a room alone together, separated from the network of influence. And if we continue to keep quiet forever, we’re an example of how this problem obviously just doesn’t exist at all.
It’s all the same power dynamic as a physically, violently abusive person. It just happens in micro-interactions every single day instead.
While Abusive Monster usually knows his power, Self-Described Nice Guy often doesn’t because he’s just too nice to leverage something like gender dynamics, right? But when Self-Described Nice Guys refuse to listen to women, accept their male privilege, and ask how to help, their place in the power structure is solidified.
If Weinstein is to be a turning point for Hollywood, it needs to be a turning point from the bottom up too. I hope that being able to tell the world about the horrifying crimes against women that these powerful men commit becomes normal and drives these monsters out of the mainstream, and that accepting that women are generally telling the truth becomes normal. I want to believe that openly talking about gender power dynamics more and more will help level the playing field, so women who come forward can feel safe and find justice instead of being called sluts and accused of attention-seeking.
But the truth is that men still hold this power, and without true, committed allies willing to actively share it, this is just another week in Hollywood.
(*Women can be Nice Guys too.)
Posted by: Kylee Peña on Oct 12, 2017 at 11:15:39 pm
Whether by necessity or the evolution of a specific kind of culture, internships have emerged as a dominant “foot-in-the-door” for the post production industry. Among those internships, the unpaid variety tend to dominate in a way that is not seen in many other fields such as business and medicine. Sure, unpaid internships aren’t exclusive to post production; however, for some reason we’ve collectively decided that the single biggest way to prove one’s merit is by working in some capacity for free.
It’s almost as if everyone believes that because they suffered the difficulty of doing often humiliating or degrading work for free, everyone else should too.
In our industry, it seems like most people don’t understand the line between legal and illegal internships. The young people trying to get experience and move up the ladder need to know what’s legal, but they can’t really do anything about it. The people who really need to know these guidelines are the hiring managers and producers in charge of the intern experience — the people who can make a difference. It’s not that free work is altogether bad or off limits. It’s sometimes the right move for personal enrichment, donation of time, or just to learn some new skills. The issue is that we aren’t ensuring that up and coming talent are valued, either through being paid minimum wage or guaranteed an valuable educational experience.
I completed three internships while I attended Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis — IUPUI. I graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Media Arts and Science and a Certificate in Applied Computer Science. I worked nearly full time, lived off-campus, and had parents who were able to give me money for books and fees not covered by loans — who were also available to help me with my living expenses when I really needed it. I currently have $27,723.91 in federal student loan debt, which I deferred for the first few years of my career since my income was too low.
Tired, malnourished, and happy to be done.
Since I was an Indiana resident attending an Indiana school, I was able to get in-state rates with a small scholarship. I chose IUPUI both for cost and for proximity to Indianapolis businesses where I could intern or work. I no longer have records of exactly what I paid from 2005-2009, but the current rates for attendance are about $4,700 per semester in my program. That’s just shy of $37,000 for four years of a full course load, about $255 per credit hour.
I completed three internships while attending IUPUI. Two of them were illegal by today’s standards.
I was and am very lucky and privileged to have been able to have these experiences. Many people are not able to get through the door and in the room at all because they cannot afford to work for free. It was incredibly hard for me to balance all this, but I knew if things really got out of control I had some back-up with my parents bailing me out. As a result of my ability to spend 10-15 hours a week on these internships instead of working for actual money, I was able to stack my resume upon graduation in a way someone with equal skills but less parental support was unable to do.
That made a difference for me, as it does many other privileged people in this industry. As a result, opportunities for employment and career growth for those who had to prioritize other things are limited or removed entirely. Those people are approached with an attitude of “well, I guess they didn’t try hard enough or want it badly enough. I guess they’re just not as good.” (Infuriatingly, the people who proudly boast about the unpaid internships and free work they did when they were young are the first to criticize low or no pay freelance opportunities. Both of these things can devalue the industry in different ways.)
I want to stress that I’m going to discuss my experiences as an intern and a student from my own experience and perspective, using the the US Department of Labor’s 2010 “Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act” fact sheet as a yard stick. Maybe they weren’t illegal back then, but they sure are now. And today is what’s relevant. I want people to see what I was required to do and why it was wrong then and illegal now.
Before I describe my illegal internships, I want to give you some background on what the Department of Labor considers to legal or not. The DOL has a test in six parts which private sector internships must comply with. If the internship fails the test, then the internship is actually non-exempt employment and must be paid minimum wage plus overtime for time in excess of 40 hours in a week.
1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
If these conditions are met, then there is no employment arrangement under The Fair Labor Standards Act and no minimum wage or overtime payment is required. The more like an extension of an educational experience the internship is, the more likely it is to be considered a true internship.
A very important distinction in the work interns do: if the skills they’re learning are broadly applicable to other work environments with the primary benefit not being for the employer, that’s okay. On the other hand, if they’re performing productive work for the employer — filing, answering phones, clerical work — then although they may be getting some useful skills for the future, they are not excluded from the FSLA’s minimum wage requirements. If interns are doing productive work that would otherwise be completed by giving additional hours to or hiring an additional employee and are not under the constant and direct supervision of a regular employee of the company in a constant educational environment, they are not an intern.
Let me put it a different way: when you send an intern out to fetch lunch or finish your paperwork, you should be paying them for their time. If they are doing solo work on a deadline a regular employee would have otherwise been assigned to do, you should pay them for their time.
My first illegal internship was in 2007 at a small post house in Indianapolis that no longer exists, so I won’t even mention them by name. I spent about 4 months as an intern, about 12 hours a week. This was the internship I dreamed about when I moved to the city for school. I was able to connect with a real editor who let me shadow him during the internship and beyond. When I was out of school, he got me my first freelance job. We’re still in touch and he was a great and positive force early in my career. I spent time in the edit suite with him and his clients. I learned how to run a room. I also got my first hands-on experience with Avid and was able to fiddle around with it myself. I got introduced to the machine room and saw how patching worked. I went on shoots with real clients. I recut an old project and had a producer give me some feedback.
The post house had won sports Emmys, which I enjoyed holding at the time.
But I also had major complaints with this internship which I brought up with my advisor, largely because the company was beginning to fold up while I was interning there. For the longest time I thought I was being over-dramatic. It wasn’t until the last few years that I really realized this was not only unethical, it is now truly illegal. I would fetch lunch frequently for people who disrespected me and whined when I got them the wrong thing. I was put in charge of making coffee and sending mail, walking to the post office somewhat regularly. I answered phones a lot and ran the front desk on the regular, which was hard because nobody introduced themselves to me. I didn’t have anyone sitting in the Avid suite with me and my book, explaining to me that the software was unstable and crashing and it wasn’t my fault. I was asked to ingest media for a project without supervision and scolded when I did it wrong. I spent weeks upon weeks in a storage room alone re-organizing a sound library and filing paperwork. When people were laid off, I cleaned out their offices. Eventually I started cutting small projects the laid off individuals would have worked on.
By today’s standards, this violates #1, #2, #3 and #4 on the DOL’s lil test. My university would likely argue it was not illegal because they provided the educational structure around it, so the internship was a proper extension of an educational experience they were providing for me. I think if you look hard at the DOL fact sheet and the educational environment that was offered, this argument wouldn’t hold up. IUPUI had what was essentially an “internship class” where you could earn college credit through the internship. The class was online with some light reading and a lot of forum posts about what you did and what you learned. Other than a site visit once during the experience, the university was hands-off. For the privilege of answering phones and writing forum posts to my advisor every day, struggling to describe how that skill would benefit me in life, I paid for three credit hours plus fees. By today’s standards, I would have paid at least $756 to be an unpaid intern.
I was lucky to have this internship. It created opportunities for me and gave me exposure to the kind of environment I needed at that time. It was key to getting my next internship. But it was hard to accomplish and at minimum, morally wrong for the employer and school to put me in this situation. But even so, how many other students were unable to participate in this before the company shut down?
My next internship was a legal unpaid internship at the Indiana State Museum. The museum is a non-profit organization which grants some leeway with internships as volunteer experiences that differ from private sector interns, but it doesn’t really matter. This internship was a true extension of my educational experience largely because I did not give any immediate benefit to the museum and yeah, definitely impeded its operations. I completed this internship for college credit again with IUPUI’s dubious “intern experience” course, but the true value of the experience came from the museum employee I worked with. She gave me real projects to do, offering guidance while also allowing me to work independently. Truthfully she could have finished them better and faster without me. I finished a couple neat audio projects that were featured in the museum (and took weeks longer than they should have) and a couple smaller videos that were featured on the museum’s new YouTube page.
I also got the opportunity to do research for upcoming exhibits’ video work and see how my hands-on experience would directly apply to months of public enjoyment. And I was given the museum’s resources and equipment to explore independently and create whatever I wanted. The experience was entirely for my benefit and the fact that the museum ended up using any of my work was an unexpected bonus for me. I had context, access, and patience with lots of feedback.
My third internship was by far the worst and most illegal. My senior year of college, I picked up an unpaid internship with an organization called NUVO Newsweekly, an alternative lifestyle magazine in Indianapolis. They wanted video production interns that could go to events to shoot and edit content for their YouTube page, promising that I’d work with a producer and get great experience in corresponding with that producer and learning more about editing while also building my portfolio. It seemed like a great way to build up my reel at the end of my college career, and my friend Katie was also able to get the same internship, so we went for it.
Oh, how great for Katie and me.
And then they threw in: oh yeah, you’re also part of the Street Team so we’ll have you do a little bit of promo stuff while you’re shooting. No big deal, we have a table with copies of NUVO and we direct people to it. Uh, okay.
We were regularly given a list of events happening in the city that we needed to choose to cover, a fixed number of them required per week. If we didn’t go to enough, we got in trouble. The up side to this was we got to see and experience many different sides of the city for free, attending concerts and events we never would have considered before. The downside was that the street team aspect was understated and the educational aspect was overstated.
This seems educational.
We went to our first event at a bar: an incredibly loud, incredibly late concert on a week night when both of us had work or school the next day. Nobody from NUVO greeted us, and I’m not sure anyone else in the leadership we worked with ended up attending. Our first field experience as interns was as two young women alone in a bar with video production equipment and no further direction on what to create. But we did it anyway, and quickly cut together a highlights video. The all-important producer collaboration and educational feedback experience amounted to “wow, great job! Upload it!”
We did more events. Roller derby, art shows, festivals, restaurant reviews, other local concerts. Turned out more content. Got more passive thumbs up. Look, I’ve seen these videos years later. They were fine and good, but they had room for improvement. We were not above guidance, but we WERE creating SEO-friendly, regular video content for free. We were being had.
An example of our perfect, no-notes work.
The likely highlight of the whole intern experience was being assigned to cover the end of Indy Wine Festival. We were told we needed to also break down the NUVO tent, table and materials, load it in the NUVO branded jeep, and drive the jeep back to headquarters. When we arrived, we realized the jeep was parked in the middle of the festival in a huge urban park — and it being the end of the day at a wine festival in June in the midwest, the lawn was littered with people who were passed out. We spent an hour figuring out how to take the tent down, googling to find instructions since none were provided. Then we drove through the lawn of the park, trying not to kill anyone.
What kind of insurance policy does this require?
Yeah. The twenty-two year old unpaid intern drove the enormous branded jeep through a park. A liability for sure, but I’m not certain for whom.
I ended up leaving the internship early, in part because I was unhappy with being used for free labor but also because I had transitioned into a full-time job and couldn’t balance going to night events anymore. My friend held on a little longer, having to actually confront the indignant producer and internship coordinator who felt they were giving us the experience of a lifetime. An internship should be a two-way communication, and instead they took her feedback as insubordination.
This internship violated numbers #2, #3, and #4 — massively #3. We were doing work that needed to be done by paid freelancers, not students and industry newcomers who were desperate for experience. At the very least, we deserved minimum wage and maybe a little more promised guidance, or a completely restructured intern experience.
I don’t know if NUVO still has unpaid interns that violate all these rules in the DOL’s test, but I sure hope not. It was incredibly disappointing to be involved in something that was such an obvious racket, taking advantage of young peoples’ passion and telling them they “get to” visit these places and put their work online.
And when it comes to these two illegal internships, that’s really what I feel: disappointment. For all the translatable skills I gained, I had to give up so much of myself. I was essentially working for no pay during a time in my life when giving up hours was incredibly precious and potentially threatening to my survival. I had to somehow make up ground to keep up on my rent and electric bills and gas at my full-time job. By the time I graduated, I was sick constantly and more exhausted than I’d ever been in my life. And I got far less value for the experience than anyone should.
But I was still able to do it and lucky to have the opportunity. Many don’t have the privilege to make these sacrifices to their physical and financial well-being because they have children, no family support, or some other life circumstance to deal with instead. In an industry with a false narrative of “meritocracy” to rise up, we are not lending everyone the opportunity to demonstrate their skills at the beginning of their careers when important choices are made and experiences are had. Those who think they have risen up only because they were better are dismissing the societal, gender, racial, financial, geographical privilege they were granted. This doesn’t mean they didn’t earn it, and it certainly doesn’t mean they’re not good at what they do and didn’t work hard. But the obstacles they had in their path were not the same as others with less privilege.
I described the total cost of my education -- being enrolled was a prerequisite for these internships -- to give you a sense of the actual dollars invested in this experience. My loan costs don't even begin to address the amounts my parents spent on books, car payments or other necessities they helped me with, or the rent, food, and gas I bought. Was this a good value for the educational experience I received?
Me on the set of a local indie having an amazing time on a frigid day with great people -- not all free work is bad.
I don’t put this forward to denegrate a specific school or business who bought into the internship racket: it’s not like ya’ll invented this mess, and it’s not like it’s an easy systemic fix. But I’m disappointed. I would hope that businesses with a stake in the community would recognize the importance of opening up opportunities for all, and how money and time plays into someone’s ability to do that. I would really hope that a school built on positive values and life experience would choose to advocate for paid internships — or ya know, just job placement in general — in lieu of pushing students into the system.
And I would reallyreally hope that those people in the industry that benefitted from internships, either from gaining skills or getting a job, would recognize that no matter how well they managed to do, it would have been a better, more equal educational experience if they hadn’t been taken advantage of for free work. And by extension, that they would advocate for better, more equal educational opportunities for those coming up behind them instead of enforcing the status quo as a matter of paying ones’ dues.
This industry is hard, and that’s fine. If it were easy, everyone one do it and no one would pay for it. I don’t need it to be easier. But why can’t we make it just a little bit more accessible for the next generation, and make the next generation’s industry a little more inclusive as a result?
Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jul 28, 2017 at 2:02:55 am
A lot of so-called “open letters” on the internet address the outgoing graduates of programs. And while they should bask in the glow of congratulations and good luck because they worked hard, they earned it, and they have some serious challenges on the horizon, this letter isn’t for them.
It’s for you: the young woman who is leaving high school behind and beginning your first year of college in the next few weeks or months. You have so much ahead of you.
Your already completed preparations have likely been as diverse as your other experiences. Maybe you’ve had to write personal statements and essays or collect recommendations. You’ve probably had to fill out the FAFSA, hoping you didn’t accidentally transpose a number or calculate an income incorrectly lest you be carted off to jail. Maybe you visited a few different colleges, alone or with a parent or grandma or sibling. If you did, you sat through silly skits by upperclassmen and walked through the library and student center and other buildings with extra shiny floors.
I graduated from high school in Indiana in 2005.
You’ve weighed the pros and cons of even attending college. You’ve had discussions about your future with all kinds of people. Maybe you have a clear path and strategy. Maybe you don’t. In either case, when your acceptance letter arrived, you felt a sting of excitement and fear. It’s happening. Change is scary. Student loans are scarier. But you’re doing it anyway.
Congratulations on making it through the paperwork and the decisions, and congratulations on your decision to attend college. It can seem controversial, especially for a media or film and television program where you can supposedly learn all you need at home and on the internet, but pursuing an education will never serve you negatively. I certainly got my own earful from people when I decided to pursue Media Arts and Science at Indiana University in Indianapolis. But why, they said, why don’t you keep that as a hobby and go to nursing school?
I attended Indiana University in Indianapolis, working on a bachelors degree from the School of Informatics.
There are a lot of opinions about the usefulness of a media degree, and here’s mine: with so many media jobs being created inside corporations that hire through HR, a degree is becoming essential. For jobs in media hubs like Los Angeles and New York, even positions that were previously filled through apprenticing now require a bachelors degree. And if you leave media behind, your degree counts for a lot – as a basic requirement or a jumping-off point for a masters degree.
But aside from checking the boxes on a job application, what you’re really going to get from your program can’t be measured by a piece of paper — even one with fancy script writing. You’re going to have a safe place to grow and explore and experiment with media technology. You’re going to have access to mentors. You’re going to develop friends who are more similar to you than you ever imagined. You’re going to be able to leverage important resources. You’re going to grow as a problem-solver, critical thinker, and life-long learner. You’ll learn theory and practical application and how to run this software or that camera, but most importantly: you’re going to learn how to learn.
I worked nearly full time through college at the Indianapolis Zoo, also doing part-time internships at a post house, a state museum, and a lifestyle magazine.
When your degree is on a wall (or in a box) and the information you learned about software and hardware becomes obsolete, you will still know how to learn. And that’s the key to an industry like ours (yes, it’s yours now too) that is a beautiful combination of art and technology: there is always something more to know, but there won’t always be someone telling you that you need to know it.
Now here’s the part that makes this letter for you and not so much for your male peers. Your experience in this industry as a woman is going to be different than men. You’re going to hear about the gender gap in post production technology. You’re going to read about harassment and pay gaps and the masculine culture that prevails on set. You’re going to read op-eds from female directors and producers that discuss their challenges and frustrations. You might not experience it in college, or you might not realize it for a while. In my decade in this industry, I have both written about and experienced these issues first hand.
But I tell you this because I want you to remember that there are many women in television, film and media jobs all over the world, and they are all rooting for you to succeed in the face of these challenges. I want you to know that I’m here for you, alongside thousands of other women holding a space for you. Even if the statistics look grim and the news stories are disheartening, remember: there is a place for you here. You deserve to be here. Even in an industry as flawed as ours, there is room for you to have a successful, engaging career.
Part of the fun of college: still having the freedom to explore and be silly.
And I tell you this so you’re prepared. Gender bias is real even if it’s almost entirely subconcious. There can be a hundred tiny needle jabs in a woman’s career in any industry where she is underrepresented — asking for fair pay, for fair promotions, fair treatment — and over years those needle jabs can add up to one painful departure. A depature she often believes is her own fault because she is not strong enough.
You never need to leave. If you work hard, the resistance you might face in your career is almost never of your own making. If you work hard, you deserve to be here. If you decide the media industry isn’t for you, either during college or some years after, that’s okay too. But if you want to be here, you deserve to stay and to do the work and be yourself while you do it. This isn't always possible all the time right now, but we're working on making it true.
Find a trusted network of both women and men you can rely on. Share with them your many victories, and confide in them your failures. It can be difficult to find your place and grow in our industry, but it’s easier when you know there is a societal bias at play in your career. It’s easier when you can say “it’s not me, it’s you.” While you should own up to your mistakes and learn from them, try not to absorb the negative outlook, the social commentary, or any feelings you don’t belong. Do you think the stories we tell in media are best told by a whole bunch of people who all think and act alike? Do you think stories like Moonlight and The Handmaid’s Tale and Master of None would exist in a world without underrepresented people pushing boundaries?
I graduated with degrees in video production and applied computer science in 2009.
Ask for what you want, but remember you are entitled to nothing. Speak up and make sure your voice is heard. Learn what you want to learn, tell the stories you want to tell. Remember that while no amount of “leaning in” will change a pervasive bias against you, no amount of bias can erase all the women like me who are already here waiting for you. While our grandmothers were explicitly told they had no place in these workplaces, and women like myself are sometimes implicitly unwelcome, your story will be entirely different. It’s exciting to see what lies ahead for you as the world continues to shift in your favor.
You will meet many life long friends in college who will continue to show up throughout your entire career.
You’ll have a lot of challenges during your time in school. The work will be hard. If you are supporting yourself, working full time on top of school is especially difficult. You may get taken advantage of at internships. You might need to choose to spend an extra year in college instead of “graduating on time”, a concept with little meaning in a modern world. You may have to continue to secure more loans to fund your education. You’ll eat garbage and learn to drink coffee. You’ll make errors, you’ll forget bills and assignments, and you’ll struggle in some courses.
But the highlights of your college career are going to vastly outweigh these negatives. You’ll spend all night working on a project and be so thrilled to see what you were able to create. You’ll laugh and cry with your peers as you create silly and important pieces of art. You’ll learn new techniques and skills you never dreamed of having. You will have so many opportunities to show your talents and ask so many questions. You’ll exhibit your work to curious outsiders who believe you may as well be magical. You’ll find your path in this industry. You’ll discover your capabilities as a media professional and the world will open up for you.
Many internships in college are opportunities to do things you never thought you'd get to do.
Enjoy your years in college. As difficult as they may be at times, whatever your experience, they are truly special. You’re emerging as a media professional and finding your independence. You aren’t defined by anything or anyone. Your career decisions are fluid and always changing. It’s your time to grow. You get what you put into your college experience. And you’ll get what you put into the career that follows.
You can have any job you want in this industry. You can change your mind about what job you want. You will take a number of jobs along the way to help you climb that ladder. If someone tries to push you back as you climb upward from a job as an assistant or a coordinator, push them back twice as hard. You can do anything you want, and you don’t have to do anything anyone says is a “requirement” — ‘cos guess what? The industry is changing faster than some established professionals might acknowledge to you since those existing structures benefit them. Break those structures into bits on the ground.
The women in this industry are here and waiting for you.
Women and men who support you in our industry are waiting to be your mentors and guides and employers — and maybe someday, your employees. We’re thrilled you’re here, and we want you to know you can always count on us for anything you might need. You are our equal. But it’s secretly a little selfish of us: when you’re here, in your media program and then in the industry after you graduate, your story and presence is visible to the young women following in your footsteps, coming to face the same challenges you faced. But those challenges will be diminished with time. And as that cycle repeats itself, the representation of women in media will thrive like it never has before.
The next generation of women in media are more supportive and confident than ever before.
Congratulations on your new start on the path to a degree, and good luck in your studies. Go to class, don’t drink too much, and don’t listen to anybody that makes you feel less than.
Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jul 9, 2017 at 11:20:08 pm
Imagine this: you’re in your early twenties, at the start of your career in post production. You come from a working class family with no connections in the media industry, and you’ve had many challenges to overcome along the way. You’ve been working hard to maintain momentum by keeping your bosses happy at your day job — a day job that doesn’t pay you quite what it should — while taking on side projects and extracurriculars at night. You do all the right things, including networking and getting involved in your community.
One day you get a notification: a technical paper you wrote as one of those late night extracurriculars has been accepted at an enormous industry conference! You’re invited to present it to your peers at the conference. Well, not really your peers so much as the kind of established industry professionals who have been interviewing and hiring you at this early stage. But at this conference, they’d be your peers. This opportunity would open many doors and grant you incalculable credibility. It’s career-changing.
But wait, back to reality. The conference is on the opposite side of the country. You don’t get paid time off, and you're in the middle of crunch time anyway. You work paycheck-to-paycheck, paying insanely high rent and endless student loans. You don’t have family to ask for a loan, and you wouldn’t want to anyway. You have to turn down the opportunity.
A situation not so different from this is what led Blue Collar Post Collective co-founder Katie Hinsen to spearhead the creation of the Professional Development Accessibility Program, or PDAP. The program is aimed at helping emerging talent in the film and television post production industry further develop their skills by providing financial assistance to attend valuable industry conferences, trade shows and development opportunities. The Professional Development Accessibility Program helps to create a bridge between the industry and the diverse membership of the Blue Collar Post Collective, breaking down the financial barriers to prevent people from taking their careers to the next level. Bringing new faces to major events helps remind the wider industry that all professionals, including low income earners, have voices that are of equal value and importance to the post community.
PDAP was originally announced by Hinsen while she attended NAB in 2016, and the first three NAB recipients attended in 2017: Nolan Jennings, Tara Pennington, and Eugene Vernikov. They were selected by a committee who sorted through the applications for BCPC and received airfare, hotel and passes to NAB, including additional passes donated by the National Association of Broadcasters and Future Media Concepts.
PDAP recipients (L-R) Eugene Vernikov, Nolan Jennings, and Tara Pennington at the BCPC meet-up.
Nolan Jennings is an Assistant Editor working in dramatic television in Los Angeles. He wants to continue to work toward editing drama. He came into post production through serving as an executive assistant on a game show and realized he wanted to have a more creative role. While writing didn’t work out the way he would have wanted, his role on the game show involved running notes from the producers to editors. This exposed him to a combination of writing and creativity that could become a career. During the day when the editing bays were empty, he spent all his down time learning Avid through recutting old episodes. From there, he was able to find a post PA position and continue moving forward. Interestingly, Nolan was homeschooled as a child, which led to an ability to learn independently more efficiently — well suited for post production.
Tara Pennington is an Editor at Studio71 where she works on many different projects simultaneously, including marketing promotions, a digital series or a trailer. She knew she wanted to be an editor and managed to get a start while she was still living in Orlando. She moved to Los Angeles seven years ago and found her way into being an Assistant Editor for a company producing sports programming. Her dream is to continue to work toward editing features and scripted television. In addition to film school, Tara also attended School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She’s also a single mom raising a five year old boy.
Eugene Vernivok is a New York based Flame Assistant at Black Hole VFX. He’d like to continue his path into Flame and also branch out into directing. Unlike many people in the VFX industry who focus on one aspect of their craft, Eugene is well-versed in lighting, camera, and compositing.
I talked to the three recipients about their first-time experience at NAB and how PDAP granted them an opportunity they never would have gotten otherwise.
Kylee: How did you find out about the Professional Development Accessibility Fund and opportunities BCPC was offering through it?
Nolan: I found out about BCPC through a co-worker, and through going to meet-ups and events, learned about PDAP. I did not hesitate to apply, I’d always wanted to go to NAB, and jumped at the chance.
Tara: I found out through Blue Collar Post Collective on Facebook. I was excited to apply! I wasn’t sure if my income would meet the requirements, but I knew I couldn’t afford to go on my own so I decided to go for it! I really wanted to take advantage of any opportunity to propel my career forward.
Eugene: I've been with BCPC since the beginning! I was super happy to see it develop enough to be able to have a program such as PDAP launch! The only thing that made me even slightly hesitant to apply was just the minuscule chance that I would be chosen. But it ended up happening and I'm eternally thankful for that!
A panel with the editorial team from Logan led by moderator Norman Hollyn.
What was your first impression of NAB when you arrived in Vegas?
Nolan: I thought the juxtaposition of tech nerds and gawking, half drunk Vegas gamblers was quite entertaining. Mind you, this was only in the hotel. Once I actually got to the convention center I was blown away by the scale of the place, the talent concentrated there, and how puny I felt in front of giant screens projecting the highest quality content on earth. I wish I was being hyperbolic, but NAB really is that impressive.
Tara: It was so huge! It was the day before the show floor opened, so it was frenetic but still contained. My first thought was that I wished I could be there for the whole week so I could experience everything.
Eugene: "This is Massive! That was the first thought. But I remember thinking I really like that it’s so big you can be there for the full three days and not get bored! Great experience! You can learn from the sessions. See the talented industry giants talk about their work and how they went about using technology and techniques to get the project done right. Its immersive and super eye opening.
What made the NAB experience valuable to you personally?
Nolan: NAB made me realize that there are thousands of people with very similar interests to mine and there are thousands of people who are much more talented, more intelligent, and more passionate than me out there. It was incredibly humbling in the best way possible. It was not intimidating because all of those people were incredibly open and willing to talk to me, as if they’d known me for years. It was absolutely inspiring, like drinking one massive coffee that will sustain your professional curiosities for an entire year. Until the next NAB comes.
Tara: It was valuable for so many reasons. Some of it was the classes, the panels, but a lot of it was being able to meet people, talk with people. It was great to have Nolan and Eugene there, it made it easier to plan my day knowing we could do some things together or meet up for lunch. BCPC and Twitter were invaluable tools to know where to find people to talk to, and to be in on conversations happening around the conference on various subjects. I made some lasting connections and friendships that I know will follow me through my career. I was able to shake hands with people who have mentored me without knowing it through online tutorials and blogs.
Eugene: It helped me understand the technology that will be prevalent in the industry for tomorrow and the days beyond. It was a great help in meeting key industry people. It also allows you to share and discuss what we see with fellow BCPC members on the trip.
Tara and Nolan looking at the Post Production World grid.
What classes in Post Production World did you attend that will have an impact on your career?
Nolan: I spent a lot of time in the Motion Graphics and HTML animations classes because I felt those could augment my existing skill sets. Which was a great idea. I came away with so many ideas on how to change my current workflows or how to implement new tools. I would recommend reaching outside your comfort zone and knowledge base, but only to the extent that it will have a tangible effect on your current skill set. There’s no point in spending tons of time in the VR/AR classes if you’re not going to be able to implement any of those lessons in a real world setting.
Tara: The Documentary Editing course for sure, as well as the panels giving a glimpse behind the scenes of the creation or post process.
Eugene: I attended them for After Effects. It was really great to see how some of the most successful commercial productions were able to masterfully embellish their spots with graphics. That was really great to see. I also attended the Autodesk Master Classes that were somewhat separate from the main show. Those were great. We learned about brand new SMPTE standards for HDR workflows, prototypical architecture being built into the Flame and 360 environment workflows. Really Impressive stuff.
What other kinds of valuable experiences did NAB have to offer, between classes and the show floor?
Nolan: I loved the Jungle Book presentation, hosted by Rob Legato. The way that movie was shot was incredible, and points to some fascinating implications for the future of movie production. I did not spend as much time on the show floor as the other PDAP recipients did. However, I did love the Adobe products and Blackmagic Resolve presentations.
Tara: The panel on Inclusiveness and Diversity was amazing, with wonderful powerful women who are part of shifting our industry into a hopeful new direction, advocating powerfully for change. Meeting the post team for Logan was pretty amazing as well. I love it when the layers of mystery are taken away and the process is revealed. It really makes me feel energized knowing that I could do what they do with just a bit more knowledge and experience of a particular workflow. It humanizes the process.
Tara hanging out with editors Monica Daniel and Adam Bedford at Adobe's party.
Eugene: Anything with Virtual Environment was my favorite. They've figured out a way to use Real-Time Rendering as a tool for interaction with the virtual environment. That, along with some new news coming from the people at Lytro Camera, was most exciting. Lytro has made a camera that records light fields instead of light particles. It is essentially a camera that collects enough data that, when manipulated via software, the footage can be altered to have different focus lengths, different shaped bokeh, not to mention a way to make an alpha out of 2D footage which eliminates the need for green screen keying. They cleverly named it Depth Screen.
Tara: And I loved the show floor. It was a crazy, confusing mess sometimes, but it was really great to see future tech revealed and knowing what’s next for our industry. It was valuable to remind myself to stay on top of each of the new things. Any edge possible, knowing new technology or software, is something that will help me move my career forward. I also was able to meet some of the reps and people behind software or plugins that I use all of the time, and see some live demos too!
Eugene: The show floor is huge! You get to see the technology that you've both heard about and also never heard about demonstrated for you. Not to mention product releases, new product applications and you get to meet the professionals that help design, manufacture, and distribute these products. You also get to chat with them about the issues of the industry and that provides very helpful insights into where the industry might be in the future.
The show floor also grants the opportunity to see BCPC members up close while they demo their work, like Mae Manning showing her stuff at BorisFX.
You mentioned the social aspect of NAB, of meeting people and building relationships. Did you attend any events that were strictly social?
Nolan: Yes, I had a lot of fun at the Adobe Party, where I and the other PDAP recipients had the chance to meet the editing team from Logan, which was a real treat.
Tara: I went to our BCPC meet up of course, then the Adobe Party the next night which was my favorite. Also attended the Supermeet! It was great to relax after a full day, and even see panelists/presenters and get to talk with them in a more relaxed setting.
Eugene: I attended the Supermeet, The Adobe party and the BCPC meetup. The Adobe party and BCPC meet-up were casual social events that allowed the social wiggle room to be able to talk to influential industry pros.
Tara hanging out at O'Shea's in Vegas during NAB.
What tangible things did you get out of NAB that you wouldn't have if you never attended?
Nolan: I would point to the lessons I learned in Post Production World. I applied those mograph and animation lessons the day I got back to Los Angeles and my work improved immediately.
Tara: I think it gave me confidence and perspective. Also knowledge. I learned so much! Oh, and a lot of new contacts that I know will help me, whether with knowledge or a job, or just someone to talk shop with and run ideas by.
Eugene: As a Flame assistant it allowed me to discuss the future of hardware and how companies are trying to make their products more professional and pro-friendly. This will shape how I use Flame in the future. It helps me decide whether to stay on the path I’m at or whether another choice is better based on the future of the software or hardware. Still going down the Flame path for now.
Eugene relaxing between networking opportunities at Senor Frogs.
Why is it important for conferences like NAB to be accessible to all kinds of people?
Nolan: These experiences, if properly taken advantage of, can skyrocket an individual’s knowledge base and awareness of the industry in which they’re working. It’s important that people who can stand to benefit the most from that sort of leg up can actually attend.
Tara: NAB is a melting pot of knowledge and experience. Money shouldn’t have to separate the ability of some over others to attain that advantage.
Eugene: That way, everyone has a chance to progress and align their goals. The things you learn at NAB are eye opening. So especially if you're not sure where you wanna be you might see a new technology being presented, or an amazing filmmaker give an inspiring presentation on how they achieved their film, or an industry pro talk about the state of the industry and that can easily be transformative and inspiring for young professionals in the industry and make choices based on the information they can get at NAB. It’s an inspiring place in general.
What would you tell someone who is considering applying for a PDAP opportunity in the future, especially if they're hesitant to apply?
Nolan: I would remind them that the only way to grow is by pushing yourself into unknown territories, and also that you have friends and mentors in your life, you just haven’t met them yet.
Tara: I would say go for it! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Eugene: The application takes literally a minute and if you've made your rounds at the BCPC meet ups and people know you're genuinely interested in the industry then its totally worth it for a fun. informational opportunity to represent this amazing organization. Not to mention help your fellow BCPC peeps gain some knowledge as well. The giving back is probably the most rewarding thing I've experienced at BCPC.
Community mentors like editor Monica Daniel helped give NAB some perspective through posting on social media and helping out PDAP recipients on the ground.
What’s the next step for you?
Nolan: I plan to start cutting independent projects in my spare time, and begin to build a resume and a reel that will allow me to go after editing jobs on the sort of shows I’m working on now.
Tara: I look forward to applying my experience to the job I have now, and I will continue to build on that base in order to achieve my goals. I look forward to meeting with the people I got to know while I was there, and I hope to be an advocate for diversity and change for the better in the world of post production.
Dody Dorn speaking at the Supermeet.
Eugene: Funny enough I had a phone interview on my way to Vegas and when I came back I had an offer to be a flame assistant for a company that was better suited to me and I work there now! With Felix, a fellow BCPC Member! I would really like to take the time and master Flame. And If I can work on weekends and shoot some films with close friends of mine.
Did you have any unique experiences in Vegas that you wouldn't find elsewhere?
Nolan: NAB itself is one big unique experience. I have not seen that sort of environment replicated anywhere else. Also slot machines in the airport terminal. Had not seen that before.
Tara: I definitely don’t think I could attend a class on VR, attend a press conference for Blackmagic Design, and go to a party where I could mingle and talk with company executives and the editing team of Logan. Oh, and I also was able to attend a live interview at the Supermeet with Dody Dorn, one of my editing heroes!
Eugene: Just the amount of people you can meet and the caliber of professionals is unique to NAB. I've never seen so many important people in one place. And you'll be able to find someone somewhere there!
The BCPC crowd at NAB.
Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jul 3, 2017 at 6:53:13 pm
Whenever I’m involved in a discussion on inclusive hiring practices, whether it’s a panel or a forum discussion or a one-on-one conversation, there is always someone who urges me (or the audience) to simply take the names off resumes for initial screening to prevent any conscious or subconscious assumptions.
“It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it works — now the hiring manager has no idea if they’re hiring Joe, Jane, José, or Jamal. They can see the person for who they are!”
The idea is that hiring managers are not calling back candidates based on an unconscious bias they don’t know they have linked to names because of their gender or ethnicity. And there’s been data to back this up. People with African-American sounding names have to send 15 resumes before they get a response, compared to just 10 for white sounding names. Easy to pronounce names are favored over difficult names. Women are less likely to be brought in for interviews on STEM jobs than men. Even in faculty mentoring at colleges, Asian sounding names got far fewer responses to requests for mentorship than white names.
There’s loads of research to back up this claim of unconscious bias in hiring practices. The solution seems pretty simple and actionable. Just take the names off.
My response to this suggestion: that’s stupid, don’t do that.
Taking names off resumes may work as a blunt force instrument in getting women or people of color into the interview chair. It also may not, and it may set these people up for failure in a way that increases the unconscious bias in the eyes of the interviewer. Your organization’s lack of diversity is not going to be solved by tricking someone into hiring a black person.
There are two big problems with this “blind recruiting” hiring practice. The first is that it doesn’t take into account the broad societal advantages or disadvantages that different types of people may have had that affect their resume. The idea of privilege deserves a more nuanced discussion than I’m going to offer here, so I’m going to simplify my argument a lot to make a point.
To focus on one little narrow part of this, look at the wage gap in our country. White women make 78 cents for every dollar that men do. But how about women of color? Black women make 64 cents on the dollar compared to white men, and hispanic women make 54 cents. As a result, one could draw a conclusion that the sons and daughters of those women might not have the same opportunities as a white person.
Let me be perfectly clear: I am not saying that all people of color are disadvantaged poor people, and I am not saying that all white people have every opportunity granted they may ever need. I’m just looking at statistics and I’m thinking that these statistics might mean that a 19 year old white kid at college is more likely to be able to spend time on extracurriculars through financial support from their parents because their white moms and dads are more likely to make more money compared to other races for doing the exact same work.
A conclusion I can draw from this is that a white kid’s resume is more likely to be padded with extra stuff that edges out their competition. They were able to do that one extra internship, or be president of that club, and that looks good under their work experience and education compared to a black kid who had to work part time to get through school. So when we are assessing resumes blindly, we are not giving the applicant the context they deserve in their evaluation. Does that internship really set that one person apart? Does the person who worked part-time instead not bring something unique to the table from their experience as well? These are discussions worth having with candidates who present an interesting picture. Our evaluations of people as potential employees needs to evolve.
The other big problem with blind evaluations is it’s not just a name that can give an indication of a person’s gender or race. A candidate might lead their school’s NAACP chapter. Or be a member of Women in Film. Or a Planned Parenthood volunteer. Or you know, whatever other deserving organizations might have certain attachments to them. The solution to this must be to erase those things too. How about the applicant’s city too? Let’s erase that in case it’s a traditionally black neighborhood. Pretty soon we’re scrubbing resumes of all the unique things that add up to make a whole person.
Wouldn’t you say we’re already erasing minorities and women enough?
Fewer than 20% of editors in Hollywood are women. Until recently, fewer than 40 active ACE members were people of color. Considering the film industry is an intersection of tech and creativity, it's worth noting that Silicon Valley has been fighting against revealing their diversity numbers.
When you scrub away the things that make up a person’s life and trick a hiring manager into speaking with them and you get them hired into your organization, it sounds like a win anyway. Your company’s “diverse hires” go up and that little box on your org’s website about demographics looks better. But here’s the thing you’re missing: having a diverse team is great for business, but creating an inclusive environment for them is how they will continue to succeed.
Erasing a person’s identity and using cheap tricks like blind recruiting does not make your organization inclusive. The unconscious bias that would have kept them out of the first interview because of their name remains part of the company’s culture. As a result, these people are entering an environment that is not prepared to help them climb the ladder and stay in the employment pipeline. And because of that, many of them will face more challenges than their white, male counter-parts.
Each minority group has its own set of challenges that spring from assumptions and stereotypes and society expectations. Needing to push through those challenges on top of actually doing one’s job — and doing it well, because if you’re the only latino man or woman in the room you’re conspicuous and held to a higher standard — can be exhausting. Sometimes these work environments are even outright hostile. Without addressing the root of why there is unconscious bias against different kinds of names, you aren’t really changing your company culture for the better.
Sure, in some companies it might be true that you get enough “diverse” people in the door with blind recruiting and they stick around long enough to change the company culture with their mere presence. But that’s fairly unlikely, especially in the fast-paced world of post production where many people move through positions quickly anyway. Our industry has been dominated by white men for the entirety of its modern existence, and that’s not because men are more qualified. It’s because they’re now considered the default, often the path of least resistance. Particularly in post where people are hiring quickly, the least resistance can be really important. Change sucks and things are well enough, so why bother thinking differently?
Here’s why you should bother. Patagonia (the outdoor company) wanted to give new moms an opportunity to stay with their company. A lot of companies tend to think “I’m not going to hire women in their late 20s and early 30s because they’re just going to have babies and leave anyway.” Patagonia’s solution was to look at what women need at work — on-site child care and paid parental leave — and give it to them. They didn’t do it because they wanted to retain top talent or because they were losing too many people, but they did it because it was the right thing to do.
Inclusive hiring practices are not easy, because they are born from inclusive work environments. The idea of blind recruiting has been so embraced by so many because it’s actionable and tweetable and makes a great slide at a conference. But making an inclusive work environment is the right thing to do, and judging resumes after they are scrubbed of anything “extra” is the wrong thing to do. Instead of making the doorway alone more accessible to different kinds of people, you need to make sure the actual room is a place where people are going to want to stay. And that means talking about this stuff a lot, listening even more, and making changes to the way your company works on a fundamental level, in a way that works for your company.
In a few weeks, I’ll be on a panel at the NAB Show in Post Production World about Creating Inclusive Work Environments, Monday April 24 at 5PM. If you’ll be at PPW, I invite you to attend this session. If you’re not, I would love to discuss inclusiveness at your convenience.
Posted by: Kylee Peña on Mar 27, 2017 at 12:17:21 pm
My first time attending the NAB Show (the National Association of Broadcasters, the largest trade show our industry has all year) I stayed in Las Vegas for a week and came away feeling connected. All the people I’d met through the internet ended up being real people with interesting stories and useful advice. My network expanded, my knowledge base increased, and my self-confidence grew. It was a turning point early in my career — a next step from being a young staff editor in central Indiana to getting where I wanted to go. And it was subsidized by my full-time job. Otherwise, I never could have made it. Who knows where I’d be now.
There are a lot of young people (or mid-level career changing people) out there right now in the situation I found myself in. I had a job and experience, but I didn’t have the income to support making a move for myself, whether it was going to a large trade show, investing in an educational workshop, or traveling to a conference.
At my first NAB Show looking young and fresh.
I managed to talk my employer into sending me to NAB, but a lot of people can’t make that happen. Instead of being able to take the next step that will make them more valuable and visible to employers, they might get stuck trying to find another way. And these financial barriers tend to affect young people, women and people of color the most — the exact kinds of people a trade show like NAB NEEDS in attendance not only to push innovation and long-term sustainability in our industry, but because it's the right thing to do.
That’s why Blue Collar Post Collective — a nonprofit organization that supports emerging talent in post production — created the Professional Development Accessibility Program which funds attendance to events like NAB Show for low-income post professionals. Donations throughout the year from the BCPC community get funneled into a fund which sends applicants to professional programs for free. Right now they’re taking applications through the end of the month for people who would like to attend NAB.
PDAP applicants must be residing in the US, working full-time primarily in post production (including freelancers and interns who don’t have another source of income outside the industry, but not students), and making less than or equal to the median income for their city. The application can be found on the BCPC website.
A program like this almost seems too good to be true (or too impossible to really work) so I asked BCPC board member and previous co-president Katie Hinsen to tell me more. And if you think you aren’t experienced enough or important enough to be considered to attend NAB, read this blog post twice.
Katie Hinsen, Blue Collar Post Collective
What is PDAP? How does this work?
Katie Hinsen: The Professional Development Accessibility Program is a program that we run through the Blue Collar Post Collective to help our lower-income colleagues in the post industry have equal access to important trade shows, conferences, events and professional development opportunities.
The idea came after a member of our community had a paper accepted into a major industry conference. However, as he was working at the time as an intern at a major post house in New York, he couldn't afford to attend the conference to which he had been invited to speak. With travel, accommodation and conference passes, many people who don't have the support of their employer, aren't seen as "decision makers" or don't have the money to spend, are excluded from opportunities that could be incredibly valuable to them.
For the young man who wasn't able to present his paper, he might have missed out on a huge break in his career. Furthermore, the conference attendees missed out on seeing more of the true diversity that exists in our industry. I was so upset that this happened, I vowed to find a way to make sure it never happens again, so I started the PDAP program.
Katie at NAB Show in 2016.
What’s the catch though? Where do these funds come from and what does someone have to do in return?
The BCPC is unique in that it is a community run entirely by volunteers who work full-time in the post industry, and are focused solely on supporting each other. We raise funds by "passing the hat around" the community throughout the year. We also have "friends and family" of the BCPC throughout our industry's vendors. These are companies who share our core values and want to support us with donations. Everything we do, we try to do for free or for very little so that we can commit almost every cent we get to providing as many opportunities as possible to those who need them the most.
We don't ask for anything in return from PDAP recipients. Those of us who have ever attended a big industry event will know that everyone has their own journey and you have to go for yourself if you want to really get something out of it. We have a committee of people who select both the recipients and the events worth supporting people to attend, and both are chosen based on how much of an impact that person will get out of that opportunity.
BCPC NAB Meet-Up in 2016
Why is it important for someone to attend a trade show like NAB?
Every time I go to a big industry event like NAB, I feel like my brain is going to explode from everything I learn. I get to see and play with a wide range of toys, experience a broadening of my horizons, and be part of the wider industry community. What's more, I get to meet the vendors face to face. I get to see who they are, and they get to see who I am, as someone who uses their products every day. I feel like I got more out of the experience the earlier I was in my career.
But even more importantly, PDAP brings more diversity to these events. Too often, representation of our profession at major events is limited to those who are seen as being in positions of influence, those who are considered more "valuable". That tends to tip the demographics of attendees older, and toward management and senior level. When I look across the show floor I don't feel like there's a true representation of our industry there because I see far too few Assistants, PAs, Machine Room, Sound Editors and VFX Artists.
What does giving away funds accomplish for BCPC? What’s the point of making sure one more person attends NAB?
Sending a handful of people who fall below the median income for our industry to NAB in 2017 isn't going to change the world, but it might change their worlds. And it might change the perception of users to a few vendors. It might give a voice to a few more people.
I hope that this program will grow and inspire other organizations, workplaces and even the event organizers themselves to be more inclusive and consider the value of attendance to a wider range of people. I hope that it empowers more people to even consider that they could attend a major industry event, and to submit papers or volunteer to speak on a panel. By putting it out there that the barrier of cost can be overcome by the support of the community, I hope that major industry events are perceived as something that can and should be for everyone who contributes to the work we do.
Women in post production meeting after BCPC in Vegas.
Posted by: Kylee Peña on Feb 14, 2017 at 11:54:40 am
Whenever I discuss gender in the film industry, someone usually pops up and says "yeah but it's waaaay better than it used to be!"
And every year, San Diego State University's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film publishes their annual Celluloid Ceiling Report on womens' employment "below the line" and shows just how not at all better things are right now.
Inevitably, someone jumps in and says it's better "where it counts": in smaller markets or in non-traditional media.
For one thing, I don't trust this assessment. There are no statistics (that I know of) to back this up, and obviously if you asked for purely anecdotal evidence on feature films, many tend to wrongly say "it's totally better, I work with women all the time now."
And for another thing, the top 100, 250 and 500 grossing films DO matter. How many movies does the average person watch in a year? I looked it up briefly, and data seems to state it's something like 20ish movies a year, but only around 5 in a movie theater. So maybe only about 5 new movies.
In any case, out of 100-500 films, only 5-20 means a person is getting a very small slice of what the film industry has to offer. If the only 5 movies a person watches in a year are in the top 100 grossing films, they are not seeing much female representation on their screen.
You may think that female employment in Hollywood isn't a topic that matters outside our bubble, but it actually matters a great deal to peoples' understanding of womens' stories since nearly everyone is watching movies. It matters to young women who are encouraged to follow the various paths in the film industry, creative or technical, and have the courage to deal with all the crap that involves by watching other women accomplish it too.
In Michelle Obama's words: “For so many people, TV and movies may be the only way they understand people who aren’t like them. It becomes important for the world to see different images of each other, so that we can develop empathy and understanding....The only way that millions of people get to know other folks and the way they live … is through the power of television and movies.”
Here are some of the highlights from the report. I encourage you to click through and read the full report -- it's very short, and it's illustrated with graphs. SDSU also has many other reports in television and on-screen visibility of women you can read.
- In 2016, women comprised 17% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents a decline of 2 percentage points from last year and is even with the percentage achieved in 1998.
- 92% had no women directors. However, on films with at least one female director, the number of women employed as writers jumped from 9% to 64%. The number of female editors jumped from 17% to 43%. The number of cinematographers jumped from 6% to 16%. This is a huge increase.
- Women comprised 17% of all editors working on the top 250 films of 2016. This represents a decrease of 5 percentage points from 2015 and a decrease of 3 percentage points from 1998. Put another way: the number of women dropped 25% in a year, on par with ongoing trends for a long time -- we're now 3 percentage points below where we were 18 years ago.
- Women in post are not fairing well outside picture editing either. 4% of sound designers, 8% of sound editors, 3% of composers.
There's lots more information in the report -- like women are most likely to work in documentary and least likely to work in action. You can logically conclude that women are seeing these problems and hiring other women, so the fact that 93% of these films had no female editor means the female employment is not rippling downward into other creative or technical roles.
So consider this. A woman born in 1998, when this data first began to be collected, is now at a point in her life where she is deciding what she wants to study and pursue as an adult. The number of women in editing on the films she has watched her entire life has remained steady or decreased every year of her life. What does this mean for her?
The first time I had tea with Meaghan, it was a bright summer day in New York. She told me I would have to work harder than almost anyone I knew if I wanted to succeed.
It was my first trip to the city after a lifetime of aspirations. We sat in Moby’s vegan cafe on the lower east side and she told me all about her experiences and opinions as a woman and a person in post production. She’s a part of my generation, but had a lot more experience in high level broadcast content in one of the biggest cities on Earth. We’d met on Twitter a few years before. I was in corporate video and she was an assistant editor at Sesame Street.
Meaghan and I sharing our first tea in New York.
Despite this massive gap in experience, she treated me as an equal. She was sincere, exacting, and honest. She told me that as a woman in post production, I was already at a disadvantage thanks to a subconcious gender bias. We talked about why this existed and how to fight it, and she gave me suggestions for dealing with the reality of it without the empty advice of “leaning in.” Thematically, her advice boiled down to having a firm grasp of reality. Life is unfair. Accept your circumstances or work as hard as you can to change them while being a beacon for others. Also, try the vegan cheesecake. (It was really good.)
That conversation was the first time I had thought hard about what it meant to be female in a male-dominated industry. My early experiences in post production were skewed by the fact I was hired out of college to work in a trucking school. Any subtle gender bias inherent in tech jobs was massively dominated by not-at-all-subtle outright sexism in the trucking industry. I was a bystander and I was buried too deep in just trying to do good enough work to be accepted.
Meaghan and I walking to the DGA Theater for Editfest.
During the first few years out of college, life was hard. I was in the midwest and working on content I didn’t really like very much. The Great Recession was mostly still in full swing. I was massively underpaid with no other opportunities available. I worked nights and weekends on any other freelance work I could find. I spent days on free work just to learn new skills in case the economy improved. Besides my BFF and fellow recent graduate Katie Toomey, no one else looked like us in the post industry in my area. I considered myself as much less than equal.
Meaghan showing Katie and I around Sesame Workshop.
Talking to women like Meaghan (who have also had hardships) on Twitter, and then meeting them in person to find generous individuals not drowning in cynicism made it possible to climb out of the hole created by the housing crisis and by my own self-doubt. I was equal and had been for a long time, even if society did not agree. (I knew and continue to know many generous men on Twitter too. But my own subconscious self-perceptions didn’t allow me to consider myself as equal to them, and their experiences didn’t directly apply to me.)
It took many more years for me to fully form my own opinions on life as a “minority” in the tech world. Since that day, I’ve had many more conversations with my greatest mentor and other friends (and Meaghan) about sexism in post. Meaghan and I have shared a lot of tea.
Walking around New York, feeling like I belonged.
I branched off into a highly technical part of the industry — something I might have never considered possible for myself had Meaghan not welcomed me out of the hole — and now work on network television shows in Los Angeles. I’ve written a lot about sexism in post. I’m an advocate for young women through groups like the Blue Collar Post Collective, a group which Meaghan helps me with as a committee member.
In the years since, I have had many conversations with young women about their potential challenges in this industry. Each time I talk with an intern about her typically brief time in post production, I see a light bulb come on when she realizes that her experiences with gender bias are universal. She is comforted. Sometimes she’s angry and we talk about channeling that into something positive. She asks for advice and resources. She becomes her own catalyst for change that may write her own articles or start her own advocacy groups.
Meaghan was recently nominated for her first Primetime Emmy for her editing work on CONAN — specifically, Conan in Korea.
Out of the 76 people nominated for picture editing Emmys this season, 15 are women. That’s 19%. According to the latest data from San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television, 21% of editors in primetime television in 2015 were women. These numbers haven’t really changed significiantly in the last 15 years.
Meaghan's own Instagram from the Emmys ceremony on September 11.
People who represent minorities in this industry and choose to be generous, realistic, and not at all cynical with their advice and experiences are vital to changing what the face of an expert looks like in post production. Every time someone like Meaghan opens up and “holds space” (her perfect words, not mine) for someone, it ripples downward. It’s not just women helping women, but women and men helping women and men see that underrepresented people in this industry are only underrepresented by design, not by true merit.
And every time someone like Meaghan chooses to use her position in the industry to loudly advocate for women (or workers rights, or family, or any other issues), there are massive incremental effects. Someone else speaks up. And then someone else. And even if someone else doesn't feel safe speaking up, they may change their actions.
When women are visible, others that come behind them will aspire for more. And for editors, it doesn’t get much more visible than the Primetime Emmys.
Meaghan and her post supervisor Rachel Yoder.
There’s a large amount of cynicism in post production that comes from evolving software, aging business models, and grumpy people who just don’t like change. It would be especially easy for a woman in post production to be grinded into a cynical little nub by bearing the burden of those challenges plus the tight-rope walk of femaleness in tech.
But not Meaghan. Meaghan makes post production welcoming, but not without caution that hard work is on the horizon and luck is necessary and sometimes elusive.
Appropriately, it seems nearly perfect that Meaghan would be nominated for editing a show for a boss who left a very difficult time of his own with these words: “I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”
Congratulations to Meaghan and the other 14 women nominated for a Creative Arts Emmy. Whether you took the statue or not, your presence is vitally important to making post production more inclusive — and less cynical.
Meaghan and I at the Eddie Awards in LA in January 2016 with other female friends gained through Twitter.
Meaghan and the Emmy nominated editing team for Conan in Korea.
Posted by: Kylee Peña on Sep 11, 2016 at 5:28:25 pm
Last week, a young woman on Twitter told me she had read an old blog post I wrote and immediately related to it and needed more information. The post, titled “Professional Fears”, was published on February 5, 2010. As a recent graduate, she told me she was being held up with exactly what I wrote about and wanted to know how I moved past it.
My initial reaction: wait, I've moved past those fears? Says who? I’d forgotten all about this post and hadn't read it since I wrote it and sent it off to the internet six years ago. That’s not to say I haven’t been in the throes of job-related fears ever since. Of course I have. Everything is scary and loud and I have to make my own doctor appointments and pay bills and everything.
But I hadn’t been obsessing over a specific list, so I wondered what I had decided to commit to internet paper as a formal post and re-read the blog.
And I was surprised. I was surprised at how quickly I could return in my head to this place six years ago where I was feeling overwhelmed and ineffective, desiring direction and getting none. I remembered it all immediately.
But I was even more surprised that I have conquered every one of these things, mostly without really acknowledging it. That’s the thing with growing up: you fall into playing the long game, and your accomplishments and successes (and failures) are a part of every day life.
Here’s my list of the biggest, scariest, most crippling fears I had six years ago, and my thoughts about them now.
“1. that I don’t know as much as I should know right now. Like maybe I’m not reading the right things, studying the right books, finding the right projects.”
Maybe I knew what I needed to know, maybe not. A lot of young people fear that they didn’t get everything they needed out of college. Whether you did or didn’t, it’s your responsibility to continue learning beyond your degree or other training, forever and ever. And obviously I was reading the right things and finding the right projects, because I also blogged about them around this time — and understood the importance of continued education and building relationships.
“2. that I want to be an assistant editor yet I would have absolutely no idea what to do.”
Turns out there are a ton of amazing resources out there for whatever you want to do, and you just have to ask people about their experiences and advice to get the most valuable information out there. And for what it’s worth, I never ended up being an assistant editor, but I train people to perform many of those tasks now.
“3. that I will get a great project and totally blank out and screw up the edit.”
This never happened. Not even close. This is pure anxiety — if you think these thoughts, please remind yourself that you’ve got your work under control.
“4. that I don’t know Final Cut well enough to compete.”
Pure anxiety too. I knew FCP better than anyone in my college class, and I worked endlessly to get better. If you try to do something and you want to do it, it’s not that difficult to be competitive.
“5. that I’m spending too much time learning Final Cut and forgetting Avid. Should I dig up Avid and some books and dig into the technical side of it? Or will it become natural?”
So I learned both. I took on the rough cut of a feature and did it in Avid. It was hard, but I did it because software is finite and can be learned. Now I worked in Avid every day, and solve Avid problems 24/7. The other aspects of being a good worker are harder to learn — but you can buy books on Avid Media Composer. (And if you want to work in TV or film at a high level, please do learn Avid. It’s just software, but it does take a little time.)
“6. that I don’t know enough about After Effects. Do I need to learn more? I want to for my own interests, but if I want to edit movies someday, how does this play in?”
I struggled with After Effects in college (and wrote about this at length for the COW) because I didn’t really grasp that it wasn’t an NLE and I resented that it didn’t come naturally. When I was hired at my first real editing job, I realized that a majority of the work was going to end up being in After Effects. I was a little panicked at first because I wasn’t super fluent, but I just dove in and figured it out. I challenged myself to do something new with every video I produced so I would continue to learn instead of just relying on a handful of tricks.
I don’t necessarily want to edit movies myself now, but I think it’s perfectly clear how After Effects can help an editor. Whether I approve or not, everyone that watches a rough offline cut wants to see something finished looking — having comping skills is seriously helpful to an editor nowadays. And if you aren’t cutting movies, it’s really useful to be able to take on title sequences or have a good understanding of making a nice lower third or adding other effects to push the production value without adding labor.
“7. that the fact I don’t have 3D experience will bite me…somehow..”
Nah. While there is an overall push to be a generalist and it’s good to have an idea of how things work, I believe everyone should have their specialty. I don’t see a trend for generalists to also have 3D expertise even now.
“8. that I will get a freelance gig, go to their edit suite, and get performance anxiety. especially in front of a producer.”
Never happened. Not even close. It was obviously hard at first, but nothing like this.
“9. that I will not be able to edit at the caliber in which I want to edit.”
I think anyone thinks about this at any stage of their career, whether they’re an offline editor or some other area of post. They want to be the best. You can’t be the best until you’ve put in the work and the time. That’s the hardest part about growing up and growing as a professional: this takes time. Be patient, appreciate the skills you currently have, learn from those who have come before you.
“10. that I’ll start being told that my work sucks.”
Everyone worries about this until the end of time. If they don’t worry about this, they probably don’t care anymore. If you work for someone that literally says to you that your work sucks, maybe reconsider if they should be in charge of you. But be prepared for negative feedback. It happens. A lot. Things don’t work. Clients don’t like it. Learn to interpret negative feedback and figure out what the real issue is, and don’t take any of it personally. This is a process, and it’s a team sport.
“11. that I’m not going to get to edit the stuff I really want to edit.”
This is interesting because what I was really getting at was “I’m never going to get out of corporate trucking videos.” And through hard work, building relationships, and choosing my next moves wisely, I absolutely did. Because of the economy and other factors, I worked in corporate video for four years. I didn’t spend this time wallowing and pining for Hollywood (at least not exclusively) but rather I took other side projects to keep myself happy and learning. I read everything I could find.
I taught people things and asked them to teach me. I met everyone that would meet me. I traveled to events and trade shows whenever I was able — which was not often because I was very underpaid. I took advantage of the fact my video editing job was a 9-5 M-F gig that afforded me the ability to spend a lot of time enriching myself. After a long, difficult road where I learned a lot about my work and my self, I now work on network television and major feature films in a capacity that utilizes my entire post production skill set.
And it’s important to emphasize that I don’t go about my career fearlessly plowing through barriers to get whatever I want. Everyone has anxieties about if they’re on the right path, if they’re doing enough, if they’re working hard enough or too hard. It’s just the way life is for all of us. You have to find a way to prevent these fears from becoming so crippling that they prevent you from action.
Generally speaking, if you’re worried about this and you’re studying and doing the work to make yourself better, you’re already a step ahead of anyone who isn’t thinking about their future on a daily basis. Find good mentors that will help affirm you (or call you on your BS if you need it.) Just keep pursuing what you want to pursue. Acknowledge that you’re afraid, but don’t define yourself by your fears. And if you find yourself getting too hung up on anxieties, try to speak to a professional.
I think most of us get into post production because we thought it was fun. As time goes on and it becomes actual work, it becomes less fun and more about being the right combination of high performing and lucky. There are risks involved, and this industry asks a lot of a young person. Sometimes more than they can possibly offer.
If you’re young and trying to make peace with your new adulthood fears, just listen: be patient. It’s gonna be really hard. But if you do the work, things are going to be okay. There are people who have crawled through the barriers to entry not THAT long ago that are working and recognizing that you need your break, and we're trying to find you too.
Posted by: Kylee Peña on Aug 6, 2016 at 6:05:19 pm
Did you know the #allmalepanel is such a common phenomenon that a UN organization is urging its employees (and 8,500 member organizations like Coca-Cola and Cisco) to stop participating in them? “There is no shortage of qualified women," says executive director Lise Kingo.
The post production industry is no exception to the all male panel phenomenon. From SMPTE to NAB to ACE, our community is vibrant, filled with podcasts, articles, meet-ups and classes. Trade shows feature product demonstrations and broad concept discussion panels of all sorts. Enrichment is important to us. The most frequent recurring advice we give to young people is “never stop learning” and “meet lots of people,” which we accomplish through these extracurriculars.
But our events and podcasts and demos are not diverse, not even kind of diverse. While the post production industry as a whole is lacking in women for reasons I’ve written about in the past, the people that are chosen to speak, teach, and represent us to ourselves are even less diverse.
There is no shortage of qualified women for post either -- I would like to introduce you to a few dozen women (and counting) you can add to your contacts next time you need a demo artist, podcast guest, or beta tester with our Women in Post PR List, available as a regularly updated PDF with a version you can download now.
I’ve recently begun asking people in the post industry why their events only feature male experts.
“I don’t know any women who are interested.” “I booked a woman, but she had to cancel.” “All the women I know are working!”
There is a disconnect between the largely male pool of people in charge of these various stages and women who are experts in their part of the industry. This is true of all industries where men dominate the selection of “experts” to the public.
In the media, one journalist discovered that men are more often interviewed as experts in news articles, and men cite themselves more often than women.
In academia, women who co-author academic papers with men are less likely to get tenure than the men.
And on the site allmalepanels.tumblr.com, you can see examples of all male panels from hundreds of other trade shows and events across the world.
From allmalepanels.tumblr.com -- Royal Television Society’s Special Camera’s talk - all men including chair
It shouldn’t be difficult to find women who can speak on behalf of their work, but many men say it is. So alright, you tell me you don’t know any women who are interested or available or panels or workshops or classroom talks. Your follow up question should be: “how can I help change this?”
In partnership with London-based editor Siân Fever, I’ve put together a simple document and form for creating a database of women who are experts in different topics in the post production community. Women can fill out the form and add themselves to the list. Once a month, Siân and I will update and distribute a nicely formatted PDF containing the information of all women who have added themselves to this list.
At NAB 2015 -- Working Together to Close the Gender Gap with Me and Siân, and Megan McGough Christian, Ellen Wixted and Amy DeLouise
It’s still a work in progress, and we’re still figuring out the best way to handle the flow of names and updates (and accepting feedback and assistance to make it bigger and better.) But it’s a start. And it’s hardly a new concept — Binders Full of Women has been doing the same thing in journalism since Mitt Romney uttered the phrase in 2012, and Ms in the Biz has a database for female filmmakers from all kinds of jobs. We’re focused on post production only: engineers, editors, vice-presidents, assistants, coordinators, CTOs, supervisors, sound editors, everything post.
Here’s what everyone needs to do right now:
Women: add yourselves to this page, even if you’ve never thought of yourself as someone that should be speaking as an expert. Your voice is important in this industry. Women are less likely to declare themselves an expert and seek opportunities to be on a stage in their career field. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think a big one is because being the only woman in a room full of men makes it feel like more is at stake -- if people don't perceive you well, you're doing a disservice to your gender.
The Confidence Gap is a real thing, and I've struggled with it too. It's difficult to walk the tight rope of being assertive but not "bossy", to feel self-assured but not egotistical. We're brought up to play by the rules, and we think that if we work hard we'll be plucked from the masses to be on a stage or discussion panel instead of doing what many men do -- trouncing ahead and declaring ourselves the experts we are already. The more women we have on stage, the less likely gender bias will push them away.
Men: strongly consider not taking part in panels or events that make no attempt at gender parity. Make it your pledge to not sit on an all male panel this year. Your absence makes a difference to changing the visibility of women.
People in charge of events, groups, podcasts, and public relations in general: download this PDF each month and reach out to women. Encourage other women to add themselves to this list. Make your user stories more diverse. Seek gender parity in your beta teams. Look for fresh voices for your panels and podcasts.
On the eve of this year’s NAB Show, consider asking vendors and programmers why their panels or demo artists are mostly men, and share this document with them.
When we think of experts in post production, women should not be invisible or limited to a list of token individuals that can be counted off from memory. By making gender parity a priority for our extracurriculars, we’ll all help reinforce that women ARE experts — and that kind of influence will make an impact on the subconcious gender bias that keeps women from thriving in post. Our most public individuals should represent the working community we're striving to create.
There is no shortage of female experts in post -- let's put them on stage so they can impact the next generation of post professionals.
[If you would like to receive an updated version of this PDF on a regular basis, email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the distro list.]
Posted by: Kylee Peña on Apr 9, 2016 at 11:23:18 pm