23/03/2021 Maheen Khan

The Myth of Equal Opportunity in Film.

It wasn’t until university that I realised how male dominant the film industry is. I went to an art school, where the majority of the student body was female. But every film class I took, I was either the only other girl or one out of 3 girls in a class of 20 students. It was a strange juxtaposition.

Initially it was quite tough for me to break into above-the-line production roles. I understand it’s only natural to start off being a Production Assistant, especially if you have zero experience. But after a number of gigs it was only fitting to start moving up the ladder. I was particularly interested in being part of the camera team. Little did I know how much I’d have to fight in order to establish myself, even at university level! I always thought it would be a way for people of different backgrounds and experiences to come together and experiment. But there were these different groups of guys who held a monopoly over the camera departments in almost 90% of the productions taking place. I took classes with some of these students and the impression they gave made me decide I didn’t want to be like them or try to ‘fit in’ or put on a facade just to impress them. They were cold, disrespectful and always looked like they’d rather be somewhere else. It was pretty obvious that the kind of attention they got, really got to their heads. I’m not going to lie, their camera work was remarkable. I could see why they stuck together and what all the fuss was about. But what I didn’t get was their attitude and how they felt entitled to all the best gear and best projects available on campus.

I decided to take matters into my own hands and write my own projects to shoot/direct. During this time I also ended up taking a gap year, in order to broaden my filmmaking knowledge and hone the skills I had learned so far. It was during this time I figured out the kind of stories I wanted to tell and how I wanted to tell them. So I went back to university with a short reel of the work I had made in Pakistan. But it was still quite the task trying to find a producer who wasn’t leaning towards asking the already established camera crews.
My roommate and I decided to collaborate on a project which we would end up using for our respective classes. I got to showcase the end result and when I was asked to list the number of people involved, everyone’s jaw dropped when I mentioned it was a 5 person crew. That’s when more and more opportunities started to arise through word of mouth. It took longer than it should have to get to this position, but I was finally able to be a part of more camera teams and get the kind of opportunities one expects from a film school.

During senior year I gravitated more towards directing. So being in that position, one of my main tasks was to pick the crew I wanted to work with. I made it my goal to have crew members from years below me so they could have opportunities to work on senior films, which in turn makes it easier for them to get more gigs. It’s something I wish someone had done for me but the fact that I got to be able to help after learning the hard way, made me happy and grateful to all the people that did help me throughout my college journey. I understand that this business is extremely fast-paced and competitive. But as artists of tomorrow, we should apply a different approach when it comes to creating art. We should be more inclusive, which means taking risks when it comes to storytelling. Get new writers in the room, have more diversity when casting, make sure your crew is local to the city or country. Hollywood seems to be facing a drought of ideas and personally, I think this is the main reason why. Don’t just let the same people have control over and over. Someone who is passionate and has proof to back up their skills deserves a chance, regardless of who they are or where they are from.