Female filmmakers work for notice in male-dominated industry

Amber Ashbrook sits at a desk for hours on end, focusing on a computer screen in the KU Art and Design building. She edits video virtually around the clock to produce five hours of footage that she and her partner Dayton Segard shot at last week's benefit concert for Aaron Marable and Kendra Herring, a couple of local artists injured in a automobile accident.

Ashbrook and Segard are two local filmmakers who have collaborated on many film projects over the past couple years.

But as a female filmmaker, Ashbrook says she has occasionally received less recognition among the Lawrence community than her male counterpart for the couple's efforts.

"Often I feel like I have to prove myself more as woman filmmaker," Ashbrook says.

She recalls a time when a mutual friend of both her and Segard introduced Segard as the sole filmmaker of a film project the two had put equal time and effort into.

"It is frustrating when two people work equally hard on a project and my gender allows others to assume that I have formed a lesser role in the collaboration," Ashbrook says.

University of Kansas film professor Catherine Preston believes that sexism is the main reason why women are less prominent in the filmmaking industry.

"Women in the filmmaking industry suffer from discrimination because of certain assumptions such as, that women are less educated on new technologies such as digital filmmaking," says Preston.

Preston teaches a class called As She Sees It: An International Study of Women Filmmakers since WWII. She says that when she began teaching at the University of Kansas Film school ten years ago, there was sexism in the department. Since then, she has helped ensure that women are receiving equal access to education about filmmaking. She has also mentored aspiring women filmmakers at KU, encouraging them to pursue filmmaking careers.

"There are still many barriers that women face in the industry itself," says Preston.

According to a study by Professor Martha M. Lauzen at San Diego State University, the role of women in filmmaking has declined steadily since 2000. She says the percentage of female directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors in the top 250 U.S. grossing films has declined from 19 percent in 2001 to 16 percent in 2004.

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Rory Flynn/special to lawrence.com

Film student Amber Ashbrook uses the editing equipment at KU. She is one of relatively few female filmmakers in the Lawrence film scene.

The Alliance of Women Directors, a non-profit coalition of female directors, attributes the decline of female directors to an increase in overseas production and in reality television programming. Overseas production alone cost the U.S. entertainment industry 60,000 jobs, says the Directors Guild of America. Women in the film and television industry were the first to be laid off and the last to be hired, says the Alliance of Women Directors, which sparked the decline of women in the film and television industry.

Holly Romero, KU film student and film critic blogger, thinks people sometimes view her as a woman versus what she sees herself as - a screenplay writer and film critic.

"Often I feel that people expect me to only like romantic comedies," Romero says. Now working on writing her second screenplay, she says the film industry is often very intimidating for women because it is so male dominated.

She says usually when film companies look at a script, they are only looking to see what mainstream audiences want in order to generate the most ticket sales. She speculates that many female screenplay writers will have their work edited by these film companies in hope of appealing to a mainstream, male audience. That, she says, would force many female screenplay writers to compromise their artistic vision.

"The film industry is hard to get into for anyone, but especially women," Romero says.

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