Jill Soloway, the director, feminist, comedian, and creator of Amazon’s hit show “Transparent,” gave the keynote address at the May 14 showcase for AFI Conservatory’s Directing Workshop for Women. Here, those remarks, published with her permission.
Hi guys! Wow. It’s an amazing time for lady directors. This has been an amazing week. The ACLU announcement. Let’s just sue all of Hollywood. All of the women coming out; Bigelow and Duvernay saying YAAAAS. Things are changing, I can feel it. Got all these wild and overflowing groups of woman filmmakers and creators on email chains, Sundance directors and the Stacy Smith Study and Women In Moving Pictures and Binders and from Cinefamily. There’s this rising feeling that we’re here for each other. The “Sh*t People Say To Women Directors” blog.
And the work that [DWW artist-in-residence Patty Jenkins] is doing. Literally single-handedly MINTING women directors, ten a year. Using her vibrance and drive and will. Schooling and shaping so many artists. In this room tonight there are at least twenty new directors that AFI’s DWW has anointed. Ten sensational humans I met the other night in the intimate setting of this year’s workshop, working on their films—oh, we cried, didn’t we—Amy, Christine, Dime, Mia, Claire, Erica, Bella, Rebecca, Philane, Chelsea. And ten more, whose work we’ll see tonight: Pippa, Tessa, Roja, Devin, Alexis, Jean, Kantu, Julia, Bola, Thoranna.
So even though there are 600 people here, I want to give some words of wisdom to those 20 new filmmakers, as well as any woman creators in the audience. I want to give you some real professional TOOLS for making it as a woman in a man’s world. That’s why I brought this.
[TAKES OUT COPY OF “THE RULES.”]
So, this thing is called The Rules. Some of you may not know it, but it was this horrendous book women were supposed to read back when I was a single lady a few million years ago. It was a book that would get a man to propose—seriously, they’d say “JUST DO THESE THINGS” and you’ll have a ring—and it worked. Seriously, I KNOW ACTUAL MARRIAGES that happened from the woman doing these tricks on a man. Man still has no idea. I actually hang out with a few of these couples where the guy has no idea he proposed because a lady did a book trick on him!
There were a few of the rules that got a lot of press. Don’t accept a date for a Saturday anytime after a Wednesday. So if they call on Thursday you have to be all “Sorry, I’m busy.” This was a surprise to me. I was the kind of chick who would call up a guy on Saturday afternoon and say, “You want to come over and have sex tonight?” Don’t do that if you’re trying to get someone to propose.
Okay, but my POINT is that if some of these things work for chicks trying to get their way with dudes in life, they should also have to work for chicks trying to get their way in the male-dominated industry of Hollywood.
I’m going to start with the one that always haunted me when I was single. It’s “Be a Creature Unlike Any Other.” For dating it meant—I think—be mysterious, or wear yellow, or have a distinctive laugh.
But it’s true as a director. DON’T BE LIKE ANYONE ELSE. Find your voice, your script, your rhythms. Before you make a movie, you’re comparing two things in your mind: the empty space where there’s no movie, and then the opposite of no movie, which is your completed movie. No movie, movie. Movie is better than no movie, right? But after I made my first feature, “Afternoon Delight,” I realized that your movie gets compared to EVERY OTHER MOVIE THAT’S EVER BEEN MADE in reviews. Distribution deals. Word of mouth. Getting people out of their house and into the theater.
So you gotta go for it. Just do me a favor and FUCK SOME SHIT UP. Surprise yourself, wake up your actors, get wild with your performances, try shit, put in that funky dialogue you’re embarrassed of—in fact, rub your fucked-up-ness all over your scripts, add some shame and embarrassment and glee, and then dare yourself to shoot it, SERIOUSLY. Go big or go home—be a creature unlike any other.
Here’s another one from the book: “Don’t Expect a Man to Change.”
I’d reinvent that one to DON’T EXPECT THE INDUSTRY TO CHANGE. Guys are holding on so tightly to male protaganism because it perpetuates male privilege. From their subject seats they can POINT—”She’s old, SHE’S hot, she’s not, she’s old, she’s fat, she’s someone I want to bone, she’s past her prime, that person’s black, queer, fat.” (I’m not pointing to you guys.)
That pointer is a powerful thing. That white cis male gaze is like a lifeguard chair, it’s a watchtower—”I’m way up here naming things.” And they are NOT GIVING UP THOSE LOOKOUT SPOTS EASILY. In fact, they won’t even cop to the fact that they have that privilege. “Wait, what? We’ve had the voice too long? We’re not doing it on purpose…” So yeah, instead of waiting for these guys to change, instead STORM the gates, grab hands with each other, RUN like red rovers at the lifeguard chairs, snarl at the bases like wild starving beast dogs, boost each other up those watchtowers, and pull those motherfuckers down.
What else is in here—oh yeah—“Always End Phone Calls First.” I’ll translate that to ALWAYS GET OF OFF THE PHONE FIRST with your agent, or even better—do this for me—don’t even think about finding an agent or leaving word for your agent or waiting for your agent to call you back. Instead, focus on your art, your art, your art—relentlessly your art—until you find yourself so busy making stuff that YOUR AGENT is having a really hard time trying to GET AHOLD OF YOU.
Or, you know what, you can also just get rid of The Rules—also, ya know, light the damn book on fire or toss it aside. And while you’re at it, toss out all the rules you’ve been told about “How to Make it.” Forget every rule you’ve ever heard. You know how they used to tell women IF YOU HAVE TO CRY, GO TO YOUR CAR. Or go to the bathroom? On my set, I say, IF YOU CAN’T CRY YOU’RE A LIABILITY. If you can’t cry, you can’t feel—and if you can’t feel, you’d better not be holding my camera.
And speaking of the camera, the camera is recording images of humans—skin and water moving over muscles and bone—feelings. And I’m just curious: How in the world did men convince us that feelings are their specialty? Feelings are OUR thing. There are so many status quo filmmaking supposed “norms”—questionable militaristic language like “point” and “shoot” and “cut”—”CAPTURE” a moment. But the truth is: I came into most of my power as a filmmaker when I realized that all I needed to do was make a safe space for people to have feelings. And that’s feminine energy. That’s mommy energy. That’s OUR birthright. Our wombs—our space-making, crucible containing bodies. (As a newly politicized member of the genderfluid revolution, I’ll remind you that you don’t need a female body—you can also bring your spiritual womb, your conceptual pussy if need be.) What I’m talking about is: No more imitating men’s style or competing with them on their terms. Instead, reinvent at every turn.
You can own the energy of the set by embodying the idea that everyone is safe; no one is going to get yelled at; that we’re lucky to be called upon to make art together. People on sets have gotten so used to operating under this fear, this TIME IS MONEY PEOPLE—this hyper-masculine worshiping and privileging of equipment, cameras, cranes, numbers, schedules, money. I mean, who ever decided that right before you start filming EMOTIONS you’re supposed to YELL “LAST LOOKS,” or YELL “QUIET,” and then SCREAM “ACTION?” I mean, it was shockingly, frighteningly easy for me to realize that I could invite actors into their risk spaces by leading with receiving, gathering, feminine, space-creation energy.
New rules. You CAN cry at work—in fact, you must cry at work. In fact, if you’re going to make a movie, do me a favor and think of it as “bring your tears to work day.” Hell, while you’re at it, “#bringyourpussytoworkday,” every day. You’re gonna need it.
That’s right: We can agitate for gender parity. By the way, real gender parity wouldn’t be 50/50—it would mean for the next 100 years women direct 95% of things, and then at year 101 we could revert to 50/50, but anyway—we can agitate for gender parity, we can sue Hollywood—yeah ACLU sue ’em all—but the only way things will change will be when we’re all wilder, louder, riskier, sillier, unexpectedly overflowing with surprise. Invite it by bringing all of that feminine-allowing into your art making. And soon they’re going to say, “We gotta find a woman to direct this, because women are just so much better at it.”