Where Five Amazing Female Filmmakers Got Their Start

Are you a female who's interested in working in the film industry? The bad news is, it's kind of a boys club. The good news is, that's changing.

It’s no secret that there’s a dearth of female filmmakers and female-centric films in Hollywood. Think of the directors most people can name off the tops of their heads and you’ll come up with heavy hitters like Steven Spielperg, Michael Bay, George Lucas, and James Cameron. Indeed, there isn’t a single female on the IMDB-compiled list of the highest grossing directors of all time. And even the glitz and glamour of Hollywood is no match for the income disparity between men and women: Forbes reports that Robert Downey, Jr. is currently the highest paid film actor, having earned $75 million between June 2013 and June 2014, while the highest paid actress, Sandra Bullock, earned $51 million in that same time period.

A recent NPR piece explored the topic of women (or the lack thereof) in the film industry and described how some female filmmakers, actresses, and other champions of the cause are taking matters into their own hands. The story made note of the speech Cate Blanchett delivered when she won the Best Actress Oscar for Blue Jasmine.

“Thank you to Sony Classics, to Michael and Tom for their extraordinary support,” said Blanchett. “For so bravely and intelligently distributing the film and to the audiences who went to see it and perhaps those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people.”

Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto Film Festival, encouraged programmers of this year’s festival to try harder to give talented female filmmakers more of the attention they deserve.

“About 5% of the commercial films coming out of Hollywood every year are directed by women,” said Cameron, speaking with NPR. “At film festivals, including ours, typically the number’s around 20%. So, you know, we’re doing four times better than Hollywood, but just woefully inadequate compared to the human population.”

If you’re a girl with your sights set on the film industry, don’t let those numbers get you down. On the contrary, accept them as a challenge to help advance the cause of women in Hollywood. And if you need some inspiration to help keep you motivated, check out where some of today’s most talented and accomplished female filmmakers got their start.

1. Kathryn Bigelow

Known for:

  • The Hurt Locker
  • Zero Dark Thirty

Bona fides: Kathryn Bigelow is a film director, producer, screenwriter, and television director. She earned a B.F.A. from San Francisco Art Institute and an M.F.A. from Columbia University.

2. Nancy Meyers

Known for:

  • The Parent Trap
  • The Holiday
  • It’s Complicated

Bona fides: Nancy Meyers is a film director, producer, and screenwriter. She earned a degree in journalism from American University.

3. Catherine Hardwicke

Known for:

  • Twilight
  • Thirteen

Bona fides: Catherine Hardwicke is a film director, screenwriter, and production designer. She has a degree in architecture from the University of Texas at Austin, and she also studied film at the University of California – Los Angeles.

4. Lena Dunham

Known for:

  • Tiny Furniture
  • Creative Nonfiction

Bona fides: Though she’s best known for her work on the HBO series Girls, actress Lena Dunham is also an accomplished film director, producer, and screenwriter. She studied creative writing at Oberlin College.

5. Amy Heckerling

Known for:

  • Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  • Look Who’s Talking
  • Clueless

Bona fides: Amy Heckerling is a film director. She studied film at both New York University and the American Film Institute.

Need even more inspiration? Listen to the aforementioned NPR segment, “In Film, Women’s Stories Break Through at Fall Festivals,” and check out this list of Colleges with Quality Programs in Film Studies.

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