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New Tools of the Trade: "The Ms. Factor" Provides The Data Women Producers Need To Make Their Case

Posted By Lydia Dean Pilcher, Thursday, October 22, 2015

As producers, we hold a unique and valuable perspective on all aspects of the business of content creation. I have produced for many talented female directors over my career (including Mira Nair, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Katja von Garnier, Kathryn Bigelow, Jane Anderson, to name a few). I have personally felt the significance of the female audience and have seen that women crave more stories about their lives, authentic experiences and dreams. We’ve seen breakout hits like Twilight and The Hunger Games challenge the conventional wisdom, such as "female stars don’t open movies” or "women directors only make films for a less significant subset of the marketplace.” In contrast, we’ve seen that films by men are perceived to reach wider and more lucrative segments of the market. Amid the recent wave of activism around gender equality across all industries, I began to wonder if the issues of underrepresentation in the entertainment industry were more institutional in nature, and perhaps fortified by gender-biased myths. In fact, the booming economic reality of women as a powerful market seemed to be completely buried by these myths.

The research tells an undeniable story of a pipeline for female filmmakers that starts to crack as budgets get larger and stakes get higher. The most significant barriers, according to a 2013 Sundance/WIF sponsored USC study, are gendered financing and male-dominated networks. The scarcity of women at the top of the business end of the film industry is a problem. It’s no surprise that women are more likely to greenlight women’s pictures, have more confidence in women writers and directors, and be more interested in stories about female characters.

The PGA has been a longstanding champion of diversity in our industry. We founded the PGA Women’s Impact Network two years ago to set an agenda and promote strategies to move the industry towards a more gender-balanced landscape. At the top of my list was the challenge of how to debunk the myths that continue to perpetuate a well-documented gender bias in Hollywood. Once we delved into it, the multidimensional data coming forward to support this case was both staggering and exciting. Leading experts from Nielsen, Google Analytics, FiveThirtyEight, and top researchers in the field including Stacy Smith of USC, Martha Lauzen of San Diego State, and many others were invaluable in their support and research. Ultimately, we were able to let the economics make the case for casting aside these outmoded perceptions of women and their work.

This fall, the PGA Women’s Impact Network and Women and Hollywood announced the launch of our "toolkit,” "The Ms. Factor: The Power of Female-Driven Content,” to raise awareness among decision-makers in the entertainment industry about the profitability of female producers, directors, and plots/protagonists. "The Ms. Factor” is a compilation of studies and statistics, designed to offer filmmakers the analyses they need to point to the commercial viability of female-driven content.

We have found that female moviegoers outnumber males, and that women are the majority of the mainstream network TV audience. Women watch more content on all digital platforms, represent the majority of the online market, and use the top social media channels more than men in almost every network. In addition, the toolkit includes some little known facts with seismic implications, such as that women make upwards of 85% of all consumer spending decisions in the U.S., even as women are currently earning less than men in total. (Given current demographic trends, experts predict that U.S. women will out-earn men by 2028.) This trend is supported by studies that show diversifying boardrooms translates into higher returns on investment.

"The Ms. Factor” includes market data and research demonstrating that having a woman at the helm affects the kind of stories being told. Female producers, directors and writers are more likely to feature girls and women on screen. And female leadership promotes gender equality behind the camera as well, resulting in more women hired as writers, producers, cinematographers, and editors—a 21% increase among scripted features and 24% increase among documentaries.

We urge producers and financiers to look at hiring and financing practices across the board, and encourage decision makers to create new standard policies for studio and agency director lists, actor lists and crew lists, balancing them for gender and diversity.

We hope that producers and filmmakers will use the statistics and tools from "The Ms. Factor” when creating financing proposals to counter those who see gender as limiting their commercial prospects. When they say, "less money is made with female leads, female stars, or female-driven properties,” or "women aren’t our target audience,” you will be have research showing that female audiences are powerful, and that women’s participation can lead to profitable outcomes.


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