Women Direct: Storytelling a changing vision

An interview with actress and director, Cady McClain
By J. Lynn Stapleton

When under two percent of the top 100 films are directed by women, it is not unreasonable to question the larger issue of ingrained cultural bias against a woman’s ability to lead.

Double Daytime Emmy Award winning actress, Cady McClain has a new creative venture underway, a five-hour serialized documentary series called Seeing Is Believing: Women Direct, which explores the challenges and biases faced by female directors, along with providing tools and skills needed to help women succeed in directing, whether that be web-based programming, television or film.

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Cady McClain. © Courtney Lindberg Photography

In order to counter long-held biases and outdated belief systems within the industry, a revolutionary change is needed. Cady has travelled to multiple countries, interviewing nearly fifty award-winning film and television directors including Meera Menon (Equity), Anne Makepeace (We Still Live Here: Âs Nutayuneân), Nicole Conn (Elena Undone, A Perfect Ending), Bethany Rooney (NCIS, Criminal Minds), Joanna Kerns (Jane the VirginPretty Little Liars, Nashville), Sarah Gavron (Suffragette), Jennifer Pepperman (One Life to Live on-line reboot), Tina Cessa Ward (Anyone But Me), and with newcomers like Kimberly McCullough (Nice Guys Finish Last, Pretty Little Liars), each with the goal of examining the challenges and obstacles – cultural, professional and creative, seeking and finding ways through. This documentary also hopes to serve as a peer-to-peer mentorship for men and women seeking to explore their dreams of storytelling.

I had long been a fan of Cady McClain’s work on All My Children as Dixie Martin, so I was delighted to be able to have the opportunity to interview Ms. McClain about her thoughts and ideas about her debut documentary and what this means for her.

Lynn: The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has done a fair bit of research in terms of gender bias that exists in the number of women present in films/television, and the types of roles (personality, career, etc.), speaking and non-speaking roles. The idea behind their motto: “If they see it, they can be it.” I see this motto equally applying to leadership roles behind the screens. With so very few women in the upper tier of women creating, directing and producing top-grossing projects, what made this ‘Seeing is Believing: Women Direct’ project personal for you?

Cady: I think there is a lot of truth in the saying “A rising tide lifts all boats.” I noticed that when a group is doing well, then all the members in that group have a better chance at doing well. In that vein, I felt that if women directors across the board didn’t get a better chance, then it was going to be unpleasant going in my own directing career. So it was important for me to do something to help the group. I also really needed to learn from those who have gone far further than I have. It’s been an honor to get to interview so many amazing women. It’s like I had 50 intensives with incredible women. Now I feel a responsibility to share what I’ve had such a privilege to learn.

Personally, my mom really struggled with believing she had a shot in any career, especially over 40. So I wanted to get out in the world to see what I could really do if I took on a different belief system. I do believe we are the stories we tell ourselves, so I wanted to create a new and exciting story that would challenge and uplift both myself and the women I knew who also struggled with passed down, limiting ideas.

Lynn: What are some of the pitfalls and biases that exist in the film and television industries for/against women’s leadership roles? How do you believe these biases can be overcome?

Cady: I’ve heard, “women don’t understand technical issues as well as men do because our brains aren’t made the same.” I’ve heard, “women are good with actors because actors are like babies.” And I’ve heard that “women make good editors because editing is like sewing.”

I suck at sewing but I’m really good at editing. If I treated an actor like a baby they’d notice and resent it. And I taught myself how to use a professional camera in 4 days by reading the manual. So those biases are clearly false.

Pitfalls are that you’re likely to hear some sexist remarks somewhere along the way. How to deal with it is up to each individual. I recently heard a story about a woman crew member working on the floor on a line of television cables, and a male crew member walked by and said, “Get off your knees, you’ve already got the job.” I’m sure that fellow thought he was being funny, but if you reversed that scenario, I can assure you the man on his knees wouldn’t be laughing. Crude talk is nothing new in TV or film, but I have to say I think it’s classless and tasteless. My general response is, “How’s your wife?” That usually shuts them up.

Unfortunately, bias is an equal opportunity offender. Both men and women hold these limiting beliefs as to what women are capable of. So we all need to get onboard the concept that women are many things, not only mothers or wives or sisters… we are whatever we choose to be. And men can’t be relegated to the role of “bringing home the bacon.” Our “selves” can’t be put into these cookie cutters. Ultimately, biases are meant to control others. When we allow them to control us, we are agreeing with someone else’s fear.

Lynn: I do see more women in leading positions in creating, writing, directing, producing roles in web and television more so than in film, though that is growing slowly. Where do you think the best inroads are to expand women’s leadership roles in this regard – in web projects (such as the Emmy Award winning Venice the Series), television and film?

Cady: I see that women are getting a lot more opportunity on the internet, which is really great. But what we need is to not get kicked out when an area proves to be fiscally successful. Because that’s what happens: where there is money and status, the aggression gets very high, and the women tend to get kicked out of the game. Kicked off the playground, so to speak. That needs to stop happening, and we all need to stop letting that happen.  I believe we are stronger when we are unified and supportive of one another.

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Design by Xaviera Lopez

 

Lynn: You’ve had the opportunity to explore this documentary through interviews with many people in the industry. Each person brings new ideas and different approaches to the processes that go on behind the camera. What have you learned the most along this journey and how do you hope to bring that knowledge forward to help others coming up the ladder?

Cady: It’s hard to put it all into a few sentences. But I can say that “Trust your instincts” is not a suggestion, it’s a rule and a daily practice. “Follow YOUR path” is another. You can’t step onto another’s path and live their life. But you can look at the path ahead of you and think about what is the right next step.

I’ve also learned that you don’t have to shout to be heard, in fact you can speak softly…. but you do need to speak clearly and directly and, honestly, it helps if you have a low voice if you are leading a group. Communication is one of the main tools a director has. That’s just one of many tools I’ve learned, and as with all tools, it’s really a matter of putting it into practice until it becomes a habit.

I believe that seeing all these women persevering, learning HOW they’ve persevered and stepped into leadership positions will help women of all walks of life feel more supported and confident in reaching for their own goals.

Lynn: What challenges you and inspires you?

Cady: My husband, Jon Lindstrom, is a big source of inspiration. He’s really supportive of my doing this doc, and has given me a lot of great advice. His passion for the work and his ability to stay in what is really a very challenging business whether you are a man or a woman, keeps me going.

I also really love how the technology is becoming more and more consumer friendly, and I’m really excited about how genres are mixing and creating new forms.

Despite the challenges, it’s a great time to be in this industry! Things are changing for women, and I’m thrilled to be a small part of pushing the change forward.

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There is currently an SIB: Women Direct Indigogo campaign to raise funds for the post-production costs; there are a lot of lovely perks, including tote bags and t-shirts with the Seeing Is Believing: Women Direct logo design created by Chilean artist Xaviera Lopez (seen above), journals, caps, a signed copy of the Seeing Is Believing: Women Direct documentary companion book, signed photos and much more. Feel free to choose a perk that you would like to help support this creative endeavour. If you’re unable to purchase a perk, you can help spread the love via social media. The campaign runs through until 25th November 2016.

Cady can also currently be seen co-directing and acting in the fifth season of Crystal Chappell’s Venice the Series web drama.

Cady McClain’s: Twitter
Search tags: #SIBWomenDirect

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About jlynnstapleton

I'm a Licensed Practical Nurse, photographer and writer. My focus in photography has been primarily landscapes, particularly water based images, both in colour and black and white. I love to travel when I can and sometimes find some unique treasures to photograph. I also enjoy writing these blogs and doing interviews when I can. I'm the oldest of three siblings. I grew up in St. John's, Newfoundland [Canada]. I came out as a lesbian when I was twenty-one, and fortunately I've had a supportive family, and friends.
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