Leading female unscripted executives offered insight into how the media industry can boost women and their work during a panel discussion on the opening day of the Realscreen Live on Tuesday afternoon (June 3).
Moderated by Abby Greensfelder, founder and CEO of Everywoman Studios, the “Propelling women in unscripted” panel discussed the various issues that serve as barriers of entry for women in the television sector, while also mapping pathways of success and mentorship for fresh talent.
The current coronavirus pandemic has brought into focus the many challenges that women in the business face. And while the crisis has democratized certain facets of the industry and made executives more accessible via various communications technologies, other aspects of what might become the “new normal” may have the opposite effect and make it more difficult for new voices to emerge.
Nutopia, the London-headquartered factual studio helmed by Jane Root (pictured left), has managed to begin production on two separate series over the last three months, despite teams never meeting in a physical space. Those works-in-progress, however, are being overseen by individuals and teams have had prior working relationships with Nutopia.
It’s this virtual work environment that concerns Root, who worries that talented women breaking into the industry will be left by the wayside.
“Whatever happens in the next six months, we know it’s going to involve a lot of more distance working,” says the One Strange Rock executive producer. “As women in the industry, we’re really going to have to grapple with how do we make this moment into something where it’s not drawing up the drawbridges on people who are already inside, because that would be terrible.”
While Lifetime unscripted SVP Brie Miranda Bryant was originally scheduled to take part but couldn’t attend, the cable network sector was also represented. Like most broadcasters, Magnolia Network president Allison Page (right) has taken a “very active role” in seeking out smaller production companies that are “scrappier” and perhaps more cost friendly, as a way to unearth and uphold new storytelling talents.
Magnolia Network, Page says, is not interested in having the Discovery-backed network’s programming slate comprised entirely of one production studio.
“We want to be as diverse as possible within who’s making content with us,” the former HGTV executive notes. “A lot of independent producers have partnered with a small company that someone already knew within our team and they brought something together. That has been an easier way in.”
One way for burgeoning and established female creators looking to get noticed by a producer, even during a viral outbreak, is to find a producing partner that has done something similar to what you want to do and approach them that way, says Julie Bristow, president and CEO of The Bristow Media Project Inc.
Another approach Bristow suggests is to explore everyday stories that aren’t typically found in the “usual places” through a new lens or different perspective.
“For me, I only can usually work on things where I have something to add value,” Bristow adds. “If I’ve done something in the past that might recommend me as a producer to another woman creator, I’d be happy to hear from that person because I would really like to help make more stories about, for and by women. I know where my areas of expertise and experience are.”
With a global virus shuttering business sectors and impacting economies, the present day still doesn’t have to be a time of constant fear and financial uncertainty. It can instead be a time for opportunity that plays to the strengths of what Greensfelder calls “the scrappy and nimble ones.”
For female execs who are considering making the jump from a broadcast network and into the production industry, Bristow’s advice is simple: Don’t wait.
“If I had one regret, it’s that I should have done it sooner,” she admits. “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done by a long shot. But it was also the most rewarding in terms of you only have yourself to bet on. If you’re going to be successful it’s thanks to your hard work and dedication.
“If you’re thinking of doing it, do it. There will be lots of people out there to support you. The thing we need to do some more work on though is that we have to figure out access to money because it comes faster, or more readily, in the networks of men.”
Bristow speaks from experience. She exited the Canadian pubcaster CBC after a 20-year career to launch the female-led Bristow Global Media in 2013, before leaving the company she created to found her latest venture: The Bristow Media Project.
The conversation then shifted to focus on diversity at the executive level when a member of the viewing audience asked what actions each panelist was taking to put Black, Indigenous and other people of color in positions of power in the industry, and in their companies.
The big question that executives at Nutpoia have been asking as a company is how does change happen? Root says that those in privileged managerial positions across the industry must “constantly be vigilant” to ensure that every small decision is moving in a direction where the end goal is inclusivity.
And while all participants acknowledged the importance of having individuals with differing viewpoints throughout every facet of an organization, Magnolia Network’s Page – a 20-year media veteran with stints at Scripps Networks Interactive and Discovery – put it more bluntly by stating emphatically that the question is continuously an uncomfortable one because the non-scripted industry hasn’t “done a good enough job” when it comes to diversification.
“The efforts that have been made aren’t enough. What I do see now in this very moment that feels a little different is a willingness at the highest levels that this isn’t good enough,” Page emphasized. “We have got to be better – approaching it the way we have hasn’t worked, we have to own that it hasn’t worked and we have to do it differently. It’s a hard question to hear but it’s a smart question to ask, and you should keep asking it every day and coming to every panel and holding all of us accountable because we’re going to be better at what we’re doing if we reflect the audience that we’re representing.
“It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to do for the business, it’s the right thing to do to be the richest and best storytellers we can be, and we haven’t done a good enough job.”