No Girls Allowed (behind the scenes, anyway)

 

Make no mistake – Coraline (the just-released stop-motion feature made by Laika Productions right here in Bitch's hometown of Portland, OR) may be a girl's story, but the animation industry is still very much a boys' club. Stick around for the credits after the film and you'll see that the screenwriter, director, editors, most of the animators, and the "Based on the Novel by" guy are all dudes. This tidbit may come as a surprise, but it shouldn't. Men were at the helm of almost every major animated feature in recent and not-so-recent history, including those movies that have been embraced specifically by female audiences.

I'm not going to venture into a feminist critique of Coraline as a film (although I would love to read one) because I think the behind-the-scenes portrait of who's making the movie is just as interesting as any textual reading. (Full disclosure: I worked on the movie for 5 months as a sander.) Let's consider the Little Mermaid, a movie that developed a serious following among almost every girl I knew back when it was released in 1989. (Fuller disclosure: I can count myself as one of the boys who watched the movie enough times to wear out the VHS and to shed tears when my family's cocker spaniel ripped the plush stuffing out of the tail of my Ariel doll.) It's the same news – male directors, screenwriters, animators, "Based on the Fairy Tale by" guy, etc. Beauty and the Beast at least has a female screenwriter. We're not even going to touch the Disney movies from before then (just search for crew photos of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves if you don't believe me), and Pixar hasn't been so great at bringing females into the world of commercial animation either. So what does this mean? Should we just pull a Larry Summers and say that women are just genetically predisposed to lack talent in the areas that make a person desirable in the animation world?

I don't think so. There are definitely women kicking ass in the animation world. My roommate Georgina, for example, headed up the puppet shop on Coraline, which produced some of the most impressive puppets ever seen on the set of a stop-motion project. And Ans Ellis, the woman who drove me to work on the set, has worked as a model maker for the past 25 years and amassed a quite impressive resume with movies such as the Abyss, Titanic, and Killer Clowns from Outer Space. And just because the credits of major animation features aren't listing off dozens of women animators doesn't mean that there aren't talented and provocative animators out there who happen to be women. There's Marjane Satrapi of Persepolis fame. And lesser-known animators such as Jen Drummond, Signe Baumane, and Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby are also worth checking out.

But what does keeping female voices out of the upper echelons of the movie machine do to the industry as a whole?

In my (admittedly limited) experience, it creates a stressful, and at times hostile, work environment that trickles down from the top (in this case Henry Selick- the film's sometimes maniacal director) all the way down to the bottom (in this case me- a lowly, minimum-wage working sander.) There was a definite machismo feeling on the set. Competition among co-workers and an assembly-line type of atmosphere was imposed on employees, many of whom were there because of their obsession with the art form but seemed let down by the studio's poor treatment of its workers.

I don't want anyone to think that I'm discouraging them from going to see Coraline. It really is a beautiful, handcrafted film. Also, most of my friends from the film are out of work and twiddling their thumbs waiting to see if Laika is going to produce another movie (hopefully under friendlier conditions that acknowledge the talents of the crew instead of sweeping them under the rug once the work is finished. Most of us weren't even invited to the premiere!) My point is that the introduction of other voices into the popular movie machine would most certainly yield a different product, as well as a different production.

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Comments

18 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Welcome to film. It'll be

Welcome to film. It'll be interesting to see how long you go before you're used to people not caring about your contribution.

Good luck.

Looking at the IMDB listing,

Looking at the IMDB listing, there were certainly a lot of female voices involved in the production, from storyboard artists up to the films two producers. It sound like this is less of a sexism problem, more of a work environment one [I recall that Coraline was produced outside the Animation Guild Union]. This would of been better serverd as a Pro-Union rant, to improve working conditions for animators, rather then dismissing the large number of women who did work on the film, and apparently had several lead positions.,

Thanks for pointing that out

You're right- I should have mentioned something about producers in my article because it is a role that generally gets filled by women. What I would have also pointed out, though, is that while the producer is making a lot of major decisions and is directly responsible for getting the movie finished, it's still the screenwriter, director, editors, and animators who are deciding what gets seen/heard on the screen. And I am not by any means discounting the work of Everybody who worked on this project (I believe the number of people who contributed is over 300 and it really wouldn't have gotten made without all of them.) And I am even more importantly not discounting the animators on this who are women. I am saying, though, that there wasn't a single lead animator on this project who was a woman. And I'm pointing out, again, how bizarre it is that animation is still a man's world from the perspective of who's being hired to direct, write, and animate these movies.

I think it is also

I think it is also significant to notice the difference between what is perceived as a craft or as skilled work (writing, directing, editing, animating) and what isn't (producing).

Henry Selick

I've taken out the line describing Henry Selick, the director of Coraline, as the movie's "sometimes maniacal leader" because I think that it was at best a snarky move and at worst a slanderous one, since I've never actually worked directly with the guy or even met him.

I think this retraction undermines a lot of your intent...

... since I was under the impression that you had a bit more of a direct experience working on this production. For you to first make this comment, then retract it for fear of biting the hand of your employer is a bit cowardly, and also shows how little thought and experience went into this argument beyond an immediate bit of venting. I do applaud you for taking a stand but I feel that you are a man commenting on this, so its a little less biting a feminist stance in the first place. Maybe your roommate and friend who are veterans could shed more light.

I DON'T think your intent is undermined at all

Have to disagree with "Hal"; I think that you're much more likely to be listened to as not "sour grapes"/bitchy/"feminazi" since you're NOT a woman.

The reality is that it's too easy to label a girl who makes so much as a peep about this subject. And often girls are just so grateful to have any sort of foot in in the first place they're not about to rock the boat even to simply question the status quo.

I also don't read it as wimping out but instead being scrupulously fair to amend your line about Henry(and explain why).
Most importantly, you wrote a very fair and well-intentioned piece that takes pains to mention the up sides of women in the production before still posing the central question-why NO leads? Why so dominated? I wish more people would just give a think as to answers rather than complaining about just asking the question.

I agree with both of you!

Taking out my comment about Henry was a cowardly move- so I've put it back in. He may have made a great movie, but he left something to be desired on the set as far as employee relations goes and I've gotta stand by my original statement. When I found how widely this article was circulating around the animation community, I got nervous and I shouldn't have.

This is an issue I've thought a lot and have very strong feelings about, and my criticisms about the film industry are from a very feminist perspective and I think that being a guy influences that but doesn't discredit it.

Women on Coraline

Let's see... Women animators on Coraline: Suzanne Twining, Sara De Gaudemar, Teresa Drilling, Amy Adamy, Julianna Cox, Rachel Larsen, Peg Serena. What are they, chopped liver? And how many lead animators are there? This article makes no sense.

Everyone is totally missing his point

This article makes perfect sense.

I can't believe how knee-jerk the reactions are to just raising this topic, and it is a topic worth making note of, which is all I thought he was trying to do.
What I got from this article was this: there are a lot more males than females in the creative positions on animated productions(namely, this one). NOT that the guys aren't worthy, NOT that the girls aren't talented, but that the ratio is so imbalanced. He wonders what a film like be like if the numbers were reversed, or if they were just more representative of life(50-50). Isn't that an interesting question? Why is everyone jumping to a torch-waving conclusion that this writer doesn't espouse? Why is it SO touchy?

On another website some real doozies have been posted that prove this is a point that needs to be at least discussed. Men and women simultaneously count off the very few females who have directed as proof that there's no problem with having 20-to-1 men vs. women on a project at the same time suggesting that women are a)just less good as "draughtsmen"(how the hell could that person have come to that conclusion by the way? With what criteria? He's seen them all? He's seen all the women in the schools or employed or not employed and he just KNOWS?), or they choose to be homemakers instead(last time I looked most of the same cited successful women animators are also homemakers, but anyway that's harking back to the early 70s to even suggest that women are self-selecting NOT to be in animation. Wouldn't that same "choice" apply to every other profession, not just animation?). Someone else even goes so far as to suggest that a crew or all women in positions of creative authority might in fact be your worst nightmare. A woman suggests this. Well, sure-there are some women who are awful to work with, and there are plenty of guys who are, but wouldn't it be nice to at least imagine that maybe not all or more women in those jobs might be okay, or AS OK as the current status quo apparently is? When did this writer suggest it would be some nurturing nirvana? he didn't. He seemed to wonder what difference it might make to the films that are made. What an outrageous question. How dare he.

It is not that simple.

This is the first time I come across an article of this kind. Working in the world of animation myself I have to agree with Mr Hayes that it is still largely a men's world. Although I have seen great improvements in the past few years I do not think that having, lets say, ten women animator in a crew of thirty-five or forty constitute a satisfactory integration but rather a politically correct attitude that is there to dismiss any such a remark or observation like the one of Mr Hayes. The reason why I think it is more difficult for women to penetrate the lines of animation production or succeed ones in, it is also find in Hayes article.
Men competitive and hostile attitude is the only "talent" women really lack in this business like in many others and the few who posses that strength of character to overcome the pain of this situation and are successful have to accept men's rules and regulation, think and behave like a man would.
It is a psychological oppressive way and if you try to react to it you are immediately penalized even if, like the author of this article, you are a man.

This is not a feminist

This is not a feminist issue. This isn't about having a women's softball team and a male football team.

How is this "not a feminist

How is this "not a feminist issue"? What is your criteria? Is your softball team remark suggesting that Title 9 issues are "feminist" but a big gender imbalance in a major area of the arts/film business isn't? What does your statement about separate sports teams even mean as regards this discussion?

Again, what's your criteria?

More conversations happening here

Cartoon Brew's talking about this too.  Sweeeeeeet!

Film and women

I look forward to Coraline: I believe Neil Gaiman is very capable of creating brilliant female characters.

If you're interested in the search for great female characters, and in the behind-the-scenes of movies, I'd recommend checking out TheHathorLegacy.com

Cheers

Hey there - I was one of the

Hey there - I was one of the animators on Coraline (assistant animator actually). There were definitely a lot more male animators than female.

All of the female animators; Suzanne Twining, Sarah DeGaudemar, Teresa Drilling, Julianna Cox, Guionne Leroy, and Amy Adamy; also facial animator Kim Slate, and animator trainee Rachel Larson, are incredibly talented women who are amazing to work with. All of them are highly respected for the work that they did on the film and had a huge contribution.

I don’t think that the amount of pressure on the film had to do with it being male dominated. I think that we were all working at a very high level, and being pushed to do our best work. We were working an incredible amount of hours over a long period of time and we all got cranky. Also, there were a lot of strong personalities on the film - lots of interesting & creative people.

I’m sure that the reasons for the lack of female animators are the same that have plagued all kinds of industries. What’s most important, and most exciting, is that more and more women are arriving on the scene and getting hired, and doing incredible work.

I agree with peg. I don't

I agree with peg.

I don't know if the OP is aware of animation history in the Portland area, but many of the big influencers that I can recall at the moment are female. Joan Gratz, Teresa Drilling is president of the ASIFA-NW chapter, Marylin Zornado who coordinates international festivals here (and brought the first International Film Festival to the United States), Rose Bond, Joanna Priestly, Amy Collen who is co-owner of Happy Trails Animation... etc. A few of these names have Produced/Written/Directed award-winning pieces at Will Vinton Studios.

I agree and am more inclined to believe the long hours that I heard about during production of Coraline were the source of cranky and oppressed feelings at the studio, and not gender. It's interesting that it's a sander who is making complaints, here and not at the workplace at a time when it would have been more appropriate and influential (you wanted premiere invites? Too late to say anything now), and not someone who has had decades of experience working in animation at different facilities around the world and understands the universe of pressures and deadlines.

Bad credit is not confined to

Bad credit is not confined to any gender or race.