DGA members and invited guests gathered at the Guild’s Los Angeles headquarters on September 20, as the Women’s Steering Committee (WSC) presented a special evening celebrating three pioneering directors: Patty Jenkins, Mimi Leder and Betty Thomas. The event also honored the founding members of the WSC — Susan Bay, Nell Cox, Joelle Dobrow, Dolores Ferraro, Victoria Hochberg, and Lynne Littman — who came together in 1979 to research the facts surrounding employment opportunities for women directors and found the Committee.
Following a VIP reception in the atrium, the proceedings moved into DGA Theater One where DGA President Paris Barclay welcomed the capacity crowd audience. “Tonight, DGA women will demonstrate that talent knows no gender and that although much has been achieved in the 35 years since a group of six fierce women got together to lay the groundwork for the Women’s Steering Committee, this industry still has a long way to go before it truly reflects the world we live in,” said Barclay. “But if there’s one thing you take away from my words today, it’s that they, the Employers, can change this. They can and they will.”
Barclay went on to speak about the latest DGA report on director diversity in episodic television and expressed his dismay that the latest numbers showed a lack of improvement. “Diversity is something we’ve worked on for a long time. The mission is to get every qualified director, especially the ones apparently cloaked in invisibility, the chance to step up to the table and do what they’ve dreamed of doing.”
Barclay urged the Employers to take responsibility for improving their hiring practices. “Just do better. It really can’t be said more plainly than that. Seek out more diverse candidates – from within the Guild and from without. Give people opportunities. Help build an entertainment community, and a broader community, that reflects the kind of world that we all want to live in.”
Before turning the stage over to DGA Board member and WSC Co-Chair Liz Ryan, Barclay summed up his comments by congratulating the women being honored, “Even though there are many battles yet to be fought, it’s important to celebrate and honor those who spoke out for what is right and those who are following in their footsteps as successful directors,” he said. “The rising tide will come, and it will lift all boats.”
Taking the stage, Ryan looked to the future and introduced several female DGA Student Film Award winners as representatives of the future of filmmaking. Then WSC Co-Chair Millicent Shelton paid tribute to those who laid the groundwork years ago, introducing a video that told the story of how the Committee was founded in 1979 when a group of six determined women directors discovered that females had directed less than one half of one percent of all directing opportunities from 1949-1979. After they presented their findings to the DGA National Board, the Board voted unanimously to create the Committee and launch the Guild’s efforts to press Employers to improve their hiring practices. After the video, WSC founders Susan Bay, Nell Cox, Joelle Dobrow, Victoria Hochberg, and Lynne Littman came to the stage and spoke about the gains made since then and how far there still is to go. The sixth founder, Dolores Ferraro, was unable to attend.
The next portion of the evening kicked off with a retrospective clips package highlighting the work of Directors Patty Jenkins, Mimi Leder and Betty Thomas, followed by multiple guests speakers who came to the stage to talk about the impact of each director’s work.
Journey’s lead singer Steve Perry recalled how Jenkins convinced him to let her use the band’s iconic anthem “Don't Stop Believin’” for her feature Monster, and Veena Sud, creator of the series The Killing, sent her congratulations via video before Jenkins herself took the stage.
Best known for her debut feature Monster, based on the life of convicted serial killer Aileen Wuornos, and for helming the DGA Award-winning pilot episode of the drama The Killing, Jenkins began her career as a painter in New York then transitioned to filmmaking as an Assistant Camera Person/Focus Puller before attending AFI in Los Angeles and writing and directing Monster. The film earned Jenkins a “Best First Feature” prize at the 2004 Independent Spirit Awards, was voted one of the Ten Best Films of the Year by AFI, and earned its star Charlize Theron an Oscar® for “Best Actress.” Jenkins’ filmography includes episodes of Fox’s cult hit Arrested Development, HBO’s Entourage and the pilots of Betrayal and Exposed. She has also earned an Emmy® nomination for her work on The Killing and Emmy® and DGA Award nominations for her work on Five — a series of short films about breast cancer for Lifetime she shared with fellow directors Jennifer Aniston, Alicia Keys, Demi Moore and Penelope Spheeris,. A DGA member since 2004, Jenkins is currently scheduled to begin production in the fall of 2014 on I Am Superman, a feature film that she also wrote.
Justin Theroux, the lead actor in the HBO series The Leftovers, spoke about honoree Mimi Leder’s work as director on the critically-acclaimed series, noting her ability to pull performances from him that he hoped he could give. Leder’s work was also hailed with video tributes from actor Morgan Freeman, who worked with her on the feature Deep Impact, and director Steven Spielberg who hired her to direct Dreamworks first two features, The Peacemaker and Deep Impact, after working with her on ER. Leder was then introduced by her daughter, actress Hannah Leder.
The first woman accepted to study cinematography at AFI, Leder began her directing career on the series L.A. Law. Her work on ER, where she also served as producer, earned her three DGA Award nominations as well as an Emmy Award® for directing the episode “Love’s Labor Lost” Leder also received Emmy®-nominations for her direction on episodes of China Beach and The West Wing. In 1999, Leder won the AFI Franklin J. Schaffner Award, and in 2000, she received the Distinguished Women in Film Dorothy Arzner Directors Award. Seamlessly transitioning between film and television, Leder’s filmography also includes the features Thick as Thieves, and The Code; movies for television such as Heavenly, Baby Brokers, House of Secrets, Marked for Murder, Nightingales and U.S. Attorney; episodes of the series Almost Human, Full Circle, Smash, Nashville, Luck and Shameless; and the pilots for the series The Beast, John Doe, Johnny Zero and Vanished. Her next feature film will be I Dismember Papa, a comedy/drama about her father Paul Leder, a 1980s B-movie maker. A member of the DGA since 1985, Leder is currently working as a co-executive producer/director of the HBO series, The Leftovers.
Director John Landis, who worked frequently with Betty Thomas when he hired her to direct many episodes of his HBO comedy series Dream On, stepped to the podium to speak about Thomas’s prowess as a director. Radio personality Howard Stern, who worked with Thomas when she helmed his biopic Private Parts, sent his congratulations via a video message before Thomas took the stage.
After graduating from Ohio University with a BA in fine arts, Thomas began her career as a member of the famed Second City improvisational troupe before breaking out on the hit drama Hill Street Blues where her portrayal of Officer Lucy Bates earned her an Emmy® for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 1985 and six other nominations in the same category. Thomas made her directing debut with an episode of the series Hooperman and went on to establish a career as a prolific director of film and television. Her filmography includes feature films such as Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, John Tucker Must Die, I Spy, 28 Days, Doctor Dolittle, and The Brady Bunch Movie; movies for television such as Dash 4 Cash, That Guy, Senor White, Silicon Follies, and Couples; episodes of the television series Sons and Daughters, Parenthood, Mancuso, FBI, and Doogie Howser, M.D.; the pilot for the series The Loop; and the documentary R3. In 2012, she directed her first web-series, Audrey for YouTube’s WIGS channel. Thomas earned Emmy® nominations for her direction of the movies for television My Breast and The Late Shift; an Emmy® Award in 1993 for directing the Dream On episode “For Peter’s Sake;” and DGA Award nominations for My Breast and an episode of Dream On; and the 1996 DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Specials for The Late Shift. The current First Vice-President of the DGA, Thomas co-chairs the Diversity Task Force; working with networks and studios to develop inroads for minority and women directors. She is also working with Lily Tomlin on a Netflix project while developing two movies. Thomas has been a member of the DGA since 1988.
The final portion of the evening was introduced by WSC Co-Chair Bethany Rooney, who thanked the Committee for its continuing work and welcomed DGA Past President Martha Coolidge to the stage to moderate a lively conversation with honorees Jenkins, Leder and Thomas about their work and careers and the state of women directors in the industry.
Throughout the evening, each of the women being honored received a commemorative crystal gift from the Committee, presented by the DGA Student Film Award Winners Tara Atashgah, Erika Cohn, Ashley Maria, Mitsuyo Miyazaki, Dehanza (Daye) Rogers, Caylee So, and Margot Ye who were introduced at the beginning of the event.
The Women's Steering Committee (WSC) was created to advance the professional interests of its members, and to heighten their visibility and career opportunities in the entertainment industry. The WSC currently promotes diversity through sponsoring networking events, screenings and seminars. The committee fosters relationships between the members to provide support, mentoring and networking opportunities. For more information click here to visit the WSC page.