As a woman who has spent years working in nearly every position behind the camera, from filmmaker to director to business woman, I’ve learned what Hollywood will try to make of you. Maintaining your values and sense of self while working towards a vision can seem excruciatingly unattainable, especially within a heavily male-dominated industry. Some Hollywood statistics for you: only 1 percent of top-grossing films employed 10 or more women in a behind-the-scenes role. Surveying the 250 top-grossing films, the study found that overall, women comprised only 18 percent of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers.
At times it can seem like we are speeding towards an exciting new frontier in filmmaking. However, this new road does not pave itself and takes dedication. Whether I'm in or out of Hollywood, I have been able to distill my journey as a filmmaker into essential lessons, from how to perceive yourself in a male-dominated industry, to finding and formulating depth in your own ideas as a cutting edge creative. Below are a few tips I am honored to share with aspiring female filmmakers; I hope they help to ground you in your motivation as a thought leader in this era of change.
1. Disband stigma.
“When I make a movie that I direct behind the camera ... I am pretty much in control. But when I decided to make a movie sitting in the audience with you, and I direct a film in the seat right next to you, that means I'm making the picture for you. And your reaction is everything."
- Steven Spielberg, male filmmaker.
Imagine if Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg were considered ‘male filmmakers’. First, let’s disband stigma for a moment: You are a filmmaker. Gender doesn’t define what we do yet we live in a society where, for some reason, it does. Don't let the constructs of a patriarchal society define how you act. Remind yourself: You are a director. Don't let anyone else threaten or intimidate you. When you are in a room, treat people as equals. Set the bar for everyone around you. You are a filmmaker. Enough said.
2. Drop the ego, maintain confidence.
Think of the concepts who, what, when, where and why. Usually, people lead with ‘who’ they are. Let’s face it - we are in a business where a hundred other people will have the same credentials as you.
Moreover, there are people probably better suited than you to get investments. There are hundreds of aspiring directors with scripts prepared, already talking to investors. That being said, what sells a creative process is not what you do or how you will do it. What sells is the 'why'. What do I mean by this? To quote one of my heroes, Simon Sinek, “People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.” Draw confidence and distinction for your creative product from what you believe in. Know why it drives the work that you do. Your 'why' sets you apart from every other filmmaker marching into Hollywood with the latest big idea.
3. Lead your pitch from this WHY.
As a business woman and as any kind of person with the power to change thought, you must always understand and hold close the value of your 'why'. Why are you choosing to tell this story, why are you choosing to tell it now? Whose mind will it change, why will it affect its audience? Why do you do the work that you do? With a clear motivation, you are best suited to sell your story because you understand the merits that set it apart. When I pitch my ideas to corporates, to individuals, to educators and visionaries, time and time again, the feedback is positive and specific. Why? Because I infuse every pitch with my own 'why': I want to not only change the world with my content, but also the business I participate in as a whole. With this transparent passion for the work that I do, I am able to step into each meeting with confidence and predictability-- these people know who I am, what I stand for, and why I am best suited to deliver the work at hand .
4. Be patient.
I am a firm believer in the idea that if something doesn’t happen correctly, it means it wasn’t meant to be. When making my short film Love Is All You Need, I had a notion that simply by changing one element of the world we live in, a global perspective could be shifted to see prejudice where we believed there was none. This vision led to the ultimate construction of the most viral short film of all time. Despite the unbound success of the short film, I pitched the feature film concept to hundreds of investors for two years. It was incredibly difficult to find people for the project who saw the same vision that I did.
However, the lull in the process with this film allowed me the opportunity to turn my attention back towards my company, Genius Produced, where I was able to apply the same principles I do to my creative process. With two years of focused time and attention, the company has quadrupled in both size and scale and will now provide me the opportunity I have been seeking to produce and market the film I had set aside. So, from my heart to yours, be patient. Opportunity doesn't strike when you want it to, but exactly when it needs to.
5. Never sacrifice your values.
As a female CEO in the entertainment industry, I have never compromised my integrity. The result? I have created a thriving counterculture to the stereotypical “Hollywood” you have been reading about lately. But what I have achieved is not commonplace, and I have watched other women fall victim to false definitions of “partnership.” Like anyone in a high-stakes industry, you will undoubtedly come across people who will want to exploit you, as I have time and time again. Remain connected to your WHY. Stay grounded in the values of your work and trail blaze for the future. With patience and trust, you will find solace in others whose values you also respect, who you feel empowered partnering with. Working collaboratively with the people whose values we admire is the first great step we can take in creating a new Hollywood network designed to flush away the stereotypes of an era of objectivity.
6. Remember that the final call is always yours.
Your vision, your voice and your process is the one that brings your work into being. When making Love Is All You Need, I was told again and again that the movie would never sell. There would be no market for a movie like this. It had been done before. I created despite this feedback, and I have changed the world with my vision. My short film has been translated into dozens of languages. I get emails every day from people who have seen Love Is All You Need and had to contact me because it inspired them to write a play, or call their children, or to see others differently for the first time in their lives. People have stopped me in public and thanked me for telling a story I believed needed to be told. If I had listened to anyone else, I would still be sitting next to directors instead of playing that role myself. The final call defines you, because it is yours and yours alone to make.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."