#WomenCallAction: When to Stand Your Ground

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Dear WomenCallAction,  

I’m lost. I started out as an artist with clear convictions, now I don’t know who I am or what I believe anymore.

I want to work so badly as a writer and a director that I find myself willing to bend in any direction and then hate myself later. One day I’m a weakling, willing to agree with anything or anybody – the next, I’m angry, pissing everybody off. I feel like a pretzel.

——-

Dear Pretzel,

I’m so sorry. Though you are not specific in the particulars of your angst, I feel you. And I think everyone who has ever tried to make it in a challenging industry understands the flip-flopping that can go on until you find your footing. We all want to work, to be accepted, and to be successful and sometimes we find that if we push back too hard when folks want to meddle with our intentions, our inner compass becomes unmoored. It’s understandable, it’s natural and it’s human.

As women we have this even harder. We aim to please and can easily give up our power in order to succumb to someone else’s will, and as artists who need financiers, producers, whomever to validate and then BUY our projects, we need to negotiate both the work and our inner voices.

The challenge is to know when to yield and when to stand your ground. As a writer I can honestly say that I have rarely encountered notes that don’t eventually lead to changes that better the screenplay. Often producers or executives won’t be able to solve the exact script issue, and sometimes they are not even be able to well articulate what the problem might be, but if something bumped the read, or something was unclear then this is reason enough for you to take every single note as a gift that can clarify your way into a better draft. Sometimes it’s tough in the room to take a barrage of criticism, but it’s best to listen, take notes and see how you feel afterwards, rather than respond at the moment. It’s part of your job as a creative collaborator to learn how to keep your personal emotions out of story meetings. On the other hand, if an executive wants you to alter the very intention of your work then you must speak up, illuminate where they may have gotten off track, or you always have the power to take your project elsewhere.

As a director this process depends upon whether you are working for hire on someone else’s vision or if you are directing your own project. As a director for hire it’s your job to understand the imprint of another artist and to emulate that mandate and then bring something unique to the project. If it’s your film and other collaborators want to tamper with your vision, then you must be sure that you are being clear and direct in your communications.

Sometimes the most difficult aspect of our careers is simply how to present ourselves in meetings. If you’re feeling strong that day you worry about blowing them out of the room with your confidence, and if you’re having a fragile day, you can have concerns about being too soft. We are more than one thing on one particular day and I understand and share your predicament.

All I can advise you is to be true to your heart. No one can define you except you. They may not like you. They may not hire you, but no one can take away what you believe, what you stand for, and what you were put on this planet to say. I hope that helps.

Good luck!

Rachel Feldman

About Rachel Feldman

Rachel Feldman is the 2015 NYWIFT Ravenal Grantee for directors over 40 working on a 2nd feature - for LEDBETTER, an Athena List winner, about the remarkable Fair Pay activist Lilly Ledbetter. Rachel also won the 2015 WGA Drama Queens Award for spec pilot THE UNDERNEATH, optioned by Maria Bello’s Ground Seven Entertainment. She has directed movies and episodic television for ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, FOX, The CW, SYFY, LIFETIME, DISNEY CHANNEL and TEEN NICK and written movies for Lifetime and ABCFamily. An ardent activist for women directors, Feldman was a prime mover in the recent ACLU actions, has chaired the DGA Women’s Steering Committee, and has taught directing and screenwriting in the MFA program at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. She received her MFA in Directing from NYU, and her BA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College and Parsons School of Design. Her grad thesis film won Best Short at The New York and Chicago Film Festivals, later sold to HBO, Showtime and PBS. Feldman has received filmmaking grants from The AFI, The Jerome Foundation, Kodak, Technicolor, and Panavision’s “Filmmakers To Watch”.