This is part two in a two-part series of my conversation with Jill Golick. Part one can be found HERE.
Jill of Many Trades
Women in View Executive Director, Jill Golick, is a self-professed Jill-of-many-trades. Golick is a veritable Grande Dame of storytelling in the Canadian industry. The former Writer’s Guild of Canada President has over thirty years of experience spanning writing and producing, showrunning, and transmedia storytelling. She was one of the first Canadian screenwriters to experiment in transmedia storytelling over a decade ago and has created, written, financed and produced four original multi-platform series. Her most recent being the internationally-acclaimed, award-winning digital detective series Ruby Skye P.I.
Her behind-the-scenes political advocacy over the decades has helped transform the industry. Her current focus – creating equity for all women – sees an emphasis on voice: how we develop it, why it’s important, and how it affects culture.
The following are highlights from our conversation: an open sharing between two women; artists, business women, and devout yoga practitioners with a shared love for meditation and headstands. [image JG 13 *b/c of its dimensions, if it can be left or right justified in line w/text instead of centered between paragraphs that would be amazing* credit Jill Golick]In an industry largely based on scarcity, competition, and ego, Jill’s ethos is what makes her special as a leader and mentor. She’s in the trenches with you. She’s divergent and fully engaged. She cares about this art and she cares about everyone having a seat at the table.
Write Like a Man
E: I’ve noticed over the years something happening a lot: when a woman writer is on the casting breakdowns I’m initially excited but then I read the script or sides and am often let down. It just feels like…she’s trying to ‘write like a man’. It’s still objectifying the woman, still playing up on a lot of stereotypes. Do you feel that is or has been a pressure for women? If they want to get into that ‘boys club’ then they need to write like the ‘boys’, direct like the ‘boys’; you know, which diminishes the whole point of having the voice.
JG: The women I know who excelled and got the gigs were always the ones who had the reputation ‘oh she writes like a man.’ Also, by and large, most of the rooms I was in there was only one place for a woman. I look back on my career as a writer and would characterize it as ‘I was a girl who hung around with boys’. You had to learn to be that because that was the work environment. If you wanted to sell a show: for years in children’s television the rule was girls will watch boys’ shows but boys won’t watch girls’ shows. You could never have a female lead. I tried and I ended up doing my own web-series ‘Ruby Skye P.I.’ because you couldn’t sell a show about a girl; let alone a girl and her sister.
E: I think that’s so sad.
JG: I think that’s changing. I think the market is demanding something different but now every guy I know is writing a show with a female lead in it because that’s what the market wants. And again we are in a situation where media reflections of women are being created by men. How many cop shows are on the air right now with a hard-boiled detective named ‘Angie’ who drinks and has sex like a man?
E: It’s always, ‘she’s tough like the guys, but, you know, she’s heartbroken over a man so her life’s falling apart.’ It’s boring. It’s incredibly boring.
JG: It’s incredibly boring. My daughter is an actress studying musical theater. Looking at the singing repertoire for a young female, all the songs are about romance or heartbreak. There’s not a song about ‘I wanna have a career!’
#MeToo and Hollywood
E: I’m 39 now and it’s only in these last years that I’ve really started to realize, “Oh wait a second! This is why nothing feels good!” Women and girls have been smushed into a very narrow lens because the person creating the voice is someone that has no clue and isn’t interested in really understanding the woman’s point of view.
JG: Consider yourself lucky that you’ve woken up so early! It’s been a little bit more than a year since the Weinstein story broke and the #MeToo movement spread to Hollywood. This last year I’ve felt the rage rising and rising and rising because I start to look back on my career. When I first started writing in the late seventies I thought – I was convinced – that the world was my oyster. I thought that women were equal. I thought I could excel on my brains and my talent. And now I look back and go, “Oh yeah!” I was held back at every stage of my career and for a long time I was writing bullshit that made me ethically and morally very uncomfortable and I didn’t know what was wrong. I didn’t understand it. It’s only now that I go, “Oh!”
E: “It was them, not me!”
JG: Right! And I was fucked. I didn’t have a chance.
E: Yeah, it’s a very interesting awakening and then it becomes very enraging and then you think, okay well…
JG: How do I channel my rage aptly.
E: Exactly. And how do I become somebody who does something about it instead of just sitting around complaining about it. That’s where I’m challenged because I’m very introverted and the idea of having to pitch a story or going to a lab, the idea of being around people all the time is very intimidating to me; the idea that somebody would want to hear my story or buy my story. I think that’s probably a common fear. But I also feel that women have been groomed to be polite and ‘nice’. Don’t take up space! A woman leader is ‘bossy’ or a bitch, she’s ‘intimidating’ and then punished. Or you’re just not taken seriously.
JG: It’s a totally immediate construct of who we are. Again, I go back to the idea that we’ve got to strip that all away and find out who we really are beyond the push-up bras and the makeup and the heels that have been foisted on us. Yeah, I can see the beauty in a pair of high heels but it is not a natural thing to want to put those little tiny spikes under your heel and walk down the street.
Apply Like a Man
JG: Tracey Dear.
E: Yes…on the Oka crisis. I remember I was around 11. The news coverage framed Oka as something very scary, that the First Nations were terrorists and dangerous. Something about it just didn’t feel right. But I didn’t understand my feelings because I didn’t understand how media manipulates based on whoever is in charge of the narrative. So that’s a film I want to see made. And Five in Focus is a really good example of a pro-active initiative. Was it a long time in the making to get that partnership?
JG: It predates my Executive Directorship. The CFC came to Women in View and said, “We’re hearing about these programs where you’re finding women. Can you help us find women?” When you’re working in the industry you know who you know and you select among them. It’s how you get new voices, elevate new people and bring them forward. And that was the process Women in View adopted. But it wasn’t about raising the profile of just the woman who got the gig. It was all the women along the way.
We went out to people in the industry: broadcasters, people at the big production companies, showrunners and said, “Who are the women you know that need a new shot?” And everyone would nominate people. The names of all those women would go out to the nominating committee. So already you have all these women’s names circulated among a whole bunch of important people. And then those nominees would go forward to a jury and a whole new set of important people would see their resumes, their work samples and, in the case of CFC, their scripts. In the nomination process with the CFC almost thirty female directors were named. This process allowed us to encourage these women to come forward and apply. I quickly noticed that a ton of women just take themselves out of the running. They go, “oh I’m not ready…”
E: I’m guilty of doing that. Like, I’m not qualified enough yet.
JG: Or “oh it calls for this and I don’t have that yet.”
E: Oh I don’t have that one thing so…
JG: “I don’t have that one thing!” With the CFC the premise originally was: we’re looking for one film that’s ready to go. And instead they took two! Because they thought, “Oh we can get this other one ready to go and we’ll do it next year.” And if you took yourself out of the running because your film wasn’t ‘ready to go’, you missed that opportunity for them to go, “Oh! I want this one too!” So my big rule now is: apply like a man. If you have seventy percent, put yourself in there. Don’t be the one that takes yourself out of the running.
Support Your Sisters: Create Safe Spaces
JG: As women we need to learn new ways of working with each other because women have been in competition with each other for a long time. I mean, we’re raised with the goal, the one goal of ‘finding a man’. And we’re raised to compete for that one man. Well that one man is no longer important to us because we can forge lives of our own where a man can be our companion but not our life goal. So we need to learn how to get along with our sisters and support each other and stop competing. Build each other up. Many things in the world over the last few months have led me to believe that thematically the next thing I work on has to be about relationships between women and how we forge new kinds of relationships.
E: This industry is built very much on fear and a false sense of power. Nobody wants to disrupt anything. No one wants to be blacklisted. So do you think that developing voice as creators is heavily dependent on women banding together?
JG: You have to do it wherever you feel safe. If you’re surrounded by women who are operating in fear, in a vision of scarcity, where you’re still competing with them then you won’t be able to develop your voice. You have to find that safe space and if it’s with men, if it’s with women, you gotta find that.
But we have to for sure be the audience for each other’s work. We have to develop that audience that says a show about a woman, or created by a woman, that is a woman’s voice is what we want to watch. I don’t want to turn on the television and watch another show about a superhero man, a man with anger issues and evil men. I’ve seen them all before. Give me a woman! Give me an Indigenous person and tell me their story. I can turn on the television at any time of the day or night and see a screen full of men doing sports, men cooking, men talking about the news.
E: Even looking at billboards or trailers I think, well why did you choose men for that or white people for that? Or why did you whitewash that story? Why couldn’t you make a different choice? Why is that so hard? I believe it comes down to the creators and any woman that can get in these higher echelons…I think it’s really just all hands on deck. I don’t think there’s one specific method.
JG: I agree. And it goes everywhere. We need female critics. If you go look at Rotten Tomatoes, it’s skewed by the male audience.
Have Something Useful to Say
JG: Some days I think, “Why am I spending so much time on art and something that is a little bit elite when there are so many problems in the world.” But I do think the stories we tell ourselves are so important and if we get this right, we can change society as a whole.
E: I agree. I firmly believe art is an incredibly powerful tool for change. As someone who’s founded an NGO and worked predominantly in what would be categorized as volatile regions with survivors of forced displacement, trafficking, mass rape, genocide, I really believe that people being able to tell their stories and celebrate their culture is an important part of the human experience. Maybe it’s to process trauma, for justice, preserve their heritage, or pass down ancestral knowledge. Art is incredibly important and noble. In the words of M.I.A., if you’ve been handed a microphone for the love of God have something useful to say. I think it’s critical we, as artists, have something useful to say.
JG: I agree. I agree.
Diversity Beyond Lip Service
E: Women in View had reports come out in 2015 with abysmal statistics of women as writers, women as directors and cinematographers. In light of that report, do you have any imparting wisdom or thoughts on the specific topic of equity for women through the development of voice?
JG: My thrust as a leader of women is that we can’t fight for our voice without fighting for everyone’s voice. So Women in View will have, hopefully, a new report coming out very soon that will look at what’s happened in the Canadian industry since 2015. One of the reasons I’m holding it back is that I feel we have to do more for women of colour, for Indigenous women, and for people who are non-binary. It’s very important that we report on those statistics as well. And then me, as a white woman, I don’t want to take that data and go, “Here’s what it says!” I want to consult widely with the communities and their recommendations. Really make sure that we analyze and report on those statistics in an informed and collaborative way. I suspect the recommendations will be the same recommendations that I have for taking all women to 50/50 – and that is leadership positions.
When we control our own creative, when we have narrative sovereignty, all the other problems will flow from there. If you have a woman of colour, an Indigenous woman telling her own story, leading her own show creatively then she hires more women like her and creates new stories, new roles, and new role models. It really builds a more equitable society all together.