Leading With The Feminine: The Making of “Lady Brain”


“Action!” “Cut!” “Second team flying in!”

For as long as movies have been made, they’ve been functioning at a military level of masculine energy. Some of the first crews were comprised of veterans returning from WWI, and Hollywood was birthed in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, when machinery, power, and productivity were king. Hell, the first “great” American filmmaker, D.W. Griffith, was the son of a Confederate Colonel, and the iconic image of the director he created is of a white guy with a bullhorn, barking orders to a massive army of extras. So here we are in 2018 when, sadly, women and the femininity they represent are barely beginning to have a seat at the table.

Now before I continue, let me just clarify that when I speak about masculine and feminine energies, the yin and the yang, I don’t simply mean biological sex. We all have within us elements of the rational, aggressive “male” energy, and softer, intuitive “female” energy. As a pretty feminine-leaning lady myself, I FOR SURE allow masculine energy to rule many of my decisions. Often to a fault. I am goal-oriented, resourceful, strong-willed, and have learned to internalize my emotions like a goddamn champ.

But what I’ve discovered along the way is a mission to inspire change. To get myself, along with other women AND men, to accept and exercise our own feminine superpowers of listening, intuition, compassion, and empathy. As my Women’s March poster stated, “I am in it to YIN it.”

Lady Brain

That’s why I decided to call my film initiative “Lady Brain”. It stands for embracing all that is feminine in positions of leadership, and reclaiming the “lady” descriptive as being positive and triumphant, instead of insulting and demeaning. Softness, emotion, fear, and vulnerability are all qualities that can greatly serve us as artists and as leaders. Which is why it’s such a shame that our culture has deemed these traits taboo in the workplace (or anywhere in public, tbh). When I was a teenager and had to say goodbye to our family dog of 15 years, my dad said, “Keep your chin up.”

At the 2015 AFI DWW graduation, Jill Soloway said, “I came into most of my power as a filmmaker when I realized that all I needed to do was make a safe space for people to have feelings. And that’s feminine energy. That’s mommy energy. That’s OUR birthright.” Hearing this during a time when I was working for a production company that was a classic Hollywood boy’s club was pivotal for my path. And #LadyBrain started just three months after that speech was made.

When making my short film GIRL CODE in 2016 (linked below), I allowed that intention of feminine leadership to manifest in my role as director– in rehearsals with my actors, giving notes on set, and operating from intuition when faced with tough in-the-moment decisions.

However, I wish I would have called upon that Earth-Mama-energy in my role as a producer. But I was trapped in a masculine paradigm of looking at production as going to war. And when facing a tough challenge, I was raised to grit my teeth, do all the hard work myself, and never show weakness.

By failing to ask for help and seek support, I overextended myself. I created a dynamic on set where I was both the director and the only producer who was keeping track of everything that needed to happen. Call times, contract signatures, even craft services. My focus was pulled in a million directions, which did not allow me to put the art and storytelling first. At the end of my first day of shooting, I fell into a crying heap (in the privacy of my own home, of course!) and thought, “Oh no. I hate filmmaking.”

Through the course of our two-day production I overworked myself into deathly illness, and wound up in the ER with pneumonia and a workaholic’s hangover. Because throughout my life, my body has shown me time and again that when I try to brute force my way through something, she’s going to respond with her own brute force in order to make me stop and listen.

Making GIRL CODE was a crash course in filmmaking, and one of the best learning experiences of my career so far. We went on to screen at several festivals, meet other amazing filmmakers, and see the impact we had on audiences firsthand. Men and women shared how our film helped them feel less alone, made them cringe with how real it felt, and moved them to trust their intuition.

That reaction is testament to the deliberate, intentional process I undertook with my collaborators Jessica Jacobs and Kate Spare. We originally developed the piece as a one-act play, and spent months taking our time to find the voices and inner lives of these characters, before adapting the story as a film. By leading with the feminine in our approach, we set ourselves up to create an emotionally resonant final product that we’re amazingly proud of. 

But most importantly, my experience on this film taught me to pause and approach my next big project with even more intention and mindfulness. And that I don’t hate filmmaking. I just hate when toxic masculine energy makes a set a miserable place to work. My Lady Brain is helping me leave pride at the door, shake off the Hollywood “shoulds”, and continue to pursue my creativity while inviting in more of that juicy feminine goodness. The result has been a vastly more fulfilling path–  where I am producing the kind of art I want to share, and creating the kind of life I want to live.


GIRL CODE from Lady Brain by Casey Gates on Vimeo.