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January 7th, 2018

How can we help create a safe and healthy work environment in our industry?

This month our question confronts the recent revelations of sexual harassment and emotional abuse in our industry. The topic has been a frequent matter of discussion in these past months, so we asked our colleagues to help grapple with this difficult subject by writing their thoughts. 
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Suzuki Ingerslev

Suzuki Ingerslev has enjoyed a 27-year career as an Art Director and Production Designer. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley and before working in the Entertainment Industry she practiced architecture in Los Angeles and Vienna, Austria. Her best- known design credits include Six Feet Under, In Treatment, True Blood, Hand of God, and the up coming Here and Now. She lives in Los Angeles. 

Creating a safe and healthy environment, both physically and mentally, in the work place is key in producing quality design and encouraging teams to work harder and smarter. Design is so subjective, and teams should feel comfortable exploring ideas and creating clever ways of achieving goals. Environments should provide a safe haven, free of bullying, envy and insecurity in order for ideas to flow freely. If an environment is toxic, the end product suffers, and quite often the project’s dysfunction appears on screen. We have all been on “difficult” shows/films and we know how hard it is to keep morale and the quality of work at a high level. It may sound idealistic, but it is so crucial. There are a few different ways I have approached this topic over the years.

 

Choose who you work with. When considering a project, do your homework, ask friends or colleagues if they have experience with the particular production team. During the interview, pay attention and be proactive. Are the interviewers engaging and open to ideas?  Do they take the time to talk to you about your ideas and who you are? It is a gut instinct, but it usually serves me well.  An interview is an opportunity to get to know them as well as they getting to know you. Similarly when hiring, never forget the quality of the person is just as important than the quality of their work, so be sure to assess how their values and behaviors match yours.

Actively create your culture on a daily basis. Work environment quality is a function not of grand gestures or single leaders, but rather the collective daily actions of everyone. Everyone is a role model, everyone contributes to the culture, so act in a way you want everyone to - remember this for yourself and for what you should expect of others. We’ve all experienced it privately, and now it is being discussed publicly, what can happen when unacceptable daily actions are accepted - it becomes the deep rooted culture. I have always stood up for my crews and that has not been the easiest path, but it is a path that enables me to live with myself.  If you see something that does not sit well with you, report it to someone in charge. If you’re in charge, make sure your team knows they can and should be forthcoming to you - and when they are, make sure you take the time and energy to address it. As my friend who is an AD always says, there is only one of me, but 150 of you, keep your eyes open and speak up. 

 

We work in an extremely complex field full of changing environments and people. No situation is permanent, but the memories are, and the culture is carried with us. Always remember that you are only as good as the people you work with, and we should all be looking out for each other. Thankfully, bad behavior and unsafe work environments have come to the forefront of the news media lately. We should seize this opportunity and attempt to reset this culture of which we are all a part. Bullying, unwanted sexaul advances and generally dangerous work environments should never ever be acceptable.

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Naomi Shohan

Naomi Shohan’`s film credits include American Beauty, Training Day, Constantine, I Am Legend, The Lovely Bones, The Sorcerer’`s Apprentice, Winter’s Tale, The Equalizer, The Walk, Ben-Hur and the recently wrapped A Wrinkle in Time.

How to talk about “ME TOO” without stepping in poo? Or, I am tall so I’ve rarely had to look up at a man.

 

We are having a snow day and one of Leo’s friends has spent the night. My husband is making breakfast and the three of them are in the kitchen while I am on the sofa trying to figure out what to write. I hear Leo telling Tony, my husband, “Suck my dick.” It’s getting fun in there. I walk in to ask who is sucking whose dick. Tony tells me cut it out, but the conversation has already moved on. Eventually the boys are going over the ‘at least 50 kinds of gender’ they are being told about in Health class. This fathomless dive into nuance seems to me to obfuscate the essential underlying dictate: Be Decent To Other People No Matter What. But by the time I manage to get that out, the conversation has moved on.

 

Nuance is what we are in danger of forbidding in the Me Too moment and we look really stupid when we do. We need to legislate common decency against the monsters of id, plainly. But in complaining about its smaller eruptions, we behave as though unaware or exempt from the ages old values in trade of objectification. Did we maybe forget the time we posed suggestively in a magazine when we told the press he pinched our ass?

Why was Donna Karan castigated for saying women should be aware of what they are projecting? Maybe she should have said, “Everyone.” Maybe she did. Why was Gabby Douglas?

The week Harvey Weinstein is media cacophony, I’m looking for food on Elizabeth Street during a break from JURY DUTY and happen upon a high- heeled young woman writhing against a lamp post. She’s flipping her long hair, while squatting young guys in black shoot up at her with a big camera, crowding the intersection. Really?, I say, Get out of the fucking way.

The worst sexism I’ve experienced has been from art directors I’ve hired who, whether due to my inability to connect, or theirs, have persisted in skipping the conversation we should have had before taking a plunge into my rice bowl.

Outing monsters: Good. Thinking about, holy shit, Yoko Ono had a point when she said women are the n-words of the world; grappling with sexism: Good. Losing our sense of humor: Maybe not so good.

But, no, I didn’t have the BALLS to tell that PA to please not wear short shorts to the office. Though that was a while ago, and nowadays I’d consider it my pedagogical duty as the role model in charge, to say nothing of my legal liability as a graduate of whichever sexual harassment seminar has recently spelled out my obligations to the corporation, to take her aside. We could talk about sublimation.

We are lucky to practice an art that encompasses such a breadth of interests and investigations. We are lucky to practice this art that uses us so completely. We are lucky that the subjects and objects of our work are so rich that we can have the most intimate of relationships with colleagues, with so much passion sublimated into the common purpose.

Be Decent To Other People No Matter What.


Respect and appreciate the people who work for you and the people you work for. It is much more fun that way.

Just fire that f-ing art director is he’s an ass.

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Michel Barthélémy

Michel Barthélémy’s film credits include Jacques Audiard's Read my LipsA Prophet, Rust and Bone, Dheepan and the upcoming The Sisters Brothers, as well as Francois Ozon's The New Girlfriend and Frantz, Clair Denis' Bastards and many others. He's designed music videos and commercials for directors such as Luc Besson, Mark Romanek, Jonas Ackerlund and Darren Aronofsky. He is the president of the French Production Designers Association (Association des Chefs Décorateurs de Cinéma).

 

Talking about our work commitment lead me to realize how rich our teamwork is. This one point has always amazed me, we never have twice the same playground, never twice the same team, and then very fast we are bound to act as a group, we have to trust and respect each other to go ahead…hopefully this is the case most of the time…. 

 

We have this little miracle in Art Department - we are a band of artists, mercenaries and experts, able to solve impossible situations or demands from the Head, our beloved director, at any time, without delay…. Of course this means that we must maintain at all times the aesthetics, budget and safety matters, and for this we partly lean on the competence of our best people, since we have to delegate : art director, head constructor, head painter, head sculptor, prop master, SFX supervisor, stunt supervisor etc. However we, production designers, have to show the way, to highlight the importance of high-quality work environment, even if we are drowning under artistic concerns and pressures from everywhere - we need to make these paramount points of safety and health a priority. 

 

All these important issues we for sure can control on small projects at home with our own crew, but when it comes to bigger projects in several countries with several teams, first time experiences, different ways of organization and agreements, different social standards, it becomes very challenging. You give the framework, you have to delegate, to trust people and hope (and pray) everything is well done to provide the best working conditions… but you have no way to ensure that everyone is well-treated, correctly paid… and sometimes, things happen in your back too, which is really sad.

 

And when we say safe and healthy, we target the quality of work conditions for the team in general, and therefore the quality of relationships between men, and men and women.

 

My way of hiring a crew is probably very normal: I will endeavor to get the best crew I can get, artistically, technically and also in terms of ability to endure a long collective adventure, which means compatibility and complementarity, in order to avoid conflicts, as I’m not at ease with conflicts…Team work is a beautiful experience we live everyday, but of course it requires respectful behavior and balanced amount of work for all the egos involved, so I try hard to give everyone enough space for his/her own initiative, his/her own field of creativity. Personally, I prefer to have a mixed team with women and men in equal number if possible, (except for construction crew, still a man’s world in France), because I feel, especially on long projects, that it gives this balance in energy and endurance. And also I feel it’s more fun, mixed teams are more vibrant and inspiring, for sure…

So where are we currently on the issue of women at work in our industry? Our work environment hosts a social laboratory, as we have some freedom to organize and optimize very fast how we work collectively, but we cannot avoid pre-formatted attitudes including racism and sexism, acquired from centuries of human being on earth and power balanced on man’s side. Even though in France we are slowly heading to more equality between men and women on the work front (this process is going faster, if we consider what has been done in the last 100 years, but it is probably too slow….), we have to pay attention to persisting sexist conducts of men versus women, and to wonder why gender matters at work.

 

Looking 35 years back, when I started in the film industry, it was a male environment - there were almost no women in the art department in France, but few ones in set dec… and I remember this super-misogynistic saying from some construction guy: “a woman in our crew, it’s a comrade at the unemployment office!”. Now in the Art Department we have many women in the paint crews, tapestry, greens, art directors & assistants, draughtswomen, and a majority of women students in all the art schools… For the ADC (French Production Designers association), for instance, women production designers represents 20% of our members…not enough, but better than yesterday.

 

Regarding women and men work relations, if we want to progress on this matter, we have to consider these points (not specific to our industry) at a worldwide level :

- Harassment, sexist behaviors, violence (how to erase) .

- difficulty for men to accept being directed by a woman (how to overcome).

- Inequality of wages, salary discrimination, why ? (how to get equality).

- Motherhood (maternity and long distance jobs, which framework to help combining mother and PD life). 

 

As a man, I don’t feel like the most experienced to testify, so I did ask some colleagues of mine, French women PDs, to share their experiences or express their opinion, for which I thank them so much:

Anna Falguères, Valérie Valéro, Emma Cuillery, Chloé Cambournac

From Anna Falguères:

I have the impression that things are different in France compared to the US. In France a form of seduction is always expected from women, like something that would seal the deal or add to the reason for which she will be hired. And that is why, very often still, there is a form of continuous suspicion that a woman might be in her position because of her physical attributes rather than her skills, which is a real problem!

This form of prejudice is so deeply rooted that for instance, I had to struggle against it myself. I can recall having to fight against my own instincts to get myself to hire beautiful female collaborators. By resisting these false ideas, I realized that what really matters in the end is how the person facing me wants to use his power. Man or woman, woman or man, it is the way we relate to power that creates a healthy or unhealthy working relationship.


Filmmaking leads to a form of hierarchy and we are not equal facing this particular challenge of exercise of power. And yet, I don’t have the feeling that gender is where the difference lies. In my work, I have known, without distinction, both ruthless men and ruthless women.

From Valérie Valéro:

When I started (as Art Director) I was one of the very few women in charge of supervising like 50 constructors and painters, who were whistling at me, with those porn posters in their lockers. To stand out as art director at 25, I had to buy cowboy boots and to stop wearing skirts!!!

So many times, I had to face this kind of indelicate behaviors from men. Moral and sexual harassment, threats and tracking in carparks up to my place, in which I never conceded and which caused some jobs losses.....it happened with directors, D.O.P.s, many production designers.....No harassment from producers, by the way...

From Emma Cuillery :

I give you my opinion on this point and I confirm, there is still great misogyny in our environment. When I started 18 years ago, I really had to get super-angry in front of sexist conducts, totally inappropriate, but then, having a strong temper myself, and able to threaten the bad ones, it did never bother me.

Misogyny is also somewhere else, and it appears more clearly to me now as production designer, this mentality is embedded deep inside ourselves, even in we, women. Before, I was confronted with technicians who were pretending to know better than me (young and female) what to do, but things changed when they realized I was not saying bullshit.

Today, it keeps me even angrier, even if I’m quite accustomed to being treated as a UFO. Even in our association ADC, I can hear disrespectful reactions like "Why did they hire you for this Gauguin project, quite strange... ?", meaning between the lines "how come, with whom did you sleep to get the job... ?".

Producers and Directors I meet will systematically get an a priori, a lack of trust despite my references, not because I’m young (I’m not that young now, 40, the age of many production designers), but because I’m a woman. I can clearly see the difference with my boyfriend, same age, same situation, but never such reactions of mistrust.


Obviously, the answer should be to suggest to women victims to be able to loudly report the inappropriate and sexist behaviors in our working environment, but the biggest work is to change mentalities, to highlight the fact that a woman is not less competent or talented than a man at a high position... Fortunately in France, we are rich with many women Directors or Directors of Photography.

From Chloé Cambournac :

Many genders, personalities, and ego compose a film crew. A film crew is like a micro-society, with its own life’s duration, and when it comes to being dysfunctional, then it becomes unsafe...Egoistic disorders, authority abuses, paternalistic attitudes... Composing a film crew is almost a lifetime achievement, and not less rewarding and interesting than working on our personal aesthetic expression as PDs.

 

Historical evolution of our department :
From studio setup to "la nouvelle vague", the skills needed for the art department crew evolved. But still, the hierarchy remains. Very vertical, very pyramidal.

 

Men should handle the job. Woman can’t. Stay on your line. It’s not a woman’s job. Let me do it for you.
We all have heard those statements at least once.

 

Pyramidal order makes you feel like you’re working for someone. Therefore, you need to attract your superior’s attention, in order to be noticed. You need to put yourself into the light, in order to evolve.
Those behavioral patterns are very known, very ancient, and could eventually lead to abuses.

 

As a PD, I am not looking over the "best persons for the job", skill wise, but I’d rather focus on composing a coherent group within individual personalities. If the Art Department crew functions as a group, it becomes more efficient, more mindful to each other’s wellness. It’s safer here: you can learn, exchange opinions, and grow among the group. Working as a group creates the will to make things right, to make it happen together. It creates energy. Proposals. New ideas. It creates a new orders for doing things. New facets. It’s a constant renewing.


There are many ways to built a bright city.. by volunteering the people, or by using force and slavery against them. I strongly believe into the idea of volunteering: it gives you freedom, rights, and the strengh to refuse.

 

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