The Digital Bolex Grant for Women Cinematographers

The statistics are startling. Fewer than 2% of working cinematographers are women. No female cinematographer has been nominated for an Academy Award. There are 11 active women in the ASC–out of 330+ active members. The first studio film to have a female cinematographer was released in 1980.

Women have been discouraged from getting behind the camera for decades, and these statistics prove that the problem is systemic and culturally enforced. Laura Mulvey’s much-discussed concept of the “male gaze” puts women’s place in front of the camera, as living props to be photographed and judged, not to make decisions about how they are portrayed or participate in the creation of their own image.

Rarely do you see a set with women in the camera department, which I lovingly dub the “dude swarm”. There’s nothing wrong with the dude swarm, inherently, except it creates a set culture where anyone not wearing cargo shorts is an outsider. And too many women in the camera department as treated as outsiders.

I’ve heard plenty of horror stories–women cinematographers with strong reels who, making it to a live interview, are told “oh, we thought you were a man,” and suddenly not the right fit for the job. I’ve had male crew members fight every camera choice I make on set, I’ve seen female cinematographers work retail at clothing stores because directors (90% male) didn’t have confidence in their abilities. The cycle is vicious; men and women start in the industry as equally green amateurs, and as men hire more men, suddenly the women become “unqualified” to work alongside their former peers.

As Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers wrote in the LA Times this past December, studies show that “for promising men, potential is enough, whereas women are judged on what they’ve actually done.” In the film industry, men judge each other on what they could do, if they pooled their resources and worked together as a team.

Women don’t count as resources because, with “potential” and brains left out of the equation, women are less likely to own the expensive, tangible resources like film equipment that more and more play a deciding factor in who gets hired for what job. But how can a woman cinematographer who has to fight for the lowest of the low jobs afford the hot new camera on the block? They can’t.

Women are less likely to own equipment not only because of the cost of equipment versus the amount of work they’re being hired for, but because women are taught to look and not to touch when it comes to technology. I can’t count the male and female partners I encounter at trade shows where the male partner grabs a camera excitedly while his female partner watches passively over his shoulder. And try to engage a single woman perusing a tech booth? Forget it–ask if they have any questions and the answer is “no thank you” and they’re gone. Women aren’t taught to be entitled to technology in the way that men are. Men are entitled to put their hands on cool gadgets. Women are entitled to watch, but not to participate.

Just listen to the way men explain technology to women at a trade show and this dichotomy becomes readily clear. Women are expected not to be able to use technology, instead of trying it for themselves and playing, they must be hand held, guided, ‘splained. And that’s a huge turn off to wanting to participate. It’s not a surprise to me that 99 of 100 requests I get to borrow one of our cameras for a project come from men. Women are taught not to ask. And if we as a company choose to work with, say, 5% of people requesting cameras, the numbers aren’t looking too great for the ladyfolk.

But let’s say that’s not the case. Let’s say a woman has surpassed all these odds, and has a fancy camera and knows how to use it. Would the industry be willing to accept the potential of such a woman and hire her to shoot a film?

I think so.

Which is why I’m going to stop soapboxing on the internet (okay, maybe not) and put my money where my mouth is. I’m very pleased to announce the Digital Bolex Grant for Women Cinematographers.

Starting this summer, we will be offering a pair of Digital Bolex D16 kits, featuring $10,000 in gear and accessories from some wonderful soon-to-be-announced sponsors, on a rolling basis to any narrative short or feature film project to be shot by a female cinematographer.

As one of a handful of female cinematographers at the SXSW Film Festival, I am acutely aware that my ability to purchase, train with, and bring equipment to gigs over the past decade is what has gotten me to this wonderful festival with a feature film. I want to give other women that same ability to use their potential.

The relationship between a director and cinematographer is perhaps the most important in filmmaking–we see male duos with collaborative relationships spanning decades creating masterpieces. I’d like to see women involved in that kind of intimate collaborative process, and I hope that I can start to help move our industry in that direction.

Stayed tuned over the next few weeks to hear about our sponsors and application process. And for those extra proactive ladies, feel free to start reaching out to me at elle@digitalbolex.com

59 thoughts on “The Digital Bolex Grant for Women Cinematographers

  1. As an aspiring cinematographer, I find this article and this gesture incredibly encouraging! Thank you so greatly for addressing the ceiling and even taking it a step further and participating in such a huge way! I am excited to see what becomes of your generous efforts.

  2. I’ve been through four years of graduate training in theater and now three years of new media training–and in each instance, the men consistently get rewarded by the male professors with outside jobs, encouragement and more hands-on experience in and out of class. This in spite of my consistently producing some of the highest level of work in the classes. I watched as women who were amazing behind the camera and in the editing room consistently were overlooked — we only logged our time with the cameras by taking things into our own hands, and just as you note, the equipment accessible to us was never the incredible equipment the men were getting to try in the outside jobs they were given. So thank you for what you are doing! You’re an inspiration just being out there, producing work in the world we dream of entering!

  3. What a fantastic offer/article. Thank you for saying all that. I’m only the eighth women in Australia to be granted her accreditation to the Cinematographers’ Society. I also wanted to highlight the fact that women aren’t encouraged and mentored the same way that men are in our industry. I’ve called it ‘being passed over ‘ as if we are invisible. You have to develop quite a thick skin to be in the camera department or even the head of it! Thank you to Bolex for all that great support.

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  6. This is a fantastic opportunity and thank you Elle for speaking out about this. I recently shot a short film that was screened at the Galway Film Fleadh, we had a female camera assistant, female sound operator and female boom op – girl power!

    I was recently data wrangler on a music video and was asked if I was the make-up artist, just because I am female- irritating!

    I love that cameras are getting smaller and working with the RED Scarlet/Epic is so manageable compared to the weight of cameras such as the Alexa/Red One. Thanks to this I think that statistics of women in the camera department should be on the rise, I enjoy working everyday to help that statistic 🙂

  7. Having had the tremendous honour of working under and with some incredibly talented women over the years, I was utterly shocked to read not only the stats but also that there is such a cultural bias in this industry. Good on you for speaking out on this issue and the really cool opportunity provided through the grant 🙂

  8. I am a woman filmaker and will employ a woman cinematographer. We would love to apply for your award of the fab equipment. We are just going to shoot our first feature film in October 2014 and your award would make a great difference to whether I employ a female DOP as she is great but hasn’t her own equipment or a male as he has his own stuff, and hiring equipment is very prohibitive on a low budget. BUT I will come down on the side of the female if we win!

  9. Thank you Elle and Digital Bolex!
    I would love an opportunity to use this camera. As a woman cinematographer, it is amazing to hear about this. Most of my work is documentary, but I have been DP for narrative film as well. Currently my audio assistant is a woman, another field that has a similar problem!
    Thank you!

  10. Hello Ellen!
    I would like to know if this grant can be for foreigners outside the USA.
    I´m a professional Mexican DOP living in Canada, and I will love to apply for this grant. I work as DOP in both countries.
    I have been in the industry for the last 23 years. And my experience has not been very different from what you mention above.
    In México we are 5 female DOP´s, that are professional active. We shoot Mayor Feature Film, Short-films, Commercials and Documentaries.
    I´m the first female DOP that graduate from the film school CCC ( Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica) and the first to have a career as a professional female DOP in Mexico
    In Canada things are not very different.
    I´m the only woman DOP that is represented by one of the most important agencies in Canada ( The Characters Talet Agency) .
    I´m also a member of the A.T.S.E 667 ( International Cinematographers Guild of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) and to my surprise is not very different from the A.M.C. ( Asociación Mexicana de Cinematógrafos)(Mexican Association of Cinematographers) Both have few female members,
    the percentage is even lower that the one you mentioned in USA.
    Please keep me posted with any news about the application.
    I really hope that this grant includes foreigners.

    Thank you so much for this opportunity!
    By the way ,the D16 is gorgeous!!!
    Celiana

  11. I am on the Cinematography Faculty at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, School of Filmmaking. I teach the 2nd year Cinematography class. This year I had 21 students in my classes, two of them women. Next year I have 27 students registered with 11 women. The future of Cinematography is bright. Thank you for providing the grants to these creative women filmmakers.

    David Parrish SOC
    UNC School of the Arts
    School of Filmmaking

  12. My previous post was in response to Claudia Cardena’s post. That’s why it’s in portuguese. I’m a steadicam op offering to work with her 😉

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  14. You’ve hit the nail on the head! This is a great way to encourage more women to move into the tech departments. I am a documentary filmmaker and DP with many doc credits under my belt – I think the situation for camerawomen in documentary is slightly better. I know at least 3 – 4 documentary camerawomen (including myself) here in the Chicago area, who work on interesting and rewarding projects that actually pay the bills, too. Maybe that representation speaks to a higher social consciousness in documentary or lower budgets 😉 Another tech department where you will rarely find women is sound, btw.

  15. I’m looking forward to the information on this grant. I’m thrilled someone thought of this! I am in total sympathy with one of the other posters as I also have projects that failed or suffered due to camera issues. I just really got tired of not getting the shots I’d asked for as a second unit director. Now I’ve worked out how to set up the shots, but don’t have the equipment to do it anymore. My gear was all old NTSC standard widescreen and not HD. Can’t wait to hear more on this project.

  16. Thanks for the support! I would love to try out the new digital bolex. I’ve been watching the development of that camera since the kickstarter. I just completed DPing a short film in Ohio and I hope to get to work on another short soon so perhaps the stars will align and I can get my hands on your creation 🙂

    Go women in film!

  17. Dear Elle,
    you are so right .Thats why I startet teaching woman doing camera work. Especially with the cameracrane thy learn faster and better the multitasking needs for fast and precise framing.Good picture composing they master anyway.The little local TV station (www.ALF-TV.ch) I am sometimes working for is famous for the MUSIC LIVE programm. During the live TV work 50% of the cameras have female staff, my daughter inclusive.
    I wish to thank you Elle, for your big contribution in developing the new Bolex!
    Greetings from Switzerland Rudolf Widmer

  18. The industry was born with woman, the first feature films, major screenplays, and most innovations in the early years were thanks to women. It’s insane how far the balance has shifted, but I do hope the balances comes back out of the patriarchy.

  19. I also went to a film school with a 50/50 male-female ratio, and in the intervening 10 years, the male DPs have been steadily working their way into high profile (and award-winning) TV shows and movies, while all the women DPs I know have either changed paths or ended up in reality tv, low-paid documentary work, or assistant work. I shot 3 features before starting to work in reality tv, where I still get fewer job calls than my less-skilled, less-experienced male counterparts. It’s real, and part of me wants to just quit and stop facing the unfairness every day, but part of me needs to keep going even if it’s just to represent the other 50%!

  20. Thank you for this awesome opportunity to strut our stuff with some latest technology!!

    As a woman cinematographer, I’ve had to create my own opportunities, which have in turn made me realize how effective I am for a team as a Producer, Director, and any managerial/organization roles! Although I love all these aspects of filmmaking, my true passion keeps me looking through the lens for those magical moments. I can’t wait to apply for the grant, and would love to help the organization in any way I can. ^_^

    imoto
    https://www.facebook.com/imotophoto

  21. Dear Elle:

    I am very interested in applying for this grant. I am a professional photographer and an independent filmmaker. Last summer I put together a film project and went to Africa to film and document an African women who started the first health clinic in her village. I took five cameras, including a go pro and loved mixing the filming on different cameras. Go Pro and others sponsored the project. The editing will be finished in a week. I just filmed a flamenco dancer for a short with a Go Pro and Panasonic. So wonderful that you are offering this opportunity. I dream of collaborating more as a cinematographer. Thank you!

  22. I started my career in the late 1980’s and have more male colleagues than most women. Years ago, I taught at the university and always encouraged the female students to touch the camera before the guys. It was fascinating to see them recoil and visually check with the guys before stepping forward. I made it my mission to make them “own” their choice to take a production class.
    Now, I have my own company and shoot my own productions. I work extra hard to know about the newest gear. I often have 20 year olds tell me they have almost as much experience as I do as a shooter. It steams me to know that they will catapult over me with jobs simply because they look like the person needing to hire a camera op.
    This is such a great idea. It makes me think that I have to do this on a local level.

  23. I’m in a digital video class in San Francisco at the moment and I’ve noticed that one of the key professors repeatedly snubs two females. Come to think of it, all of the professors in this program are white men.

  24. Totally agree. I graduated in cinema school an since that I´ve been struggling to find jobs. The last shooting I was in just happened because the two guys they called before me were busy. My name was indicated by a former teacher. A male teacher.
    I live in Brasil and we are yet a very machist country. But I guess there is no excession in this matter, right?

  25. In January I worked on a web series pilot as DP, and had a high school girl who’s very into photography as the camera operator. We were very efficient, and didn’t compromise on setups; our lighting was expressive and beautiful, and our shots were stellar.

    That said, I’m not sure that she’s going to turn into a DP because I think that she is more interested in writing and directing, but if she does decide to head down the cinematographer route, she’ll be excellent.

  26. As economy of scale and Moore’s Law operate, all will be well equipped. Similar to the arrival of the printing press, the WWW and the demand for content will enable much dreadful dross and many gems. Females have been abused and exploited for millenia.

    The Digital Bolex Grant is a wonderful chance for someone!

    Some advice? Share with other women and build only with them, using men where necessary. Educate by sharing. You have much to tell us all!

  27. In 1894, Alice Guy was hired by Léon Gaumont to work for a still-photography company as a secretary. The company soon went out of business but Gaumont bought the defunct operation’s inventory and began his own company that soon became a major force in the fledgling motion-picture industry in France. Guy decided to join the new Gaumont Film Company, a decision that led to a pioneering career in filmmaking spanning more than twenty-five years and involving her directing, producing, writing and/or overseeing more than 700 films. She was the first woman director in the motion-picture industry and is one of the first directors of fiction films.

    I am friends with 3 girls, all three directors who all just finished their first feature film … Whether they were girls has never been a problem … and I’m happy about that.

  28. This is such a great initiative. Congratulations on taking the lead on this, well done and I’m sure it will make a big difference.

    For my part, I hate macho culture, more women involved can bring nothing but good.

  29. I’m just beginning to prep my next microbudget feature (shooting in November in San Francisco), and I’ve had two primary investigative targets in the camera department – female DP (our lead character is a woman who’s in every scene, so I think the movie can benefit greatly from a woman’s eye) and the D16. This grant feels like encouragement from the universe on both fronts. My shooter and I will be applying (as soon as I find her).

  30. I am an independent filmmaker who is in despite need of high quality equipment. I have several projects to re-film because of the quality of the product is not up to par. I am so excited about the possibility of being able to compete for the bigger projects.

  31. This is fantastic. It’s strange though because at the dawn of cinema & the birth of the studio system, women were at the forefront of cinematography & innovation, and very highly paid. Then things began to go backwards 🙁

    But while I was in college, all the film courses had an averge of a 50% split, male & female. Heartening 🙂

  32. This is awesomely, hugely wonderful, and I will absolutely be pursuing that grant when my feature comes around. The only two people I’m interested in for my DP are women (and if I’m lucky enough to assemble my A-team, nearly all my department heads would end up being women).

    Though, I have to make sure they’re comfy with the D16 while I’m at it, haha. Cheers to you in the mean time, Elle (and Joe)! Splendid stuff on the horizon either way.

  33. You are an inspiration!
    I’m proud to tell you that on my last project, (a tv pilot, 110 Llandaff Road, with a *woman* writer/director), my DP was a woman, our 2nd unit camera was a woman, both 1st AC’s were women, and one of the 2nd AC’s was a woman.
    Fastest moving camera department I’ve ever worked with and I’ve produced over 25 films. On one day, 95 degrees in the shade, shooting an exterior BBQ scene she rocked 33 set ups.
    And I must add, our DP was a rock star genius photographer. The pilot looks beautiful and tells the story better than I, or our writer/director could have imagined.
    It’s time to change those unbelievable stats. Thank you for rising to the occasion!
    Best regards,
    Roberta Munroe

  34. I’ve been in the industry (film, TV and music) for only 5 years but since the beginning I noticed that women are always “relegated” to low profile positions (P.A, make up, etc) regardless of their talent and/or experience. I’m not saying that those positions are not relevant, they are very important, but I get the feel girls struggle to “move up the ladder”.

    As a male, I hate the “macho” culture in the film industry. It even affects guys like me who choose not to wear cargo pants and act rude.

    Thank you so much for this initiative. I have the utmost respect for you.

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