Tema Staig: Helping Women Get Hired

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#DirectedbyWomen team member Maria Corso spoke with Tema Staig recently about her love of film, and her commitment to helping women flourish above and below the line.  Women directors are among those benefiting from The Women in Media Crew List, “a Google doc for women crew and people who want to hire them.”

DBW: What is your earliest memory of film?

 TS: When I was a little kid, my dad took me to see Fantasia in the movie theater.  I was enthralled by the music, vivid colors, and wonderful ideas in that movie.  I was absolutely terrified by the Night on Bald Mountain sequence, however!  Even though I knew it was only a movie, it felt very real to me.  My dad hugged and assured me that the pictures were not real, but wonderful stories that we can learn from and enjoy.  We revisited this conversation when I was a teenager when he sat me down to watch A Clockwork Orange. My dad was big on critical thinking. I think these conversations shaped the person I am today.

DBW: How did you decide that being a production designer and art director was the area you wanted to focus on in the entertainment industry?

TS: I took 6 film history classes in undergrad as a Fine Arts major. That should have been my first clue!  However, I had no idea that there was a job where you could spend some of your day drawing and designing the look of a film.  During graduate school, I was able to take production design classes as well as cinematography classes.  I realized that I think cinematically as well as theatrically.

DBW: When starting design on a new project, where is the first place you like to start? Do you sketch out ideas, do Internet research, explore locations, etc.?

TS: First I breakdown the script- It’s not possible to discuss or design the project until you understand the story on an emotional and technical scale. Then I start looking for visuals in books, magazines, and online. Sketching comes into play once we’re into the process of what the visual language of the story really wants to feel like.

DBW: A few years back you helped organize an event that eventually became the catalyst for you starting Women in Media. Can you describe how that came about and what the goal of Women in Media is?

TS: I organized an event with a coworker at a school where I was teaching.  The women at the school were starved for community and opportunities. That underlying need continues to fuel our mission and propels us forward.

We recently became a non-profit corporation with the intent of expanding our influence globally. We want to see more women thriving in the industry.  Since we often go on location and the industry is not limited to LA, we recognize the need for us to help connect women in the crew to decision makers beyond our borders.

We’ll be offering a membership soon that will help our organization do even more good on a bigger scale.  Expect some pretty awesome panels, discounts, events, and more opportunities as we evolve. No specific spoilers yet, but we’re very excited!

DBW: As someone who has struggled to find a job in this industry, I love that this is a free resource that’s available to women and one I wish I had known about sooner. What has been the response like from both women who add their names to the database and those (men or women) who use the database to do their crew hiring?

TS: Lots of people are using it to hire women – myself included.  They find it’s easy to sort and vet prospective hires.  I think it’s also pushing the conversation beyond hiring women above the line.  For decades the pressure has been on above the line women (and some men) to hire below the line women, assuming that they travel in circles with more women.  Now, there is no excuse not to hire equitably.  We’ve made it easy.

DBW: Not only does Women in Media provide a crew list, but you also put on networking events and screenings. What does a typical networking event look like?

TS: A typical networking event looks like this: Folks give a 40 second simple introduction.  They give their name, what they do, and what they are looking for professionally.  This verbal pitch should connect people to the contact sheet that we ask everyone to fill out at the event.  We only send the sheet to those who are on it.  This ensures that participants know who’s getting their information.  Folks invite 3 – 4 people out for coffee or lunch from the contact sheet, which is mailed about a week after the event.

A huge part of working in our industry is having a network of collaborators you know and trust. The more you get involved with the Women In Media community, by coming to our events and connecting online, the more likely you will find collaborators and friends.

DBW: Can you give some tips for how an attendee can get the most out of one?

TS: It’s a good idea to repeat your name at the end of the pitch.  Folks will remember you better when they look for you on the contact sheet!

DBW: You also partner with film festivals and have a networking event coming up at the end of June in partnership with the Bluestocking Film Festival.  Can you tell us a little bit about the event?

TS: Bluestocking is an all-narrative short film festival that requires films to feature female protagonist and pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test.  We did a networking event for them in 2016 in Maine.  On June 23rd, they are coming to the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles.  We have a networking event with complimentary nibbles and drinks and an after party at Stella Barra.  We are sold out, but people can join our mailing list for future events.

Speaking of future events!  Our next one is on July 31st at Canon Burbank’s new facility.  It’s going to be a panel about the creative process between Director, Director of Photography, and Production Designer.  If people want to know more, they can join our mailing list by emailing: WomenNMedia@gmail.com and checking our website.

DBW: Seeking Our Story is another organization you work with that orchestrates screenings of historical films by female directors.  What are some of your favorite female directed films?

TS: I’m a big fan of Mary Harron – American Psycho is one of my favorite films.  I think the film industry did itself (and the viewing public) a huge disservice by not throwing vast quantities of money at her to make great films. I am, however, thrilled that she’s making fantastic television shows!

The Babadook by Jennifer Kent is incredible.  I love psychological horror, and this one is one of the best.

My favorite film of 2016 was Raw by Julia Ducournau.  The ideas are shocking, visceral, and real.  Yes, some of it is a bit gross, but the story is so good, that one really must keep their eyes open and let it sink in after it’s been digested for a few days.  Pun intended.

I think Jane Campion consistently creates quality work.  Her early films such as Sweetie and Angel at My Table are really worth watching. Top of the Lake is gripping.

Agnes Varda is the mother of New Wave and still making brilliant work.  I hope she never dies.  Cleo 5 – 7 is an absolute classic.

That Belle by Amma Asante was basically ignored by The Academy infuriated me.  I think it was one of the best films when it came out.  It’s so beautifully crafted.

I could go on and on……

DBW: I love this quote from an interview you did where you said, “My belief is that if you push from the bottom up as well as the top down, we will achieve equality and have better stories.” What are some steps females in the industry (who aren’t studio heads or big executives) can take on a regular basis to help promote inclusion?

TS: If you are a department head, just hire more women.  Check out the #WiMCrewList.

If you are looking to crew, join the list by emailing WomenNMedia@gmail.com and come to our events.  Other than that, just keep working.  Don’t be above taking a job that you are overqualified for.  If you are a director, take a job hauling cable or schlepping furniture. It may be out of your comfort zone, but it’s worth it.  Your crew will respect you more when they know that you understand their jobs.  A lot of crew members lose respect quickly for directors who they perceive as not understanding the way the sausage gets made.  So, become a chef, and understand all the working parts as best you can.

#HireTheseWomen  #WiMCrewList

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About Author

Maria Corso

Maria Corso is an aspiring Director currently living in Los Angeles. If you wanna see her tweets that mostly consist of musings on the films she's watching, you can follow her at @maria_corso.

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