Who Runs The (Camera) World

CVP hands the mic over to Women Behind The Camera founding member, Agnieszka Szeliga, to discuss the platform, upcoming workshops and how the industry can become more gender-diverse.

In this special feature, CVP spotlights Women Behind The Camera (WBTC), a platform showcasing the skills of women working in the camera, lighting, grip, DIT and video departments in the UK film and TV industry. Created by three ACO camera operators – Lucy Bristow, Ilana Garrard and Agnieszka Szeliga – it currently has a database of more than 230 names, and contact details of women who producers and DOPs can use to build diverse crews.

“Since launching WBTC, we’ve seen a change in attitude towards recruiting more women into our industry,” says Szeliga. “Many experienced women are now being hired to work on major productions, including senior roles as camera operators or first ACs. I have also felt this change in my own working life – a woman with my level of experience (junior camera operator) would never have been considered for major productions a few years back. Yet, in the past year or so, not only have I been invited to interviews, I’ve found myself on set, shooting with some lovely crews.”

As well as increasing visibility to potential employers and collaborators, and to other women starting out or within the industry, WBTC encourages upskilling and networking through regular workshops.

“We’ve organised female-centred training days, thanks to certain companies, plus individuals have pitched in with equipment or advice to help women gain more skills. To practise with a crane, geared head or Steadicam for a day – tutored free of charge in a relaxed and safe environment by the industry’s best operators – is a unique, confident-boosting experience,” says Szeliga.

“I should mention CVP specifically in this context, as it has supported our geared and remote head practice events with equipment in the past, and has always been very supportive of our initiatives towards gender balance. Personally, I’ve practised on the wheels many times at its Creative Space on Charlotte Street – I’d encourage all women to make contact with CVP and take advantage of its generosity.”

Thankfully, from Szeliga’s testimony, it seems that many people have registered a strong desire to change our industry for the better in recent years. As a result, collective responsibility for diversity has accelerated to the front page.

“Balance is good. It’s an ideal that we should all be striving for. The perception of diversity and inclusion has improved recently. Opportunities are constantly increasing – that can only serve to strengthen and refresh our industry,” confirms Szeliga.

“But, if women behind the camera are to have similar opportunities to their male counterparts, and if film sets are one day to be a truly mixed workplace, we need help from HODs, studios and productions to make it work. We need industry bodies to begin to challenge the existence of all-male departments.”

As such, Szeliga’s message extends to those in hiring positions. “Whether you’re a DOP in need of an operator, an operator in need of a focus puller, or a focus puller requiring a loader, please remember that women are available. By considering them for the job, you form part of the solution.”

It’s certainly true that we must all work together, as even with best intentions and greatest efforts, our industry cannot achieve a balanced and diverse camera department without everyone on side. “A mixed team functions better overall, creating a positive experience for crew members – not to mention those appearing in front of the camera,” explains Szeliga.

The Covid-19 pandemic has obviously thrown a spanner in the works of WBTC’s more hands-on workshops over the
past year or so, but the organisation has continued to support its community.

It frequently hosts webinars, allowing members to discuss their roles and experiences. One webinar even hosted the director of The Handmaid’s Tale and DOP of I Think We’re Alone Now and Meadowland – the legendary Reed Morano. The organisation was thrilled to welcome the award-winning filmmaker, who provided attendees with plenty of inspiration.

“For fun, we also managed to organise a socially distanced picnic between last year’s lockdown periods,” adds Szeliga. “This was attended by 25 women. More recently, one of our members, second AC Josy Thieme, organised a Zoom workshop for female and BAME trainees – that event lasted more than four hours!”

When the pandemic dust has settled, and it’s safe to have a big gathering of people, WBTC hopes to organise another geared and remote head workshop, in conjunction with CVP. The aim is to encourage women to start using wheels and keep practising in their own time, either at CVP’s Creative Space, or a rental house of their choosing.

First AC Laura Dinnett was an attendee at last year’s geared and remote head workshop. “It was absolutely invaluable
for crew who want to get more hands-on experience with a geared head,” she says.

“We managed to sneak a bit of time on set, but to be talked through it step-by- step, and spend the day practising, is extremely useful moving forward. It’s certain to bring progress in the camera department. Plus, it’s a safe place to ask high-flying industry professionals key questions, equipping yourself with further knowledge and skills. I cannot recommend it highly enough!”

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