ATX Festival celebrates the power of female partnerships

The eighth season of the ATX Television Festival was held June 6-9 in Austin, Texas, celebrating all aspects of the television medium. The Power of Female Partnerships was one of the first panels on the four-day schedule, presented by Vanity Fair.

Panelists included Good Girls creator Jenna Bens and star Retta, along with TV agents Cori Wellins and Lauren Whitney. Co-Presidents of NBC Scripted Programming Lisa Katz and Tracey Pakosta spoke about founding NBC’s Female Forward Initiative, a program that places female directors on NBC shows.

“Tracey and I two years ago were like, ‘It’s embarrassing that we have no female pilot directors.’ And so, how do you change that?” Katz said of the program, in which less experienced directors shadowed on up to three episodes of an NBC show before directing their own episode.

“It’s about seeing there’s an issue and creating an opportunity and doing something actionable to make a difference,” Katz said. “And I think you can do that with directors, you can do that with writers, you can do that with executives, you can do that with assistants. It’s just about making that conscious choice. It’s really not that hard.”

Lisa Katz and Tracey Pakosta, Co-Presidents of NBC Scripted Programming

“There is room for all of us if you really want it,” Pakosta said. “Raise your hand and say ‘I want it,’ and then we can help you.”

Wellins explained that the landscape of television has changed from four networks to a wide variety of streaming platforms and cable channels. “It truly to me feels like there’s an infinite amount of opportunity, more than ever before,” she said. “So you don’t feel like there isn’t room for both of you or all of you – it’s just actually putting forth the effort to take that next step.”

Bans praised the work of Female Forward class member Lee Frielander, who directed an hour of Good Girls. “That was our favorite episode,” she said. “It was someone who, looking at her resume, I would never have hired. I would have passed her over in favor of probably a more experienced guy because there are so many guy directors. But then we get the episode back and it’s so good and she so deserved that opportunity. To go from someone with barely a directing resume to being booked in television for a woman is insane.”

Whitney spoke to networks’ interest in employing female directors in recent years. “There’s been this focus on female directors because that was the place where it still felt quite inequitable,” she said. “In the last three years it’s been, if you have an order of 12 episodes or 22 episodes, can half of them be female directors? And then all of a sudden what happened was, you couldn’t find a female director who was available to save your life. You wanted to hire every last one you could. That’s fantastic. That never would have happened five years ago.”

Other topics prompted by panel moderator Sonia Saraiya included balancing work with motherhood, the Bechdel-Wallace test, mentoring younger women and the need for more female friendship to be represented on screen. Bans mentioned the importance of employing female writers and directors on Good Girls, a series with three female leads and nine women in the writer’s room. “It’s just so much easier and there’s a lightness and there’s not a stress to it,” Retta said of working with other women.

ATX Television Festival co-founders Caitlin McFarland and Emily Gipson.

A discussion centered on female partnerships was a fitting start to the festival, an annual event co-founded by two women: Caitlin McFarland and Emily Gipson. This year’s lineup also featured panels on the female gaze and the anniversary of Lifetime, a female-driven network. Mutual support in a competitive industry was a common theme at each discussion.

“There are so many women in this room who are so clearly interested in talking about this topic which makes me so happy,” said Whitney, who pitched the idea for the panel to festival programmers. “The part that I find so exciting is that for young women who are coming up now, they will see all kinds of examples ahead of them of women working together and not being pitted against each other and understanding that makes them stronger. And it just feels important to me to be talking about it as much as possible.”

“If somebody close to you has something wonderful happening for them…I don’t know if it’s biological or evolutionary or just how we’re socialized, but somehow the default response seems to be, ‘that’s happening for somebody else and not for me,’” she continued. “And if we can talk ourselves out of that mindset and really celebrate the things that are happening for each other, it just shifts the way that you look at other women and it shifts the way that you look at yourself and your own future. And if you start from there, I think it’s incredibly powerful.”

© FF2 Media / June 2019

Spyglass Media Group Head of Television Lauren Whitney, WME Partner of Scripted Television Cori Wellins, NBC Scripted Programming Co-President Lisa Katz.

Photo Credits: Tammy Perez

Tags: ATX Television Festival, Female Forward Initiative

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