One of the biggest barriers in my career has been being a woman. The film and TV market, from which most of my income comes from as a screenwriter, development executive and producer, has always been dominated by males. Today I want to share a story that really affected my reputation and caused me to break up with the entertainment industry for a while, and turn back to writing books -which I believe is a much safer realm for women. Just to be clear: not that we should have to seek any professional activity that brings us safety or equal payment. That should all be a given. But reality proves it very different than our desires, and being a woman means having to constantly adapt to a world led by men. The change, slow and consistent, has many setbacks. But we cannot feel discouraged.
Female Production Company
Back in 2010, when I was 35 years old, I made my living out of screenwriting for others (I had published my first novel but did not get much money from it). I found it very difficult to get the movies I wrote financed, but this is quite normal in the film industry. So, I decided to invest in my production company, Tapiz Filmes, that I had in partnership with my father since 1997. For some good reason, I selected an amazing group of collaborators – all women.
I started wearing my producers’ hat and going on meetings with possible co-producers, distributors, and directors. I would pitch my projects and establish a network. Within one year of running, I had been able to write and produce Viver!, a short film that was selected into the Cannes Short Film Corner. It had been such a stimulating journey that I started looking for money for the feature film I had written, based on an amazing true story of a mother fighting for her son. I had Marilia Pêra, the best actress possible, on board. But I needed producing partners.
Talent X Looks
I met Lex at a film festival and quickly pitched him my feature film. He promptly scheduled a meeting in his company to talk about it. I was naively excited - maybe he could come up with the development money? His offices were nice, as you can expect in a big company. The oval room, designed for group meetings, looked too big for just the two of us. I sat near the head of the table and waited for him to show up. Lex was smiling as he came in. The meeting took exactly 30 minutes. He told me about his new puppy, his mother, and then finally listened to my pitch. It took Lex exactly 30 seconds to dismiss my idea, without giving any fair consideration. I had a promotional DVD that he refused to watch. Same thing with the script.
“I am not interested in your work, Laura. You are too pretty to be a good writer. I am interested in you, not your writing.”
Oh, boy, here we go again. I heard so many times I should have chosen to be a model or an actress! Once, a celebrated book author wrote about me: “Laura is a talented writer who looks like an actress.” Maybe it was meant to be a big compliment, but for sure that sounded as a derogatory remark. Growing up I am pretty sure I missed the chapter about “writers need to be ugly” and all the stupid stereotype that society conveys. I have plenty of female and male writers’ friends that are much more beautiful than actors. Anyway, actors don’t need – should not have to be – all beautiful, in any case. They need to be representative. What a fucked-up industry to work in.
Viver!, my first short film as a producer, was selected in Cannes. Directed by Nadia Bambirra, with Eriberto Leão and Gracindo Junior and narration of Rodrigo Santoro.
Back to Lex: I left the meeting room extremely frustrated, head down, barely managing to thank him for his time. By the door, he grabbed my wrist, “would you have dinner tonight with me so we can continue discussing your project?” I forced a smile, "you mean YOUR project?" and just turned my back to leave. As I walked away from the big white house that hosted his company, I had tears rolling down my face. Mainly because the story I brought to him was so beautiful and inspiring and needed so much to be told, but I was finding it very difficult to sell it and I was at a breaking down point with my production company. Of course, I also felt that burning sensation that I was not being taken seriously just because I was a female writer trying to produce in a male dominated world. The movie industry is a big disgusting patriarchy and I should have known better.
Working Place Sexual Harassment
Two weeks later, I received a call from one of my best friends, Lia, who is a kick-ass producer and went through all the trouble I was starting to experience now. She told me that during an informal dinner among Brazilian producers, the word of mouth brought the incredible story about how Lex and I had had sex in the bathroom of his company in exchange for money in my film. The producer who was spreading the story at the dinner table was a good friend of Lex, but he also used to be my friend. And he went on and on to tell all the dirty details. Lia called me the minute she left the restaurant, so pissed, “I defended you, I told everybody how the little prick was lying and how you have much better options than him in your life. And that you have not gotten any money for your film!”
Well, Rio de Janeiro can be a very small town. During the Rio Film Festival, one of the most important markets for film producing at the time, I could feel a lot of (mainly male) eyes on me judging my pronounced promiscuity. Although my friend Lia did a very good job dismissing the fake story, those guys had apparently invested a lot of time in spreading the false gossip, so the damage was done. I was a whore, even though I hadn’t had sex with Lex (or anyone else) in more than a one whole year. I was just a busy single mother of two trying to survive and tell stories – but I had two fatal flaws: being a woman and being pretty.
I held my head up high as I attended the festival’s market, still trying to come up with the money for my projects. But deep inside, this episode triggered something much bigger: the notion that I did not have the guts to keep investing in my company, especially if men in the industry would charge my body for their financial investment in my intellectual work. I was extremely tired and sick of the Brazilian entertainment industry, so narcissistic and patriarchal, a business in which everything comes before talent. And don’t take me wrong, I am fully aware that this is the film industry standards everywhere.
Shutting down: my company and myself
I will never know how much that gossip interfered in finding money for my film. The project was amazing and I had not only secured an amazing cast, but a top director - just not the money. I decided to shut down my company's activities, after only 18 months. I blamed myself: all I had done was spent money, only to discover that I was not capable of becoming a producer. Besides our amazing short film ending up in Cannes, I had not been able to put another project together.
In hindsight, I know that production companies take years to take off, and what really affected me was that crushing and cruel man's world. My professional image would be permanently stained. And now I needed time to heal and reinvent myself.
Months later, Lex tried to apologize. But the emotional and professional damage was done. I did not let him apologize. I was afraid he would come up with yet another lie. Lex represented everything I hate in our current society: manipulation, gaslighting, patriarchy, disrespect, lack of compassion, inequality. His only victory was teaching me a huge, sad lesson. And I have learned it – not to comply with it, but to fight against it.