Robin Swicord directed The Jane Austen Book Club in 2007. She was a well-known screenwriter, responsible for adapting books like Little Women, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Matilda, who had been working in the industry for years. Though it seemed like her first directing gig was a long time coming, her second seemed to take just as long.
The LA Times interviewed Swicord for the release of her second film, Wakefield, which stars Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner. Swicord doesn’t seem to have any doubt that her gender is what prevented her from being trusted with another movie for ten years.
“I was naive enough to think that if you exhibit competence in something, the movie makes some money and people are happy, that you move onto something of equal size — or larger,” she said. “No jobs came to me. Zero. Lost, in every case, to a man.”
Swicord is married to screenwriter Nicholas Kazan, and says watching him in his work really drove home the disparity in how men and women are treated in Hollywood. She’s remarks that she’s heard Kazan in yelling matches on the phone with producers and thought that if she took an aggressive stance, she’d be immediately fired. Swicord and Kazan also occasionally work together, and she recounts an anecdote where they were asked to do a rewrite in which they were told that she should write “the girl part and Nick could write the rest of it.”
Swicord says she has pushed the WGA to support diversity initiatives, suggesting as far back as the 1980s that they launch a study researching the difficulties of employment access for female screenwriters. She says it was “a wall of ‘no.’”
“They said many times to me, ‘We are not a hiring hall. We’re not here to get you work, we’re only here to support you once you have it,’” she added.
Before Wakefield, Swicord came close to landing a $22 million dollar movie, but the producer ultimately feared she couldn’t “handle a movie of that size.” the budget for Wakefield was $3.7 million, and was shot in 20 days.
The film explores the story of a man who essentially abandons his family in order to spy on them and indulge in freedom from responsibility, which Swicord comments is something that someone with a lot of white male privilege would do and get away with. In general, she’s shocked with what men get away with:
“I completely do not understand this paradigm in Hollywood of boys at the top, girls take the meetings,” she says. “There’s only so many people who are tremendously talented — in the directing world, acting world, in writing. So if you have people who are male who are tremendously talented and women who are tremendously talented, why would you not want to avail yourself of the women? Are you really willing just to go down a tier to a man who’s just kind of mediocre but can still do the job instead of reaching across and getting the talented woman?”
Read the full interview here.