Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Crew of Women - Keith Flippen's Feminine Touch

So, here's an interesting fact about Keith Flippen. Nearly 53% of the crew consisted of women. It's something I'm tremendously proud of, but, not something that I think is recognized. Especially since the content of the show is very masculine.

There's me rocking a dress on set talking business with my AD, while one of my kick-ass girl art directors gets the set dressed.

The Ladies of Keith Flippen:

Writer, Director, Producer - Shannon Kitchens
Queen Calamitious/Fight Director - Shelly Johnson Rucker
Penelope - Rebeca Hollingsworth
Zombie "Latte" - Renee Suttles
Art Director, Associate Producer, Special Guest Star - Sarah Hutson
Associate Producer, Special Guest Star - Leigh Traverse
Guest Star - Lisa Smith
Camera Operator - Zylena Beck
Boom Operator/Post Sound - Jamie Doyle
Art Director/Make-Up - Ashley Osborne
Art Director - Colleen DiCosola
Costumes/Art Director - Hope Kitchens
Assistant Director/Art Director/Make-Up - Cheri Cerio
Make-Up - Julie Vader
Special Guest Make-Up - Danielle Huval
Production Assistant - Madison Hutson
Production Assistant - Madeline Trosclair
Production Assistant - Megan Ray\
Script Supervisor - Suzie Hudson
Assistant Editor - Selena Muhoberac
Episode 2 Choreographer - Caree Llawellyn

Twenty-one women worked on the production of this show. Women worked in every department, and were even department head and producers. The entire Art Department consisted of women.

And here we have girls working cameras and mics.

I'm sure having all these ladies on the set impacted the show, if only in a very subtle way.

Yes, I know there is a masculine tone to the show. However, it passes the Bechdel Test. Yes, there are two named women: Calamitious and Penelope (or Calamitious an Kaizoku). Yes, they have a conversation together (it's like the 2nd scene in the series). And it's not about a man. It's about Calamitous nefarious plan to capture the plot device, and how she needs Penelope to do this. This is again repeated in episode two with Kaizoku.

I'm okay with the masculine tones. Besides, gender identity is something I like to play with. Like, the masculine expectations of Victory and Keith (and their almost romantic partnership). I like keeping Penelope smart and sexy (because I am firmly convinced, she is actually the smartest character on the show). The Professor borders on effeminate and is a homosexual character. Queen Calamitious is as brutal as she is beautiful.

There's an interesting story behind Queen Calamitious. In the original concept, she was a he. I made the call to change the character to a female because I had an actress in mind for the part. My co-writers were surprised at first, but during the pilot, there was no time to really account for the gender swap. So, her dialogue stayed very masculine. At the time, I didn't really know this.

When we started drafting the first season, I found her character changing. There was something different about her, and I couldn't quite place it. Her voice just wasn't the same. She was, for a lack of a better word, girly. I brought it up with my writers. They didn't understand at first. So, when I asked how they came up with the original voice, and they answered, well, it was male. My response was, "Then write her like a man."

The thought of gender making that much of an impact on character is baffling to me. It reminded me of something George R.R. Martin said:

I made a very interesting, and deliberate, choice by visually sexualizing my villain. She's a very pretty girl, yet, she never uses her femininity to get what she wants. Instead, she forces it with masculine violence and will. Her minions cower before her. She never uses sex as a means to get what she wants, nor, really any other female stereotypes. She's not lying nor deceitful. She's not quite or submissive. She's not maternal nor girlfriend material. Really, the only stereotype I gave her was a sexy outfit. I wanted that dichotomy of visual femininity vs masculine actions. (And Shelly did an excellent job breathing in a regal air to the character, adding to her femininity, without using stereotypes.)

On the other hand, I worked very hard at pulling Penelope away from being a "girlfriend" troupe. And I'm lucky that Rebecca is such an amazing actress because I don't think I could have done that without her. Penelope is a sex object, that shows no interest in sex (unless its to her advantage). She constantly resists Victory's advances, and while "dumb blonde"-ish, she's an expert escape artist and a xenolinguistic. She also, is one of the best fighters in the series (I mean, come on, she's the only one who takes out any zombies during the final fight scene. She requires TWO zombies to take her down.)

Why am I bringing up all these gender roles and such for Keith Flippen? Probably because I am a woman in film. Because I get mad that my work gets written off because it's not about "girl issues."

Women are frequently kept away from heavier workloads on sets, often confined to make-up and costumes. And while women did do those roles on my set, it was a regular site to see three girl running around with large flats and power tools. Girls moving lights. Girls with boom poles. Girls behind the camera. And no one thinking anything of it.

So, I am super proud of my set, and all the women and men who worked their butts off to make the show what it is. And I hope to continue to work on sets that don't find it strange to see so many girls doing a traditionally "man's" job.


  1. Well said! I forget where I saw this, but I believe it was a post that NOVAC Chris shared a week or so ago, about how the percentage of Women In Film is at an all-time low. It's interesting, because at least at the PA level I've worked this past year, I've been side-by-side with a decent share of fellow women. All of us handling the heavy-lifting tasks thrown our way. I've worked with large crews that were fairly balanced, gender-wise. And most of the smaller crews consisted of mostly, if not all, women.

    One of the most recent gigs I worked can be summed up kind of like this: I got the impression I was being doubted as helpful in a small-crew, "heavy-lifting" role. I showed up, rocked the day as a dutifully capable and efficient crew member, and was appreciatively commended for being so on top of things.

    Oh, and every guy I've ever worked with on a production always, always, always tells me that they love my work belt. xD

    ~ zae

  2. That's because you have a fantastic work belt. I've had opposite experiences from you, to the point where I would be pushed aside when handling "heavy" tasks like lights because they were being gentlemanly. I have also been told straight to my face that I can't be as good at filming because I'm a woman.

    1. I don't see how having two fruit and one veg as opposed to a fish taco would give anyone any special insight into the art of cinematography. Because...penis? No, my good sir. I think not.