Indie Movies Are More Likely To Have Female Directors... But Not By Much

Are women being shut out of directing big-budget movies?

It's no secret that the film industry is still a tough place for women to succeed -- but having more female producers and directors helps in creating more gender equity across the board, new research finds.

Entitled "Women And The Big Picture: Behind-the-Scenes Employment on the Top 700 Films of 2014," the latest study from the Center For The Study Of Women In Television And Film at San Diego State University tracks the amount of female directors, producers, editors, writers, cinematographers, and other crew members who worked on the top 700 theatrically-released films of 2014.

Of the 5,800 different individuals who worked on these films, only 20 percent were women, compared to the 17 percent that women make up on the crews of the top 250 films. Female directors also accounted for 13 percent of directors on the top 700 films, which is almost twice the percentage of female directors in the top 250 grossing films. (That number rang in at 7 percent.)

Part of the reason for the increase in percentages is that the 700 films studied account for more independent and smaller movies -- women were more likely to be hired for those lower-budget films, as opposed to the big budget movies like "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" and "Transformers: Age of Extinction," both of which were among the most expensive of 2014.

"There may be some bias at work," Dr. Martha Lauzen told Variety. "On independently produced films there is the perception of there being lower risk. I think there is a notion that women are not being hired as directors on big films because they are somehow riskier hires. The problem is that’s not how Hollywood works. There’s a growing list of male directors who are relative newbies and are placed at the helm of $100 million-plus films with little feature experience."

The study also found that female directors and executive producers are more likely to hire other women to work for them; on movies with female directors, 52 percent of the writers, 35 percent of editors and 26 percent of cinematographers were also female; on movies with male directors, those number dropped to 8 percent of writers, 15 percent of editors and 5 percent of cinematographers.

In the same vein, the study found that when a third of all producers of a film were female, 20 percent also had a female director. Only 7 percent of films that had less than one-third female producers and executive producers had female directors.

The lack of female directors and other crew members in the film industry has long been a controversial subject, but this year the conversation has turned to action. In May 2015 the ACLU labeled the treatment of female directors a "civil rights violation," and currently the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission appears to be investigating these allegations of bias as well.

TV doesn't fare much better either. A similar annual study released by San Diego State University earlier this fall, titled "Boxed In," found a similar correlation between the amount of female television executive producers and showrunners and the number of women who work for them behind the scenes.