Have you ever heard of the "Bechdel Test"?
Invented by Alison Bechdel in her classic comic series, Dykes to Watch Out For, this ingeniously simple test has only three criteria to apply to any movie: (1) it has to have at least two women in it who (2) talk to each other about (3) something besides a man.
As an actress and filmmaker, I will not tempt depression and existential crisis again by thinking too hard about how many movies stand up to the Bechdel Test. But go ahead. Do it.
In 2006, I took a deep breath and left my full-time career in the non-profit, social justice world to test my theory that acting could be another step in doing my small part to create social change, this time through storytelling. And while I still believe in the beautiful, transformative power of storytelling, Hollywood has taught me a lot of hard realities about who really gets to tell what stories.The Bechdel Test says it much more simply. I shudder to think if any movies would hold up if we factored in people of color or of different sexual orientation in addition to women (or God forbid, all three).
Out of all movies in the U.S. released in 2011, only 5% were directed by women, 4% shot by women, 14% written by women, and 25% produced by women.
So I ask: Where all my women at in this microbudget, DIY, guerrilla-style, mumblecore-ing, digital filmmaking revolution we have apparently been experiencing? They are out there, telling stories, but how many of us get to hear or see them?
In 2010, I joined a group of women filmmakers embarking on a risky experiment. Written, produced and directed by women, Best Friends Forever (not to be confused with the new NBC sitcom), is a apocalyptic road trip feature film about two friends (and yes, they are women) shot on a microbudget. We went old school though, choosing to shoot in beautiful, wide open Texas on Super 16mm.
Financed completely through our own fundraising efforts (check out our Kickstarter campaign for proof), Best Friends Forever tests the theory that there is a central place and a real audience in the down-and-dirty world of microbudget filmmaking for women. The anticipated success of our Kickstarter campaign, predicated on financing our post-production process through small donations from many, many nice people, is a key test of that actual audience. At least, in our darkest moments of independent filmmaking despair, this is what we say to ourselves.
And it also rolls the dice on another bet, that horror and sci-fi fans are eager to see women behind the stories they watch on screen, not just at the mercy of the killers who tear them apart. The horror world is well-versed in the microbudget approach, and women are increasingly behind the cameras as well as in front. And, as the avid sci-fi and horror nerds behind Best Friends Forever, we get to blatantly stack the odds in our favor.
The success of Lena Dunham's indie gem, Tiny Furniture, is a recent example of the best of all worlds. It's smart, independent filmmaking on a teeny budget introducing the world to a new voice telling a new/old story while Hollywood takes notice. Hence, the new Judd Apatow-produced HBO series, Girls, created by and starring Ms. Dunham. I bet it passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors.
Selfishly, we want the same alchemy to happen with our apocalyptic road trip adventure. But we also hope that whatever success Best Friends Forever enjoys will go a small way towards proving that women have much to add to the microbudget, independent film universe. Where all my ladies at?!
Follow Vera Miao on Twitter: www.twitter.com/veramiao