Jannai Simmons, 17, lies on the floor practicing low-angle shots for a photography training workshop at St. Luke’s Church in Long Beach on Aug. 21, 2017. Simmons currently attends Long Beach Polytechnic High School and aspires to become a film director. (Photo by Jordyn Saunders)
Being a filmmaker was not something that intrigued me as a child. It’s actually a new love of mine that stemmed from my love for acting. For some reason, the concept of being behind the camera and actually creating something was always foreign to me. Perhaps it was because I never really saw anyone who looked like me in that part of the industry. Therefore, I never saw myself doing that type of work.
It was the summer of 2016 that made me realize that I wanted to be more than an actress. A good friend of mine asked me to be part of her movie. Hanging out with friends, getting reel and not having to audition? This was not an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up! So I took it.
I offered suggestions about who my friend could cast and where she should film. Small stuff, really. But soon I realized that she asked for my advice more than I offered it. It made me happy to know that I had a say in her production and soon she promoted me from “actress” to “second director.” I was finally able to officially put my voice in and work on this movie that had somehow become my passion project as well.
The more I worked on this with her, the more I found myself immersed in the project. My friend had a lot of ambition going into this project, but she was very underprepared. So to help her out, I began going home and doing tons and tons of research. YouTube, of course, was my natural go-to and was surprisingly abundant with film knowledge. I watched videos that taught me how to make better scripts, how to properly edit footage and that the proper term for “second director” was co-director. Who knew?
The more I learned, the more excited I became, and soon I felt like I could take on the world. It all came so naturally to me that it was silly for me to even think I couldn’t do it. I remember sitting on her couch after coming down from the high of being “on set” (aka her backyard), and she turned to me and said, “What should we do after this?” I shrugged. I had never thought that far ahead. But once I started, I couldn’t be stopped.
Unfortunately, the project never made it. Halfway through the movie she became too busy, summer ended, people dropped out and it was never salvaged. The project washed away with many people, but my love for the production had latched onto me like a leach. I decided that although I felt almost dependent on her to make the next move, I wasn’t. I still wanted to make films and I didn’t see any reason as to why I couldn’t.
Now, I’m going to be honest. I never really looked into the directing profession so I never knew about the gender ratio imbalance in the industry, and because I didn’t know that it was run by men, I found the profession to be something that I, as a girl, could do.
For the silliest reason, I thought I was just too young and lazy and that making a film rather than acting in one would be too overwhelming for me. I simply assumed I wouldn’t be able to handle all the work. But the first time seeing someone who could handle it, this person (which was my friend) was not only young and female, but what a beautiful coincidence that she was of color too.
It’s no secret that there is an alarming lack of females in the industry. We just saw it in this year’s Emmys that only three out of the 25 directors nominated were women. A recent study also shows that women make up 7 percent of directors in the U.S. Of course with every study comes theories as to why, and out of many of them, an analysis by Simon Cade is the one that I ponder about the most. He made a video on YouTube titled “Filmmakers have to be MALE” where he goes in-depth on the attempt to answer the reason behind the gender ratio imbalance. In the video he states, “I don’t know how different my life would be if the tables were turned. Imagine if Hitchcock, Spielberg … were all female. Would I be less likely to pursue filmmaking?” My first influence was my female friend. What if she was a guy? Would I still have been as inclined to pursue this profession? Unfortunately, I can’t test this, but it’s thought provoking.
As previously mentioned, I was never aware of the gender ratio imbalance, therefore it never affected me in the way it has many others. But now that I know of it and am choosing to continue despite my disadvantages, it only makes me want to work harder at it and perhaps be one of the greats. I don’t want to be one of the best female filmmakers, I want to be the best filmmaker, period. And that’s where I think I fit in.