Miryam Jacobi: Smashing the glass ceiling
This year the spotlight has been on Hollywood as it was revealed that of the top 250 films made, only 7% of them were directed by women. The film and television industry is notorious for its gender imbalance across all levels. The barriers for women are no different in New Zealand as director Kathy McRae pointed out to us earlier this year. However, none of this deters young filmmaker, Miryam Jacobi, who says that these statistics only makes her more determined to reach her directing dreams. Her debut short film, Do you like me like this?, will have its world premiere at this year’s Show Me Shorts Film Festival. We interviewed Miryam about making her first film and what it’s like to be at the beginning of her career facing an industry with such a solid glass ceiling.
“To be honest - it fuels me.” Miryam explains when discussing the statistics around female directors in the TV and film industry. “It makes me angry, and highlights how necessary it is for more young women to want to direct films.”
It is of little surprise then that her debut short film is a daring yet playful take on feminine power. Do you like me like this? is a provocative “coming of age tale - with a twist”. The film, only 7 minutes in length and with not a word spoken, tells an engaging, entertaining and familiar story of a young girl working out ways to get noticed by men. Miryam explains that the story is “about that age when you’re testing the waters, trying out different personas and tactics to get noticed, to be liked, or to get ‘approval,’ whatever that means!”
Which it achieves and then shapes into something more powerful, a strong female character in the face of an uncertain male one. It shifts the power balance in a way that we are not used to seeing on the screen. “I really tried to capture something of the experience of a young girl figuring out her power as a woman. I hope the film really busts opens the limitations, expectations and roles we stuff women into in a light, comedic, and slightly ridiculous way.”
"I hope the film really busts opens the limitations, expectations and roles we stuff women into in a light, comedic, and slightly ridiculous way.”
For Miryam, these themes are personal. The story at the heart of the film is a rejection of the social expectations felt by young women in their formative years. “As so much of the pressure I’ve felt as a young woman has come from media, it felt like a no-brainer to make a film around these themes.” Cleverly playing with the perspective of the audience as the observer, the film indicates our complicity in the experience, expectations and barriers to women in our society. Miryam explains,
“Film is the chance to be a voyeur. It’s the chance to be immersed, absorbed and overpowered by what you’re watching. To live someone else’s life, for a moment. And what you’ll see in the film – is how we play with that voyeurism, playfully reminding the viewer that that is exactly what they’re doing – watching, spying. They too are accountable – we aren’t just bypassers in our lives. We are all involved.”
Miryam and her partner Jack Barry have recently set up their own production company, Two One One Three Creatives, named after the postcode where Jack was raised in a house of great dreams and inspiration. They are ambitious. “We want to be at the forefront for creating film and video content in Aotearoa, and eventually – around the world.” Miryam hopes to write, act in and direct her own works, but also to eventually get to the point where she is approached to direct New Zealand films and TV.
“We want to be at the forefront for creating film and video content in Aotearoa, and eventually – around the world.”
Do you like me like this? is not only their first film, but it was also their first experience behind the camera. Both Miryam and Jack come from acting backgrounds and Miryam says that there were a lot of roadblocks to overcome to get this short film off the ground. She describes the process as like making the film three-times over at each stage of production - writing, shooting and editing.
“We had to teach ourselves how to make a film! We did everything. Pre-production was learning how to write call sheets, get filming permits, going on location scouts, drawing up contracts… Then there was the shooting; it was my first time directing, and it was Jack’s first time as director of photography.”
The biggest shock came when they reached the post-production phase, made especially hard due to a complete lack of budget. “When I first reviewed all the footage– I actually cried. I had no conception of how the mish-mash of shots would ever resemble my initial vision. But we got there, bit by bit, piece by piece.”
Learning on the go, and teaching themselves by watching tutorials on youtube, these are the tools of the young modern filmmaker. Aware of the road ahead, Miryam has been actively seeking out female directors who she admires and asking to meet with them to get their advice for navigating the road. Fortunately there is a great list of those who have persevered before her and she names Kathy McRae, Jane Campion and Helena Brooks amongst those that have inspired her. She says that Women in Film and Television (WIFT) is another fantastic resource with forums and resources to support others with similar ambitions.
At this point in time, Miryam is focused on building up her skillset and her confidence as a woman in a male-dominated workplace. “All the sets I’ve been on have been very male-dominated. Filmmaking is hard work – holding a boom for hours, rigging lights, filming hand-held shots with a heavy camera – it’s physically intense work. I guess the biggest thing I am trying to overcome is to not let that scare me off. Girls can do it, too. At the moment, I’m focusing on learning more about cameras and the technical side of filmmaking, so I can talk camera lenses, ISO and frame rates with crews like a pro.”
Ultimately, however she believes that change rides on the shoulders of strong women continuing to create works and boldly direct in their own way on set. “Numbers aside,” she says as she dismisses the statistic, “I think we can use our femininity to create a different environment on set – we can change how the game is played. I truly believe having more relatable, honest, and thought-provoking work by women out there will help us smash that glass ceiling.”