Problems Of Diversified Careers

Multitasking and Diversified Careers in Film History

The issue of multitasking is pertinent to the study of women in film history since as is typical in many other careers, multitasking is very much a part of film work, and women are supposed to be good at it. Looking at literature on multitasking provides some interesting thoughts about the concept which we might use to take forward our research on women in the film industry. As a term developed in the 1960s, multitasking is debated more and more in the light of new technological developments, requiring people to work on many things at the same time and with the need to juggle many tasks alongside childcare. Problems identified with this type of work is that it can lead to divided attention as the tasks build up and none of them get the proper attention they deserve. There is perhaps a paradox here because in many careers specialism leads to success, whereas the multitasker can seldom develop a reputation for excellence in one field. While there is speculation that women are better than men at multitasking, the problem is that most careers don’t value it or exploit it sufficiently.
The film industry is notoriously bad for having unregulated hours that don’t favour women with multitasking lifestyles. The hours are long and people are often required to work their way up for very little or even no money by volunteering their services as, for example, with runners. A glance at the gender balance of the film industry shows that it is still very male-dominated, and ways of conducting business still rely on particular forms of networking, customs and practices which have developed historically to favour men. In the silent period functions weren’t so specialised in the film industry, which is often seen as one of the reasons for greater women’s participation than in the later, more industrialised sound period. It seems, then, no accident that women have featured more prominently in ‘spheres’ of film activity such as animation and art cinema which are less typically organised around divisions of labour associated with corporate development. The emphasis is instead on personal control and diversity of activity, as is evident in the career of Sally Potter, or in the Leeds Animation Workshop’s history. We should develop a series of case studies which identify the key moments and circumstances of women’s greatest involvement in film, with a view to identifying circumstances which have been conducive to this. Related questions are what factors lead to hyper-specialism being the most successful way of operating in the film business and to what extent has this contributed to a gender imbalance? Do multitasking activities make women less visible although this type of activity is clearly very important in many areas of film production?

Implications for the network and recommendations for future research:-

• Compile a list of case studies – who were the women straddling multiple areas of activity in their film careers? Is there an identifiable correlation between women’s work in film and multitasking?
• Make sure the list includes a different national examples so that comparative, perhaps contrasting, results can be generated for analysis.
• The case studies should NOT exclude acting, since actresses often were involved in other spheres of activity even though this tends to be written out of the historical record. Pertinent examples would be Gloria Swanson or Marilyn Monroe who were both involved at different times in production. Some interesting names in the British context are Wendy Toye and Muriel Box in the British film industry. Both women did a range of tasks during their careers.
• How did the film industry ‘use’ gender beyond the obvious example of acting? A good example of this is Natalie Kalmus, co-developer of Technicolor whose work in the colour consultancy service served the company very well and was a means of generating commercial tie-ins with retail and cosmetic industries.
• Exceptions must also be identified, i.e. those who DID specialise and become well-known in classically ‘male’ areas such as direction. How did they manage to break through? A well-documented case is Dorothy Arzner.

These thoughts were intended to stimulate projects that attempt to situate women in the film industry’s workforce. By taking a concept such as multitasking, we can be specific about what case studies were are generating, in order to better understand why women have not featured prominently in the past or in today’s film industry.

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