Today is my last day in the visual effects industry.
It’s an industry that I’ve spent nine years of my life completely dedicated to, so it’s a bitter sweet kind of day. My love for animation and film began at 4 years old, when I saw the Lion King at the cinema with my dad. From that point on, having watched these cartoon animals with such believable human qualities, I knew I wanted to be involved with the magic and at the age of 18 finally enrolled onto my dream VFX course.
Growing up with good people around me I never really witnessed or experienced any kind of “special treatment”. Therefore my years in the industry have been a very interesting learning curve, socially as well as academically. From working with the most wonderful people in the world and being supported by amazing teams and supervisors, to being very obviously treated differently to my male counterparts.
Overall, I have really loved my job – it’s been fun, challenging and exciting all at the same time, especially when your shots start to come together! I can even deal with the long, unpaid hours and working weekends (not that it’s right, but that’s another story!)
However one thing I have struggled with over the past few years, is a select number of people who have made me feel very unwelcome as I’ve progressed in my role. There are several notable times that I will never forget, in which I have been patronised in front of supervisors, had my ideas brushed off bluntly in meetings, been excluded from lunches, had handshakes rejected (yep, seriously), and even had one interviewer completely avoid eye contact with me. This may seem like a bit of antisocial behaviour from a few individuals, but it always sticks with you when you realise that the behaviour is aimed towards only YOU, whilst surrounded by a team of guys.
My favourite moment, was when I asked a senior male colleague for a quick explanation of how his code worked, and he replied with “Oh, I never should have sent it to you! It’s got you all confused and upset!” before walking off. Another was getting contacted by a company that I had already worked for previously saying that they wanted me to come back. There were a few positions available on the team and I received a salary offer of nearly 10K LESS than a brand new male junior artist with no relevant experience. The reason I know this, is because I’d actually helped train him up ready for his first specialist interview and we had discussed salary expectations and offers. Of course I turned the job down.
These kind of events have not happened every day, in fact I have truly met the most supportive people and best friends I could ask for in this industry. Sadly though, there has been a steady stream of this kind of behaviour over the years and when it happens so often, it does make you question your own ability as an artist. I work hard, I get my shots done, pull my weight, I have produced some pretty complicated work and have great references. Equally as important, I am polite, make an effort with my team socially and offer help whenever I can. So why all the hostility?
At one point I was greeted by daily unpleasantness by one male colleague who made me question my position and ability for months on end. He was a junior artist but older than me and made my work life miserable until I realised it was time to move on to keep my sanity. He ignored me on arrival every single morning, was short tempered with me and incredibly sarcastic and dismissive whenever I addressed him. He would also make loud, negative remarks about my shots whilst I was in earshot to other members of the (all male) team, even though my shots were challenging and more technical than anything he was tackling himself. The response from the HR department was “Well… he’s just a bit like that isn’t he?”. It was disappointing to know that I couldn’t get the support that I needed from HR and it was at this point that I decided to leave. The treatment from this one colleague had a very detrimental effect on my mental health over time. Interestingly, he was married, which made me wonder how he would feel if his wife was treated the way he treated me.
I have a few good female friends in the industry, and whenever the subject of “being a woman” has come up, I’m often met with sighs, eye rolling and similar stories, of being treated differently, even badly, compared to their male peers. Two of my dear friends last year left the industry for similar reasons; smart, hardworking, team playing women, who have been met with unfair behaviour from some colleagues. I thankfully have never been sexually harassed by work peers, but I know women who have been, inside and out of work. When I talk to my closest male friends in the industry, they are often very surprised at what i have to mention, with responses such as “I can’t believe it” and “I had no idea that this went on”. That’s why I wanted to write this article, to share with everyone and raise awareness to the issues that seem to be plaguing the film industry; not just in the highly reported sexism within the world of acting and directing, but also in visual effects.
Whilst the positives of my career definitely outweigh the negatives, I do think this feeling of “being different” has had an impact on my passion for VFX and motivation to work my way up the career ladder. I’m quite good at picking myself up after these moments, but I have ultimately decided to move on and focus my drive and ambition in a new direction. There are some incredibly strong women in this industry, who I admire and look up to (more than you will ever know!) and my hat goes off to you for being in the positions that you are and encouraging more women into VFX.