Hiring for behind-the-camera positions often relies on a line producer’s network of personal contacts, particularly for department head positions. This often means that unit head positions are comprised of individuals who have worked together previously. This closed network system of assembling a team lends itself to bias. While it is easy to understand the allure of working with people who have proven over time to be trustworthy, capable, and dependable, the alternative is also important to consider. By expanding the closed circle of contacts that form a team, innovative approaches, new skills, and fresh talent might be discovered. For line producers working to hire unit heads, several approaches can be used to expand the pool of potential department supervisors.
Recruit outside your network. As noted earlier, rather than focusing on the specific person you want to hire, identify the skill set that is required for the role. This may be determined by the parameters of the production itself (e.g., costume designers with expertise on a specific time period; cinematographers with visual effects credentials). Or, skill sets could reflect a candidate’s experience using certain equipment, knowledge of different techniques, etc.
The criteria outlined earlier related to training, prior work experience, nominations and awards, leadership history, and prior history of concern can all be applied to unit head positions. Line producers should bear in mind that historical inequities may prevent individuals from underrepresented groups from having the same number of prior credits as those from majority groups. Thus, it may be important to scrutinize and clarify the baseline skills and experience required for each role. Bear in mind that there may be people who are ready to advance into a unit head role after having spent years moving up the ranks. Where possible, consider if it is feasible to provide that opportunity.
Rely on tools or colleagues to identify new candidates. Using industry databases, like the new ARRAY Crew database, can help identify people from underrepresented backgrounds who may be available to work on your production. IMDbPro may also be a useful tool for identifying people who have worked on productions that might be relevant to the film or series for which you are hiring.
There are limits to the number of tools that currently exist to identify crew members from underrepresented groups. However, relying on your network of contacts and making it clear you are specifically recruiting with inclusion in mind can be one way to find people who may be outside your network but available to work on your production.
A second issue that faces line producers in the process of recruiting new talent for unit head and second positions is the location where production takes place. The first issue may be hiring individuals who qualify for union work in the production location. In major production centers this may pose less of a problem than in areas outside the US. However, if your budget supports travel for unit heads to the production, this may expand your options for hiring more inclusively.
One aspect of international locations may require special consideration. If you are relocating unit heads to work on your production, recognize that inequity in caregiving responsibilities may be more likely to affect women than men. Is it possible for unit heads who are also parents or caregivers (regardless of gender identity) to travel to production locations with their families? Is it possible for parents or caregivers to work in the production location while maintaining their responsibilities at home? While this may require creativity in scheduling and a change in practice, addressing these constraints may allow for a more diverse set of individuals to accept work on your production.
When you begin the process of selecting a company to provide services for your production, you have the opportunity to create avenues for inclusion. Enacting supplier diversity policies is the best way to do this. As you solicit bids from different organizations, request information about their ownership. Standard practice includes requesting information on business ownership, including whether the business is woman-owned or minority-owned. You may be able to request further information about the company ownership, including whether particular racial/ethnic groups are represented. Including this information during the bid solicitation process will provide a way for you and your team to determine the best vendors to use on your production and to make diversity and inclusion part of the decision-making.
Equipment Rental and other Purchases
As with vendors, equipment rental and purchasing can be done with an eye toward diversity and inclusion. No matter the production location, consider how you will source the equipment and products needed for your shoot. If unit heads will be in charge of gathering equipment, charge them with determining whether a company is woman- or minority-owned before making purchases. This may be particularly important when tax credits or rebates are involved. If you are spending production dollars locally, have you investigated whether businesses with diverse ownership are being approached to provide equipment? As with vendors, information on ownership demographics can be solicited during the bid process. Consider creating a database or sharing and seeking information from other producers who have worked in similar locations. Doing so will expand the opportunities for new business to provide services to productions, and increase efficiency for future projects.
This section has covered a broad array of methods that are useful for diversifying hiring practices above and below the line. The strategies presented here may be enough to help you achieve the goals of the Policy. It’s more likely, however, that teams will need to pursue multiple solutions, use actions we’ve suggested in conjunction with other approaches, and think critically about how to move forward to meet the Policy goals. Intentionality will be the most important aspect of your decision-making. By specifying your intentions and being transparent with your teams, it becomes possible for the production staff to work together to achieve their goals.
Resources for Hiring Trainees. Amazon Studios has built relationships with trainee programs that are cultivating emerging talent throughout the industry.
The Amazon Studios Inclusion Policy has specific above- and below-the-line goals as well as objectives for vendors hired for production. Here, we outline the goals for each of these groups as well as a strategy for fulfilling the Amazon Studios Inclusion Policy.
Much of this work may be part of the development executive(s) purview early on in cultivating scripts for film and storylines in series, and we will address some strategies that development execs can use.
Industry groups have been using criteria to determine funding of stories by directors/writers/producers for quite some time. Different criteria are used by groups within and outside of North America to showcase films or select candidates for funding. For example, look at the British Film Institute’s (BFI) Diversity Standards which has compulsory requirements for exhibitors, distributors and festivals as well as for funding.
What criteria are important to bringing your story in film or in a series to life? For directors, the criteria may include any or all of the following attributes: training (e.g., education, participation in lab/fellowship at Sundance Institute or another notable independent outlet), prior work experience across the last three years (e.g., episodic directing, pilots, independent films, commercials, music videos), size and impact of previous projects (e.g., ratings, box office, distribution deal in independent space), other roles outside of directing (e.g., 1st AD, cinematographer, actor, writer), point of view of previous stories (e.g., novelty, technical precision), inclusion on screen, reception by critics (e.g., Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic), nominations and awards for story, directing, actors of content directed (e.g., festival recognition, competitive funding, critical acclaim, prestigious industry groups such as BAFTA, AMPAS, Golden Globes, DGA, WGA, Critics’ Choice), leadership style in pre-production and on set (e.g., ability to execute vision, temperament, collaboration, decisiveness, flexibility, hiring inclusively of unit heads/seconds, use of intimacy coordinators if relevant to story), prior history of concern (e.g., hostile work environment, microaggressions or insensitivity to a variety of communities, inappropriate humor).
Many decisions in Hollywood focus on the success of the last project. Taking into account only the last “hit” or “failure” results in a decision based on a small sample size. Studies have proven that this type of decision-making can be unstable and can lead to outcomes that either unfairly favor or disenfranchise the candidate. It’s important to consider every candidate’s full body of work, spanning from their training in the space all the way through their most recent film, episode, commercial, or music video.
One note of caution: Given the historic inequities in Hollywood, many of the above indicators could favor the status quo (i.e., work experience). As such, those filmmakers and content creators outside of the status quo are often framed as a “risk,” or as bringing less-than-ideal experience to a particular job. It’s important to think through how to counter the bias of one group being advantaged in employment routinely over many others (e.g., gender, people of color, LGBTQ+, disability, any and/or all intersections of these characteristics). It is simply not true that only cisgender white men offer artistic talent and leadership skills. Films directed by men do not score any higher or lower on average in critics’ ratings than those directed by women. The same is true for people of color in comparison to their white peers. As a result, it is important to consider a variety of attributes that include more than just recent work experience. Doing so ensures that new voices, and/or talent that’s been overlooked based on identity, can compete fairly their cisgender white male counterparts. Consider the following points when developing your criteria for hiring directors:
Historical inequities in education and access limit the ability of some individuals to meet the standard you’ve set.
Design qualifications with this in mind (e.g., do not ask for more than is needed to establish that an individual is qualified).
Use terms such as “required” and “preferred” to differentiate what skills are needed for the position (e.g., previous work with motion capture) versus what is optional or helpful for a candidate to have (e.g., general understanding of motion capture techniques).
When creating your criteria, be cautious that being overly specific can lend itself to tailoring criteria to one specific person. Instead, use language that allows for you to capture skills and experience but allows for multiple qualified individuals to compete for the job.
As noted earlier, stay away from terms like “risky” or “inexperienced” to describe directors, or phrases such as “they can’t handle” the job at hand. These are all phrases that research has shown can marginalize and exclude directors who identify as women/non-binary, underrepresented racially/ethnically, LGBTQ+, and/or with a disability.
How will you identify candidates for these positions? It is imperative to cast a wide net and exercise intentionality. Build a candidate pool that reflects the inclusion profile you want to meet. In other words, if you hope to assemble a roster of ten candidates, the aspirational goal for a breakdown should be: 30% women/non-binary individuals, 20% underrepresented men, and 20% underrepresented women/non-binary. These are based on percentages of individuals in the US by Census and market availability data.
Use both existing and new strategies to create this candidate pool.
Seek input from agents and managers, stipulating that the names they provide should reflect the diversity of the candidate pool you want to create. Send lists back if they lack the inclusion that you need. Or go to a different agency or set of agents.
Use industry databases to identify potential candidates (see below).
Research industry training programs (e.g., labs, fellowships) to find talent.
Seek candidates who have complementary skills/experiences (e.g., documentary directors for fictional or episodic content; music video and commercial directors for episodic series).
Engage specific organizations to inquire about potential candidates. Here is a list of resources for identifying content creators by gender (women, non-binary), underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, LGBTQ+, and with a disability (listed in alphabetical order):
Aboriginal Films and Filmmakers
Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE)
Free the Work
Lights! Camera! Access! (provides connections to people with disabilities working in entertainment)
Sundance Institute Indigenous Program
The Alice Initiative
The Topple List of Culture Creators
Think Tank for Inclusion & Equity
Women of Color Unite’s JTC’s list
Consult with other decision-makers to agree on the selection criteria and their order of importance.
Appoint an individual or committee to ensure the criteria is applied consistently.
Review each candidate’s application materials in their entirety.
When interviewing potential directors, come up with a standard list of questions to ask each candidate. Asking each candidate to answer the exact same questions, in the exact same order, is a good way to level the playing field. Interviewers should be especially careful about their use of language during the interview process, whether those conversations take place via Zoom, on the phone, or in person. Studies show that priming or activating stereotypes can cause women and people of color to underperform—even in contexts in which they normally excel. This is a phenomenon called stereotype threat. Drawing attention to historic inequities for women directors or people of color in the industry can activate stereotypes that can actually cause decreases in performance. Also, solo status in a group (i.e., tokenism) may cue thoughts and feelings that create an additional cognitive load for the candidate and thus may heighten the likelihood of underperformance.
Avoid phrasing like “we really want to hire a woman director for this” or “we think you have the right background to tell this story.”
Make sure that, to the extent possible, the people in charge of conducting interviews or hearing pitches reflect a diverse and inclusive population.
When you are ready to decide who to hire, first examine the criteria-based scores. Is there one candidate who scores highest? If so, examine how you feel about hiring this candidate. Often, our “gut” feelings about hiring someone who is similar to us on an identity dimension are positive; we like to work with people who are similar to us. Your gut feeling about someone who is not like you may be exactly the reverse. You may feel reluctant to hire someone who is different, even though the criteria you’ve used are in their favor. This is a downside of relying on “how we feel” when making a decision.
Are you concerned about the person’s ability to lead a team or show leadership on set? If so, ask yourself what traits you think a “leader” should exhibit. Often, perceptions of leadership align with masculine traits like being “tough” or “dominant.” Consider whether your conception of a leader is flexible enough to include other leadership styles.
Are you concerned about working closely with someone you don’t know well? It may be appealing to work with long-standing collaborators or people who are familiar to you. However, think about your end goal for the project. Who have your criteria shown to be most qualified? Perhaps you need to establish clear ways that you will communicate with or get to know the person better before starting production.
Are you concerned about working with someone who is culturally different from you? Navigating cross-cultural communication may create apprehension, especially when the stakes feel high. Recognize that the likelihood of miscommunication is higher when there are cultural differences in communication. Make clear your expectations for communication, and work with the other person to understand their communication requirements. Create a plan for how you and the person you are working with will resolve miscommunication, failure to meet expectations, and other issues.
The job qualifications for directors are similar across film and series, though the leadership position varies significantly. Consider skills that are necessary and sufficient to direct and the criteria needed to evaluate those abilities.
How will you find the right people to attach to your project? We suggest asking the following questions:
Q: What skills or experiences are essential to bringing the story to life?
Establish the skill set needed to fill the position. Specify the types of credits, experience, education, samples, fellowships, labs, point of view, and/or other publications needed as evidence of skills or abilities. Think experience and skills, not specific names. Why? It’s natural to gravitate toward the people you’ve worked with in the past and who you already trust. But hiring only known commodities means you’re likely dismissing viable, talented people who may not already be on your radar. It also means that you may not have properly vetted the first people who come to mind if the names arise without scrutiny.
Q: What authentic representation is needed in the story, based on the main characters or location?
On the important issue of whose story is being told, the question becomes whether the writer’s lived experience needs to match or be informed by their gender, race/ethnicity, sexuality, disability, or other factors.
The Policy states that: Each film or series with a creative team of three or more people in above-the-line roles (Directors, Writers, Producers) should ideally include a minimum 30% women and 30% members of an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. These aspirational goals will increase to 50% by 2024. On creative teams with fewer than three people, we prefer that at least one Writer, Director, or Producer be a woman and/or a member of an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. A single team member can fulfill one or more of these identities.
The intent of the Policy is to help ensure that you have authentic representation within the creative team for your production. Where there is room to hire in the writers’ room or additional creative support, think about the gaps in representation – perhaps even those beyond this list (e.g. LGBTQ+ or disability) – that will help improve the authenticity of the storytelling.
Customers may call out a lack of authenticity in the writing or directing process, and that can hurt audience engagement. The National Research Group #Representation Matters study revealed that “four in five Black Americans think it’s obvious when a character of color wasn’t written by someone of that race.” As such, it’s not surprising when stories face backlash due to the writer or director lacking the perspective of the central characters (e.g., Bombshell, Aladdin, and Mulan).
Here are ideas for expanding your search to ensure you have a variety of perspectives:
Talk with your creative executives, and the Amazon Studios DEI Team! We have relationships with writers from all backgrounds who may meet your needs, and are constantly expanding our networks.
If you ask agents or managers for a list of clients, make sure you share the skill sets you have identified as important, and indicate that you would like to consider a range people of all genders, those from a variety of racial/ethnic backgrounds, people with disabilities, and other attributes of diversity. If the agent or manager asks for targets, indicate that the list should approximately reflect the population of the country, based on the latest Census figures.
The Writers Guild of America database features writers by gender, race/ethnicity, disability, LGBTQ+ and other identity groups.
The Think Tank for Inclusion & Equitylists writers by race/ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, LGBTQ+, and more.
Some festivals nurture writer/directors. Explore the list of writers and their projects in the independent space over the last five years, and examine the types of stories they are telling. As an example, check out the Sundance Institute Inclusion Resource Mapfor a variety of screenwriting labs attached to festival organizations, non-profits, and educational institutions.
Many industry groups, nonprofits and advocacy organizations have also culled lists of writers from a variety of backgrounds and experiences:
Q: What should I do if my writer is lacking personal experience or depth with the journey of the main characters?
Many of the groups listed above have staff that can serve in a consulting capacity and provide authenticity and nuance to the storyline. Think in advance about how you will pay consultants as well as credit them on the film or series (see WGA guidelines for writers, PGA for producers).
For stories steeped in fandom, writers should spend time not only with consultants, but with online communities to learn about the experiences of different groups. Message framing within fandom can be implicitly or explicitly biased. As such, it is important to explore and engage with as many voices as possible to learn the perspective of and understand the values and concerns of different groups. This way, you can decrease the likelihood of causing unnecessary harm.
Telling Authentic & Inclusive Stories
It’s important to remember the key components of authentic and inclusive storytelling, and avoid common pitfalls when it comes to stereotypes and tropes. All writers – no matter their background or lived experience – have areas to learn and grow and all content has an opportunity to surprise and delight, as well as misfire with customers.
How do I avoid negative stereotypes, dehumanizing language, and slurs in content creation?
Stereotypes are a valuable cognitive tool which writers often use to help a story move quickly. Some stereotypes are based on aspects of truth or reality. However, stereotypes are problematic when they are one-sided depictions, common tropes, or an extreme version of a group. To learn more, watch author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discuss “The Danger of a Single Story”.
Hiring Creatives & Writers
You have a story to tell, and your goal is to tell the best story possible. This means developing your script, finding writer(s) (if you don’t already have them), or staffing all or part of the writers’ room.
First, let’s discuss producing credits in episodic storytelling that are awarded for work as a writer. Crediting producers may depend on three factors: when in the staffing process they are hired onto your series, their prior experience, and even the negotiation process. At the start of staffing, it may be difficult to determine the precise number of executive producers, co-executive producers, etc. you are able to hire. One method to consider is how much experience you aim to have on your writing team. For example, if you are interested in hiring a team of highly experienced writers, you may recruit differently. A few things to keep in mind:
As noted above, make sure your candidate pool reflects the population you want to represent in your staffing. Solicit applications from writers whose previous experience makes them eligible to step into a larger role. Recognize that historical inequities could mean that writers from underrepresented backgrounds may only have titles below the title you are seeking to fill.
Use a “blind” submission process when evaluating writing samples. This eliminates the name(s) of the writers you are considering so you can read samples without making assumptions about the writer’s gender or racial/ethnic background. Eliminating the use of background information also creates pathways for writers with disabilities or from the LGBTQ+ community to have their work reviewed without their identity playing a role in the consideration process.
Determine the criteria you will use to assign or request titles for writers at different levels. For example, what will be required to assign Co-Executive Producer credits versus Supervising Producer credits? Work with Amazon Studios’ Business Affairs team to understand how titles and credits are allocated per series. Make sure your criteria does not only account for each candidate’s prior experience, but appropriately reflects the level of oversight you want the writer/producer to have on your project. For stories that focus on underrepresented communities, your criteria should include the level of contribution you want the writer/producer to offer when it comes to the community being portrayed.
As you build your team, pay attention to where you may be missing expertise and insight into different communities you will portray onscreen. If your story incorporates characters from communities not represented on your staff, you may need to expand your staff to ensure these perspectives are represented. One way to do this is by calling in consultants or consulting producers. Make sure to evaluate how often and under what circumstances you hire consultants. If you find that you consistently rely on outside consultants to advise you about underrepresented voices, ask why you have not made space on your team for these perspectives. Consider that career trajectories for underrepresented creators may be limited by biases and impediments that have historically marginalized different communities. Then ask whether your actions may contribute to these ongoing issues by restricting episode credits or overall position on a series for writers from various backgrounds. The intent here is not to avoid the use of consultants entirely, but to think critically about whether temporary staff positions are the smartest and most effective way to incorporate the contributions of underrepresented writers.
The same consideration should also apply to non-writing producers on episodic series or non-financing producers in feature film. Establish clear criteria for awarding each type of credit (Associate, Co-, etc.) based on the responsibilities carried out by the individual in pre-production, on set, in post-production, and in any other relevant arenas. Here, it is important to recognize that individuals from groups that have historically been underrepresented (based on gender, race/ethnicity, LGBTQ+ identification, disability) may also see their contributions undervalued or dismissed as less important. By outlining clear criteria for awarding credits, you can minimize the likelihood that you will overlook important contributions made by individuals from these groups.
Producers play a key role in ensuring that a story moves from script to screen smoothly, and are responsible for bringing content in on time and within budget. Yet research across both film and series content has shown that women and people from underrepresented groups appear more often toward the bottom of producing credits than they do toward the top. In other words, the more prestige a title carries, the less likely it is to be attached to an individual from a historically marginalized community.