Oscar-Winning Producer Puts Her Stamp on Films and Television

By Charles McKenzie, April 24, 2019
Cathy Schulman spearheads efforts to bring gender parity to Hollywood.
Woman speaking at podium with a screen behind her that says Music and Sound for Picture Conference

Cathy Schulman gave the keynote address at the inaugural Music and Sound for Picture Conference on April 6. 

(Photo by Bob Wagner/Ithaca College)

With more labels on our food and in our restaurant menus, we’re more aware than ever what we’re putting into our bodies and who is producing it, but that’s less true for our media diets. Now, an initiative to label gender-balanced films and TV shows can help the broader effort to increase the number of female voices and leaders in Hollywood.

ReFrame stamp

The ReFrame stamp appears at the end of film and television shows that incorporate women in leadership roles.

That initiative is being led by Oscar-winning producer Cathy Schulman, co-creator of ReFrame, who delivered the keynote address earlier this month at Ithaca College’s Music and Sound for Picture Conference. ReFrame certifies that films and television shows hired female-identifying people in four out of eight key areas of their production, including writer, director, producer, lead, co-lead, speaking parts, department heads and crew. Additional points are awarded to content that has women of color in key positions. ReFrame’s stamp appears at the end of film and television shows (or in their marketing materials). 

In 2018, 62 television series received ReFrame Stamps, including "One Day at a Time," co-created and co-run by Mike Royce '86. On the film side, there were 20 stamp recipients in the top 100 top-grossing feature films, up from 12 in 2017. However, the statistics still looked bleak for directors, writers and leads in the top 100. 

Cathy Schulman talks about the importance of increasing female representation in the media. (Video by Evan Montgomery '18/Ithaca College)

“It shows that what you watched attempted to avoid gender bias. When decision-makers and creators are, in fact, diverse, the content becomes diverse,” she said. “The idea is to allow different kinds of voices to affect creative content so that what audiences are digesting doesn't increase the ongoing bias problems.”

The stamp stemmed from Schulman’s work as president emerita of Women in Film and from a long producing career that included international accolades for her and her film "Crash," which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2006. Now the CEO of Welle Entertainment, a film and television production and finance company, she was also the head of production for STX Entertainment (Bad Moms 2016).

“It's well worth the challenge because we think the result will change the kind of media that we're consuming, which could in fact, change the world in which we're living."

Cathy Schulman

A Yale graduate who also addressed the United Nations for 2016’s International Women’s Day, Schulman shared with industry leaders as well as IC students, faculty and staff stories from her two decades of instrumental advocacy. She described the “three Ps” of combating gender discrimination: (1) pay parity, (2) pipelines and (3) purpose. ReFrame will help with all three, she says, and the organization is almost overwhelmed with productions trying to earn the stamp. 

“It's well worth the challenge because we think the result will change the kind of media that we're consuming, which could in fact, change the world in which we're living,” she said.

Schulman offered a sobering insider’s look but also noted the progress women have already made and her hope for a better future. She challenged young people entering the industry not to become complacent, though.

“I worry that students don't understand just how fragile this balance is,” she said. “Civil rights issues are easily brushed back under the rug when we don't continue to endorse and support and nourish positive outcomes. The trick is how does the newer generation benefit from some of the crusading without allowing the patterns to creep back in? There’s still a lot to do.”

“When they break down the membership of the Director’s Guild, there are so few of us, as women of color, that we don’t even register as a percentage.”

Aya Tanimura '03

Woman looking up

Aya Tanimura '03 spoke on the panel "View from the Director's Chair - Why Music and Sound Design Matter."

Conference organizer Phil Blackman shares Schulman’s belief that young attendees could be part of the solution. “Cathy's keynote tackled a difficult topic but gave everyone hope that we can solve the problem of gender parity together,” said Blackman, who is also the program director for IC’s new MBA in entertainment and media management. Like the conference, the program is an interdisciplinary collaboration of the School of Business, School of Music, and Roy H. Park School of Communications.

One alumna who knows firsthand the effects of bias in the industry is director Aya Tanimura ’03, who also spoke at the conference. “When they break down the membership of the Director’s Guild, there are so few of us, as women of color, that we don’t even register as a percentage.”

That issue stretches beyond the director’s chair.

“Whenever I step on set, there's maybe one or two other people there who are women of color. During the hiring process, I drive my producers crazy because it's a huge priority for me,” she said. She added that she will not work on a set that has less than 50 percent women because that offers opportunities to young women, who in turn, can open doors to other women. “It has a ripple effect, and it also creates a better set environment.”