Birds' Eye View's Mia Bays on closing the gender gap, getting small films seen and more
Mia Bays is an Oscar-winning, two-time BAFTA-nominated film producer who runs Birds' Eye View, a renowned film charity focused on gender equality in the industry. Here she shares her thoughts on the Me Too movement, the future of small films and what filmmakers can do to succeed.
Please introduce yourself and tell us how you became involved in the film industry?
I’m Mia Bays and I’ve been working in film for 27 years, since I was 19. I’ve got 13 credits as producer or production executive, I’ve made four shorts including an Oscar winner (Six Shooter by Martin McDonagh 2005), garnered two BAFTA, and multiple BIFA nominations for films I’ve produced. I’ve worked on over 70 features as a distributor or sales agent. I now run the film charity Birds' Eye View, so my producing career is on pause to focus on gender equality in film, which is my current passion.
Film is incredibly important to me – it’s my family, my life. It provides a guide to how I live and it’s my favourite art form. My life and work are symbiotically connected – in a positive healthy way, I think. I do work very hard to attain that.
Tell us a little about Birds' Eye View and one of your latest projects/events Reclaim the Frame?
I’m the director-at-large of Birds’ Eye View Film which is a 15-year-old charity whose mission is to bring ever larger audiences to films by women. We started as a film festival of films by women for over a decade, and now we are a year-round campaign for change with three pillars of focus: promoting films by women to audiences; getting more female filmmakers and female executives in meaningful positions through training and advocacy; and data and research on equality in film.
Reclaim The Frame is a BFI-backed pilot scheme to build a movement: namely a network of influencers in five cities that promote four new films by women in six cinemas in order to help them succeed commercially. We hold events around each film in each cinema and the influencers get a free ticket but have to bring at least one person with them who buys a ticket. It’s a "pay it forward" process and aligns conscious consumerism with film-going as the underlying message is: “if you care about equality and film, we can make a difference together.”
The films selected are as wide and intersectional a mix as we could find that were being released in cinemas in our pilot period which is May to September 2018. We care about representation, we care about not centring only white straight able-bodied stories, and we balance that with an eye on commerciality and how to help the films we support break out and become hits. Because the more films by women work commercially, the more they will be made.
What do you think about the current UK film Industry and the "Me too" movement?
The industry is healthy in terms of production and the numbers of films shooting here. The box office is up in 2017 - £1.379 billion ($1.8bn) a 3.7% increase from 2016. But there are too many films. We need a production slowdown. More focus on releasing not just creating....What’s difficult is the squeeze on smaller films – distribution is really tough. Add in issues like fine weather and other current distractions for audience attention (football, TV, other cultural endeavours) and it’s a rough environment for specialised film right now.
I think the #MeToo moment we had in film in 2017-18 has been a very positive shift in focus from blaming victims, endorsing secrecy and protecting toxic power bases into a healthier more transparent space that is suddenly much more aware of unhealthy power balances, and of the lack of inclusive practice, and there’s a drive to shift this. Which is something we welcome as we’ve been plugging away at that for some time. We have to keep the focus and not let it slip off the agenda, so it’s not just a moment but a movement that carries change with it.
What was it like to work on Microwave films such as Lilting, Shifty and Ill Manors?
Rewarding and humbling. It’s challenging to make good work – especially with ultra low budgets when it’s your first time on a feature. I’m proud of the amount of people from underrepresented spaces and disadvantaged backgrounds whose work we made or whose careers the work helped – Riz Ahmed being the stand-out. I’m less proud of only making one film out of eight written and directed by a woman. We thought we tried hard but it wasn’t hard enough. This lack was a big motivator for what I do now.
What are you currently working on? And, how can people support Reclaim the Frame?
I’m working on driving Birds’ Eye View forward – fundraising, business plan and budget writing, building up the board and generally figuring out 2019-2020.
We are also deep into the Reclaim The Frame programme and touring with our second film Pin Cushion which is a debut by the British writer/director Deborah Haywood. It's fantastic. Very powerful and unique. Then we have Faces Places by Agnes Varda and JR and The Rider by Chloe Zhaou from August to October. We tour each film to six cinemas in five cities. We build events around them and do everything we can to promote the films, to our 30k followers and beyond.
What advice would you give to young professionals wanting to get involved in the industry?
I would say be dedicated, maintain focus, pay attention, develop as many skills as you can – soak up experience like a sponge. Decide what your specialisms might be – pick an angle or two.
Also decide what is unique about your perspective and why it might be valuable and think about how you use that to your advantage. I come from a single parent family, grew up on benefits, didn’t go to private school or University or film school. I learnt everything on the job. I knew film was my passion and I made it work for me. It’s as much my mistress as I am hers! Anything is possible, I do believe that.
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