This Swiss-Brazilian Filmmaker Has Perfect Advice For Every Woman In The Industry


When we look at the success of female-led films coming out of Hollywood and around the world today, there is a sense that the industry is changing and women are being given platforms and voices like never before. But when you look at the actual stats of the male to female ratio in nearly all departments of the film industry (from productions assistants all the way to A-list on-screen stars) the disparity is quite depressing. From the representation of women in positions of leadership, to gaping wage gaps, there is a sense that Hollywood is reluctantly holding back on giving women an equal share of the power.

How do everyday women seek to get past these barriers and try to change the status quo? Well, the numbers are a great launching pad, but we need to hear from more female filmmakers who are willing to share their journeys in order to know that change is indeed possible.

The statistics can be overwhelming, but it is important to remember that each woman’s journey in the industry is going to be unique.

We decided to chat with a female filmmaker who already has a string of impressive credits on her resume, but who brings a unique international and well-rounded experience to Hollywood. Marina Stabile is a Swiss-Brazilian woman who has worked with some recognizable Hollywood names, worked in almost every position that exists on a film set, studied at one of the most prestigious film schools in the industry, experience blatant sexism, yet has not quit. In fact all her experiences have led her from one job to another, and she has some incredible insight for up-and-coming female filmmakers who often feel like giving up in the face of adversity.

Here is what she told us…



Tell us about your background and what drew you to film making?

I was born in Brazil, and when I was 10 years old my family was transferred to Switzerland, where I studied at an International School with people from 118 different nationalities.

I’ve been in love with film for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I’d spend hours watching everything I could get my hands on, and I can safely say that film and TV were instrumental in my learning French and English when I first moved to Geneva. I think I only realized that film making was something that you could do for a living when I was 16, and I’ve never looked back since.

As a producer what is your focus?

Great characters. To me, the magic of film is that if you can make an audience identify with a character, you can take them on any journey, no matter how far it is from their own personal experience.

Growing up, my school had been founded by the League of Nations, and had very strong ties to the United Nations, and I started working on issues of child labor, refugees, and human rights when I was 15, so social justice definitely plays a part in projects I’m interested in, and especially some I’m developing at the moment.

A recent industry survey found that in 2014 women made up only 17% of directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. How do those statistics affect you when you see them?

It’s incredibly frustrating to see those numbers, and even more so when you look deeper into them and realize that they haven’t really changed much over the past few years. That to me is really telling. If at least there was a gradual progress being reported, I could find it less infuriating. On the other hand, they also motivate me to do more, to keep working, and to do my part to slowly chip away at that imbalance.


You have produced a kick-ass web pilot starring Eliza Dushku, you co-produced the second series of ‘Mortal Kombat: Legacy’ for Warner brothers, and you produced a short film called ‘Skin’ which had an almost all-female crew and is being shown at the Cannes Short Film Corner. Those are some pretty impressive achievements! Was it hard to land those jobs?

I was originally brought in to line-produce Mortal Kombat: Legacy, along with Hayden Roush, who is one of my favorite people to work with. The show was extremely challenging and we were lucky that Warner Bros., Bandito Brothers, the production company for it, and Kevin Tancharoen, the director and producer, quickly realized we could handle more than our fair share of responsibility on it and made us co-producers of the project. It was completely different than anything I’d done before, but the trust the studio and the director put in us really goes to show that the quality of the work you put in can ultimately speak louder than anything else.

“The Gable 5”, the web pilot we did with Eliza Dushku, actually grew from Mortal Kombat. Hayden and I had such a great experience with Kevin Tancharoen, the director, that we were looking to do another project together, so when Kevin approached us with the pilot for “The Gable 5” we jumped on it.


“Skin” was a much more personal project. I’d known writer/director Liz Hannah from back when we were both in the producing program at the American Film Institute, and was always so impressed with her story-telling talent that when she told me she wanted to transition from producing into writing and directing it just seemed natural. Martim Vian (who is an amazing cinematographer) and I loved Liz’s idea for the short so we got together and figured out what favors we could pull and how we could make this happen and decided to produce it together.

Since this was such a passion-project, when it came to other heads of department, we were looking for people that really connected with the story. There was no specific decision to hire women; the people who came on board were simply the most qualified and the best fit for the project. In the end our Production Designer, Art Director, Costume Designer, Special Effects Make-up Artist, and AC, all turned out to be women in a crew where every person was their own department.

How has it been using those productions as leverage to get other work?

Mortal Kombat has been a really interesting project as far as leverage for future work, because although it’s very different from a lot of my work, it’s an instantly recognizable brand, and the fact that Warner Bros. was behind it gives it greater legitimacy. I’m working on a project in Brazil at the moment and when I talk to investors or potential partners, I’ve noticed that having that credit under my belt immediately raises their level of interest.

I’ve found that a huge factor in getting work in this industry is relationships. By that I mean the relationships you create with the people you work with and for. Work begets work. I got the call for Mortal Kombat because a guy who knew the guy doing the hiring knew a producer I had worked with on a full-union film, and asked him if he could recommend a line-producer who knew how to work with unions and could deliver an extremely challenging project on a tight budget.

That’s a lot of degrees of separation, but that’s how it works. I’ve had lots of projects come my way like that, and conversely, I’ve hired lots of people by doing the same thing. I think we all go through a list of people we know first whenever a new project comes up, and that’s when the quality of your work the previous time really comes into play.

Women in film face barriers that men don’t. In your experience how do you overcome those?

By keeping at it, and making sure that the quality of your work is indisputable. You can’t just give up each time you hit a roadblock, particularly in the film industry. I think perseverance is essential for women in film. With the industry as it is right now it’s going to be harder for us no matter what, and as infuriating as that is, it’s also the truth, so you need to know that that’s the case and keep going anyway. Teaming up with like-minded people and supporting each-other is also essential. Above all else, I’m lucky to have people I can call on for support when it does get tough. There’s strength in numbers.


A lot of it isn’t just men’s fault, it is a systemic problem. What do you think it will take for the industry as a whole to change its attitude toward female filmmakers?

There are some great men working in the industry that regularly collaborate with women, and that do hire based on talent and qualification rather than gender. I think it’s important to note that. However, it is a systemic problem, and one that I think is perpetuated from the top down. As much as sexism is very much alive in all departments, I think the absence of women in key positions is what makes it so common on set, and that is definitely something that comes from the “powers-that-be”.

I’ve heard the lack of female directors, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors rationalized time and again as an “unsafe investment” and a risk executives and financiers (both men and women) don’t want to take, and ultimately that’s what needs to change. With franchises like ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Divergent’, and ‘Twilight’, as well as stand-alone films like ‘Pitch Perfect’, ‘Bridesmaids’, ‘Frozen’, and even ‘Selma’ (which although not about women is directed by a woman) doing so well at the box-office, those same executives and investors are having a harder time arguing that films by and about women aren’t good bets.

FiveThirtyEight did an interesting analysis showing that films that pass the Bechdel Test have a better return-on-investment dollar for dollar than those that don’t, even in international territories. International box office is essential to the viability of films nowadays, and the claim that female-centric content doesn’t travel well has long been the convenient scapegoat not doing more of it. The study also points out that budgets for films that pass the Bechdel Test tend to be 35% lower than for those that fail it. It’s going to take women who have the clout to close that gap and fully end this systemic problem.


(L-R: Director Kevin Tancharoen, Stunt Coordinator and 2nd Unit Director Garrett Warren, Marin, Armorer John Haaz, and Fight Choreographer Larnell Stovall at a USC panel about Mortal Kombat. Photo by Mike Dillon)

With the huge popularity of crowd-funding platforms being a great entry for female filmmakers to get films funded and off the ground, should women look to more alternative grass roots methods like this or continue to try and beat down the door of the big Hollywood studios?

I think women shouldn’t limit themselves to any one particular path, and should take advantage of every avenue that’s available to them to tell their stories. I also think certain stories lend themselves better to certain forms of financing, and it’s important to know where your film fits best.

A couple of years back there was a great Kickstarter campaign for a documentary called “Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché”, about the first female director, who directed over 1,000 films, sadly most of which have been lost. I thought this was a perfect Kickstarter project, because it called for a smaller budget, and was about someone who was relatively unknown, but who is clearly a compelling person.

A Kickstarter campaign allows a film like that to start building awareness of the project and your subject and to engage with a dedicated audience that you know will be there when the film is ready, and will help bring even more attention to it then. This is a film for which you’d need a massive ad campaign to get as much awareness as it did with Kickstarter, and it simply wouldn’t get it. So if you just went the traditional financing routes I think you’d be doing the project a disservice.

On the other hand, for a film like ‘Selma’, crowd-funding really wouldn’t make as much sense. Yes, you already have a lot of people who are aware of the story and engaged with the character, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into funding and I don’t think you’d be able to raise the budget needed to tell that story as beautifully as Ava DuVernay did. You need to think of what seems best for your project and follow that tactic. It might be to take advantage of the fact that so many online content providers are looking to do quality content and to choose to find an online platform that really fits your project instead.


Can you share any outrageous experience you have had on set or in your career due to your gender?

1) On one of the first commercials I produced, we were trying to impress our new client to get more business from them, and were working on a really tight budget. I was negotiating a discount with our Grip and Electric rental house, and the rental manager actually informed me that he’d consider a further discount for “special payment”. I was dumbfounded that he would just so casually suggest that, and at the same time I felt violated. Needless to say, I never rented from him again, and made sure none of my colleagues did either.

2) I was line-producing a commercial a while ago with a male director, a male Director of Photography and two male producers. When you’re the line-producer your job is to make sure that everything and everyone that’s needed is there to make the best commercial you can, so the client is happy and we all get to work again on their next spot. We had to add a shooting day and a new location to our shoot at the very last minute so we weren’t able to do a formal tech scout of this new location and we usually would to determine what equipment was needed to pull off what we were trying to achieve.

I was able to send the director and production designer to the location the night before our first shoot day, and we had agreed with the director that he’d have a conversation with the DP first thing the following morning, a Friday, so the DP could then determine what gear we needed to order. During our whole prep period both of them had been incredibly condescending towards me, but I let it slide since it was hardly the first time I’d encountered men who didn’t think women have any business working in film. I chased them down for over 6 hours to make sure we could all get on the same page, and at some point we were a half hour away from all suppliers closing for the weekend, and us simply not having what we needed to make the next day work.

I wasn’t about to let the rest of the crew and production down, so I went to one of the male producers and simply told him what was going on, and said “I need a man to go have this conversation”. Within 5 minutes I had the equipment list and put in the order. This was the first shoot in what became a 20-spot campaign. These guys were basically willing to shoot themselves in the foot because they didn’t want to work with a woman.


What advice do you give to women who are starting out and who want to be the next Kathryn Bigelow or Ava DuVernay?

Get out there, direct, write, find collaborators who believe in you and who you believe in. Create a community and help each-other out, and above all develop your voice, know who you are and what stories you want to tell. Both Bigelow and DuVernay have very clear, and very different voices, which really make them stand out. Find yours, and work on it.

You also have to hone your craft. Neither of those women crash-landed onto a multi-million dollar set, they worked hard at it for years. I’ve worked with one female director who is extremely talented and for the past few years she’s been directing shorts and music-videos, and in between she works in the art department on projects of all sizes. I noticed that whenever we’re working together and she’s in the art department, she’s always observing the director and making mental notes of what decisions she agrees with, or what she would’ve done differently, or of anything new she wouldn’t have thought of doing. She’s constantly learning. She shows up, she works hard, but she never misses an opportunity to learn her craft. I think that’s essential.

There is this idea that there is only “one seat at the table” for women which is why there is so much competitiveness amongst us. What do you think needs to change?

I think one of the aspects that draws me the most towards producing is that it’s such a collaborative profession, or it certainly can be depending on your approach to it. There can be more than one producer on a project and that collaboration only makes each project better.

I can see how women in other careers feel like there’s only “one seat at the table”, but I would urge female filmmakers to see it differently. The more of us there are, the more people get used to seeing us on set, and see how great our work is, the more opportunities will open up for us. One thing I’m adamant about is that I never simply turn down a job. If I’m offered a job and I can’t do it, I always offer to find someone else for it. The mentality that another person’s gain is automatically your loss needs to change. I’m a big fan of the idea that a rising tide raises all ships in this industry. If the people around you succeed, you succeed. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but ultimately you do, so we need to support each other more.

I’ve been lucky enough to have great mentors, and to mentor other women myself. I think those support systems are essential. We can learn so much from each-others’ mistakes and successes. Instead, when we compete with each other we just end-up having to re-invent the wheel every time. Working in this industry is already hard enough without us standing in each other’s way.


Women like Meryl Streep, Lena Dunham, Rose Byrne and Reese Witherspoon have created initiatives and production companies to focus on female film-makers, stories and protagonists. How do you think these women will change the industry?

They’re already changing it by bringing so much more attention to the issue, and holding open and honest conversations. You can’t deny what’s plainly there, and they’re shining a light on the lack of female-centric stories and opportunities for women to tell them. These women know that they have the media’s attention and I think that the fact that they’re choosing to actively use it to affect change is going to create a ripple effect. Not only do these companies create opportunities by the very fact of focusing their attention on females, but that level of talent is precisely what I was referring to earlier when I mentioned that it would take women with a lot of clout to start closing the gap in budgets, and consequently revenues, for films by and about women.

Aside from being a producer you have worn many hats. Do you think it is important for any film-maker to be familiar with all aspects of the process?

I think it’s essential. One of the great things about film school, and the indie film world is that at some point you have to do everything, and I think that until you’ve seen the world of production from every department’s point of view you can’t really understand what you’re asking of them. I’ve been a producer, UPM, coordinator, AD, grip, electric, done crafty (on-set snacks catering), built sets, shopped for props and wardrobe, and even driven a truck on many occasions.

All of this has made me better able to talk to each department and find the best way to make each project work. No one makes a film in a vacuum. There are dozens, and some times hundreds of people involved in making a movie, and I think that when you learn what it takes for them to do their job, you become better equipped to do yours. Honestly, when you do that, it also becomes much more difficult for people to sell you any BS about their jobs and undermine you in anyway. It’s pretty empowering.


(Joss Whedon tweeting about Marina’s short film, before he deleted his account)

What would be your ultimate dream project and who would work on it with you?

I’m working on it right now. I’m currently producing and co-directing a documentary on the Brazilian Ambassador to France during WWII who went against our government’s laws and saved hundreds of lives, but who has been erased from the history books. My partner in Brazil and I are also developing a feature about him, and it looks like it’ll ultimately be a Brazilian-French-German-English co-production. He’s a fascinating character, flawed in many ways, but someone who ultimately shows us that you don’t have to be a saint to do good, you just have to be true to your conscience and choose to do what you can to help. He knew there would be consequences, but for him not doing the right thing was a bigger risk.

It’s a fascinating story and one that truly speaks to me, as a Brazilian and as someone who has seen too often what happens when people don’t make that same choice. My dream is to bring his story back from obscurity, and tell it to as wide an audience as possible. The list of people I want to work with on this is huge, so I couldn’t even begin to talk about it here. Above all else I want this story told right, so for my partner and I, the most important aspect of bringing people on board right now has been to find people that are as excited to tell this story as we are, and so far we’re building a really great team.

Finally, what makes you a powerful woman?

I just try to be a good person, do a good job and surround myself with people who do the same.


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