Series inspires women to take control of their fate

SABC1’s new Wednesday night series ‘Sticks and Stones’ is a women-driven project – the creator, head writers, producer, production manager, production designer, a director and lead characters are women. In this special interview for Women’s Month, Alison Stent gets close and personal with Myrto Makrides, who directed the first six episodes while pregnant with her first child – a girl.

The series creator also gives a fascinating glimpse of the world behind the silver screen.

Sometimes people need a woman to be demure or apologetic, I won’t do that I will apologise if I’m wrong, but not for who I am.

The series is about women making it in a man's world. Where do you think we’re really at when it comes to gender equality?

We've already come a long way and are on an ever-evolving path with much room for growth and improvement. Both men and women have been part of this evolu tion. The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world, so the more wo men and men worldwide realise how much can be achieved towards gender equality if they raise empowered children, the more progress we’ll make. Men can be empow ered by being given the room to be in touch with their emotions and expressing them appropriately, and women can be giv en permission to assert their boundaries. Both genders can be taught mutual re spect, as opposed to the game played across the globe of overt dominance versus passive aggressive subservience. We are equal but not the same, that’s the value of the dynamic.

You directed the first half of this series’ first season and a man directed the sec ond half. Did being a woman give you any strengths/challenges on this project that your male counterpart didn’t have?

For me a good director must develop a deep understanding of a project even with out a personal connection like gender, race, age, or historical period. It’s the uni versality of the story that they must hone in on. It’s also up to the director to do the research so that all the little details of the world the characters live in are accurate. Between these two elements, and a meas ure of talent and experience, any director could fulfill the needs of a specific project. Several directors are normal in a tele vision series, hence there is a built-in pro cess to balance individual creativity with the vision of the overall project, which is overseen by the producers. Television is a producer’s medium, and everything is set up in pre-production in terms of the common goal of the vision. The “vision” is achieved through a multi- layered collaborative process with all the key creative positions – the director, di rector of photography, production designer, costume designer and head of makeup. Then it’s up to these people to fulfill this desired goal. Naturally the “signature” of individual directors comes through but it needs to be subtle, which requires disci pline and a respect for the agreed vision.

Beyond this particular project, how does being woman affect your directing?

Well there really isn’t an issue. When I’m at work I’m a director before I’m a woman. So if somebody comes along who seems to see I’m a woman before they see I’m a director it’s often around a myth or a stereo type like “women are indecisive”. But in fact that is what a director does, they make choices and decisions all day long – is this the right lighting, which door should that character walk through and so on. So as soon as they see they can trust me to make decisions there’s no issue. People need to know you can lead, and I need to assess their input and reject it if it won’t work. I don’t feel I’m a woman in a man’s world and I’m not interested in playing the gender card, so if someone else does it I just ignore that as far as possible and get on with the job.

Where do you think a stereotype like “women are indecisive” comes from?

Maybe from our history of being pregnant. It really can make the brain so porridgy! Birth control has changed everything for us. Also, maybe being decisive is associated with being aggressive. Sometimes people need a woman to be demure or apologetic, I won’t do that. I will apologise if I’m wrong, but not for who I am. Another reason could be that women traditionally work in teams, so they check in first to see where everybody’s at. You can’t do that as director. Of course I collaborate and consult but I make it clear I can lead through decision making.

What personal learning do you take from this project?

I learnt how much I could achieve with discipline and focus, not just relying on natural talent the way I did at school. I was proud of myself for getting through a gruelling shooting schedule of 14-hour days during that first trimester, when I was very tired, moody, achy, my eating habits were changing, and I was physically so much more sensitive. I knew almost instantly that I was pregnant – I felt a huge hormonal shift.

What do you like about your career?

Everything, my work as a director is my vocation. The moment I am handed a script every molecule in my body buzzes. One of the elements I love about filmmaking is that it’s a collaborative process, so this is my first consideration when choosing a pro ject – who are the people I’m working with? Another factor is – does the story, char acters and message/intention of the pro ject resonate with me on a gut level? Women’s empowerment is close to my heart, but an even bigger concept for me is entertainment that educates and demon strates self-improvement through the evolution of the characters at hand and information presented. One of my favourite directing experiences was the four episodes I did on the Soul City – One Love campaign in 2008/9 for AIDS education. Even the three standalone romantic com edy episodes I did on the first season of Mzansi Love – Ekasi Style had these el ements. Each story displayed young fe male characters who learn about what is important in an intimate relationship, and mature in their perceptions of a love, ul timately approaching their partner with a healthier more complete attitude.

Gender is only one aspect of identity. Has being a member of South Africa’s Greek community given you a different take on some of the other identity dilemmas, like the pull of traditional values against modernity, or group/clan loyalty versus individuality and versus national identity?

I’m a person before I’m a woman or anything else. From my culture – be it Greek or South African – I take what I love and let go of what I don’t. I don’t believe in taking a package deal, I tailor it for myself.

What are your hopes for the series going forward?

First, I hope it inspires people far and wide to improve their living conditions using the low-cost, human-friendly, eco-friendly building technologies we expose. Second, that women will be inspired by the concept of the power to change their lives with their own choices. Finally I hope the show is popular enough for more seasons to be commissioned.

Tips for aspirant women directors?

Be focused; don’t be afraid to be expres sive; know what you want and say you want it.