Do the cinebros at Ithaca College represent a bigger problem?
In a parking lot, a group of film students in color-blocked anoraks and button-up shirts unloads film equipment out of the open trunk of a hatchback, struggling with the weight and fragility of the boxes. The only woman in the group approaches an orange case of reasonable size for her build, but is stopped by the hand of a male classmate.
“Wow, wow. Be careful there,” he says, handing her a Ziploc bag full of clothes pins. “Take these for the lighting. We can take all the big stuff.”
All she can do is roll her eyes and hold the little baggy as the male classmate realizes that he can’t lift the case, requiring the help of anyone but her. His struggling is not just unnecessary and stereotypical, but it’s comical in its accuracy. Breaking the scene, Stephanie O’Brien, the director, shouts, “Cut!” The entire crew breaks out in laughter. Among the jokes and the compliments for the actors’ performances, one stands out: “You actually sounded like a cinebro!”
A cinebro, in the way some Ithaca College students use it, is a term that defines a typically white male film student who benefits from the latest equipment and the best contacts in the industry. As a result, he’s offensively oblivious of his privilege and often dismissive of other people’s perspectives or, you know, basic workplace etiquette.
“They’re everywhere. Every school has them,” says O’Brien, a senior film major at Ithaca College. “And the way they act is just so horrible that it’s funny. I had to make my junior nonfiction project about it.”
O’Brien’s film Working Title follows a cinema production class trying to produce its first films and hilariously represents the inexperience and chaos that tends to surround student sets. This mockumentary will make anyone who’s been near a student set laugh and shake their heads in disbelief—it will get too relatable.
“Sadly, all the scenes were inspired by real-life events. Very specific ones,” O’Brien says with a smile that fades before she continues. “The mansplaining, dismissiveness and name-calling the female characters endure when they’re just trying to learn—we’ve all been there.”
Chances are that if you haven’t experienced an incident tinged with sexism, you’ve witnessed it happening to someone else. Perhaps that’s why almost nine months after the film’s release, Working Title received an Honorable Mention by the Hollywood New Directors, won the platinum award for “Best Student Film” at the L.A Shorts Awards and has been officially selected for both the Women’s Only Entertainment Film Festival and the Muscatine Independent Film Festival. The experiences O’Brien depicts have clearly struck a nerve.
Stephen Nunley, a senior film major, talks about a set for a production class in Fall 2017. “We had a female producer on set and we were two hours behind schedule,” Nunley says “This guy, the camera operator, was goofing around between shots and distracting the crew members, delaying the schedule. She called him out firmly and professionally, but he refused to listen. He proceeded to argue with her all night and kept saying things like, ‘Shut up,’ ‘Fuck you,’ and ‘You bitch,’ every time she spoke, keeping her from doing her work.”
Nunley recalls that the female student producer, who asked to remain nameless, asked them to let it go. She was uncomfortable with complaining because she thought it would cause more harm for herself and hinder the project.
Alessia Di Nunno, a senior Writing for Film, TV, and Emerging Media major, believes that the behavior the student producer endured is quite common on student sets. “It usually starts with things that sound harmless, like being asked to take care of the food, the makeup or the cleaning up — even when you have a more integral role in production. Or, you know, they’ll call you ‘sweetheart’ instead of by your name.”
Nothing seems to be keeping this behavior from escalating. “On one occasion, I could hear [the student crew] making explicit comments about my body, about what they’d like to do to me,” Di Nunno says. “It made me uncomfortable to the point I wanted to leave. I told the [male] director of the film, who was shocked, but told me to shrug it off.”
Di Nunno recalls that she didn’t make a report, because she believes that the school doesn’t take this sexist behavior seriously. “Most professors aren’t even empathetic. They act like things are the way they are, and that’s it.”
“It’s the world we live in,” says Professor Elisabeth Nonas, who teaches screenwriting for film production. “But in all my years teaching at the school, no student has come to me with any similar complaints, so I can’t speak from experience. I do know that in the industr
y, as in everyday life, when a man calls you ‘sweetie’ while you’re working, it’s easy for him to say that you’re exaggerating.”
According to Nonas, often times when women come forward, they get blamed in some type of way. “People will think they’re being difficult to work with, then that reputation doesn’t let them collaborate in other projects to get experience.”
In the case Nunley recalls, the student producer’s hesitation to report was rooted in this fear. She didn’t want to, “get in the way of the film’s completion.” So she waited and took her complaint to the professor responsible for the project, but because the film had already been turned in and graded, “The professor just told me that it was best to let it go,” she said.
“I believe that for cases like this, faculty is mandated to report.” says Nicole Koshner, the director of the Park Scholar program and a film production teacher. “There’s a certain procedure for gender discrimination, but no one can do anything if things are kept in silence.”
Alex Coburn, a junior film major went through this procedure herself. In a film production class in fall 2017, a simple in-class exercise about editing became the perfect opportunity for a male student to attack her. The student used footage of Coburn speaking, and layered it under a loud male voice that interrupted her with, “Shut up, bitch!” Coburn wrote a personal piece about her experience for The Ithacan.
“The case was being reviewed by the school for the longest time,” says Coburn. “In the meantime, the student kept trying to intimidate me during class. I was late sometimes because I would have panic attacks about what would happen if I showed up. It was really discouraging to feel unsafe. I even dreaded to be in the classroom.”
According to Coburn, the student that harassed her wasn’t made to withdraw from the class, but he got a warning. She thinks that although the current mindset the school takes is “taking care of harassment problems as they come instead of preventing them from happening,” the Title IX office was helpful in a situation that is difficult to navigate.
“I wish more people knew that the Title IX office takes cases of discrimination and gender-based harassment as well as sexual assault, and I strongly encourage anyone looking to pursue justice judicially to consider talking to them.” Coburn says, “They definitely made me feel less alone in the process.”
April Carroll, a senior Writing for Film, TV, and Emerging Media major, is working on several projects that highlight the school’s passive approach to discrimination.“The only way of preventing these issues to keep happening, is to change the way we’re being taught to do film,” she says.“We have a diversity crisis. Film is a white boys club, and we’re tired.”
Prof. Koshner agrees with the lack of diversity in the industry. “It’s certainly true how the white male voice is privileged,” she says. “I worked in sets in New York City, and quickly realized that it was male dominated. I didn’t want to deal with the toxicity, so I avoided working in the industry.”
This is a reality that’s hard to swallow for many. It seems that you either deal with the treatment you receive, or you avoid it completely because in the industry, equipment and contacts can exempt you from the consequences of not being respectful and professional. It just so happens that white men in the industry tend to have both, and since Park prides itself for reflecting industry standards, so do Cinebros at IC. Thanks to their industry-standard equipment, they have some of the best visuals, and thanks to their contacts, they get into festivals and win awards. Most people crave the experience of working on a film that has so many resources.
“For most people,” says Nunley, “it’s hard not to compromise in an industry made for the privileged few and still succeed. There’s a fear that you’ll miss your chance at an opportunity to make it if you don’t put yourself through hell.”
According to Carroll, this doesn’t just affect women. It’s often harder for people of color, and it keeps happening because,
“Park doesn’t teach the importance of accountability and respect in the curriculum. We value the final result of the movie over anything. You see this in the industry too. How else was a man like Weinstein so successful?”
According to Rory Fraser, a film professor at Ithaca College, students focus on learning, “proper protocol and set etiquette in class, but most of this learning takes place as they begin to work on multiple sets throughout the production process.” In student sets, no teachers can moderate students or guide their learning. In fact, their treatment of their peers is not considered at all for the final grade. What is of more concern for the grading is whether the schedule, development and production expectations are met.
“Works of art are difficult to grade,” says Fraser. “So my grading standards have more to do with the amount of work put into the film.”
If this is true for all production classes, then cinebros aren’t seeing any consequences in their grades. Professor Koshner says that nothing about diversity, respect and professional etiquette is necessarily written into the curriculum. “I think it should definitely be part of it,” she says. “I take my responsibility as a faculty member to make the changes I can within my classroom, and I think everyone has the power to make change in a personal level.”
For Koshner, this personal aspect is essential in learning to produce film and faculty’s interference in sets could take that away. “That’s the good thing and the bad thing about students working on sets. You don’t get the same independent experience with a teacher there, but you also don’t get the same guidance and moderation that you get on a classroom.”
Professor Nonas takes this into consideration by grading students in participation and allowing students to grade each other through peer reviews “What I see isn’t just what matters. How students respond to their peers’ work is important for their own growth.”
O’Brien agrees with this. “I believe that accountability is personal.” When talking about the precautions she took to create a safe environment for her set, she says, “I make myself check twice to see if everyone’s comfortable, if everyone’s satisfied with the experience they’re gaining on my set. You have that responsibility when you have a higher position on a production.”
O’Brien hasn’t learned to take these precautions in class. “Professors don’t necessarily tell you, but for most of us, once people lose faith in your work ethic, there are consequences that don’t reflect in your grade, but in your professional development,” she says.
Carroll has an important point about this. “Park is supposed to teach us how to be professionals. Discriminatory behavior should be something professionally unacceptable and not something people of color or women have to learn to deal with,” she says.“These male students will graduate and they’ll perpetuate the crisis in the industry.”
If film production classes only emphasize the final product of a film over any professional development, students are left without guidance or accountability regarding the treatment of their peers. After several instances, such as the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the industry was led to question their ethical standards. However, Park hasn’t paused to look at the training they’re giving the future filmmakers.
At the lack of change, students are questioning Park’s mindset.
“Every year more and more I see female students speaking up,” Professor Koshner said. But it doesn’t just fall on the students who are being a victim of the current system. “We, as faculty, have to continue calling people out and holding them accountable, but we also need to rethink the status quo. We need rethink how the industry should look like. We have to turn Park into the example.”
Flavia Klaric is a senior Writing major who eats cinebros for breakfast. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.