A woman’s place is in the script: gender balance stats at Pixar

Photo by Klaas on Unsplash

The documentary series Inside Pixar, includes the brilliant story of Jessica Heidt, one of the animation studio’s script supervisors.

Jessica’s story got me very excited because it is a story about research, curiosity, data and about how evidence alongside advocacy can make change.

Jessica works on scripts at Pixar, she keeps track of all script changes through the multitude of versions that any production goes through, making sure all the right characters are saying the right lines in the right order to tell the story to the audience.

She read some research about the gender imbalance in film scripts and it got her thinking about how she had a unique perspective and opportunity to look at this issue at Pixar. Starting manually with a spreadsheet, Jessica started counting the number of lines of dialogue and the number of characters in a script. She then compared the number of male and female characters as well as the number of lines that male and female characters had. Working on Cars 3 at the time, she found that the male to female script ratio was around 9:1. Jessica started conversations on this topic with her colleagues and began regularly showing her script stats to senior staff at key production milestones. People got interested and changes would be made as the production went along – both the creation of female characters to add to the story, and the reallocation of lines of dialogue from male to female characters to balance out the general texture of the script.

Jessica then worked internally with a colleague to create a tool that would do the counting in the script software automatically – no more spreadsheets. In the documentary, Jessica describes her pride at Pixar’s latest release Soul achieving near gender parity. And it’s amazing to hear that it’s now part of Pixar’s vision to continue to measure and ensure balance in the future – not by imposing a 50:50 split in every film necessarily, but by aiming for a cumulative balance over the output of 5 years.

This story exemplifies how insight can drive change and is a fantastic case study for any insight analyst. Jessica cared about the issue of gender equality in movies and that led to her asking the question about Pixar’s own productions – how balanced were they? She found a way to produce clear and unbiased statistics to show the situation and she communicated that information to colleagues. Using the evidence in combination with personal persuasion, Jessica inspired changes to be made. She then worked on automating the process of data collection so that those stats could be quickly and easily reported at every key decision-making moment of the production process, embedding the insight and ongoing changes into the normal day-to-day activity of the company. Jessica Heidt is a worthy winner of Pixar’s Unsung Hero Award and an inspiration to insight analysts everywhere.

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