In 1896, director Alice Guy (later known as Alice Guy-Blaché) directed a brief film called The Cabbage Fairy that was shot with a hand-cranked camera. It was the first time the new medium of film was used to tell a story, rather than simply document real life. She went on to found what was then the biggest movie studio in the U.S., and to direct more than 1,000 films. There's a lot that today's entrepreneurs, both male and female, can learn from her.

Jane Campion's 2022 Best Director Oscar win for The Power of the Dog was historic for a few reasons. She is only the third woman to win the award, and the first to be nominated more than once. This year also marks the first time two female directors won the award in a row, after Chloe Zhao won for Nomadland in 2021. It might seem like female directors are finally coming into their own. But it's more like they're finally returning to prominence -- because they were there at the very start.

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"The movie industry today is quite large, and then it was quite small. But there were more opportunities for women at that time, relative to the industry, than there are today," says Evan Anderson, author of Downriver: A Tale of Moving Pictures Before Hollywood, a novel about an early female director in which Guy-Blaché and her studio Solax in Fort Lee, New Jersey, are featured.

At the time, he adds, it was an industry made up of entrepreneurs. "The stratified system, which the move to Hollywood solidified, hadn't come into play yet. It was more open, and Alice Guy-Blaché definitely recognized that. In her writings and talks, she tried to promote the idea that women should get involved in this industry because it was so open."

Here's some of what you can learn from this fearless director and founder.

1. Ask "Why Not Me?"

In 1895, Alice Guy was working as a secretary for Léon Gaumont, whose photographic company was one of several working to create moving photography, or motion pictures. Both Gaumont and Guy were in the audience when the Lumière brothers displayed the first ever moving picture film, which showed workers leaving their factory. Guy saw that the medium could be used not only to document reality, but also to tell fictional stories.

The 23-year-old Guy asked Gaumont if she could create one. Yes, he said -- so long as her secretarial duties didn't suffer. That first-ever effort was The Cabbage Fairy in 1896, a depiction of the French folk belief that babies grow in cabbage patches. For the next decade, she was Gaumont's head of production and directed many short films.

She married Herbert Blaché in 1907 -- which meant she was forced to give up her job at Gaumont. The two left for America, where Herbert was to run Gaumont's U.S. operations. A few years later, she founded her own studio, Solax, where she directed more movies. It became, for a time, the biggest film studio in the United States.

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2. Your First Job Is to Manage Yourself -- and Trust Yourself.

In her writings, Guy-Blaché explained how she disciplined herself never to scold or get angry with those she worked with, because, she explained, you cannot get people's best work that way. "My first work as a director was directing myself," she wrote. "I taught myself self-control. It required months of training, but I was victorious over myself in the end. Without that control, I would never have been able to accomplish anything."

At the same time, she trusted her own instincts -- first, that film could be used to tell a story, and then, later, when most movie acting was very melodramatic, to use a different approach. A big sign on the wall at Solax read "BE NATURAL," which Guy-Blaché said was the only thing she asked of her actors. 

"She held to this instinct she had about 'be natural,'" the actor and director Jodie Foster said in an onstage interview at the New York Film Festival. Foster is the narrator of Be Natural, a documentary about Guy-Blaché's life. At the time, Foster said, the nascent movie industry valued flash, and movies that were artificial and theatrical. "They didn't really have the appreciation for the kind of instinct that she had."

We can appreciate it from a modern perspective, though. "I think we understand today how important and how forward-thinking that was, to make films about how people are and the rawness of what's real," Foster said.

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3. It Can Take a Very Long Time Before You Get What You're Due.

The Solax story doesn't end well. The combination of World War I and changes in the industry made it difficult for the studio to survive, and it eventually went under. Guy-Blaché's marriage fell apart, and Herbert moved to Hollywood, where the U.S. film industry was relocating.

Then, in 1918, Guy-Blaché came close to dying in the influenza pandemic. Afterward, she moved to California for a time, working with Herbert on some movies, before returning to France in 1922. She never directed another movie after 1919 -- not because she didn't want to, but because no one would hire her. As movies, studios, and the film industry in general became hugely profitable in what would later be called the Golden Age of Hollywood, female directors virtually disappeared.

Guy-Blaché lived to the age of 94. She spent those years writing, living with her daughter Simone, and seeking recognition for her forgotten place in cinema history. Her films were mostly lost to deterioration or fire. Some were melted to make boot soles for World War I soldiers, Anderson says.

Toward the end of her life, Guy-Blaché finally began being recognized for the pioneer that she was. Then, in 1958, she was given the Légion d'honneur, France's highest honor -- at the age of 85. It can take way too many years to reap the rewards that you deserve. But sometimes, at least, some of it really does happen.