September 16, 2008

Diane English Talks About The Women and Politics

Here's my interview with Diane English conducted on opening day of The Women.

Women & Hollywood: You picked a pretty beloved film your first time out. Why did you want to take on this film?

Diane English: What I felt was missing at the movies was the presence of women. The old movie featured an all female cast of the best and the brightest movie stars of their time and nothing like that had been done in 70 years. I thought it was high time, but I also believed that you don't remake a movie unless you have something new to say. And because women have come so far and changed so much in 70 years, attitudes towards us are very different and attitudes towards each other are so different, that I thought it was ripe for a remake.

It's very risky business remaking what a lot people consider to be a classic. I personally consider it to be a camp classic, and after reading an interview with George Cukor who actually didn't really like the movie he made very much, I felt that it was safe to remake.
W&H: You've been very outspoken about the lack of film targeted at the "4th quadrant" and the importance for women to see movies about women. I want to get your feelings about why you think there is a disconnect between women's real lives and women seen onscreen?
DE: I have been outspoken about Hollywood catering to the young male demographic which actually is understandable because men under 25 do drive a lot of the box office because they go on opening weekend, they go multiple times, they buy the dvd, they go to see the sequel, they buy the t-shirts -- they're very committed moviegoers where women tend not be.

We have very full complex lives. We're moms and wives and career women and we don't necessarily rush out on opening weekend. So as a result we are now being underserved. And in a way Hollywood has painted itself into a corner by concentrating so much on the young male demographic it has trained others to stay away. We have gotten out of the movie going habit and that is not healthy for the movie business to exclude this demographic.
W&H: Women do buy half the movie tickets. They may not buy them on opening weekend and they don't go as frequently but they do buy 50% of the tickets, but still we are not a market.

DE: You are alive or dead by Friday night, and today is Friday and my film is opening today. And by tonight the powers that be will be making some very serious financial decisions about the movie, how long they're going to keep it in theaters and how much money they will spend on advertising. I keep saying to my women friends you gotta go on opening weekend and vote at the box office with your wallet. It's really, really important.
W&H: How do we get women all across the country to understand the important of going on opening weekend?
DE: By starting with the conversation you and I are having and getting the word out. I think it's just not common knowledge that this is how the film business works. We're busy with a lot of other things and we're not thinking about that. I find that a lot of movies targeted towards women do extremely well on DVD and yet maybe didn't do as well at the box office. I think that you have to have both and just having this conversation and making it more part of the mainstream consciousness is the way to go.
W&H: A lot of women directors don't feel comfortable speaking out about this issue because they are afraid of not getting the next job. How do we get more women to talk about this?
DE: The way women get these jobs is by proving their muscle at the box office. It's pretty simple. It's not a hospital, it's not a charity, and so if these movies do well at the box office then that woman gets another chance and that woman can help other women get another chance.
W&H: It seems that if a woman director does not do well at the box office it hurts more than just her.
DE: Yes absolutely. If the movie doesn't work and people don't get see it people say that's because it’s a "woman's picture," but if a movie that is targeted towards men doesn’t work, like if the latest Tom Cruise movie doesn't work, won't mean that Tom Cruise won't get another job. So it's tougher, but it all goes back to track records and dollars we just have to be more feisty about it. Being beaten up is always hard in life and that's show business, everybody gets beaten up really badly. It's amazing that anybody makes a movie. It is a really hard thing to do and if you don't have the stomach or you want more job security you can go work at the post office. It's hard for everybody.
W&H: Why do you think that successful movies about women are consistently dismissed as flukes?
DE: I don't have a great answer to that question because I have experienced that exact word over and over and over again every time I tried to get The Women made. I would go in with my list of movies that were huge successes starting from 9 to 5, and The First Wives Club, The Hours Waiting to Exhale. It's just a very long list and these movies have consistently done very well. I think because they come along so rarely its like Haley's Comet - it becomes a vicious cycle. They come along rarely because we don't get an opportunity to make them. Now we have Sex and the City and Mamma Mia and to some extent The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. If we can have a healthy box office I think it will be much harder to call it a fluke -- it can be called a trend.
W&H: I've been looking at the Tyler Perry model and I'm curious as to your opinion as to whether we need to find a new model to tell women's stories?
DE: No, I just think there has to be more of them and they have to be more successful on opening weekend. It’s a simple of that. There are other ways to make movies now too. The digital age has created a potentially new distribution system and it's another way to reach a huge under served population and it has certainly piqued my interest.
W&H: Why do you think that TV is more comfortable embracing the women than film?
DE: Women are big consumers and TV is advertising driven. It also comes into the home and it's much easier to reach women in the home because that is the way our lives are constructed. Therefore you see great opportunity for women in TV, especially in cable now, and it’s a much friendlier place to tell our stories.
W&H: Murphy Brown has been off the air for 10 years and we'll probably not see an overt feminist character like her ever again. Why do you think we don't see strong feminists like Murphy?
DE: I disagree. I think that Kyra Sedgwick is doing a great job on The Closer and Glenn Close, even though she plays a questionable character, has a great role to play [on Damages].
W&H: Now that the conversation in politics is all about women, do you have any opinions on that?
DE: I think that its great that women are front and center right now and there is a woman re-energizing John McCain's campaign and that Hillary Clinton came so close and I think walked away from the experience being greatly admired and a real trailblazer. That was exciting to see, but at the same time I think that we have come far enough as women not to support a candidate just because she's a woman and therefore I don't feel the need to say anything positive about Sarah Palin beyond the fact that good for her she's a vice presidential nominee. I really don't like her politics and I will not be supporting her just because she's a woman. And I feel free enough now in my evolution as a woman to be able to say that.
W&H: But people said that too about Hillary Clinton, that we didn't need to support her just because she was a women.
DE: I know tons of women who supported her for that reason.
W&H: But they don't say the same thing about Sarah Palin?
DE: I didn't feel the need to support Hillary just because she was a woman but it would have been very meaningful to me to see that woman in the white house. Because her politics were very similar to mine. But Sarah Palin's politics are not and when I hear some women saying they want to support John McCain because of her I don't know what that's all about.
W&H: What's next?
DE: A good long rest.
W&H: I was reading that you are taking on Fear of Flying?

DE: The script is done. I completed the script before we started shooting The Women. It will probably be as difficult a journey to get that movie made as was The Women.

The Women is playing nationwide.