May 23, 2008

Women at the Box Office This Weekend

It's all abut Indiana Jones this weekend which opens on a ton of screes. Check out my story on Karen Allen's return to the fold

Remaining in Theatres
How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer
Then She Found Me
Baby Mama
Under the Same Moon
My Blueberry Nights

Opening Next week: Sex and the City

Interview with Mary Jane Skalski, producer of The Visitor

There aren't many movies that come along in a year that really move me. That shake me. That make me say "now that's what a movie should be." Last year I felt that with Away From Her, and this year, remarkably there have been two: Then She Found Me; and now The Visitor. I know, I am digressing from my usual topic of female centric films, but this one is worth it. It is sooo good.

Tom McCarthy, who is a familiar face as an actor, made his screenwriting and directing debut a couple of years ago with The Station Agent, has taken his work to a whole new level with The Visitor. The film tells the story of a Walter Vale, a college professor (played by Richard Jenkins, who will get an Oscar nomination) just going through the motions of life without really living. On a trip into Manhattan for a conference he shows up at his seldom-used apartment to find a couple, both illegal immigrants, living there. He lets them stay, they become friends and Tarek reopens Walter's world to music again. The film takes a turn when Tarek is picked up and sent to a detention center exposing America's post 9-11 way of dealing with illegal immigrants. Walter's world is jolted again when Tarek's mother Mouna shows up and she and Walter develop a special relationship that neither of them thought they would find again.

I highly recommend this film. It is playing nationwide and more information on where it is playing in your neighborhood can be found here: The Visitor

Mary Jane Skalski talked with Women & Hollywood about the film and her work as a producer on The Visitor.

Women & Hollywood: What exactly is a producer?

Mary Jane Skalski: A producer is the person who is the director's partner however that works for each director. It can be helping to find the money and structure the deals and being involved with casting decisions. Some producers may not be involved creatively, but they will always do the deal including putting the crew together, making the logistics happen and keeping enough space around the director so they can do their job.
I could never be a director because I don't have that find of focus. When I'm on the set my mind is thinking, is catering going to be here on time, or did that person look unhappy. The director has the whole movie in their head and has to look at each shot thinking how does this fit in, day after day, for 14-16 hours a day, and my mind cannot work that way.
W&H: You see people go from writing to directing but not so much from producing to directing.
MJS: It's really different. The people you see go from producing to directing are really able to take the producer hat off completely.
W&H: Why do you think there are there more women producers than women directors?
MJS: Because you can prove yourself as a producer as you work your way up. You can inspire confidence even before you are a producer. To be a director, you can't prove you're going to be good until you direct, and you have to have a great deal of confidence in yourself and be able to toot your own horn. I think that women are less comfortable with that.
W&H: Is that generational?
MJS: I hope so. I think that as women see other women directing and it's not so unusual, it will be easier for a woman to say I am the director because you need to say that even before you've directed. I teach at Columbia and I feel like I see more women now. I feel like it's changing.
W&H: How did you become a producer?
MJS: I was working at a production company Good Machine and I found a project that I didn't think was going to get made if I didn't champion it. It didn't get made. Then I produced some short films.
W&H: What do you want people to get out of the film?
MJS: I hope people get the human part of the story. That if you just do the smallest thing beyond your comfort zone, you can change your life in a profound way.
W&H: What advice would you give to women who want to become producers?
MJS: Try and find other producers that you can work with. That's the best way to learn. Be someone's assistant or work in someone's company for a while.
W&H: What are you doing next?
MJS: I am shooting a new film in Philadelphia and have another film in post production. Hopefully they will both be out next year.

May 22, 2008

Hollywood Feminist of the Day: Gwyneth Paltrow

On coming back to Hollywood after having her kids:

If you're a woman and especially if you're not 25, Hollywood is pretty cut-throat. I was very realistic about the fact that there might not be any more room for me. I definitely knew I had lost my place when I left.
Building on that quote check out this from the Guardian: The Cruel Trap Facing Hollywood's Women
Top female actors in particular - fantasies projected on the big screens of our imagination - must always appear as a feminine ideal. Of child-bearing age, they should be the image of fertility but just not be mothers yet, complying with the image of eternal jeune fille. Top actresses try to make that moment last as long as possible before entering that other world where they'll only be considered for less interesting parts: that of mature women. There seems to be no room in Hollywood cinema for a sexy 40-50 year-old wife and mother in the leading part of a film.

Indiana Jones - Welcome Back Karen Allen

If you've been watching the Indy news over the last week the real news about the Steven Spielberg/ George Lucas re-teaming is the return of Karen Allen in the role of Marion Ravenwood, Indy's first and best foil from Raider's of the Lost Ark which was released in 1981.

She had been off the radar screen for years and now this week she's been everywhere and all are asking -- where have you been? I don't know why it surprises people that a woman who is 56 has had to do other things in life to make a living. How many females in her cohort actually make a living acting? Not too many. She's been where most women actresses of her generation are -- not working in Hollywood.

I've seen the film and at the screening I attended a big cheer erupted when Allen appeared on screen for the first time. The film is fun and a throw back to films before everything in the summer became about special effects. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of effects in this film, but there is also a story, which I appreciate. Marion is no typical female summer movie sidekick. Firstly, she's older, she's a mom, and she's not a pushover. Marion's in a lot of the action as a participant not as someone who needs to be rescued.

I also give Spielberg prop for making Cate Blanchett the villain. It is awesome seeing a girl being so bad. She kind of reminded my of Cruella de Ville.

So really, where has Karen Allen been? As the LA Times said recently: "What is the trajectory of a culture that has gone from Karen Allen to Jessica Alba?"

"I'm from a generation of fantastic actresses. It's a big pool of really wonderful actresses, and so many of them we never even get to see on the screen anymore."

She ticked off several -- Jessica Lange, Debra Winger, Julie Hagerty.

"I was thinking about Julie Hagerty the other day," she said. "Remember her in 'Lost in America'? . . . It's been so fantastic to see Julie Christie come back and be in films again, because I always loved her, and she disappeared for a long time. Glenda Jackson just completely walked away and became an MP," she said, referring to the actress-turned- British Parliamentarian.
"I just felt like I had to create a life for myself where I was more independent," she said. "Where what I was doing in my life was so interesting I could literally put my whole acting life on the back burner because I was so fascinated by what was right in front of me. And that was the only thing that felt healthy to me. Short of that, I felt like somebody who was waiting for the phone to ring."
The good news is that Karen's back with her first manager, Joan Hyler, so maybe we'll see her in more roles. Please.

Remember Karen Allen? Steven Spielberg Did LA Times
Q&A with Karen Allen EW

Every Woman's Film Competition

You know there are not enough women making films in Hollywood. Lifetime Movie Network wants to change that. Submit your film to the Every Woman Film Competition for a chance to have your film viewed and critiqued by prominent Hollywood women and a chance to be seen in a the Hamptons Film Festival and on the Lifetime Movie Network.

Sign up and check out the rules here: Every Woman's Film Competition

May 21, 2008

The Rising Stakes of Sex and the City

I know that I've written a lot about this film, but damn each day with the more I read about it, the more nervous I get about how much weight is being placed on the success of the film.

It's a good thing that women are really, really excited cause the film cost $60 million to make o it has a serious nut to crack towards success. But as the frenzy continues, The NY Times reports that studio execs are shocked at the interest. I'm not surprised since Warner Brothers is the studio that shut down both its specialty divisions and is known not to be interested in scripts by women. Just goes to show how out of touch the studio system is from real people.

But even executives at Warner Brothers — the studio that inherited the film several weeks ago, in the process of absorbing New Line Cinema, which made it — seem mildly shocked by a growing rush toward the box office.
PLEASE! This shock at women being interested at seeing films has got to stop. We want to see movies, it's just that Hollywood doesn't make movies that appeal to us. What other big movies this summer are targeted towards women aside from Mamma Mia?
One for the Ladies — and Their Friends even got some box office experts to rate the potential opening numbers (when has that happened before for a women's film?)

The experts said:
Paul Dergarabedian: I wouldn't underestimate this one.
Belinda Luscombe: I have drunk the Sex and the City Kool-Aid.
Chad Hartigan: I don't think anybody who liked the show when it was in its prime on TV is going to stay away.
Handicapping Sex and the City

EW dedicated its full issue to Sex and the City. Here's the most interesting part of the interview with Sarah Jessica Parker:
EW: New Line's marketing department has referred to the movie as ''the Super Bowl for women.'' Those are some high expectations. Is it daunting?

SJP: Um...sort of. You know, I want it to do well. I have in the past made it my business to not pay attention to weekend numbers, cause there's simply nothing you can do. But obviously there's more at stake with this movie, personally, than there has been with other movies, because of the involvement I have in it. I want it to do well and I want people to believe that there are female audiences. That's the bigger story for me here: I want people to make good movies for women of all ages, whether they're 11 or 68 years old. I want to convince those people who hold the purse strings that it's worth their money and their time. I want to be part of proving that. I think we've done it in television. People are constantly, constantly asking me, ''How do you feel about Lipstick Jungle and Cashmere Mafia?'' And I say, ''I am thrilled that the networks think that it's important to have female programming.'' So if we can have meaningful numbers, substantial numbers, then I think it portends well for women in general: as audiences, as actors, as producers, as writers. I would just like to see that happen.

EW: There are so few movies made for women these days, let alone a movie with four female leads who aren't 20!

SJP: I know! I know! I remember growing up, I saw movies about grown-up women. Every New Year's, we went to see a movie and almost every single one of them that I remember — from An Unmarried Woman, to Annie Hall to Manhattan to All that Jazz to The Turning Point — had grown women in them. And everybody went and they were movies that were considered the serious, important movies. There is this idea that only 14-year-old boys go to movies. That's not entirely reflective of the audience out there.

EW: And come on, the female sex is still the majority, last time I checked.
SJP: [Laughs] As much as they can't staaaand to hear it!
Sex and the City Movie

God, I love her!

May 20, 2008

Where are the Women Directors?

Earlier this month we had Manohla Dargis' NY Times piece on the lack of women onscreen this summer, and now Patrick Goldstein at the LA Times gives us the annual lament about the paucity of women working behind the scenes as directors.

For anyone who is in the business, and who follows this issue, nothing in the article is new. I think its great that these pieces are written, but they are always the same. Things suck for women directors, but nothing changes and things are actually getting worse. People in power in Hollywood are happy with the status quo and until everyone who cares about this issue figures out a way to work together and make change, nothing is going to happen. I'm not saying it's easy to make change. I sit here in Brooklyn, NY as a writer and observer, not as a woman trying to have a career as a director. But while most people believe that we are post-feminist, and post-organizing, and post-activism, I think the only way to make change is to organize and agitate. So, I'll be agitating from my perch by saying that THE LACK OF WOMEN DIRECTORS WORKING IN HOLLYWOOD IS UNACCEPTABLE!

Ok, now that I got that off my chest here are some noteworthy quotes from the piece:

According to Media by Numbers, all 30 of the 30 top-grossing films from last summer were directed by men. According to my informal survey of major studio films from this summer, only two -- "Mamma Mia!" and "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2" -- are directed by women.
There are several other women directed options this summer including:
Brick Lane, directed by Sarah Gavron- Opens June 20
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, directed by Patricia Rozema- Opens July 2
Hounddog, directed by Deborah Kampmeier- Opens July 18
American Teen, directed by Nanette Burstein- Opens July 25 (documentary)
The Last Mistress, directed by Catherine Breillat- Opens June 27
Frozen River, directed by Courtney Hunt, Opens August 1
[Martha] Lauzen doesn't mince words. "Hollywood is far more embarrassed about being labeled racist than sexist," she told me. "There are a host of causes -- it's not like there's a smoke-filled room where men get together and prevent women from getting jobs. It's more insidious than that. But Hollywood is in denial, and as long as they're in denial, then they don't feel they need to do anything about it."
Martha Lauzen is the shit! She's an academic using real number so there's no disputing her words.
It's especially hard to cry discrimination about female directors when women flourish in so many other areas of the business -- Hollywood is loaded with powerful female producers, studio executives, managers and publicists. By and large, the track record of hiring women directors is no different at any studio, whether the studio is run by a man or a woman.
Not to belittle any of the awesome female producers, publicists and managers, but everyone in Hollywood knows that movie director (aside from studio boss) is the most important job. Maybe women have become more realistic of their chances in getting directing jobs and don't even go that route anymore because they know they can't get the job. Wouldn't that be sad that after all the gains that women have made in our culture that they have begun self-censoring about directing opportunities precisely because they don't see hardly any women in those roles.

I mean for whatever you think of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign you can see what having a woman compete for the most powerful job has done for girls and young women who now can dream bigger than ever before. As Marian Wright Edelman once said: "You can't be, what you can't see."
If you were looking at Hollywood's history through a gender lens, you might say the industry went almost directly from male domination to post-feminism without ever enjoying a true feminist age. The rise of feminism almost exactly overlaps with the last glory days of filmmaking (roughly 1967 to 1978), yet the era as portrayed in Peter Biskind's compelling history "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" is one of pure male ego and excess.
If I was a feminist who worked in Hollywood in the late 70s and early 80s I would be pissed off that the article just erased some of the most important feminist female film role models we have ever had onscreen. Don't you think that Julia, Norma Rae, An Unmarried Woman, The China Syndrome, Silkwood, 9 to 5, Yentl, The Rose, Alien, My Brilliant Career, Terms of Endearment, Places in the Heart, Swing Shift, Out of Africa and Desert Hearts qualify as noteworthy feminist films? Interestingly, The studios actually made most of those movies and today studios are making very few films with female leads.
Sony Pictures Co-Chairman Amy Pascal, who made Meyers' last two films, has Ephron's next picture and has hired more female directors than any studio head, says summer movies just aren't an area of interest for most women. "It simply may be a matter of self-selection, since most studio films are aimed at young boys," she says. "Look at my summer slate. I don't think there's a woman who would've wanted to have directed 'Hancock' or 'Pineapple Express.' "
What really puts female directors behind the eight ball is that the film genres studios are most eager to make -- rowdy guy comedies, horror and superhero films -- are rarely of interest to women. "No one would dream of hiring Nora Ephron or Sofia Coppola for the new James Bond movie, but then again, why would they be interested?" says Terry Press, the veteran studio marketer.
I think there is a generation gap here. I believe that younger women would be very interested in directing a huge summer romp. The big question is did you even ask a woman if she wanted to direct one of those? You won't know until you ask. I love the fact that we give European men like Louis Leterrer (The Hulk) and Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) opportunities to direct big summer movies but we don't give women those same opportunities. I also love the fact that Patrick got women to say that other women are not interested in directing these movies? Have you called someone like say, Angela Robinson? Doubtful.
It's hardly a coincidence that both Meyers and Ephron became full-time directors only after their children were older. Men rarely turn down a movie because it takes them away from their family. For women, it's a wrenching decision to either leave kids at home or uproot a family to spend months on a faraway film location. Many women also believe that men are better suited, in terms of temperament, for the job of ordering around a crew every day.
Wow, are we really saying that women can't direct until their kids are out of the house? This is just bs. I've asked women directors this question and they all laugh saying that if they got a job they would figure it out. The article infers that you need to have a wife or someone at home to make sure everything is organized in order to do your job. What is this the 50s? Sexist bs.
"Men just enjoy being in charge more," says Polly Platt, a groundbreaking figure in Hollywood as a production designer ("The Last Picture Show") and producer ("Broadcast News")...But most of the women I know didn't enjoy the perks of the job, like when you walk onto the set and everyone's waiting for you to make a decision. Having 150 people all waiting to hear your answers to every question -- most women would find that terrifying."
Polly, god I hope you were misquoted here cause you sound like an idiot and I'm sure you're not. Being a director is being a leader, you need vision and you need to be able to juggle a lot of things at once. Some women and some men have those qualities. I know many women who would love to have 150 people waiting to hear her answer to a question. I don't believe that most women would find that terrifying. To put a blanket statement out there that women are afraid of giving orders is absurd and dangerous and plays into all the gender stereotypes.
Still, that pathetic 6% figure sticks in your craw. Hollywood has always prided itself as the land of opportunity, but when it comes to female filmmakers, it's more like a vast wasteland.
If 94% of all the films we see are from a male perspective we are missing out on so many other perspectives. So here's the question I ask every time I read one of these pieces. Who is going to do something about this?

Wanted: More Female Directors

UPDATE: Check out these great letters in response to Goldstein's story: Hollywood's got feeble excuses about female directors

May 19, 2008

Shootout discusses "Chick Flicks" and Interviews Sarah Jessica Parkers

The weekly Hollywood insider show Shootout (show airs Sunday mornings at 11am EST on AMC) , hosted by "The Peters" (Peter Bart, Editor in Chief of Variety, and Peter Guber, big time producer) focused this weekend on women's films (AKA "chick flicks"), Sex and the City and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Peter Bart started out by showing how out of touch he is by saying that he didn't think that "chick flick" was a pejorative and that it is a good way to target women (I am paraphrasing.)

Peter Guber then talked about how "chick flicks" don't travel well overseas because they are dialogue driven, and then to contradict himself listed a bunch of them that have performed extremely well both here and overseas. He also talked about how they are a stable, successful part of the film business.

The problem was that they lumped a film like Juno in together with the Judd Apatow movies as examples of successful films targeted at women. While Juno was a great woman-centric film, lumping Judd Apatow flicks in here just goes to show how little women matter now in a film world where as Lisa Schwarzbaum in EW says: Guys are the New Girls.

These men behaving softly (but still manfully) are no accidents of nature or of the seasonal movie release calendar. They're diplomats of unisex appeal in the latest Hollywood campaign to keep romantic comedies viable- and profitable.
The bad news is that — as with any experiment involving gender, Hollywood, and the mutable factors that go into taste — finding the perfect recipe for a successful heterosexual romantic-comedy hero is subject to operator error. And, pssst, those operators are mostly male.
Because women go and see the Apatow movies in large numbers, and they are relatively cheap to make, we can guarantee that the masculinization of films targeted at women will continue.

I want to make it clear that there is a difference between a woman-centric film and a film targeted at women. Hollywood is trying to think about how to get men to go see films that used to be targeted at women to punch up the numbers. I want more films with women as leads, women as directors and writers and stories about women. I really don't want to see more stories where the guys play the so-called girls parts (ala Made of Honor) that are demeaning to both men and women.

The one thing that I agree with Peter Bart on is that it's a myth that these films don't travel well. The numbers below prove that. The numbers also show that Nancy Meyers is the smartest, most successful woman director/writer in Hollywood. Three of her films are on the list below (What Women Want, Somethings Gotta Give and The Holiday which was written off as a failure.) Whoops. $200 million gross is no failure. She knows how to make films that are interesting to both men and women, have strong female characters and don't demean either the male or female characters.

Successful women targeted films
Enchanted - $340 million worldwide gross
The Runaway Bride- $309 million
What Women Want- $374 million
Somethings Gotta Give- $265 million
The Devil Wears Prada- $327 million
The Holiday- $205 million

Bart went on to say that the chick flicks that don't work are the issue pictures like Mona Lisa Smile. He said if it's about feminism it will have a limited audience. Why are films about young women's lives in the 50s about feminism, when films about young men's lives are just about life?

They then greeted Sarah Jessica Parker and I thought the interview was extremely boring. The closest thing to interesting that SJP said is that she hates the term chick flicks, and that Sex and the City is a movie for men and women.

Some other quotes:
Why they created the Carrie Bradshaw assistant role Louise (played by Jennifer Hudson):
(Director) Michael (Patrick King) had a real instinct that first of all we needed to have a 20-year-old in this movie. We have to remember that there is a significant audience now because of syndication that has hooked into this show that are very, very young and it's a great way of reminding people of who Carrie was when she first came to New York. What was New York? What did it mean to her? What did it symbolize? What are the hopes and potential of this city that we all cling to when we come to this city and how is it different for a 20-year-old today and how is it the same?
On casting Jennifer Hudson:
African-American women and women of color have been a big part of the (SATC) audience for a long time. We really haven't been responsible to them in a way and we haven't given a woman of color an important and significant role and she is especially lovely in this movie.
This last quote did not make it onto the show but is exactly why we need more women-centric movies. The pressure on Sex and the City is just enormous. I see it everywhere. I think that women will go and see this film, but if there were other women's movies opening on a regular basis we wouldn't have to pin our hopes and future films onto only a couple of films.
"I was saying to someone the other day. I know this better than anything. I know this better than being a mother, a wife. This is kind of part of my DNA and I feel there is a lot at stake."
There is a lot at stake. Women even if you hate the crowds on the opening weekend, you must go. There is a lot at stake. I don't say this lightly. Get your tickets now!

The shootout with SJP re-airs Thursday, May 22nd at 6:15am ET & PT/5:15C and Sunday, June 1st at 5:30am ET & PT/4:30C. You can also see highlights from the show at Set those DVRs.

Sigourney Weaver to Star in Lifetime Movie

Big coup for Lifetime.

Sigourney Weaver will make her TV movie debut in the Lifetime film Prayers for Bobby about a conservative Christian woman who rethinks her opposition to homosexuality after the suicide of her gay son. The script is by Katie Ford.

May 18, 2008

Hollywood Feminist of the Day: Faye Dunaway

For scolding producers for ageism with this quote:

"I am furious that they think I'm too old to play the love interest of guys like Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood. Why should I play sisters and mothers while guys like Jack and Clint (Eastwood), who are older than me, have on-screen lovers half their age?"
Dunaway Slams Hollywood Ageism