November 14, 2008

Women’s Films: A New Box Office Trend?

Check out my new piece for the Women's Media Center based on the new research by Dr. Martha Lauzen of the Center for the Study of Women in TV and Film at San Diego State.

The conventional wisdom in Hollywood—no matter that it is whispered about only anonymously in most corners—is that women equal bad box office. Last year a highly placed executive at a major studio reportedly even expressed this sentiment in public, saying he was no longer interested in scripts with female leads.
Read full piece here

Equality Watch: Women in the Blogosphere

Jessica Wakeman, friend and former staffer at the Huffington Post took a look at how women are faring on the front page of her former site for FAIR.

Answer, not too good.

The site highlights 13 "featured blog posts" on the home page at a time, and that selection is updated regularly. Extra! recorded those featured bylines twice every weekday for nine weeks and coded them by gender.* During the study period (7/7/08–9/5/08), only 255 of 1,125 bylines—23 percent—belonged to women.

The Post does seem to be making a conscious effort to include women's voices; despite the low percentages, the study found at least one female byline on the home page at all times. But if there is indeed such an effort, it stops far short of parity. Of the 89 times bylines were checked during the study, not once did the number of women's bylines equal those belonging to men.
This is important because all the lefties read the Huff Post and I for one benefit from it when I post my stories on there.

Arianna- you gotta do better.

Huffington Post Mutes Women's Voices (FAIR)

Review: How About You

Hayley Atwell has had one of those years most people can only dream about. A virtual unknown earlier this year, she has appeared in two high profile British dramas, the Keira Knightley starrer, The Duchess and the remake of Brideshead Revisted. She gets her chance her first lead in the the small Irish drama How About You opening today in NY and rolling out to 10 cities over the next month. While I knew she was talented in the earlier films, her performance as Ellie a young woman with wanderlust is by far her most realized and confident performance to date. The freedom from her corset in The Duchess and harsh flapper hair in Brideshead has allowed this young woman to shine in this contemporary film about a young woman forced to spend the holidays with a cantankerous bunch of shut-ins in the old age home her sister owns.

Ellie comes to Woodland to earn some money before going off on another one of her trips. When her sister gets called away to take care of their ill mom, Ellie gets stuck playing caregiver to a crusty, miserable band who no one will take in over the holidays. Played by powerhouse actors Joss Ackland, Brenda Fricker, Imelda Staunton and the always awesome Vanessa Redgrave, this group who has given up on life before life has given up on them does its best to make Ellie miserable. But she doesn't give in and pushes back bringing them all back to life, and in turn she grows up herself.

November 13, 2008

Twilight Mania

It's 10 days to the opening of Twilight and while Summit (the studio releasing the film) is trying to tamp down opening weekend expectations, it looks like its going to be a good weekend for the vampire romance. I think that it will do better than expected and hit at least $30 million (the budget for the film is only $37 million).

The mania is everywhere from canceled cast appearances because too many screaming girls showed up, to last summer's freak out among geek girls at Comic-con, to earning the cover on Entertainment Weekly.

The exciting thing is that is continues the trend of a great year for women at the box office, in so many ways. This film has women power all over it:
The novel is written by a woman: Stephenie Meyer
The screenplay is written by a woman: Melissa Rosenberg
The producer- Karen Rosenfelt is a woman
The director is a woman: Catherine Hardwicke
AND- the lead is a woman: Kristen Stewart

The numbers on Twilight skew heavily female and that's what makes studios nervous because studios believe that women can't be relied out to come out on opening weekend. But young women can and do. According to the MPAA data, in 2006 girls 12-24 paid $273 compared with their male counterparts $260 million. In 2007, that number reversed with young women buying $246 million compared with boys' $296 million. Even though the number of admission declined among young women in 2007, it still is higher than any other age group.

We all know that women of all ages helped open Sex and the City to huge numbers without pretty much any guys, and while this film skews younger and because of the sci-fi elements and action, I would think that guys could be convinced. But I could be wrong and when talking about the film to a 25 year old friend yesterday (who already has her ticket for opening weekend) she emphasized that it is all about the romance.

Also, when I did my panel two weeks ago at Women in Film all the women film bloggers were so excited to see the film and commented about how male film bloggers had not been interested in it at all. I can't believe we live in a world where guys still won't go see films about women even though they look cool and different. Pathetic. We all see movies with guys as leads without a moment of hesitation.

The film is doing well in advanced sales on Fandango with over 100 shows sold out as of last Friday. Some totally unscientific data from Fandango (2500 self selected, 96% women) shows us that people who responded see most of the big mainstream films like The Dark Knight and Indiana Jones, but 63% said they don't usually see a film on opening weekend.

But the thing about this film, like Sex and the City and Mamma Mia! is the built in fan base as Anne Thompson says in her recent piece in Variety.

Summit's main calling card is Meyer's phenomenal success among readers, with combined global sales among "Twilight's" four books at 17 million.

Since acquiring the film rights in turnaround from Paramount, Summit has carefully courted "Twilight's" core 13-24 femme crowd. In hiring director Catherine Hardwicke ("Thirteen") and scribe Melissa Rosenberg ("Step Up"), the studio is banking on two creatives who ostensibly know what young women want.
Vampire fare lures female viewers (Variety)
Twilight: Will the Movie Be a Hit? (EW)

November 12, 2008

Saving Grace Cast Event at Women in Film Forum

I am a big fan of TNT's Saving Grace. Some people don't get the show and feel put off by the behavior of Holly Hunter's character Grace Hanadarko. I like it precisely because her behavior is so unpredictable and unexpected especially for a female character. I think that Nancy Miller, the show's creator is a brilliant and bold visionary.

Most of Nancy's team (Nancy was sick) attended the Women in Film event in LA and I have to say they were an incredibly nice group of people. They love their show, they love their leader and they love each other. Some of these things you can fake, but this seemed really genuine. (Remember I am a jaded New Yorker.)

The people who attended were: Gary Randall (Exeuctive Prodcuer); Laura San Giacomo (Rhetta); Lorraine Toussaint (Kate); Bailey Chase (Butch); Leon Rippey (Earl). Lillah McCarthy (VP of Original Programming for TNT and TBS) also participated. Here are some tidbits I picked up from the conversation:

The second half of season 2 which was supposed to start around January will actually start in March.

  • Gary Randall (the Executive Producer along with Miller) said that Miller set out to do a show about a female character who is challenged in her faith. Grace's character was initially written as a journalist but in collaboration with TNT she was transformed into a cop.
  • The script was done for a while but couldn't move forward until they found the right lead actress.
  • they relayed that Nancy Miller says that it's not a show with answers, it's a show with questions.
  • Lillah- It's TV-MA so it can't air before 10pm. Advertisers were scared and Holly being part of it made a big difference. The (success) of The Closer allowed us to put Saving Grace on.
  • Gary Randall in talking about Nancy Miller- "everything is subtext, everything is deepely layered, Grace's guilt informs every single reaction."
You must watch this show. Season 2.5 in March. Season 3 in July.

My Fall Obsessions: Katie Couric and Rachel Maddow

This is the fall that I started watching the news again with excitement because of the reemergence of Katie Couric and the swift ascendancy of Rachel Maddow. I never watch the news at 6:30. Who does? But when I am around, I turn on Katie. I even Tivoed all the debates on CBS cause I wanted to give her my eyeballs. Her kick ass interview with Sarah Palin helped seal the deal against Palin's competence.

And Maddow, what more can I say except now I'm more tired cause I stay up late watching her. She gets watched before John Stewart. She's just so good. And let me say that I noticed last week with all the talk about Larry Summer becoming Treasury chief she reminded us each night when his name came up that he didn't think girls were good at math. She just reminds us that this is a remark that cannot be excused. She just loves politics, she has fun talking about this stuff and it makes it fun for us too.

Welcome to the new world order. Maybe they should let Maddow take over for Tim Russert on Meet the Press. How cool would that be?

Here are some choice quotes from recent pieces.

But against the odds—she wasn’t allowed the opportunity, for instance, to anchor a single presidential or vice presidential debate for CBS—Ms. Couric has used the 2008 presidential elections to make herself a commodity again. Not the too expensive piece of furniture the Tiffany network had bought and regretted, but the game-changing political journalist she aspired to be when she first took the Evening News. Hers was the most memorable interview of the 2008 election. Über political blogger Mark Halperin named her one of the five most important people in politics not running for president.

Her rising star has not only made life comfortable enough at CBS for her to use an interview with a reporter to request an hour-long program. According to The New York Times, others are looking to steal her: NBC News executives are currently considering her for the most coveted job in political journalism, as the next moderator of Meet the Press. (NY Observer)

And from the ever reliable Rebecca Traister at Salon:
In the final weeks of October, days before what many consider the most crucial election of our lifetimes, the probing interviews, fine-boned analysis and buzzy commentary showing up on television screens and Internet browsers all over the country are often delivered not in the deep rumble of a wizened Uncle Walt but in a higher register belonging to one of several female newscasters to have kicked ass, taken names and otherwise owned the coverage of the 2008 election.

Call it historical accident or mere coincidence, but this election, built as it has been around two history-making female candidates, traditional "women's issues" like the economy and healthcare and the acknowledgment of the power of female voters, also happens to have been translated, interpreted and picked apart by women newscasters. And that's something new.
A Star is Reborn (NY Observer)
The New American Classic (The Advocate)
Ladies of the Nightly News (Salon)

November 11, 2008

Kate Winslet Gets Naked in Vanity Fair

I am a huge Kate Winslet fan. Really, has she ever been bad in anything she has been in? Can't think of one thing. She's got two movies with Oscar potential coming out this holiday season Revolutionary Road and The Reader and she appeared on the cover of this month's Vanity Fair.

Here's my problem with the pictures. Kate is one of the actresses who looks like a normal woman. She's beautiful and young, not a stick. She's respected for her work, not her looks. So, why does she need to pose naked? I'm getting really tired of the Vanity Fair and its obsession with the naked actresses. She looks beautiful in the pictures, they are tasteful...but still. I can kind of understand a former fat girl wanting to show off. What do you think?

Here are some quotes from the piece:

"I never had a desire to be famous, I was fat. I didn't know any fat famous actresses. I just did not see myself in that world at all, and I'm being very sincere. You know, once a fat kid, always a fat kid."

"How the hell did I get that lucky [to have two compelling roles] in the same 12-month period?," she says. "It's really rare and remarkable, and I don't take that position lightly. It might not happen like that again; I'm well aware of that. You know, the truth is, I'm just going to bloody well make the most of it."
Isn’t She Deneuvely?

Equality Watch: The Oscar Numbers

I knew the numbers were bad in terms of women getting nominations in certain categories, but yikes, these numbers are pathetic. Looks like women can make documentaries and costumes but not much else. If they didn't give out acting awards to women, we'd probably never see women win anything.


Nominees - 392 total, 2 women -- .5%; Winners - 80 total, 0 women -- 0%
BEST PICTURE (producers)
Nominees - 431 total, 32 women -- 7%; Winners - 92 total, 5 women -- 5%
Nominees - 521 total, 0 women -- 0%; Winners - 80 total, 0 women -- 0%
Nominees- 365 total, 53 women -- 15%; Winners- 98 total, 12 women -- 12%
Nominees- 1,324 total, 93 women -- 7%; Winners- 269 total, 17 women -- 6%
Nominees- 1,198 total, 96 women -- 8%; Winners- 226 total, 20 women -- 9%
Nominees - 318 total, 81 women -- 25%; Winners- 88 total, 16 women -- 18%
Nominees- 654 total, 12 women -- 2%; Winners- 145 total, 5 women -- 3%
Nominees- 448 total, 218 women -- 49%; Winners- 95 total, 49 women -- 52%

Numbers from Variety

November 10, 2008

Women are a Market

So I've been doing some research for a piece I'm writing. In the last decade, aside from this year, there has only been one female centric movie in the top 10 of the year -- My Big Fat Greek Wedding in 2002. The good news is that this year, as of this week, two female centric films are in the top ten -- Sex and the City and Mamma Mia! This is big news, especially since both of those films skew older.

This weekend's story in Variety acknowledges, what we already know, women are a market. But the story also annoyed me because older women and girls are lumped into one category.

Hollywood has long relied on female pics to be dependable earners that open modestly and play long, rather than being big grossers right from the start.

Until this year. For the first time that anyone can remember, three femme-driven films -- High School Musical 3: Senior Year, Sex and the City, Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour -- opened to No. 1 at the B.O., making it abundantly clear that fangirls are every bit as important as fanboys.
I know there is the obsession of opening number 1, but to me, neither High School Musical nor Hannah Montana qualify as women's films. They are kids films. Why is a film about singing high school kids that is targeted at 12-year-olds compared in the same sentence with Sex and the City? Really?

For decades, more traditional romantic comedies have been a staple for studios looking to attract the distaff audience, with some of those females being counted on to drag their husbands or boyfriends along. What's distinct about films like "Sex and the City," or "Mamma Mia" is that they are more female-centric than a mainstream romantic comedy.

No one could believe it when "Sex and the City" grossed $20 million on its first Friday as women stormed theaters. That's an unheard of number for the typical chick pic, since the demo isn't known for rushing out on opening weekend.

"Females are galvanizing and turning out in huge numbers, just like young males," says 20th Century Fox prexy of distribution Bruce Snyder. "They are turning movies into event titles, making a pic's opening look more like a male actioner than a genteel female movie that would play out over a long period of time."

And we still haven't yet seen what's going to happen with Twilight which has are tons of fans out there both young and old. Nearly 100 shows are already sold out through Fandango and the film opens in two weeks. That's big.
Films playing mainly to women, rather than simply romantic comedies, have gradually been seeping into Hollywood's consciousness. In 2006, the runaway success of 20th Century Fox's The Devil Wears Prada was a wake-up call, since it wasn't a romantic comedy, but a comedy built around female characters. "Prada's" savvy writing and Meryl Streeps indelible portrayal set the bar high for the genre.

"There is no more loyal audience than the female audience," says Disney prexy of distribution Chuck Viane. "Females will go to a movie again and again. The number of repeat viewings is incredible. If you overlook females, you are ignoring a huge segment of the audience."

So when does a fluke become a trend? Everyone knows that The Devil Wars Prada did well as did Nancy Meyer's Something's Gotta Give yet female filmmakers keep getting told by the Hollywood suits think those films are flukes. Could it be that we are finally moving beyond the fluke excuse?
Studios like to claim their releases are four-quadrant films. But the latest crop of chick pics have shown there's nothing wrong with a high-profile two quadrant title, playing to tween and teen girls, older women -- or all of them.
Let's just hope that women's success at the box office this year doesn't only translate into more High School Musical type films but also acknowledges that women over 25 also go to the movies.
Femme-driven films score at B.O. (Variety)

Why the Firing of Brooke Smith is Bigger Than ABC Wants Us to Think

I have loved Grey's Anatomy since it started but things have not been going well lately at Seattle Grace. Things need to get back on track because the competition on Thursdays at 9 is fierce. CSI is still going strong on CBS, and on NBC, 30 Rock with Tina Fey is so rocking good and timely that it has risen to the top of my must see list.

So here's my gripe, and it still focuses on the firing of Brooke Smith. The episode last week which was Smith's last was a big disappointment and while ABC wants this story to go away, I'm not yet quite ready to let it go.

If you haven't watched the episode and still want to - stop reading here.

Dr. Hahn, played by Smith was right about calling UNOS (the national organ donor bank) to report the shady behavior of Seattle Grace regarding the heart transplant of Denny Duckett two seasons ago. The fact that her lover, Callie Torres, (Sara Ramirez) defended Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl) who by the way, she hates because Izzie slept with her husband, is just pathetic.

It just seems to me that the folks at ABC got skittish about Brooke Smith playing a strong, normal looking woman who happened to be a lesbian (who you made a full time cast member last season to great fanfare. Also, didn't you know that Smith is a fantastic character actress and not a bimbette?) Her exit was so disappointing (first time writer Bill Harper got the credit according to the Grey writers blog which did not touch on the controversy at all.) The timing of her departure really sucked since she was kicked out the week that California and three other states voted against gay marriage. Timing is everything and you blew it here.

The forced statement that Shonda Rhimes released last week mentioned that Smith was not fired because she played a lesbian and that the show still has lesbian on it -- Callie Torres -- rings false. On the episode, Callie denied she was a lesbian which is what led to Dr. Hahn walking away into TV nowhereland. And her constant on the job sexual exploits with Dr. McSteamy proves her sexual confusion. It's like she needs to prove she's not gay. For a show that prides itself on diversity, this doesn't cut it.

So was Smith fired because she is not "pretty enough" to play gay on TV? On mainstream TV girl on girl sex is seen as hot; yet a relationship between two normal looking women is what, scary?

I remember clearly two years ago the big controversy when Isiah Washington called T.R. Knight a "fag" and he was ultimately fired for uttering that slur. The cast mostly united behind Knight, yet I see no one stepping up to talk about this issue except for Patrick Dempsey who when he appeared on Ellen last week hysterically read ABC's talking points (which he actually pulled out of his pocket to show how pathetic it was)

We’ve had a great time working with her and that the conclusion of her [role] has been orgasmic’—I’m sorry, I’m dyslexic—’organic ending to the storyline.
Dempsey's statement:

After watching Dempsey I am more convinced that this is gaywashing and that ABC just got really nervous that the show was becoming too gay. But, how can ABC have this reaction to Grey's when Kevin on Brothers & Sisters is so gay all the time. He is even got married on the show. Is it that we are more accepting of gay men in normal relationships than gay women?

And where is the rest of the Grey's cast? Where's T.R. Knight? Couldn't this be a great time for them to stand up for tolerance? I'm waiting.