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A Series of Fallopian Tubes

Studio Head Amy Pascal Offers Straight Talk On The Dismal State of Hollywood For Female Directors

As the only female head of a major studio, Amy Pascal knows her stuff when it comes to the industry. So when she says of female directors that “the whole system is geared for them to fail,” maybe she knows what she’s talking about. Just maybe.

Note the sarcasm, please; I just wanted to get ahead of any mansplainers who might want to say things like “But I was in a directing class once and most of my fellow students were men, so maybe there aren’t that many women who wan’t to direct!”

In an interview with Forbes Pascal was remarkably candid on the issue of how the film industry is stacked against females:

“The problem is when you compare the movie business to the music business or the publishing business, you have huge colossal stars in the world of publishing that are women and everyone reads those books, whether it is Danielle Steel or Jackie Collins or JK Rowling. And the same can be said for the music business. You’ve got Taylor Swift and Alicia Keyes and Lady Gaga. I was trying to figure out why and what happens in those other industries. It is that you can write a hit song or you can write a book that everybody is going to love and you just show up with it and there is no denying it because everyone in the business is looking to make money and when they see something that’s going to make money, they want it.

For a woman to direct a movie in Hollywood, she has to go through so many layers of rejection by the powers that be—I suppose including myself—that it is harder to get to that point.  So you can’t just create something.  And I think there is a whole unconscious mountain.”

So how can this whole unconscious mountain get, uh, bulldozed? Pascal mentions that Sony “probably hire[s] more female directors [than any other studio]… We made lots of movies with Nora Ephron with Nancy Meyers with Catherine Hardwicke, with Kathryn Bigelow. That’s an agenda for us.” That’s one aspect to the solution, certainly. Another part, explains Pascal, relates to movies themselves:

“The most important thing in the job that we do here is to make movies about women where they are characters that have consequences in the story. They can be villains, they can be protagonists, I don’t care. But their movements, their actions, what they do in the plot has to actually matter. And that’s the most important thing, because young girls coming up are going to see that they matter that your not an appendage to someone else—that you’re not married to the person, not their sister or friend or girlfriend, you actually are the plot.”

Good points, both, though I would argue that if the industry itself is rigged against female directors (and it is), working with the relatively few female directors who’ve already made it won’t do that much to change things, at least not by itself. In the interview Pascal is asked when we’re going to start seeing more up-and-coming female indie directors tapped for studio films, as has already happened with Marc Webb, Gareth Edwards, and so many other men. She didn’t offer much by the way of a response, saying that:

I have begged Kathryn Bigelow to make Spider-Man, James Bond, anything I can think of. So far I haven’t hooked her. I think it is about women showing up and saying that’s what they want and not taking no for an answer.

Forbes: That they want to do the big blockbusters?

I think that the whole system is geared for them to fail and we’re going to have to change a lot of what we do in order for that to happen?

Change it how? Don’t get me wrong, I love that Pascal’s being up-front about there being a problem with the system, but I’d also love to also read her suggestions on how that can be combatted, especially since she, as a studio head, is one of a relatively small number of people who actually have the power to change things in a direct way.

Oh well. In the absence of her suggestions, how about our readers offer some of their own? C’mon, people. Let’s workshop this thing.

(via: Women and Hollywood)

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  • kai charles

    I think a lot of mentoring and support needs to happen. I’ve watched fangirls, geek girls etc. Really have a strong voice in confronting stereotypes in their fandoms and getting responses( like you guys of course!) Maybe female film students and executives could band together through a mutual forum and break down these barriers

  • Ladies Making Comics

    Kathryn Bigelow has explicitly turned down James Bond? NOOOOOO, my hopes and dreams ;___________;

  • Charlotte Van Zee

    This is a trend that occurs even in the graduate directing programs? One of the alumna from my undergraduate became a director in Hollywood (she directed Joe Dirt and What A Girl Wants, I believe) and she fought pretty hard just to get into a program, and was the only woman in her class. I think our fine arts programs need to start pushing more women in that direction as opposed to letting them languish in the Acting program. At least make directing a one-act play mandatory for graduation.

  • Anonymous

    My sister studied film with an eye toward directing, and now she makes independent documentaries. I can tell you from her experience, a lot of women who are looking to become directors are very focused on doing so in the field of smaller, independent films, rather than big studio blockbusters. I think that this comes from the fact that the independent film scene is a lot friendlier to women, so young women are gravitating towards an area where they won’t be constantly shut down. Unfortunately, this means that while we have great women making great indie films, not as many are trying to break into Hollywood. Of course this all comes done to being Hollywood’s problem, because it’s prejudices are what turned women off in the first place. But to fix this problem, we need blockbusters to seek out more female directors, and we need more young female directors who dream of making blockbusters.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll second the directing program problem – I think the directing classes were set up in a way that frequently discourages women from attempting to direct. Many of the ones I took were very focused on doing work in groups rather than giving everyone the resources to direct, and a lot of women – myself included at times – were forced to join groups in lower-ranking capacities because it was that or get an F for not managing to be in a group. Even when I did get to direct, I definitely wasn’t getting the same amount of resources or time as the guys (in part because the guys tended to band together and support their friends, which wasn’t an option for the women because there were so few of us to begin with).

  • Anonymous

    Justin Lin was on NPR this morning talking about Fast & Furious 6 and he talked about going to see the original when he was still in film school and how it slotted in with most other Hollywood productions when it came to minority portrayal (which he described as something “As an Asian-American, I’m probably a little too in tuned with” which I would argue means he’s just the right amount of in-tune with, but that’s neither here nor there). He became an indie darling and then was offered the script to “F&F: Tokyo Drift” (which also seems a little shaky that THAT was the film a studio contacted for), and he almost turned it down because the script bought into all of these Asian stereotypes, and it was still largely centered around a white lead.
    He ended up taking it, helping to rewrite the script from an Asian-American perspective. They’ve let him stay on, and his focus on racial-inclusiveness has actually become one of the series modern trademarks. Say what you will about Fast Five, it does a relatively admirable job of combining a color-blind mentality while still keeping the individual culture of each character alive pretty well.
    I think that’s what studios need to do with women directors. Give them an opportunity to reframe something that was previously exclusionary, and then let them develop it in a manner where gender issues become an inseparable aspect of the film series itself. And of course, develop original series from this same framework.
    Now that Abrams is leaving, I’d love to see some women take the excellent cast and design he’s left the Star Trek franchise with, and take the film series somewhere (ANYWHERE) interesting. There is the possibility encoded into those films for an interesting gender dialog, and the past two films have done a terrible job bringing it out.

  • Anonymous

    While the issue is complex, I think the biggest obstacle is studio heads not believing that women are capable (intelligent, strong, versatile) enough “leaders” to guide big, expensive productions. There are plenty of capable female directors but they just aren’t getting the chances that men are. Studios have plucked young, unknown male directors from the worlds of documentaries, commercials, music videos, fan films, and even straight out of film school. Female directors are left to toil with miniscule budgets, tight production schedules, and less fanfare. Occasionally a Coppola, Hardwicke, Heckerling, Bigelow, etc will make a splash, but their competency as female directors seems to be looked upon by studios as the exception rather than the rule. And there seems to be the belief that their successes aren’t reproducible.

    It’s hard to see the system making substantial changes until more women are able to acquire some behind-the-scenes power (read: financial). Pascal is one example, and there are a growing number of female producers shaking things up. Independent film and non-traditional funding sources like crowdfunding might be a good first step for female directors to start telling the stories they want the way they want. But to get Hollywood to start handing the reins of their biggest properties over to women will take some real demographic changes (age, gender, etc) in the studio offices. Say what you will about Tyler Perry, but he’s leveraged his success into myriad opportunities on screen and behind-the-scenes for people of color in the industry – and he did it by independent means. Though to this day he still finds it difficult to work with the traditional Hollywood studio system when he’s given it a go. It’s going to be a tough nut to crack (pun fully intended), but it can happen. And sooner rather than later.

    In the mean time, give ALL THE SCRIPTS to Kathryn Bigelow. The first being that Whedon Wonder Woman script.

  • Anonymous

    Great post. Really. Very insightful

    Abrams is leaving?!?!?!

  • Anonymous

    Maybe I’m simplifying things, but is it related to the lack of female presence in business? Film making and other types of high-profit business tend to reward people with huge egos who won’t hesitate to take credit for other people’s ideas and work. Judging purely from my own experience, young dudes won’t hesitate to do this, and young women can’t WAIT to tell you how something they did isn’t really THAT great, and anyway, someone else did it first and better. Guys just have a great deal more of the confidence required to screw over other people and get ahead.

  • Anonymous

    The proof in the pudding is the amount of films that once had female directors only to be replaced by men (Punisher War Zone, Brave, Thor 2)

  • Anonymous

    I think the problem with even succesful female directors “leaning in” is the fear (probably fairly correct unfortunately) that if you fail on a big blockbuster you will be judged way more harshly than a male counterpart and it could affetc your chances of getting new projects. I see so many male directors who have turned major movies into flops still getting a lot of high profile work (Shyamalan, Snyder etc). Marc Forster who did the sub-par Quantum of Solace still got picked to do World War Z (which may or may not have been a really bad choice).

    Meanwhile Patty Jenkins got booted off Thor and is making TV series again, and what is Brenda Chapman doing after she got kicked off Brave? Do they get second chances?

    I’m not saying it may not have been a good decision to get them off the projects, I have no inside knowledge. It’s just interesting who is getting the benefit of the doubt by the studios and who gets a second chance after a fail.

  • Ladies Making Comics

    Lexi Alexander was the only (credited) director on PWZ, so at the very least, she did the bulk of principal photography. Also, count me in PWZ’s “cult”– I thought that movie was damn good fun for what it was, and thought Alexander did a damn good job with what she had to work with.

  • Blue Funnies

    I listened to Lexi Alexander discuss her work on PWZ on a podcast called How Did This Get Made – she created these intricate story schematics to help properly pace the action and dialogue, and her higher-ups were totally blown away by how competent a director she was. “Look, she has schematics!”

  • Rebecca Pahle

    There’s doubt as to whether he’ll be too busy with Ep VII to direct the third Star Trek reboot, but nothing’s been officially decided yet.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    “studio heads not believing that women are capable (intelligent, strong, versatile) enough “leaders” to guide big, expensive productions.”

    Agreed. Which is ridiculous on so many levels. The perception that women aren’t “aggressive” or “assertive” enough is harmful, as is the notion that a director HAS to be archetypal “yelling at producers and throwing things at PAs alpha male.”

  • Rebecca Pahle

    And when Lynn Ramsay leaves Jane Got a Gun it becomes this big deal that’s often framed in terms of her being a woman. Ramsay’s a wonderful, critically acclaimed director! No one would say that she’s not damn good at her job, and then this happens and there’s this whole “controversy” that gets blown way out of proportion.

    It’s hard to know whether this will have a lasting effect on her career; Ramsay’s not exactly a studio director, so hopefully she’ll be able to keep doing her thing. But yeah, male directors with these sorts of “career missteps,” be they behind-the-scenes drama or just awful movies, get brought back into the fold time and time again.

  • Anonymous

    Reminds me of the discussion about female Presidents. I’m not sure at this point that there are any people who don’t believe that Hilary Clinton would be a strong, capable President (regardless of your political affiliation). But the belief still persists that women aren’t strong enough of will or character to be able to guide a large government, especially in times of crisis.

    Kathryn Bigelow, for instance, ain’t the first female director – or the first great female director – but she seems to me to be the Hilary of Hollywood right now (not sure if her former marriage to Cameron is playing into that image or not). There can’t be many studio heads left who don’t honestly believe she could herd a large production, and do it successfully. And I feel she may get that chance sooner rather than later.

  • Jacki Zehner

    Love this article and it is why a team is launching a women’s feature film fund! ( and I am going to invest in it!) Please ask Ms. Bigelow to do Wonder Woman!!! Here is a 60 page report to convince her called “Why no wonder woman?”