This post derives from my recent encounter with an article about the adaptation of The Seven Five, the Tiller Russell-directed and Eli Holzman-produced documentary about one of the most corrupt police forces in 1980s New York.
Sony Pictures just brought on board John Lesher and Megan Ellison as producers. And I started wondering,
who are the most influential female producers in Hollywood? Where do they come from and what do they have in common?
1) Megan Ellison is always a controversial example for me, as it’s pretty easy to become a producer when you’re the only daughter of a multi billionaire, who gives you $200M as a 25th birthday present. You can be the smartest script digger on earth, a talented and strong willed executor, a charming comrade, but at the end of the day, I’ll never think of you as a model for my career path. A lot of things are said about Megan Ellison: she tweets a lot, CAA loves her as a sheik in an Armani store, she couldn’t find the time to finish college (but why should she after all?) and she doesn’t talk to you if you’re not cool. That means she’s incredibly rich, she’s even more snob, and she’s undoubtedly talented.
With Annapurna, Ellison is filling the niche that studios left some time ago, embracing daring and contemporary projects made by prestigious directors and screenwriters. After The Master and Zero Dark Twenty, the next one should be developed around an article about Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Guts, CAA, and the passion for adventure are something she has in common with an other successful producer.
Her best quality: self-awareness
2) Stephanie Allain was born to a biochemist, and an educator. Relocated in Los Angeles when she was a child, she studied in California graduating in English and Creative Writing.
She started as a script reader at CAA, then becoming story analyst for 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros. and Columbia Pictures. Of Columbia she says:
“my tenure at Columbia was really marked by my own niche which was urban indie movies that had the blessing and the money and the studio behind it; so those filmmakers were able to elevate their game and graduate to the big times pretty effortlessly after their first movies because the studio”
Allain is such a brave and inspiring example to me. In 2003, she sold her house and founded Homegrown Films. She produced Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan, and now Beyond the Lights. She fights for the relevance of the afro-american community. She expresses through her movies the causes for which she stands.
Her best quality: social engagement
3) lives out of the LA’s jet set, in Noe Valley, San Francisco. She produced extraordinary animation movies, such as Toy Story 3, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., Car. Her movies have grossed more, on average, than those of any producer working today. She grew up in California and is married to the Pixar producer Kori Rae. Yes, she’s gay. Something in common with..
Her best quality: creativity
4) Nina Jacobson. She was born in Los Angeles to a Jewish family, she graduated from Brown and began her film career as a documentary researcher for another female producer, Lauren Shuler Donner (the X-Men franchise). She joined Disney as a story analyst, and then Silver Pictures, DreamWorks and Buena Vista, of which she became president.
When she got fired, she decided it was time to start her own production company, she used her avid reading and ability to snug hot titles with great potential to create impressive franchises such as Hunger Games. Her crucial asset lies in the ability to understand storytelling and production concerns, and harmonize the creative and the business sides.
“A lot of times people are only able to see one or the other,” says Lionsgate co-president Erik Feig, “she is one of the rare individuals who has the ability to focus on the forest and the trees”
Her best quality: research
Talking about extraordinary talents, here she is:
5) Kathleen Kennedy, Californian from Berkeley, she did them all: Schindler’s List, The Goonies, Back to the Future, The Sixth Sense, Star Wars ep VII. She has a twin sister, a husband and two children, she learned the job as assistant of Steven Spielberg, even though her typing sucked. He then became his business, they’re both in LucasFilm partner and she never lets go.
Nominated for a staggering 120 Academy Awards throughout her career, Kennedy collected the impressive amount of 92 producing credits. She doesn’t seem to be tired and goes on at an impressive pace.
Her best quality: consistency
6) Gale Anne Hurd is the woman behind The Terminator (1984). She’s the block buster magician and started as executive assistant to Roger Corman, president of New World Pictures. She made her way up to the top following a long way of administrative positions until she formed her production company and started baking heavyweights, Aliens and Abyss among others. She has a natural talent to detect what will be the next biggest fattest grossing movie. Fattest grossing movies brings to..
Her best quality: endurance
7) Emma Thomas, the wife of Christopher Nolan. I’m sorry but it’s just the way it is, she produces the movies of her husband, such as Inception, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. And I still didn’t get if the people in the industry likes her or dislikes her because of that. Before marrying Nolan she was a script supervisor, that means script supervisor forever, and right after marrying him, badabum! Producer!
Maybe she’s really extraordinary amazing, and Nolan is the talent scout, problem is: we will never know.
Her best quality: keen eye
8) Dede Gardner, was a location scout before going into the publishing world as a literary agent at William Morris. She already produced the oscar winning 12 Years Slave, after World War Z, and before Selma. She was also able to find the best looking partner on the scene.
She’s super cool, and she quietly makes her way up to the top of the world.
Her best quality: versatiity
9) Karen Rosenfelt is the name that closes the cirle, starting from the rich daughter of Oracle’s co-founder, to the daughter of former MGM Chairman & CEO Frank Edward Rosenfelt. She produced huge franchises as Twilight Saga and Alvin and the Chipmunks. She’s a multitasker with an average of 2 films a year; 12 out of 13 were profitable. She’s great, brilliant, genuinely intuitive and probably she has it in the blood.
Her best quality: intuition
In a male dominated industry, women make up only 18 percent of the producers’ branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. An underwhelming 16.7% of the 1,228 directors, writers and producers working on the 100 top-grossing films of 2012 were women. And the gloomiest news of all: between 1998 and 2011 — 13 years — the number of female executive producers underwent no perceptible growth.
As I wrote in my post about the Oscars, I greatly appreciated the speech of Actress Winner Patricia Arquette: sex and racial equality are still far ahead in the entertainment business, and it’s our responsibility to improve the status quo, so that tomorrow there will be no short list of female producers, no short list of Afro-american producers, no “WOOOAAA” every time a woman reaches a top level position, as there’s no reason why we should be the short list, the anomaly of a system.