With a provocative title like "Live Nude Girls," an attractive ensemble cast that includes Dana Delany, Cynthia Stevenson, Kim Cattrall, Laura Zane and Olivia D'Abo and a scant $1-million budget, one would assume that all writer-director Julianna Lavin had to do was keep the camera in focus and distributors would be lined up outside her door.
Indeed, the comedy turned out so well that it attracted immediate interest from several companies, including Fox/Searchlight, Paramount and Columbia, as far back as the first screening last December, shortly after production wrapped.
So where is "Live Nude Girls"? And why, with Lavin and several of the film's actresses publicly championing it, did the film come close to skipping theaters and going straight to video? One reason, Lavin says, is political correctness--not, as the title might indicate, from women or feminist groups, but rather from men.
"Live Nude Girls," which is actually about a bachelorette party, was embraced by many female executives as well as young males, Lavin says. "Our problem was older men, most of whom are the decision-makers at these companies."
A common reaction from these men was that the film is just a bunch of women sitting around talking, a concept they deemed uncommercial, Lavin says. An even more common, and troubling, comment she heard was from men who said that "women don't talk like that," contradicting the opinions of most women who had seen the film.
"The men who have understood it find it a great voyeuristic experience," Lavin says. "But I can't tell you how many women executives came up to me and said they tried to push it through their companies and were blocked by men."
Explaining why he turned the film down, one prominent film festival director told actress Cattrall that he didn't believe it represented the way women behave with one another.
When Cattrall disagreed, pointing out that she is a woman, she says, the festival director retorted: "But I feel I know what it is to be a woman." ("Live Nude Girls" was later shown at the Seattle Film Festival, garnering strong local reviews.)
This veiled hostility, Lavin says, emanates partly from the film's frank discussion of women's sexual fantasies, reveries that seem to be at odds with the well-educated, career-oriented women discussing them.
But that was the point, Lavin argues: "Their fantasies are at odds with their desire to be independent and strong. But sexuality is not always politically correct. And I meant the film to be a confessional."
"We were allowed a lot of room to improvise," explains actress Stevenson, star of TV's "Hope & Gloria." "The film shows how insecure women are but in a funny way. It's not a message movie."
Sara Lewis, executive director of acquisitions for Republic Pictures, part of Spelling Entertainment, which financed "Live Nude Girls," says the film presented a marketing challenge. "It wasn't a movie without risk," she says. So, despite serious interest from several companies, formal negotiations never materialized.
The film was most seriously considered by Paramount, where it was championed by company Chairman Sherry Lansing. But, according to a well-placed studio source, Republic would not sell off the film's video rights and Paramount passed. Lewis counters that negotiations never got that far.
A male executive from one independent company says the film had "endearing" moments as well as some contrived ones. He was considering picking up the film, "because it's important to support women directors and it's not for me to tell them what to say in their films." Again, the reason he didn't consider acquiring the film was Republic's refusal to cede the video rights. "Just owning theatrical has no inherent value," says the executive.
One way to make back the investment would have been a direct-to-video release. Lewis does not deny that it was talked about but says that "as long as I'm here I wasn't going to let that happen."
Audiences will get a chance to judge for themselves as Spelling/Republic recently decided to incur the releasing costs of the film in selected markets through IRS Films this fall.