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THE BIG PICTURE / PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Wanted: More female directors

May 20, 2008|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

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.

You'd think some studio chief would have approached Hardwicke, who makes movies about teenagers, but she's never been asked. "I've worked as an animator and an architect -- I'd love to do a superhero movie where you could create a whole new universe. I wouldn't say I've been shut down, but no one's been offering me the next 'Narnia' either."

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After having a youth-oriented indie hit with "Bend It Like Beckham," Gurinder Chadha spent several years working on studio remakes of "I Dream of Jeannie" and "Dallas." Neither got made. But she says her gender was never an issue. "I'm not sure it's so horrible that women aren't dying to make popcorn movies," she says. "Maybe women prefer to make films that matter."

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.

"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"). She remembers ex-husband Peter Bogdanovich arriving on the set of "Paper Moon" in a limousine, eager to make a big entrance. "Peter adored that stuff. 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."

Even for the women who are eager to take the reins, Hollywood has a host of other stumbling blocks ready to bump their career off track. (For a lively discussion with six women directors, see this dialogue from the fall 2006 issue of the .)

If a woman director gets a reputation as being difficult or has a flop, she's always going to be in worse shape, career-wise, than a Michael Mann or David Fincher. "Everybody knows you have to work harder and jump higher if you're a woman," says Pascal. "But that's true for women lawyers or Wall Street financiers. It's just reflective of the culture."

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. "I have lots of girlfriends who work in the business," says Hardwicke. "But all my friends who are directors are guys. I mean, what does that tell you?"

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The Big Picture runs every Tuesday in Calendar.

E-mail questions or comments to patrick.goldstein @latimes.com.

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