| Jodie Foster (top) and Barbra Streisand. Mel Gibson (right) in a still from What Women Want.
Hollywood, April 20: Nancy Meyers is the most sought-after woman director in Hollywood, thanks to her last film, What Women Want, which was a huge box-office hit. She’s now making a comedy at Columbia Pictures, co-starring Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton. But before she got the job, she had to be approved by Nicholson, who in his storied 40-plus-years career had never worked with a female director.
Even for Nicholson, women are hard to find, at least when it comes to directing a Hollywood movie. Last month, just down the street from Paramount Pictures, home of What Women Want starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt, was a billboard picturing Trent Lott’s head superimposed on an Oscar statuette, with the chilling message: “Even the US Senate is more progressive than Hollywood. Female Senators: 14 per cent. Female Film Directors: 4 per cent.”
The brainchild of a feminist group known as the Guerrilla Girls, the billboard was aimed at highlighting the paltry number of women filmmakers.
If anything, the numbers are getting worse. In 1991, there were so many hot women directors in Hollywood that Time magazine ran a splashy spread celebrating “the rush of major movies directed by women”, focusing on a dozen in-demand filmmakers, including such then-top names as Martha Coolidge, Randa Haines, Jodie Foster, Barbra Streisand, Mary Lambert, Amy Heckerling, Penny Marshall and Joan Micklin Silver.
Today, only two of the directors cited by Time — Kathryn Bigelow and Nora Ephron — are considered bankable A-list studio filmmakers.
In 21st century Hollywood, it’s a man’s, man’s, man’s world. Consider these numbers (which do not include films released by studio classics divisions):
n Since Josie and the Pussycats, co-directed by Deborah Kaplan, came out in April 2001, Universal Pictures has released one film by a female filmmaker, The Guru, directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer
n Chasing Papi, a low-budget movie directed by Linda Mendoza, is the first female-directed film released by 20th Century Fox in four years
n Since the end of 1998, Disney has made two films directed by women: The Tigger Movie by Jun Falkenstein and Frank McClusky C.I. by Arlene Sanford
n In the seven years since DreamWorks was founded, women have co-directed several of its animated features, including Shrek; only two of its live-action releases were directed by women, none since 1999
n New Line Cinema hasn’t released a film directed by a woman since Jessie Nelson’s I Am Sam in December 2001
n Warner Bros. Films released 25 movies in 2002; one, Callie Khouri’s The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, was directed by a woman
n Since Marshall’s Riding in Cars With Boys was released in October 2001, Columbia Pictures has released one female-directed film, I Spy, directed by Betty Thomas
The dearth of female directors at major studios is especially mysterious at a time when more women than ever are running those studios. Five studios have top creative-decision-makers who are women, bearing the title of chair or head of production. But hiring records at studios run by women are virtually indistinguishable from studios run by men.
“It’s a very discouraging time for women directors,” says Coolidge, the Directors Guild of America president who, despite having been at the helm of such successful films as Valley Girl and Rambling Rose, hasn’t directed a studio feature since 1997.
The people who run studios insist they don’t discriminate against women, saying they hire the best person for the job. But why is that person almost never a woman'
The scarcity of women directors seems to have less to do with discrimination than with studios’ aversion to risk. With the average studio film bud-geted at nearly $60 million, executives are loath to stray from lists of bankable filmmakers, where the only safe bets are directors who’ve had box-office hits or directed a reelful of hip Nike commercials or Jay-Z videos.
Women directors also have been victims of a radical transformation of the movie business in the last decade that has seen studios abandoning adult dramas for action thrillers, teen comedies and comic-book-driven franchise films. Since 1992, 14 films directed or co-directed by women have made more than $60 million. Only one, Mimi Leder’s Deep Impact, was an action-adventure film.
“I’ve tried over and over to hire great young female directors like Sofia Coppola and Kimberly Peirce,” says Columbia Pictures Chairwoman Amy Pascal. “But I’m making Men in Black 2 and Adam Sandler movies, so I don’t have the material they want to do.”
In 2000, Pascal’s Columbia slate included four movies directed by women; all were box- office failures. Her job in jeopardy, taken to task by the Hollywood press for making chi- ck-flick duds, Pascal opted to make crowd-pleasing action films such as Charlie’s Angels and Spider-Man.
It’s not just a studio problem. Jerry Bruckheimer, the industry’s leading action prod- ucer, has made 30 films in his career. None have been directed by women. Neal Moritz, the industry’s top teen comedy and horror producer, has made 20 films. None have been directed by women.
By and large, producers such as Bruckheimer and Moritz hire filmmakers who’ve made their names directing music videos and commercials. It’s an arena nearly bereft of women. As Moritz put it: “I can’t remember the last reel I saw from a woman director.”
According to ICM agent David Unger, who represents several hot young video directors, “If you put together a list of the top 50 video and commercial directors, there’d probably be three women on the list.”