5 Actresses Who Became Successful Producers

Patricia Arquette’s call for wage equality during her Oscar acceptance speech earlier this year; Emma Watson being appointed by the UN as a Goodwilll Ambassador, heading the gender equality initiative, He For She; Amy Schumer being the first female comedian to headline a show at Madison Square Garden (scheduled for 2016)… with all of these women making big moves on an international stage, it seems feminism in the entertainment industry is well and truly alive. That said, it’s not news to say that women have been long overshadowed by their male counterparts in show-business. I mean, when considering nearly 70% of characters in speaking roles were male among the top 100 films between 2007 and 2014, it’s safe to say the industry hasn’t quite overcome gender imbalance as yet.

Nevertheless, females are taking a stance and continue to make headway, particularly behind the camera—a place where the imbalance is most evident. With women being so grossly underrepresented, it’s no wonder many actresses are making the transition and taking part in the production of their creative platforms. Here are a few of the women who have dared to challenge the status quo and transitioned from acting in front of the camera, to producing behind it.

Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore

Quite literally growing up in the public eye after she shot to stardom with her adorable, blonde pigtails and lisp in Spielberg’s E.T. (1982) at the age of six, Barrymore famously experienced a tumultuous adolescence and early adulthood but came out on-top with a prosperous acting career. What is lesser known about the talented actress is her extremely successful career as a producer and founder of her own production company Flower Films in 1995. Knowing longevity wasn’t always synonymous with a woman’s career in Hollywood, she embarked on the project with long-time friend, Nancy Juvonen. “Doesn’t matter how far or high I go; if I can keep working, that is the most profound amount of success I in my personal life can ever find,” says Barrymore. Her self-initiated enterprise earned her the role of Executive Producer for the company’s debut film, Never Been Kissed in 1999. Since then, she’s consistently produced big, money-making films that have received several accolades and critical acclaim—many of which she also starred in. Along with the Charlie’s Angels films (2000, 2003) and the TV show in 2011, she’s also produced instant cult classics like Donnie Darko (2001) and Whip It (2009), followed by a string of romantic comedies like 50 First Dates (2004), Fever Pitch (2005), and He’s Just Not That Into You (2009).

Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon

Beginning her acting career from the age of fourteen in The Man in the Moon (1991), Witherspoon’s resume went from strength to strength, starring in classic hits like Election (1999), Cruel Intentions (1999), and box-office successes, Legally Blonde (2001) and Legally Blonde 2 (2003)—the latter which she produced and from which she earned $15 million, fifteen-times the amount she got for the original. Becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of lead female roles and the majority of scripts sharing the common theme of women needing to be saved by men, she decided to establish her own production company. “I think it was literally one studio that had a project for a female lead over 30,” she said, “and I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to get busy.’” Using much of her own funds, she launched Pacific Standard with Australian producer Bruna Papandrea in 2012. The production company released its first two films just weeks within each other—the first was an adaptation of the blockbuster novel by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl, and the second was based on the bestselling memoir of Cheryl Strayed, Wild. Both films were a huge success and the latter earned Witherspoon nominations at the Oscars, Golden Globes and SAG Awards for her part as Cheryl.

Elizabeth Banks

Elizabeth Banks

Having taken on seventy roles in front of the camera so far, including those in major hits like The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), Spider-Man 2 and 3 (2004, 2007), and The Hunger Games franchise, Banks has certainly accrued some Hollywood brownie points through the years. Using those points and knowing the difficulties faced by actresses in Hollywood after a certain age, Banks took a pragmatic turn to production in 2009, creating Brownstone Productions with husband, Max Handelman. “There was a group of us girls coming up… a lot of us surviving, some of us not,” recalling her days at auditions with Tara Reid, “we’re not all still here.” The company earned Universal $113 million at the box office on a $17 million budget, and another $103 million in home video sales for its surprising hit Pitch Perfect in 2012, which she also starred in. She also jumped into the director’s chair for the sequel Pitch Perfect 2, released this year in May, which snagged a $69 million debut weekend.

Sandra Bullock

Sandra Bullock

Boasting an illustrious acting career that began with the motion picture Hangman in 1987, Bullock has continued to capture audience’s hearts with her girl-next-door persona. Her big breakthrough came when she starred alongside Keanu Reeves in the famous thriller, Speed (1994), shortly followed by romantic comedy, While You Were Sleeping (1996), which earned her a nomination for a Golden Globe. It was in this genre she really soared, founding the production company Fortis Films in 1998, which went on to produce a string of well-received romantic comedies and dramas she also starred in. Some of them include Hope Floats (1998), Miss Congeniality 1 and 2 (2000, 2005), Two Weeks Notice (2002) and The Proposal (2009).

Margot Robbie

Margot Robbie

A newcomer to the producing scene, this 25 year-old Australian is trying out her hand at the creative process behind the camera, after bursting onto the Hollywood scene two years ago with her life-changing role in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Since her big break, the young actress has scored major roles beside Will Smith in Focus (2015) and again (alongside many other big names) in DC Comics’ antihero film, Suicide Squad—due for release in August next year. Robbie recently revealed that she’s been working on two projects that she’s producing, focusing mainly on one called Terminal in London, a “thriller-noir flick” comparable to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) and Sin City (2005). Admitting that she’s really enjoying being behind the lens, the young star says her focus for the next year will solely be on producing, despite the media frenzy that’s likely to follow the Suicide Squad release. “The experience has really opened my eyes to the world of indie film producing,” she said, “it’s such a hustle—extremely difficult but very rewarding.”

Learn more about the School of Producing at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.
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