Famous Producers

Celebrating Women Film Producers

With this year’s Best Picture going to producer Dede Gardner for “Moonlight” and the top-grossing “Rogue One” produced by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, you’d think the “celluloid ceiling” had been thoroughly busted — but sadly, the numbers tell another story. For Women’s History Month, we at NYFA think it’s important to honor the milestones in pursuing gender equality, while being realistic about the continuing, painful disparities.

According to research reported at The Center for The Study of Women in Television and Film, the numbers for women behind the scenes actually dropped last year: “In 2016, women comprised 17% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents a decline of 2 percentage points from last year and is even with the percentage achieved in 1998.” According to the study women accounted for 17 percent of executive producers and 24 percent of producers.

At NYFA, we encourage women to make careers for themselves in the biz not only in front of the camera but also behind the scenes, where diverse perspectives have the power to shake the industry. This is only one of the reasons why, for five years, our producing programs have attracted a majority-female student community.

Finding Academy Award-winning Adventures

This year Dede Gardner took home a Best Picture Oscar for the (surprise) winner “Moonlight.” She and Jeremy Kleiner head up Brad Pitt’s Plan B, which has become a reliable source for quality films — for example, the 2012 Best Picture winner “12 Years a Slave.” Regarding their process at Plan B, Gardner, quoted in an IndieWire article said, “We spend a lot of time reading, a lot of time watching movies in small corners of libraries and hotel rooms. It’s probably our favorite thing to do. We fall in love with a movie and we reach out. We ask to meet, see more work and listen to what they’re interested in, what world they want to live in, what stories they want to tell. Time and time again, those conversations can result in movies. They just need to be had in an honest space. The only intentions will ever be to continue the conversation, and not think about these things as products, but adventures that we might embark on together.”

What many people may not know, however, is that Plan B was not the only (or the first) productive force behind “Moonlight.” Adele Romanski was one of three Florida State University friends who brought the project to life long before Plan B entered the picture. Romanski set up weekly Google chats to help motivate her friend, writer/director Barry Jenkins, to start another feature film project after an eight-year hiatus. As Romanski explained to Vulture last December: “… I came to the realization that I wanted to work with good people who I knew, who I could trust or who I did trust, and [do] good work together. And so the top of the list obviously was going to be Barry. And there was a lot of noise, it was becoming sort of a louder and louder conversation about where’s Barry’s next movie? Why hasn’t Barry made a movie? We would be at festivals or other industry functions, and people were coming up to us like, Why hasn’t Barry made a movie? And I would say, I don’t know, why don’t you ask him? But also, like, why are you asking me? You’re coming to me? So anyway, I just called him and said, You’ve got to make a movie. I’m gonna make you, I’m gonna help you, we’re gonna make it, make you make a movie.” And she did — a movie that went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture. In her acceptance speech at the Academy Awards, Romanski said: “And I think, I hope even more than that it’s inspiring to people, little black boys and brown girls and other folks watching at home who feel marginalized and who take some inspiration from seeing this beautiful group of artists held by this amazing talent, Barry Jenkins, accepting this top honor. Thank you.”

From Secretary to President

Kathleen Kennedy started out as Steven Spielberg’s secretary, but quickly proved herself. An Entertainment weekly article celebrating women producers describes her early rise: “Spielberg tells EW that her ‘creative intuition’ while working as his assistant on 1981’s ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ especially ‘in the crowded streets in Kairouan, Tunisia…gaining the cooperation and participation of the people living there,’ inspired him to hire her as a producer on “E.T.” Now Kennedy heads Lucasfilm and is responsible for the Star Wars franchise, whose last two releases, “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One,” were the box office winners of 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Taking Control Behind the Scenes

Kathryn Bigelow was the first (and still the only) woman to ever win Best Director for “The Hurt Locker,” for which she, as producer, also won for Best Picture. Bigelow started her career as a painter and then went to film school. She has made a name for herself directing action and thriller films that belie any notions about typical female-run projects, such as “Strange Days” and “Point Break.” A Guardian article quotes her as saying, “I suppose I like to think of myself as a filmmaker” (not a female filmmaker). In other words, she seems to attach less significance to her gender than the media and the industry does.

Fun fact: NYFA New York Producing Chair Neal Weisman worked with Kathryn Bigelow on her film “Blue Steel,” starring Jamie Curtis during his time as vice president of Edward Pressman Film Corporation.

Telling Untold Stories

The producing team of Amanda Posey and Finola Dwyer, do tend towards stories that feature female perspectives, such as “An Education” and “Brooklyn,” both of which were nominated for Best Picture. In a Guardian article Posey was quoted as saying, “We are always looking to tell something from a fresh perspective and with a fresh insight and it just so happens that, because of the way history is told, a lot of the untold stories are female. We are drawn to it from a storytelling point of view rather than specifically because it is based around women.”

Happy Women’s History Month! Do you have a favorite female producer? Or do you aspire to be the next female powerhouse behind the scenes? Let us know in the comments below, and check out our producing programs at New York Film Academy.

From Cops To Pirates: Inside Jerry Bruckheimer’s Blockbuster Career

There are only a handful of producers in Hollywood who utterly dominate their field, whether they are box office champions or MVPs of television ratings. Jerry Bruckheimer is both. He has been directly involved with multiple hits on both large and small screens, and indirectly his sphere of influence has reached almost every corner of the industry.

Jerry Bruckheimer, a life-long film and photography buff, first started working in advertising in Detroit and New York, where commercials he produced picked up several awards. In the 1970s he moved from advertising to feature films, and after his first few productions paired up with director Paul Schrader, the screenwriter of successes like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. Their collaboration on Cat People and the Richard Gere-starring American Gigolo brought Bruckheimer his first serious attention.

Bruckheimer then found his perfect partner in Don Simpson. Simpson, known as “Mr. Inside” for his industry schmoozing, was an ideal counterpart to Bruckheimer, who with his eye for marketable filmmaking earned the moniker “Mr. Outside.” Together, the two found they had a knack for blockbuster entertainment, both outside and in.

Their first hit together was 1983’s Flashdance, which cleaned up the box office despite its R-rating. In fact R-ratings, usually a detriment to studio executives looking to make a lot of money, seemed to be no obstacle for the duo. Their next project, Beverly Hills Cop, was a cinematic juggernaut, topping the box office for fourteen straight weeks and becoming the biggest domestic hit of 1984, a year that included movies like The Terminator, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Ghostbusters. Proving that sex and violence were a plus and not a negative for Hollywood blockbusters, Beverly Hills Cop remained the highest-grossing R-rated film ever for the next two decades.

Bruckheimer found a kindred spirit in director Tony Scott and with Simpson they took their ideology one step further by building movies around a macho action atmosphere, downplaying the comedy of Eddie Murphy’s cop movie and focusing on explosions and beautiful women and a general coolness. Tony Scott’s Top Gun and Days of Thunder proved this macho vibe could and would make a lot of money for everyone involved, including their star, Tom Cruise.

After 1990, Bruckheimer stayed under the radar for a little while, before returning to big screens with a vengeance. In 1995, Bruckheimer released Crimson Tide and the adrenaline-fueled school drama Dangerous Minds. That same year Bruckheimer introduced the world to Michael Bay, a director who epitomized Bruckheimer’s loud, testosterone-injected sense of style. Michael Bay’s feature debut Bad Boys was a smash hit followed by the go-for-broke action popcorn-pleasers The Rock and Armageddon, with similarly directed knockouts Con Air and Enemy of the State drawing audiences in droves. Don Simpson passed away before his time, leaving Bruckheimer to produce on his own, though he had more than enough momentum to carry him into the next millennium.

The 2000s started with Bruckheimer experimenting with his macho philosophy, releasing the football drama Remember the Titans and Coyote Ugly, a movie that downplayed the violence and upped the sexy women quotient. In 2001, he channeled his machismo into two very different types of war movies, Michael Bay’s romance-hued Pearl Harbor and Ridley Scott’s gritty Black Hawk Down.

Bruckheimer also launched his bid to become the king of television in the twenty-first century. In 2000, he produced his second scripted TV show to that point, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The crime drama took a different view of violence, focusing on the creepy gore of forensic science and psychopathic murderers. The format proved incredibly lucrative, spawning countless imitators and descendants still dominating the airwaves today. Many of the most successful of these were also produced by Bruckheimer, including Without a Trace, Cold Case, and two CSI spinoffs. Like many of his movies, these shows relied more on a sense of continuity and cookie-cutter plots rather than push-the-envelope storytelling. Audiences responded overwhelmingly to Bruckheimer’s philosophy, with several of his shows topping the Nielsen ratings for most of the decade.

One of those smash hits included The Amazing Race, one of only two Bruckheimer-produced reality series. Like his forays in other media and genres, Bruckheimer proved incredibly deft at giving the people what they want. Premiering in 2001, adventure-themed The Amazing Race is still one of the most popular reality series on television, with audiences and critics alike. In the twelve years the Primetime Emmy has been awarded for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program, Amazing Race has won an astounding ten times. While it’s been several years since Bruckheimer released a new television megahit, CSI and The Amazing Race are still going strong.

In 2003, Bruckheimer brought moviegoers a biopic, a sequel, and two films aimed at slightly younger audiences: Kangaroo Jack, which flopped, and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which birthed one of Hollywood’s biggest franchises of all time. Pirates reinvigorated Johnny Depp’s career, solidified Orlando Bloom as a pretty boy movie star, and most importantly, made adventure films (and pirates) cool again.

Pirates of the Caribbean also showed that Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer were capable of epic, heart-pounding cinema. Bruckheimer tried to replicate that bombastic magic in several of his next films, some more successful than others: National Treasure, Prince of Persia, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and The Lone Ranger.

In between, Bruckheimer managed hits in other genres, including swords-and-sandals epic King Arthur, basketball drama Glory Road, chick-flick Confessions of a Shopaholic, CGI-guinea-pig-starring kids movie G-Force, and his last of six collaborations with Tony Scott, 2006’s Déjà Vu.

At 73, Jerry Bruckheimer shows no signs of slowing down. No doubt his future projects will show his same flair for pleasing crowds, big or really big. He’s also not afraid to look to his past for material—several of his slated upcoming productions are sequels to previous hits. Top Gun 2, Beverly Hills Cop 4, Bad Boys 3, and a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie are all in different levels of pre-production. He’s also looking to TV again, this time cable giant HBO. With Michael Bay, Bruckheimer is producing Cocaine Cowboys, based on the documentary of the same name focusing on the early days of the Miami cocaine drug trade. While it’s too early to tell if it will be yet another massive success under his belt, it’s safe to say the final product will be hip, macho, and a hell of a lot of fun to indulge in. Jerry Bruckheimer wouldn’t have it any other way.

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