female 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.

Women’s History Month: Women to Know Behind the Camera

Who are the first people you think of when you hear “successful director, screenwriter, or producer”? Unfortunately for a lot of people, they may only know male names — but there are important women to know behind the camera. We’ve previously discussed gender inequality in film, but how can we all help to make more inclusive improvements in the entertainment industry as a whole? Start by educating both yourself and others about notable women who work tirelessly to bring you amazing film. 

In honor of Women’s History Month and bridging the gender gap in the entertainment industry, the New York Film Academy spotlights seven women who are behind-the-scenes of your favorite TV shows and movies:

Haifaa Al-Mansou

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The first Saudi female filmmaker, Haifaa Al-Mansour is a controversial director to some. Her films “Who?,” “The Bitter Journey,” and “Women Without Shadows” have touched on sensitive topics regarding women’s issues. Regardless of hate mail and criticism for being “unreligious,” Al-Mansour is unafraid to make outstanding films with touchy topics. One of her recent projects has been writing and directing the upcoming film “Mary Shelley,” set to release this year.

Julia Roberts

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You know Roberts for her roles in “Pretty Woman,” “Notting Hill,” “Runaway Bride,” and “Mystic Pizza,” but did you know she has also produced a few films? Alongside Canadian director Patricia Rozema and screenwriter Valerie Tripp, Roberts was in charge of producing the movie adaptation of the American Girl character Kit Kittredge called “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl.” Roberts also produced the films for the American Girl characters Felicity and Samantha. She has also produced “Extraordinary Moms,” a TV documentary about motherhood as well as the film “Jesus Henry Christ.”

Mira Nair

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Starting her career off as an actress, Nair transitioned into directing a variety of different films including documentary shorts, full-length films, and more. She owns the production company Mirabai Films, which has produced specific films on Indian culture for a broad audience. The accomplished India-native most recently directed the Disney film “Queen of Katwe, about a young Ugandan girl who dominates the world of competitive chess.

Diablo Cody

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The “Juno” and “Jennifer’s Body” writer wears many hats, including screenwriter, producer, actress, and former exotic dancer. Cody’s writing often features a female character with daily insecurities and issues who also has an underlying major struggle. In the New York Times, Cody said, “The attitude toward women in [the film] industry is nauseating. There are all sorts of porcine executives who are uncomfortable with a woman doing anything subversive. They want the movie about the beautiful girl who trips and falls, the adorable klutz.”

Ava DuVernay

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DuVernay is an indie writer, producer, and director of all kinds of film mediums including TV shows, movies, and documentaries. She has been nominated for four Golden Globes and two Academy Awards for her work. Recently, her documentary “The 13th” has been a hit success on Netflix and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Political Commentary. DuVernay’s film “Selma” received critical acclaim and a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Motion Picture.

Lana and Lilly Wachowski (The Wachowskis)

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Formerly known as the Wachowski Brothers before both coming out as trans women, the Wachowskis wrote and directed “The Matrix” and their sequels as well as other ground-breaking sci-fi films. You may know works such as “V for Vendetta,” the film adaptation of “Cloud Atlas,” and “Jupiter Ascending,” all films the sisters have written and directed.

Who are your favorite female film directors? Let us know in the comments below! And check out NYFA’s directing programs to learn more about becoming a film director.

Most Successful Female Producers In Hollywood

The film industry is notoriously male dominated, to such an extent that only 25% of Hollywood producers are female. Other professions within Hollywood are even less balanced, as we observed when we studied gender inequality in film last year.

While things are slowly improving with a few institutions trying to redress the balance (our own producing school is actively dedicated to this), sadly there still isn’t a gigantic pool of female producers at the upper echelons to list. That said, the names below are more than worthy of mention.

We’re not going to put the following list in ranked order, nor are we going to rate their success simply in terms of either critical or commercial performance. As far as we’re concerned, the work of any female producer in this (currently) gender biased industry should be equally celebrated, but the following five have had particularly notable careers to date.

Emma Thomas

As the saying goes, behind every great man is a great woman, and arguably the same is true of great movie projects and great producers.

We’ve previously covered the cinematic powerhouse that is Christopher Nolan and Wally Pfister, but what we didn’t have space to address in that post is the woman who brings their vision to life. Given the gigantic scale of the duo’s recent outings (namely Interstellar, Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy), this is no small feat, but Nolan’s spouse, Emma Thomas, has consistently risen to the challenge.

While Thomas remains quiet about her own role in the filmmaking process (and Nolan never speaks of family life or personal relations), she has never dropped the ball when it came to commanding a budget of hundreds of millions and turning it into a return of billions. Along with the exemplary critical reception her work has garnered, there are very few producers – not just those of the female persuasion — that can be seen as having the same level of success as Thomas.

Darla K. Anderson

To date, the only Pixar animated feature created under the helm of a female director is Brave. Given that the Scottish anti-princess tale was widely applauded for its depth and positive feminist message, hopefully the studio will address the gender imbalance going forward.

To the general audience hers may not be a household name (other than the Finding Nemo character which was named after her in retaliation for a practical joke), but lurking amongst Pixar’s animation team is the very underrated female producer Darla K. Anderson, who has produced some of the most recognizable titles in the Pixar filmography: A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc., Cars and the third instalment in the Toy Story franchise.

In fact, Anderson has the highest average movie gross in her role as a producer (of any genre) at $221 million per flick (according to Guinness World Records in 2008), and the combined gross of the four aforementioned movies stands at well over $2 billion. While this was mainly thanks to the success of Toy Story 3, given how undeniably brilliant it was, we can’t wait to see what she does next.

Megan Ellison

Ellison has only been on the producing scene since 2010, but has already chalked up numerous Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations and landed herself on Time’s 2014 list of Most Influential People in the World.

A lot of Ellison’s appeal is for her unflinching bravery when it comes to personally financing and producing projects in which lesser mortals would be afraid to invest, before turning them into multi-million grossing Oscar magnets. Her recent films include Zero Dark Thirty (2012), Her, (2013) and American Hustle (also 2013) are superb examples of this.

Next up, Ellison will be producing a film based on the life of WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. She also managed to impressively outbid Lionsgate for the rights to the next Terminator reboot.

Nina Jacobson

There are few commodities as hot as young adult literature adaptions right now, and Jacobson was pretty much the first to both kickstart and capitalize on the trend.

Following lengthy and successful stints at Universal, Dreamworks and Disney (notably working on M. Night Shyamalan’s earlier movies before parting ways under creative differences) Jacobson went on to set up her own production company, Color Force, in 2007. Solely under her own steam, Jacobson’s career entered into a new era adapting books into huge franchises. The biggest among them is the global smash Hunger Gameswith that series soon coming to a close, all eyes are on Jacobson to see where she’ll go from such great heights.

Kathleen Kennedy

Kennedy initially started out as Steven Spielberg’s secretary, but it wasn’t destined to be her line of work — she was, by all reports, an atrocious typist.

The only reason she kept her job was thanks to the sporadic production input she gave. Spielberg saw great worth in these nuggets of inspiration, and hired her as an associate producer for Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It was a decision that went on to pay dividends for Lucas, and indeed the wider industry. Kennedy co-founded Amblin Entertainmenta production company with a filmography no one-line summary could do justiceand personally had a hand in producing some of the most famous flicks in family enterntaiment (E.T, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Jurrasic Park, Hook) as well as some major war-time heavy hitters such as Schindler’s List, War Horse, Munich, and Persepolis.

With over 120 Academy Award nominations, 25 wins and over $11 billion in gross box office takings, she’s already one of the most successful female producers in Hollywood, but her next project is perhaps the biggest job (by any measure) a producer could be tasked with.

As the president of LucasFilm, she has been entrusted to produce the next Star Wars movie…

… no pressure, Kathleen.