How women got to the top table in Hollywood

  • Sherry Lansing is the longest serving head of any leading film studio “the most powerful woman in the history of the entertainment industry.” Los Angeles Business Journal.
  • After 100 years women run three of tinsel town’s six main studios.
  • Amy Pascal is chairman at Columbia.
  • Stacy Snider at Universal Pictures.
  • Some of Lansing’s films include: Fatal
    Attraction, The Accused, and Indecent Exposure – controversial touchstones for Hollywood’s portrayal of women and exploration of sexual issues.
  • Titanic (another of hers) was the highest grossing film of all time and an even bigger draw for women than for men finally proving that successful films need a female audience.
  • “When I became president at 20th Century Fox it was on the front page of the New York Times…Today these appointments are in the business section.”
  • Behind the scenes many speculated that she had slept her way to the top because she is so good looking!
  • Coming from a post-holocaust Jewish family she started out in pictures starting with John Wayne but soon realised that the real power was behind the camera.
  • Even today no woman has won the director Oscar, few even nominated.
  • At Columbia she reckoned she should have the job as head of production but the board asked “How could you possibly get a man to report to you?”
  • Dawn Steel VP of Paramount in 1980 learned to play rougher than the boys. Known as the Queen of Mean! And the worst boss in California.
  • Among Steel’s hits were When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and a clutch of female oriented films.
  • In the 90s gradually it became clear to the bosses that women could be perfectly effective as studio heads and Hollywood was forced to admit that women were a force to reckoned with.
  • Demi Moore, Jodie Foster, Julia Roberts and Sandra Bulllock all came out of that era. They could all do something no woman had been able to do consistently since the mid 70s and that was to open a film i.e. bring in a big enough audience on opening weekend to make the film a hit.
  • While for many decades women had been the biggest stars: Garbo, Stanwyck, Hepburn, Kelly… these were chauvinistic times when men dominated the industry.
  • Yet men still do predominate.
  • Pascal wanted more overtly female fare and became a leading protagonist in the move towards more female driven films.
  • Routinely slated as “chick-flicks” if they flopped but not if they were hits like Panic Room, Charlie’s Angels.
  • Behind her office is a fully equipped nursery for her adopted son.
  • “I think the thing that makes women good in this business is bringing things out of people and not needing to credit yourself…I have always embraced being a woman and working with female writers and directors; nobody else wanted to be their champion.”
  • Whereas the big action pictures of the 80s and 90s were aimed at teenaged boys, Titanic proved that blockbusters had to appeal to women too. Pascal insisted that Spider-Man have a love story at its heart.
  • Charlie’s Angels could be described as post-feminist “we wanted films to say that you can be sexy and capable and you don’t have to give one up. You can like men, look great and still run the world.”
  • Yet few films are awarded the budgets bosses throw at male-oriented action movies and the new generation of female studio heads has made no difference to the number of women behind the camera.
  • Men still direct 90% of studio films and almost all of the big budget films.
  • The surprising top ten hit (of 2004?) My Big Fat Greek Wedding was the only one to have a female lead and that film did not come from a big studio.
  • Stacy Snider looks more Beverley Hills housewife than power-suited executive has an important relationship with Julia Roberts; she was responsible for boosting Roberts’ salary past the $20m mark for Erin Brokovich.
  • Some of the studio heads have used their power to make films that reflect their personal concerns as women.

 


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