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Women to Watch: Susan Seidelman

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by Sydney Levine
October 29, 2012 8:30 AM
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Susan Seidelman is one of the few women directors who is still making films and who began when I began in the business.  In other words, she is my contemporary.  Her first film, Smithereens (1982), was a defining film for me as I had just moved to New York (to work for ABC Video) and this was a definitive New York movie.  The second, Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), was even more defining. Starring Madonna who lived a few blocks away from Susan herself who also knew the music scene where Madonna was just beginning to make a name, the film shares a certain theme...a bored suburbanite girl was the impetus to make both.  Susan S. and I were both bored suburbanite girls looking for a way out...She went to NYU film school and I moved to the east coast for my university studies. 

In 1993 Susan made an extraordinary short, The Dutch Master, a part of Tales of Erotica produced by the German producer Regina Zeigler and made up of shorts by such directors as Bob Rafelson and Ken Russell.  Not only does Susan have a filmography that surpasses the 3 to 4 that usually top off the filmographies of most other women directors, but she remains in the top tier of truly independent filmmakers.  

Her last two films were Boynton Beach Club (2005) which did fine under the sewardship of Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films. It played the Paris Theater in N.Y. for several weeks and fared well in L.A. at the NuArt and in the Valley as well as in the heartland.  Its investors were happy and she was happy to find the audience for this story of seniors in a retirement community who were dating and interested in love and sex.

Mark Urman released her last film Musical Chairs (2011) through Paladin. Unfortunately it opened the same weekend in the same multiplex as The Hunger Games which "proceeded to predictably beat the stuffing out of the box office, scoring $155 million, the third highest opening weekend in history. "(The Playlist)  That was not so good for Musical Chairs.  What's worse, or I may be wrong, it had no international sales representation.  The film had no "names" and she was unavailable to promote the film as it rolled out theatrically because she was already in production filming The Hot Flashes.

Which brings us to the current film The Hot Flashes, which does have international representation (Lightning Entertainment) and will premiere at AFM, screening for U.S. and other distributor/ buyers on November 3 at 1pm and November 5 at 11 am.

Hot Flashes - The Team
There will also be a panel discussion with all the actresses -- Brooke Shields, Daryl Hannah, Virginia Madsen, Wanda Sykes and Camryn Manheim -- on November 2nd at 2:30. Eric Roberts also stars in the film.

Here's the brief imdb logline:  An unlikely basketball team of unappreciated middle-aged Texas women, all former high school champs, challenge the current arrogant high school girls' state champs to a series of games to raise money for breast cancer prevention. Sparks fly as these marginalized women go to comic extremes to prove themselves on and off the court, and become a media sensation."

Lightning came in early with a minimum guarantee based on the script and package (Susan and the stellar cast).  They believe in the film though the biggest challenge in the U.S. will be finding that underserved audience, not for art films but for a film about heartland women of a certain age showing they can still struff their stuff.  

When Susan started out 30 years ago, there was a greater variety of studio films than there are today.  With the likes Jim Brooks or Woody Allen making fun, intelligent movies, not arty but character driven, both studios and audiences were in sync.  Today it is no longer the case, though Alexander Payne may still fit that profile, there is not much in the middle between the big Hollywood movies and the smaller art house fare.  

From directing the pilot and certain episodes of Sex and the City, she knows this film is not for the upper middle class ladies who like Manolo Blahnik shoes.  This is about small town, working class women who get together to save the local mobile clinic that gives mammograms by playing basketball which will also prove that they still have "it".  Her target audience is middle America filmgoers rather than the art film lovers on the east and west coasts.  She recognizes that the film is very dependent on marketing and on having money for marketing.  

Partnerships and alliances have been made with the American Cancer Society, WMBA, Harley Davidison, Butterball Turkey who can put in some P&A and/ or in-kind advertising and promotion.  This strategy was in place at the start of the film's life.  Today Title 9 also encourages girls to go into sports, another area which has opened up only recently.

When Susan is not directing features, she directs TV and teaches a directing seminar at NYU.  To have been able to sustain

She truly hopes that with the current changes going on now in the film world that the women who have broken down some barriers will keep their collective feet in the door and that the changes will make it easier for women to sustain careers in directing as she has been lucky enough to have done...30 years and still going strong.

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