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Actresses Take Control, Directing and Producing Their Own Projects

by Sophia Savage
March 16, 2011 8:29 AM
3 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood


Drew Barrymore will follow up her Whip It (2009) directorial debut--which scored better with critics than audiences-- with How to Be Single, a romantic comedy for New Line, reports THR. She will also produce with her Flower Films partner Nancy Juvonen (Flower Films's first producing effort was Never Been Kissed in 1999).

How to Be Single is based on the 2008 novel by Liz Tuccillo, adapted for the screen by Marc Silverstein and Abby Kohn, which chronicles ten years of breakups for a group of New Yorkers. If it sounds familiar, see novel-turned-rom-com He's Just Not That Into You for confirmation (also produced by Flower Films and co-starring Barrymore). No complaints here.

If the likes of Judd Apatow and Will Ferrell continue to make films for boys which fall somewhere between stunted adolescence and misogyny, their counterparts should be allowed to continue making films for girls. What's even better are films for women that speak from an authentic female perspective. They have a better shot at getting made when actresses hand-pick the projects and have some control. That's why some actresses, usually as they age beyond the 20-something-ingenue age, put their money and time where their talent is going.

Barrymore is not the only actress-producer-director participating in the rom-com male-female dichotomy that exists. Bridesmaids, co-written, co-produced and starring Kristen Wiig, is being hailed as The Hangover for women. There's ubiquitous Oscar-winner Natalie Portman, whose Handsomecharlie Films has already delivered No Strings Attached, The Other Woman and Hesher (she co-produced and starred in all three) and more to come. She told Vogue that Handsomecharlie Films is "very into female comedies; there just aren’t enough. We’re trying to go for that guy-movie tone, like Judd Apatow’s movies, or The Hangover but with women—who are generally not allowed to be beautiful and funny, and certainly not vulgar.”

Then there is Brit Marling, the new indie-darling who premiered two films at Sundance, Another Earth and Sound of My Voice (and screened them again at SXSW), both of which she co-wrote, produced and starred in. She told TOH, “The technology is allowing young filmmakers to do it now, you don’t have to wait for permission to do this anymore…you just need to pick a start date.” For Marling, taking charge is her way in the door. Next up: Marling is set to star in Jamie Babbit's lesbian thriller Breaking the Girl with co-star Madeline Zima, which screenwriter Guinevere Turner tells After Ellen is "a total guilty pleasure movie in the tradition of Wild Things and Showgirls," complete with girl-on-girl makeout scenes. And Marling and Sound of My Voice director Zal Batmanglij are reteaming on The East.

And let's not forget mega-star Angelina Jolie, whose directorial debut, the Untitled Bosnian War Love Story, helped her to land writing and directing representation at UTA. Or Jodie Foster, who is premiering her latest, The Beaver, at SXSW amidst Mel Gibson celebri-controversy. Foster produced and starred in Nell, directed and starred in Little Man Tate, produced and directed Home for the Holidays and has directing efforts Cockeyed and Flora Plum in the pipeline. She has said: "I really don't want to work unless I really, really care about a project."

Jane Fonda's IPC Films produced The China Syndrome, Nine to Five, On Golden Pond (for which she got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination), and Rollover. Fonda told Movieline in 1989: “I don’t necessarily do a film because it’s the role of my life. I do it because it’s a movie that I want to be part of, that I want to help see the light of day. On Golden Pond wasn’t my movie. In 9 to 5 I didn’t have the best part. For Coming Home I won an Oscar, but I never conceived of it as a vehicle for me. When I agreed to do China Syndrome, there wasn’t even a woman in it. Richard Dreyfuss was supposed to play my part.”

Barbra Streisand wrote, directed, produced and starred in Yentl and 1991 Best Picture nominee The Prince of Tides (Pat Conroy wrote the novel and screenplay). Among her other credits is Nuts, in which she starred, produced, scored.

Other actresses, while not producing or directing their own projects (yet), are loyal to their female directors. Michelle Williams starred in Kelly Reichardt's first film Wendy and Lucy, and their loyal union again proves itself powerful in April's Meek's Cutoff. Catherine Keener co-starred in Nicole Holofcener's Friends with Money (which yielded Jennifer Aniston's least seen yet best ever performance) and Please Give, while her Friends with Money co-star Frances McDormand knows a strong female director when she sees one (she starred in Lisa Cholodenko's 2002 Laurel Canyon before the Oscar nominee did The Kids Are All Right).

While producing, writing or directing their own vehicles may not always prove commercially fruitful, the films are bound to be more rewarding for these women than taking direction from men who tend to make movies for men. From newcomer Marling to uber-star Jolie, they are all fighting male-centric Hollywood. Many male directors are geniuses with actresses, from Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, Hanna) to actor-producer-director Clint Eastwood. Their female stars don't seem to show their directorial finger prints. But most directors, from David Fincher (pictured with Rooney Mara in his Dragon Tattoo adaptation) to Darren Aronofsky (with Black Swan Oscar-winner Portman), brilliant as they may be, require actresses to forfeit themselves to their vision.

[Pictured above, clockwise: Foster in The Beaver, Portman in Black Swan, Marling in Another Earth, Streisand in Yentl, Fonda in On Golden Pond, Wiig and Barrymore in Whip It with star Ellen Page].

3 Comments

  • sosgemini | March 21, 2011 4:37 AMReply

    Didn't Bette Midler producer her Oscar nominated performance in For The Boys? Reading about Fonda, one hopes she will get back into the producing arena. The lady knows what makes a great film.

  • Jeff | March 18, 2011 3:47 AMReply

    Nicole Kidman produced a film that no one wanted to make at the time due to subject matter and got an Oscar nomination for her efforts.

    Good for these ladies.

  • Will | March 16, 2011 11:14 AMReply

    Lets not forget Glenn Close who produced, co-wrote and starred in Albert Nobbs, the film that could finally win her an Oscar.

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