By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood May 2, 2013 at 4:18PM
At CinemaCon, The Hollywood Reporter editorial director Janice Min assembled and moderated a terrific panel, "Driving Financial Success: Women + Movies = Bigger Box Office," including Geena Davis (see her video address below), who runs the influential Institute on Gender and Media, director Paul Feig ("Bridesmaids," "The Heat"), Nina Jacobson ("The Hunger Games"), Amy Miles (CEO Regal Entertainment Group), and Vanessa Morrison (President, Fox Animation Studios), addressing the myriad issues women have with Hollywood, both behind and in front of the camera.
Clearly, despite all the evidence over the years showing how big hits aimed at women often are, from "Thelma and Louise" to "Sex and the City," the Hollywood studios would rather chase after distracted young men with violent VFX than continue to make modest-budgeted hits aimed at the underserved women's audience.
Min started off by asking why the media likes to hate Anne Hathaway and Gwyneth Paltrow so much.
JM: It's a sport...I think there is a degree to which the media should take more responsibility for fueling the frivolity of this. It does none of us any favors.
Paul Feig: I deal with the comedy world. Women's roles, when you look in the 30s and 40s, even in the code era, women were represented as equals. I see in my business what has happened over the last twenty years. It's a little boy's vision of women. The overbearing wife who ruins the fun, the bitchy girlfriend who the guys escape: clearly I would rather have a beer than be with the lovely wife. They're always trading them off. We need more female comedy stars, but it's also about trying to get men past that thing they've been programmed with. We need to break it up slowly.
JM: I looked at some of the headlines written about your movie before it came out. One was, "'Bridesmaids': Do rom-coms about weddings have to suck?" Another was, "Why 'Bridesmaids' won't save the chick flick." "Bridesmaids" was covered, almost as a referendum, like, "if this doesn't work it's all over for any female-driven movie." It was considered to be a monumental point in entertainment.
PF: It was in my head when I was making the movie. It was always shut down so quickly. It was so set up from the get-go. I was terrified making it, because if I screwed this up, no women are ever going to get to start in movies. And then a writer friend of mine had a project and they were all completely on hold because the studio said we need to see how "Bridesmaids" does. The pressure was enormous. Thank god it worked. I just think the whole "chick flick" thing is a problem. It's breaking it down, saying, "men likes this, women like that."
JM: I saw Geena shuddering when you said "chick flick." There was a lot of discussion after "Bridesmaids" was successful, everyone was so excited there were a lot of stories about the "Bridesmaids" Effect. Did that happen?
Geena Davis: It happened to me twice, once was "Thelma and Louise" and then "League of Their Own" and there have been no female sports films. It happened with "First Wives Club." It just happens over and over. The summer that "Mamma Mia!" and Sex and the City" both came out and were monster hits, nothing happened as a result of that. And I read about that reaction to "Bridesmaids" and wished it could be true and everybody reverts then again: "Maybe it was a one-off." I just don't trust it. There is an overwhelming belief in Hollywood that women will watch men but men won't watch women, which is like The Bible or something. You cannot go against it. It's a myth that keeps getting propagated but it's just not true.
Amy Miles: When you think about it from a box office success, our customers were wildly excited about "Bridesmaids." We had a lot of positive feedback and the customer response was there and I think it's going to be there for "The Heat." It's hard to figure out how to solve the problem when these films are generating adequate box office.
JM: Elizabeth Gabler did "Life of Pi" and on paper that sounds terrible and it ended up being a monster hit. How does script development work at Fox?
Vanessa Morrison: All the film divisions have a female head, which is a wonderful thing. I grew up at Fox. I was an intern. We've always had female mentors to look up to. Jim Gianopulos is not afraid of women and we always have been encouraged to be at the table. But we're an important part of the table and that is the way that you see stories change in an organic way. Women are hardworking people. No woman is out in the world and not a consumer, and because we raise kids and we're moms, we go to work every day, it gives a universal perspective when you have women as part of the process.
JM: When you think about the overall purchasing power of females in the US, it's common sense to figure out how to tap into those dollars, 80% of the purchases coming from females, there's purchasing power. Anecdotally, I have a six-year-old niece and nephew and the studios send us products and so many times I feel like I'm taking my nephew something and rarely do I have something to take home to my niece, and he's way more excited about movies because a lot of films out there for their age group are things he would be more inclined to be excited about. We need to build this affinity of women for movies at a young age.
VM: Especially family movies. I find just having women's voices at the table, thinking about those things for their own kids or nieces or people in their family, they're very conscious of it and that informs our decisions. "Epic" has a fantastic teenage girl protagonist who's at the center of the movie and in "Ice Age," there's no stronger female voice than Queen Latifah. People need to have an awareness, they just need to think about things as if they were a parent, with their own kids.
GD: We should keep in mind that we're not necessarily talking about movies that star women and movies that star men. When I present our research what we say is, "Whatever you're gonna make, just put female characters in it. Fill up the crowd scenes with more women. Put more women in there."
JM: I was thinking about mothers' having decision making. When you think about these films, is it worth the money, is it worth the two hours of time? Why aren't women not exhibiting that same enthusiasm for movies overall as they do for children's movies? When I think about the violence debate, the movies look great but "oh my god they are so violent!" Women are the larger consumers and participants in social media. There was a story that got a lot of attention about "Evil Dead." It was going concurrent to the Steubenville rape trial, and in "Evil Dead" there's a scene where a teenage girl is raped by a tree. This is entertainment! I saw a story percolating online about the age of Tom Cruise's love interest in "Oblivion." That's accepted across the board now. Are we actually just creating a system where women have negative perceptions of movies overall where they feel the moviegoing experience can be so negative they couldn't recommend it for their friends or their kids? People go to violent movies, that's a given. Is there enough variety out there to make women feel like movies are a place for them?
Nina Jacobson: There's a need for Hollywood to be mindful that the franchise is just another way of talking about a movie that a lot of people want to see, and people want to see more of it, and yet there's this sort of franchise fever in Hollywood that has squeezed out a lot of variety. When I was at Disney we consistently made movies, you would make a "Freaky Friday" or a "Princess Diaries," we could also make "The Miracle" or "Remember the Titans" and ironically those sports movies used to test higher with women than anybody else, but there was a variety in the movies being made that allowed you to not be desperately chasing all four quadrants all the time.
And then there was also this pursuit of the young male, the most distracted demographic between video games, sports, girls. And women on the other hand who have shown both as moms a commitment to family movies and as a mom, I wish there was something to see and there isn't. The de facto family movie has crowded out the action family movie. So I think that there's a lack of diversity overall which excludes many people and as we obsessively pursue a demographic that's the most elusive of them all, and there's room for franchises to be made of many different sizes, it does not have to be a $200 million dollar movie where a lot of things blow up. The remedy for a lot of the issues that afflict female representation in movies is also the same remedy for the marketplace.
PF: The only way to carry it is to have more product for women. There's more women who go to horror movies than men but you also go like if there's more product for women they start to say "Oh I want more of that." It's there, so what do we pick? I think we need more of a reeducation and a choice.
JM: Do you hear from families/mothers? I imagine you might hear from theater owners, you see families come up they look at the lineup and walk away.