By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood May 2, 2013 at 4:18PM
It is partly just having to bludgeon the system with success and the success of the "Twilight"s and the "Hunger Games." Even the movies which are not necessarily star-oriented but which include and appeal to women. It is changing and it will continue to change. Getting information out... and success because ultimately it is the only, it is what the studios are in the business trying to claim. 10 years ago it was common for people to say with no shame, "you know how it is, girls will go and identify with the male protagonist but a boy will not identify with a female protagonist." And that was common knowledge supposedly, we were told, "sorry that's just the way it is." We just have to keep proving that's not true, which we have, and we just have to prove it some more and continue to get the information disseminated.
PF: Which is great. One of the takeaways of "Hunger Games" was this is a female protagonist. With a little reminding. It's cool, keep doing this.
JM: Question for Geena -- why are so few women interested in writing, producing, directing, what is stopping them?
GD: That's a huge question I'm not sure I do know the answer to that. It may be how few women there are behind the scenes but I don't have data. What happens? Are they not getting hired? How does it happen that they aren't getting employed in the same way? This has been fascinating to talk about, and acknowledge that this is the direction that things are going, that we have to get women onscreen. More female characters. It's got to go really fast. Our research shows if we add female characters at the rate we have been, we will achieve parity in 700 years. I'm devoted to cutting that in half. But that's insanity. We cannot wait. That's the thing about movies. We don't have to wait even another generation, we can change it right away. Movies take, 2 or 3 years, worst case 10 or 12 years, that's soon. We're missing women in the world of this movie and then suddenly we've changed it. We can't just sit around waiting for this change to happen. It's the only direction it's gonna go in and it might as well happen right away.
PF: One of the reasons our movie did so well--it's silly, but there was a big deal at the time, ladies you must support this movie, if we can make that more part of our marketing campaigns in general, even though it's embarrassing that it has to be revolutionary to have women in movies, i think if you break through the women in the public. The same way "Passion of the Christ" was big because religious people said "I gotta go support that." There should be more of that and it's not up to women out there to have that epiphany, it's up to us to kind of fan the flames of that because then that will drive women to the theaters and have them start demanding products.
NJ: You can engineer it. When we did the first "Wimpy Kid" movie, there were no significant female characters in the source material, these very popular books, and the only one who was was a love interest. When we developed from day one -- and it is partly because of Geena-- "we gotta have a significant female character from scratch. We're gonna sell the movie to boys and girls and we're stupid if we don't develop a female character." She became a very popular character, and even Jeff Kinney who hadn't created the character to begin with said, "I don't want her to be a romantic object. Just make her a character, not an object of desire." So there are choices that can be made at a very conscious level for commercial as well as social reasons, but they have to be made.
JM: If you bring that up to a studio, there isn't resistance -- just a need to bring it up.
VM: I don't think there's resistance. What Geena has been so great in doing is bringing it to the forefront of people's minds in way you wouldn't think of. She said look at your crowds, look at the people in the backgrounds, and we hadn't looked at the people in the backgrounds necessarily. And I think being aware of it and having a mindfulness as a studio executive or anyone in creative control of what they're making is viable.
GD: I always feel like, if only I'd seen that before they made it.
JM: It's not perfect, but Cable TV has done a great job of getting great female characters, employing a wide array of different looking women, women of all sorts of ages, and repeatedly we did a round table with some of the best actor contenders this year and even the guys, Denzel Washington, he said his daughter is studying acting at NYU and he said "I told her you're a dark-skinned black woman, this is not the career for you, do not expect success." Matt Damon said, "this is a brutal, brutal industry for women over 40. I would not recommend it." So it's well-acknowledged and these women are finding fantastic roles on TV. Time and again they say Cable TV has saved their career. How does film stop this talent flight to television?
PF: TV has been wonderful for women and traditionally has over the years, i don't know if it's a fear of getting people to come to theaters, maybe it's the nature of TV, that it's there.
GD: I think about this a lot because there's companies that are movie studios and people that have cable and network television, so within their own company it's 3 to 1. Sometimes that parity in primetime shows. What is the difference is that people dress differently in television, very much.
JM: Amy how much do you consider quality television a threat to film?
AM: Of course we would always prefer content on the big screen in our theaters, so there is competition with the cable networks so I think that exists. We'd obviously like to see everything go to the big screen first and there's a lot of areas to improve.
NJ: I actually think that the quality of television is a great thing for film, it forces us to do better. If you make good movies, people go to see them, and there is still no substitute for the communal viewing experience but it's on us to make movies that demand communal viewing, movies that are more enjoyable to be seen with strangers in the dark than at home on the couch. But as long as cable continues to do what it's doing which is to tell incredible character-driven, voice-driven, well-written, well-acted, well-directed programming that you can have for free on your couch, then it's on us to meet that challenge. I think that's actually good news, not bad news, because it forces us to up our game and to offer as gratifying an experience as what cable television in particular and in some cases what network is providing for people.
JM: In turning a movie into an event, is that something you can manufacture or is it something that happens organically to some degree?
PF: If it's a character-based film it happens more organically because you can't rely on bombast or whatever the movie is going to have. If we do it really funny they're just gonna want to see it. Forget all the other stuff, let's make the funniest movie we can. Female buddy comedy sounds fun, it's not expensive, but it's slightly appetizing just because you haven't seen it before. We have to weirdly eventize when people get this bigger roles just to get people to come. The problem is, as much as we can talk about it, studios aren't in the game to not make money and I'm very sympathetic to that. For me trying to make more female-driven films, how then do I pull that off? It's up to all of us to figure out creatively, then it will start to change.
JM: Amy what kind of innovative marketing collaborations have you seen that have turned a film into an event?
AM: One of the changes in our industry, we are starting to gather through our frequent moviegoer programs a lot more insight into the actual moviegoer. So on our side of the industry we're doing a much better job of understanding, if you think about it: 13% of the population last year bought 57% of the tickets so it is a segmented audience. We're trying to do more innovation in collecting that data where we can partner with our studios to gain better insight on who's going to the movies. That's an effective way to spray and pray that it works, but it's a very targeted marketing effort for that actual moviegoer.
PF: From a filmmaking point of view I would love that data when developing a project, that's really important, to know all that stuff so it always feels like there is more synergy between exhibitors and we storytellers, get us early before we're in love with it.
AM: One thing we have found is people love to talk about movies so we can access our customer base, and they're communicating that back to us can be a very high percentage. It's entertainment, it's fun, people like to talk about it and we have a lot of insight into that customer.
JM: A lot of the creative process begins in the agencies and those agencies are predominantly male, much more so than the studios. Do you feel satisfied with the material you get out of the agencies?
PF: There's not that much good material out there is the bottom line, I don't think it matters who it's coming from, it's much more what's being developed. 99% of it doesn't feel worth doing.
VM: For us, animation is a unique breed and a lot of stuff gets developed internally and that's an interesting process.
JM: Vanessa what do you think Hollywood could learn from your marketing towards women and families?
VM: Respect them, to realize that the people are entrusting their children and their families and their money, which is, people don't have a lot of money and to really think about that transaction as one that's important and to recognize who your audience is, I think that's really important, I think it's important that women are around the table because women are mothers and they represent the audience. There's no reason not to.
JM: "50 Shades of Grey," the best or worse thing to happen to women in movies?
GD: I'm just stunned that it's going to be a movie. I didn't know about that.
NJ: Female desire is a very complex subject and that book is a testament to the complexity of it. I don't know what to expect from the film that will come from it, there are many women who love that book. It is very difficult to translate to the screen in a way that lives up to people's fantasies, for one, and it will be a movie that a lot of people will go see. I certainly expect commercially, it's an enormous opportunity for someone. Where it falls in terms of "is it good for women or not," I'll leave that to another panel.