The elephant in the room at last week's oddly titled Columbia University Film Festival panel "What Glass Ceiling? The Remarkable Success of Columbia's Women Filmmakers," showcasing filmmakers Lisa Cholodenko ('97, "The Kids Are All Right"), Nicole Holofcener ('88, "Walking and Talking"), Shari Springer Berman ('95, "American Splendor") and Cherien Dabis ('04, "Amreeka") was how tough it is for these indie filmmakers to be successful at all. (The panel video is below.)
Columbia professor Bette Gordon, moderator of the event at Lincoln Center's Elinor Bunin Theater, was aiming to inspire the Columbia students in the room, rather than exploring the contours of the glass ceiling that still hovers over Hollywood. All of these talented writer-directors get fewer opportunities than their male peers. But that was not the subject at hand. (The NYT digs into it yet again here.)
Nonetheless clearly these filmmakers have struggled to get their projects made with modest budgets within a system that does not support their efforts as it should. Yes, that's party because (especially in the case of husband-and-wife team Berman and Bob Pulcini) their taste is high and standards higher. But crossing over from the indie side to Hollywood has never been harder. Television is easier than movies. And yes, things are looking up for Cholodenko, who earned four Oscar nominations for "The Kids Are All Right," including best picture, screenplay, supporting actor and actress.
Cholodenko had hoped to start earning money after her first success "High Art," but had to raise equity financing for a movie with better-known actors, "Laurel Canyon," starring Frances McDormand and Christian Bale. "There was no good deal on the table," she said. Things get easier, and more difficult, too. "Kids Are All Right" was tough and also took years to get made.
Cholodenko found that much of the stuff "sent to you is not better than what you'd imagine for yourself...Now I'm more comfortable rewriting, adapting, revising. It's getting to the point where better stuff comes your way." Indeed, now she has multiple projects in the pipeline," including an HBO TV series of "The Kids Are All Right," for which she sought advice from Holofcener.
Cholodenko confirmed to The Playlist that she's now adapting Tom Perrotta's book "The Abstinence Teacher" after Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton moved on. Reese Witherspoon is producing Cholodenko's adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's memoir of her 1,100-mile solo hike "Wild: Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trail." And Steve Carell is attached to another adaptation, Judith Viorst's family classic "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day."
Holofcener gets to shoot her smart, witty, idiosyncratic New York ensembles, usually starring her alter-ego Catherine Keener, because she keeps her budgets small. Her last, "Please Give," cost $3 million and grossed a total $4.6 million. Holofcener directs for television between films, on such shows as "Six Feet Under" and "Parks and Recreation."