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Columbia's Women Filmmakers, from Holofcener to Cholodenko: Not as Easy As It Looks (Video)

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood May 14, 2012 at 6:42AM

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, Nicole Holofcener, Shari Springer Berman and Cherien Dabis was how tough it is for these indie filmmakers to be successful at all.
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Berman met filmmaking partner Pulcini at Columbia. Listening to stories about old Hollywood led to their first doc about the closing of Chasen's (it showed on HBO and made a profit after ten years), and their career built from there. She worked as a casting director early on, and thanked Ted Hope for his help backing their doc hybrid Harvey Pekar biopic "American Splendor," starring Paul Giamatti. Eventually they got their payday on "The Nanny Diaries," which was needless to say an unpleasant experience. "I went back to indie film," Berman said.

Even though Kevin Kline and Paul Dano were delightful in their "The Extra Man," no one went to see it. HBO beckoned with "Cinema Verite," which brought its own set of truth-fiction challenges. And Berman and Pulcini are in the editing room on indie showbiz comedy "Imogene," starring Kristin Wiig, for which UTA is selling North American rights.

As writers, Dabis, Holofcener, Berman and Cholodenko write for others as well as themselves. Berman writes differently for the studios--fake scripts with "obnoxious descriptions," she said. "You tell them what the character is and not dramatize it, there's 'fool them' scripts, and 'just for us' scripts." Berman has hopes to still make their contemporary remake of "The Bride of Frankenstein" at Columbia.

Holofcener wishes she could just focus on one thing at a time, but realizes she can't put all her eggs in one basket: "I'm afraid nothing is going to happen. It gets scary out there."

Berman warned against pressure from foreign sales companies to cast the wrong person in a movie--at that point "there's very little you can do to save the film. If you do that to get the movie greenlit that's a movie you live with forever." Dabis has felt that pressure, and asked, "do you kill your film to get it made?"

This article is related to: Women in Film, Video, Festivals, Festivals


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