Sony Head Amy Pascal on Women Directors: The Whole System is Geared for Them To Fail

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by Melissa Silverstein
May 23, 2013 9:03 AM
19 Comments
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Holy crap.  In a revealing interview with Forbes' Dorothy Pomerantz on the occasion of the publication of the most powerful women in the world list, Sony studio chief Amy Pascal, the only female head of a major studio, actually answered some questions about the status of women in Hollywood, especially related to women directors.

I have transcribed it because it is so valuable.  Serious kudos to Dorothy for asking the tough questions and for Amy Pascal for honestly answering them.  People who know how Hollywood operates but don't hear the people who run Hollywood actually copping to what goes on will be relieved as well as furious.  I'm not going to say that Pascal is the only studio chief who cares about how bad things are for women, but she is the only one who has spoken about it and clearly is concerned about the business.  

Discussing the pay gap between male and female stars:

Amy Pascal: The top stars like Angelina, Cameron (Diaz), Sandra Bullock and probably now Jennifer Lawrence probably gets paid the same as their male counterparts.  The problem is the averages.  Because there are not enough parts for women to star in and get paid.  So when you look at the total amount women make as compared to men it's paltry.

Forbes: How can this change? 

Amy Pascal: It sort of a wholesale change that needs to happen.  We have become accustomed to the opening weekend mentality where multiplexes want to get the movies in and the movies out and get to the next movie.  We make make movies for them to do that with.  And young men make up 44% of the opening weekend box office.

Will someone please send me the data that says that young males (what age?) make up 44% of the opening weekend box office.  The data that I have seen indicates that young men and young women go to the movies more often.  She clearly has the data, but I have never seen anything that says the young male share is that large.

Forbes: How do you balance those movies that will attract males with movies with a longer tail that will attract women?

Amy Pascal: I think it is my responsibility.  Because I love movies about women.  I love women.  I've always cared about making movies about women my entire career.  We probably hire more female directors here - if there are any- we do it because we want to and we do it because we have to.  We made lots of movies with Nora Ephron with Nancy Meyers with Catherine Hardwicke, with Kathryn Bigelow.  That's an agenda for us.

Forbes: You said if there are any.

Amy Pascal: I just named 4.  The problem is when you compare the movie business to the music business or the publishing business, you have huge colossal stars in the world of publishing that are women and everyone reads those books whether it is Danielle Steel or Jackie Collins or JK Rowling.  And the same can be said for the music business.  You've got Taylor Swift and Alicia Keyes and Lady Gaga.  I was trying to figure out why and what happens in those other industries.  It is that you can write a hit song or you can write a book that everybody is going to love and you just show up with it and there is no denying it because everyone in the business is looking to make money and when they see something that's going to make money, they want it.  

For a woman to direct a movie in Hollywood, she has to go through so many layers of rejection by the powers that be -- I suppose including myself -- that it is harder to get to that point.  So you can't just create something.  And I think there is a whole unconscious mountain.

Forbes: You look at these directors like Marc Webb who was pulled form the indie world to do Spiderman.  You see directors being pulled from the indie world to do these blockbuster movies.  When are we going to see women being pulled from the indie world?

Amy Pascal: I have begged Kathryn Bigelow to make Spiderman, James Bond anything I can think of.  So far I haven't hooked her.  I think it is about women showing up and saying that's what they want and not taking no for an answer.

Forbes: That they want to do the big blockbusters?

Amy Pascal: I think that the whole system is geared for them to fail and we're going to have to change a lot of what we do in order for that to happen?

Forbes: How do you start unrigging that system?

Amy Pascal: The most important thing in the job that we do here is to make movies about women where they are characters that have consequences in the story.  They can be villains, they can be protagonists, I don't care but their movements, their actions what they do in the plot has to actually matter.  And that's the most important thing because young girls coming up are going to see that they matter that your not an appendage to someone else- that you're not married to the person, not their sister or friend or girlfriend, you actually are the plot.

Clearly, Amy Pascal does not have an answer on how to solve the problem of women directors.  The fact that she knows the whole system is rigged against women and doesn't have any kind of solution is disheartening.  How about just saying - we're going to hire more women to direct and I'm going to lead on this and challenge my fellow studio chiefs to follow my lead.  But the fact that this has been aired so publicly is a really good thing.

As for her thoughts on female protagonists, looking at Sony's upcoming releases, she needs to take her own advice.  The only movies with female leads still on the Sony docket for the rest of the year include The Mortal Instruments and Carrie.  

Sony's Amy Pascal On Closing The Money Gap Between Men And Women In Hollywood (Forbes)

Here's the interview (I couldn't figure out how not to get it to auto start)


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19 Comments

  • Lily | January 22, 2014 5:44 PMReply

    I think her responses are bullshit, quite frankly. As a female filmmaker, I know quite a few talented, indie women directors that are making the content they want to make but either don't have the financial resources to keep a filmmaking career alive or are not taken seriously. Honestly, if she really wanted things to change why not start some sort of women director's program at Sony and recruit indie, women directors who want to direct the blockbusters etc...Just look at Annapurna pictures...Megan Ellison (28 years old!!) is producing films that the studios don't want to make and she has already so many nominations at this year's Oscars....if Megan can do it, this so-called Sony executive can too--she just needs to take the leap and the net will appear.

  • ZEN | May 29, 2013 10:11 PMReply

    First off -- Melissa rocks. Second off - good for the reporter for asking her why she pulls men like Marc Webb from the indie world to do blockbuster but not women. Her answer is chickensh*t. She starts talking about Kathryn Bigelow?! WTF, lady! Wish the reporter would have nailed her on that. Bottom line is -- Pascal is NOT a champion of women. Her slate has proven that again and again. Everyone knows it. The only person she's apparently fooling is herself. And that is a sorry, pathetic shame.

  • Chris | June 12, 2013 1:16 PM

    It was reported 2 years ago that Pascal did ask Bigelow to direct THE AMAZING SPIDER MAN first but the latter turned it down which to be fair is what she was referring to.

  • Jan Lisa Huttner | May 28, 2013 9:30 PMReply

    First: BRAVA Melissa! Your dedication & committed use of your platform is exemplary!

    Now my take: “Everyone in the business is looking to make money and when they see something that's going to make money, they want it." Exactly! This is the point! Women must use their "power of the purse" to support films by women filmmakers. I've been at this “game” for over a decade now & nothing else will ever work. We live in a “pay to play” world & when it comes to power: “You’re either at the table or you’re on the menu.”

  • EM | May 28, 2013 5:45 PMReply

    Maybe we should just burn the whole industry down and start from scratch... Hollywood was founded by (white) men, with a few lone women here and there, and the current distribution of creative and financial of power in the industry mirrors its exact same beginnings. I really don't think we can change the system, the only option is to somehow rebuild it completely from the bottom up. But I know that's just silly thinking and not even a remote possibility.

    I used to think that if more big name actresses took a page from George Clooney, Ben Affleck, and even Will Smith's manual then maybe we might see a change. But the system isn't in their favor either

  • Melinda | May 25, 2013 8:43 PMReply

    MPAA Theatrical Market Statistics 2012 - can be found if you Google the title.
    I can't post the link here.
    It is one of the most comprehensive reports of theatrical market stats and no where in this report is males being 44% of opening weekend revealed. In fact, the words opening weekend aren't anywhere to be found in this document. There probably are more detailed stats in another more expensive industry report, but for now, I'd consider that 44% something someone somewhere mentioned that has unfortunately stuck.

    On page 14 you will see that women purchase MORE movie tickets than men and this has been the statistical data for at least the last 4 years.

  • Donna | May 29, 2013 11:33 AM

    Although women purchase more tickets than men, the point she was making is that young males buy their tickets opening weekend. The stats come from Nielson's American Moviegoer study available for viewing at filmjournal.com.

  • Jan Lisa Huttner | May 28, 2013 9:33 PM

    "women purchase MORE movie tickets than men" Exactly! This is the point! Women must use their "power of the purse" to support films by women filmmakers. I've been at this €game for over a decade now & nothing else will ever work. We live in a pay to play€ world & when it comes to power: €œYou a€™re either at the table or you a€™re on the menu.€

  • Melissa Silverstein | May 26, 2013 7:21 PM

    I have also analyzed the MPAA data and there is no info about young men buying 44% of the tickets. That data is not public. I'm going to keep digging.

  • Michael Levine | May 25, 2013 12:34 PMReply

    I think her comparison to the music biz is shaky - a film director is much more like a record producer than record artist. Taylor Swift is more analogous to Angelina Jolie than to Kathryn Bigelow. The closer analogy to KB would be Quincy Jones or Phil Ramone. Outside of self-produced artists, I can think of no female record producers of that stature. So, arguably, the sexism is actually worse in the music biz.

  • Melinda | May 25, 2013 8:43 PM

    good point.

  • Maria Giese | May 23, 2013 6:33 PMReply

    I doubt very much that "young males" make up 44% of the opening weekend B.O. My understanding is that teenaged boys are attending movie theatres less and less often, preferring home TV and computer (gaming) entertainment. Movie residuals in general are dropping, as audiences are remaining home to rent films and viewing serialized entertainment.

    However, according to the 2011 MPAA Theatrical Market Statistics: In 2011, teenagers from 12 to 17 years old made up 8% of the movie-going population. 51% of movie goers were women and girls, 49% were men and boys. Young people aged 12 to 25 buy 30% of the tickets and make up 22% of the movie-goers. Movie-goers by ethnicity: Caucasian 65%, Hispanic 16%, African American 12%.

  • Melinda | May 25, 2013 8:44 PM

    Yes, and that trend for women buying more tickets continues in the 2012 report.

  • Brionne Davis | May 23, 2013 5:16 PMReply

    I liked what she said about women going in and demanding the position of directing these films. I think that's what men do... Women should do the same. I also think it's interesting that you can take a movie like BridesMaids (one film) and put it up to something like THE HANGOVER (3 films should have remained at the golden 1). Same genre about different sexes. The latter is a social psychology issue. Women (or girls), I feel are more likely to venture out favoring the interest of their male counter part rather the other way around. However as a whole the studios are trying to recreate "what makes money" and there's little room for creative or pioneering efforts. This is where indie and internet media comes in and shakes things up- breaking the pattern of the nepotistic structure of the studios.

  • Kelley Marie | May 23, 2013 1:46 PMReply

    I also would like to know where studio executives get their data for opening weekend demographics because that 44% of young men does not reflect my own experiences. I've been to plenty of opening weekends whether it's midnight showings, IMAX, summer blockbusters, and the audience has always been made up of mostly couples and families. When there are groups of male friends, I have seen an equal amount of young women also in attendance.

  • Valerie Weiss | May 23, 2013 12:40 PMReply

    How is
    "Amy Pascal: I have begged Kathryn Bigelow to make Spiderman, James Bond anything I can think of."
    a response to:
    Forbes: "When are we going to see women being pulled from the indie world?"
    Since when is Kathryn Bigelow considered and a director from the indie world???

  • MaryC | May 28, 2013 7:11 AM

    And what about Catherine Hardwicke? She successfully directed the first 'Twilight' film, but the franchise was turned over to male directors even though she was available & would have continued with the series. Would have loved to see Ms Pascal answer that one.

  • Dean Treadway | May 25, 2013 9:15 PM

    Bigelow's 80s movies were all indie films--THE LOVELESS (Pioneer films), NEAR DARK (DEG) and BLUE STEEL (indie made, distributed by MGM/UA).

  • Destri | May 23, 2013 4:43 PM

    I think KB is technically indie because her films aren't usually studio-financed, but yeah, I don't think that's what Pomerantz had in mind with the indie question! Pascal also hinted at the myth that there are only a handful of women directors, which is my biggest pet peeve. There are many, many women in the independent world (which has been covered many times on this blog and I've been counting on thedirectorlist.com). Ugh, seems a bit out of touch to me.

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