Producer Cathy Schulman held up a list of more than a dozen titles on a sheet of paper: They were the movies made, since Bridesmaids that were about and for women.
This was progress, Schulman, president of Mandalay Pictures, noted, joking that her list could formerly be contained on a gum wrapper. Things are getting better for women in Hollywood, onscreen and below the line. That’s the good news. The other news is that when a movie is produced or directed by a woman it’s still considered progress.
That was the general tenor of “The Ms. Factor: The Power of Female Driven Content,” one of the morning panels at Produced By New York.
Serving as moderator, Schulman (producer of Crash and The Illusionist), began the session by referring to the “deep-set cultural ennui” that persists about female-driven content: To wit, the idea that such movies and TV shows are less apt to make money than male-driven content.
Lauren Zalaznick, former topper at NBCUniversal as well as cable nets Bravo and Oxygen, noted that the most powerful show runner going right now is Shonda Rhimes. “There is some movement that may be systemic or it may be cyclical, and we don’t know,” she said, noting also the unparalleled presence of shows with strong female characters who are 45-plus.
The picture in TV is brighter than in film. “I very much feel that there’s an institutional resistance to female storytelling,” said producer Lydia Dean Pilcher (The Sisterhood of Night, The Talented Mr. Ripley).
“Who can tell stories? Anyone who has a compelling story that will drive box office,” said Stacy Smith, director of the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School.
Smith pointed to results of a study she’d conducted about the prevalence (or lack thereof) of female producers and directors across the top 100 films in Hollywood. In 2013, for instance, 1.9 percent of the top 100 films in Hollywood had a female director, down from 2.7 percent in 2007.
So what are the persistent barriers? What you might expect, the panelists suggested, from long-standing attitudes that men are better at handling “the money” to a sort of Stockholm Syndrome among women in the business who remain vastly outnumbered by men.
The gates will come down, several panelists said, not by political outreach but simply by the sheer number of female-driven stories, on TV and film, that produce undeniable business.
“I don’t think it’s going to be the right thing to do, I think it’s going to be an economic driver,” Pilcher said.
Zalaznick asserted, for instance, that what really gave birth to the box-office popularity of The Fault In Our Stars ($303 million worldwide B.O.) were 12-year-old girls who loved the book and formed a community on YouTube.