“You have to represent people of color, women and diversity not only in front of the camera but behind it too,” said Gale Anne Hurd today, on how to fix Hollywood’s equality problem at the Los Angeles Film Festival’s Women Make it Happen: A Celebration of Producers panel “If women aren’t able to learn the craft, we’re not going to see the needle move,” The Walking Dead EP added of the vital importance that she thinks programs such the DGA’s shadowing initiative can play in achieving greater gender balance in Hollywood. “Do what you can to expand the marketplace and put your energy into overturning the apple cart, which is a very White Male apple cart,” added fellow panelist Hunger Games producer Nina Jacobson on using commercial success as the wedge to bringing more diverse stories to both the big and little screen. “It takes a conscious act to move the needle,” the American Crime Story EP said. “You have to be mindful about bucking the status quo.”
Joining Hurd and Jacobson on the Effie T. Brown-moderated panel Saturday at LA Live’s Regal Cinemas were Plan B President Dede Gardner and Significant Productions producing partner Nina Yang Bongiovi. The LA Film Fest honored Hurd earlier with the second annual Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Glory to the Filmmaker Award. Last year, Lisa Cholodenko was the award’s first honoree.
“It’s our job to put stories out in the world that are representative of all our citizenry not just those in charge,” said Gardner on the primary topic of this afternoon’s discussion. A topical suggestion that the 12 Years A Slave, World War Z and the upcoming War Machine producer had to tip the gender disparity behind the camera in Tinseltown was location, location, location. “One observation is we have to shoot in California,” Gardner said, noting despite the expansion to $330 million annually in tax credits this year the Golden State has seen few big features in the last five years due to lucrative incentives from the likes of Louisiana, Georgia and Canadian provinces like British Columbia and Ontario and runaway production. “If women could go home after work, I really feel those statistics could change,” she added, noting the demands of family that often become a real or perceived barrier to women in the director’s chair or similar roles.
“We won’t ever have this career guilt free,” asserted Hurd, regarding the demands and issues women face in the industry, either imposed by institutional sexism or themselves. “It’s really hard and you feel guilty no matter what you are doing,” agreed Jacobson of even trying to strike a balance in work, family and life. “I had one investor who said I love what you guys are doing but you’re not going to have another child are you?” remarked Yang, whose upcoming L.A. filmed Dope was a big Sundance fave this year and comes out June 19. “I choose not to work with that investor.”
Another topic the producers addressed was the need for newcomers to approach their careers without rose colored glasses. “I was terrified I wouldn’t make it as a producer, I had been a executive my whole career, I loved being an executive,” ex-DreamWorks and Disney exec Jacobson told the crowd packed into one the Regal’s theaters. “Now I’ve gone native,” she said to a big laugh from her fellow panelist and the audience. “The moments I took a step forward were always from getting up off the ground, when I thought I would never make films again.” Recalling the struggle that went into “fixing” 2013’s World War Z to get it in shape for a successful release and what turned out to be the highest grossing pic of Brad Pitt’s career, Gardner half jokingly said “it was great to win the story but it was really hard getting there.”
“I encourage people to develop a skill people will pay you for,” recommended Hurd, who has been in Vancouver of late on production on the upcoming TWD spinoff Fear The Walking Dead as well as working on post for the No. #1 show on TV‘s forthcoming sixth season on AMC. “The way I moved up is with skill set as a nuts and bolts line producer and it was really important because people could pay me to do that,” the former Roger Corman executive assistant added. “If I say I can make a movie for x-amount of money I know I can do it and that is a skill set and that makes me valuable.
The LA Film Festival continues until June 18.