One thing was made clear today at the Produced by Conference held at the Paramount lot – don’t ask Pacific Standard founders Reese Witherspoon (Hot Pursuit, Wild) and Bruna Papandrea (Warm Bodies, All Good Things) to define what a film for women is unless you are “trying to kick the hornets nest.” As Witherspoon explains, “the films we make aren’t just for women.” It’s about an accurate portrayal of the society. She continues, “Women make up 50% of our population, they should make up 50% of the movies that we see,” which the audience greeted with thunderous applause.
During the discussion moderated by producer Will Packer, Witherspoon and Papandrea made it very clear that they’re in the business of making films with strong female leads. Witherspoon attributes their successful partnership to the fact that they share the goal of “creating movies with the woman at the center.” So it’s probably not a good idea to send them material where the female lead is just a wife or a girlfriend.
Witherspoon’s decision to start her own production came three years ago when her husband suggested that she option some books and turn them into movies. After acquiring the manuscript to Wild, her agent put her in contact with Padandreas and Witherspoon sent her Wild and Gone Girl. After a “dating period” as Witherspoon describes it, the duo were able to hone in on their goal of producing “interesting roles for women.”
However, even with Witherspoon’s name attached, the duo hasn’t always had it so easy getting the studios on board. Papandrea revealed that when they sent Gone Girl to the studios “no one read it.” It was when the novel hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list that grabbed studios’ attention. A studio development deal isn’t in the cards yet, Papandrea said, because “I’m an independent producer at heart,” explaining that each project has unique characteristics that appeal to different studios.
Despite its early hurdles, Pacific Standard has made its mark. Since its inception, the company has produced films with financial and critical success such as Gone Girl, and Wild. Will Packer, who moderated the session, posed the question “what is it about, literally, adaptations?” To which Witherspoon responded, “We love books, we are book dorks” adding “They’ve done half the work for you, if it’s a great book you already know it’s a great story.”
The company is producing another adaptiation, Little Big Lies, in partnership with Nicole Kidman’s production company Blossom Films, based on the book of the same name by Australian author Liane Moriarty. Also in the company’s pipeline is Ashley’s War: The Untold Story Of A Team of Women Soldiers On The Special Ops Battlefield by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon and Luckiest Girl Alive from first time author Jessica Knoll.
Pacific Standard, whose name came about as a variation on the cocktail Eastern Standard, are certainly doing their part to bring about change in the industry. When it comes to gender disparity, Panpandrea concedes there is a long way to go. Witherspoon adds “it starts very very young” with females getting those critical internships and experience being on a set. She comments that it is the responsibility of companies like her own, to find these women and “help develop the talent.”