With gender equality and pay equity in Hollywood exploding in a newly urgent way during the #MeToo era and in the wake of the Sony hack, new feature documentary This Changes Everything dives deep into the topic. Its own production and financing back story also offers a novel business model for issue-oriented projects.
The majority of the $1M-2M budget for the project, which had its world premiere last September in Toronto and opens theatrically this weekend, came from corporations and not-for-profit organizations. Certainly, brands fronting major features isn’t a completely new concept, especially in the categories of lifestyle, music or sports. But the willingness of Google, David Yurman, Lyft Entertainment, Bloomberg and The Artemis Foundation is noteworthy for a film that takes the Hollywood establishment to task. (Check out the trailer above.)
Geena Davis, long a pioneer in emphasizing the need to look closely at gender, also is a backer of the film through her eponymous institute and appears onscreen in it. So does a galaxy of stars like Meryl Streep, Tiffany Haddish and Natalie Portman as well as directors, executives and academic experts.
Director Tom Donahue, who also directed Thank You For Your Service, a close-up look at the mental health of military veterans, said the process of putting the unusual mix of investors together was surprisingly “organic.” A publicist who admired Casting By, another film by Donahue about casting directors, approached him as well as his producing partner Ilan Arboleda in 2015 about doing a feature about the issue of gender.
“We didn’t skip a beat,” Donahue told Deadline in an interview. “We’re like, ‘This is exactly what we do. We understand what’s at stake.'” The pair also had cultivated relationships with talent and representatives, making the interview requests seem doable.
Donahue said the film, whose title is meant as a comment on the 2016 election of Donald Trump, gained momentum as it was developed as the climate started to change. It capitalized on a succession of milestones and public comments about the need for change, including Frances McDormand’s “inclusion rider” Oscar speech.
Arboleda said the budget structure was roughly one-third each from private equity, one-third sponsorships and one-third foundations. “We’re sort of selling two ROIs,” he said, using a common business acronym for return on investment. “One is the price of the equity portion and the other ROI is social impact. They know they can get a return on their money, but what they really care about is that this film can have the impact that we think it can have.”
Peter T. Grauer, chairman of Bloomberg L.P. and founding chairman of the U.S. 30% Club, told Deadline in a statement that the project lined up well with the company’s mission. “It was important for us to support this film as it tackles the harsh realities and ramifications of gender disparity,”he said. “Leaders across all industries need to work tirelessly until equality is achieved on all levels.”
Carol Pennelli, president of David Yurman, told Deadline through a rep that the company has had a two-year partnership on the project that has incorporated live events, festival and conference appearances and securing talent. (Arboleda said most of the film’s interviews came via shoe leather and participants’ interest rather than the insistence of brands or organizations.)
“From a company culture perspective, this partnership sends a strong message to the David Yurman community and its employees about the importance of inclusivity, empowerment, and the company’s ability to affect social change,” she said. “We have screened the film to all of our corporate employees, as well as our retail teams and even clients.”
David Yurman, she noted, was co-founded by a woman and has an executive team that is almost 80% female.