AT THE HELM

HOW ALI­CIA VIKAN­DER AND OTHER LEAD­ING LADIES ARE IN­FLU­ENC­ING BE­HIND THE CAM­ERA AS WELL AS IN FRONT OF IT

The Gulf Today - Panorama - - Contents - by Ge­of­frey Macnab

Set­ting up a film com­pany has be­come com­mon­place among ac­tresses in­clud­ing Ali­cia Vikan­der, Natalie Port­man and Mar­got Rob­bie, as a way of de­fy­ing sex­ist bosses and re­tain­ing creative and fi­nan­cial con­trol

SET­TING UP A

FILM COM­PANY

HAS BE­COME COM­MON­PLACE AMONG AC­TRESSES IN­CLUD­ING ALI­CIA VIKAN­DER, NATALIE PORT­MAN AND MAR­GOT ROB­BIE, AS A WAY OF DE­FY­ING SEX­IST BOSSES AND RE­TAIN­ING CREATIVE AND FI­NAN­CIAL CON­TROL

When Ali­cia Vikan­der launched her pro­duc­tion com­pany, Vikar­i­ous, last year, the Swedish star of The Dan­ish Girl, Ex Machina and Tomb Raider was re­act­ing against a sub­tle but per­sis­tent chau­vin­ism she had en­coun­tered al­most ev­ery time she ap­peared in a movie.

Vikan­der had just made four fea­tures in a row in which she played the lead. She couldn’t help but notice that she didn’t have a sin­gle scene with an­other woman in any of them. “That’s just nuts, re­ally,” she said. On the films she pro­duces through Vikar­i­ous, women will al­ways be fore­grounded. The point about Lisa Langseth’s Eu­pho­ria, the first fea­ture made through Vikar­i­ous and in which Vikan­der stars, is that all the main char­ac­ters are women.

“I was ex­tremely thrilled to be on a set where I found my­self work­ing with women be­cause I haven’t done it that much. That’s just sad,” Vikan­der com­mented ear­lier this au­tumn at the Zurich Film Fes­ti­val. “I want to get the best and most qual­i­fied peo­ple for the job we do, and we had a lot of women

both in front of and be­hind the cam­era. We talk a lot about this.”

Vikan­der is hardly the first lead­ing fe­male star to launch her own pro­duc­tion out­fit. This has been hap­pen­ing since at least 1919, when Mary Pick­ford, “Amer­ica’s sweet­heart” as she was dubbed and also Hol­ly­wood’s first “mil­lion-dol­lar” ac­tress, co-founded United Artists. A fa­mously as­tute busi­ness­woman, Pick­ford was de­ter­mined to en­sure that the Hol­ly­wood stu­dio bosses weren’t able to put salary re­stric­tions on her. She didn’t just de­mand a huge fee up­front but a per­cent­age of the prof­its too, as well as con­trol over how her films were mar­keted and dis­trib­uted.

Since Pick­ford’s time, set­ting up a pro­duc­tion com­pany has be­come com­mon­place among fe­male stars. It’s a way of assert­ing in­de­pen­dence, de­fy­ing sex­ist bosses and try­ing to take fi­nan­cial and creative con­trol of a ca­reer.

In the wake of re­cent rev­e­la­tions about Har­vey We­in­stein’s ha­rass­ment of ac­tresses, it is even more ob­vi­ous why th­ese stars are form­ing their own com­pa­nies. If they are in­volved in the cast­ing and fi­nanc­ing of their films, they won’t be obliged to take meet­ings in ho­tel rooms with hir­sute moguls in dress­ing gowns. They’ll re­tain some creative con­trol.

“We’re clearly see­ing more women re­al­is­ing that if they want sub­stan­tial roles, they will have to cre­ate them,” says Dr Martha M Lauzen, executive director of the San

Diego-based Cen­tre for the Study of Women in Tele­vi­sion and Film. “While we have seen ac­tresses cre­ate their own pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies since the early days of film, it does seem that women who have some power in their business are now us­ing that in­flu­ence to fill the void left by largely male teams of writ­ers and pro­duc­ers.”

Over the past 25 years, many lead­ing fe­male stars have set up their own pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies as a mat­ter of course.

Jodie Fos­ter hatched Egg Pic­tures (“It’s fem­i­nine and about be­gin­nings and doesn’t sound like Greek mythol­ogy,” she ex­plained the name to En­ter­tain­ment Weekly) in 1992 and made such pic­tures as Nell and The Dan­ger­ous Lives of Al­tar Boys through it. Drew Bar­ry­more launched her com­pany Flower Films in 1995 and went on to pro­duce ev­ery­thing from cult movie Don­nie Darko to Never Been

Kissed and Char­lie’s An­gels.

Natalie Port­man works through hand­somechar­lie films (named after her pet dog). Salma Hayek’s Ven­ta­narosa Pro­duc­tions was not only be­hind her 2002 Frida Kahlo biopic Frida but also de­vel­oped and pro­duced the hit TV se­ries Ugly Betty. San­dra Bul­lock founded For­tis Films in the mid 1990s “to find good roles for her­self and gain creative con­trol over the way projects evolve,” as Va­ri­ety put it. Kirsten Dunst’s Wooden Spoons Pro­duc­tions is named in mem­ory of her grand­mother, who used to keep her in line with a wooden spoon. Lisa Kudrow’s Is Or

Isn’t En­ter­tain­ment has picked up sev­eral Emmy nom­i­na­tions for its TV pro­duc­tions. Jen­nifer Love He­witt pro­duced and starred in risqué TV drama The Client List through her com­pany, Fe­dora Films. Eva Lon­go­ria’s Un­be­liev­able En­ter­tain­ment looks to

pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for Lati­nos.

Char­l­ize Theron’s Den­ver and Delilah Pro­duc­tions (also named after dogs) has been mak­ing in­de­pen­dent film and TV drama for well over a decade. “Fe­male­cen­tric stories about com­pli­cated women” is how her business part­ner Beth Kono re­cently char­ac­terised the type of projects it em­braces, whether grim biopics like Mon­ster or vi­o­lent thrillers like Atomic Blonde. Reese Wither­spoon’s Pa­cific Stan­dard has been be­hind such films as Gone Girl and Wild.

In 2015, Rose Byrne, the Australian star of Dam­ages, to­gether with four other

Australian women formed The Doll­house Col­lec­tive, a com­pany com­mit­ted to “fe­male driven sto­ry­telling.”

One of its first films, Shan­non Mur­phy’s short Ea­gle­hawk (2016), screened widely on the fes­ti­val cir­cuit.

Byrne’s fel­low Australian Mar­got

Rob­bie re­cently launched Luck­y­chap En­ter­tain­ment and has made such films in which she starred as skat­ing biopic and dark com­edy I, Tonya and thriller Ter­mi­nal through the com­pany.

Ear­lier this au­tumn, Game Of Thrones star Maisie Wil­liams launched Daisy Chain Pro­duc­tions, telling the Bri­tish trade press that she wanted to give young tal­ent “the op­por­tu­ni­ties that I was lucky enough to re­ceive at the be­gin­ning of my ca­reer.” An­other Game Of Thrones star, Lena Headey, turned executive pro­ducer for new refugee drama The Flood, in which she plays an im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer pon­der­ing the fate of an asy­lum seeker.

Gemma Arter­ton’s Rebel Park Pro­duc­tions has been ac­tive for sev­eral years, and Arter­ton has long railed against the sex­ism she has en­coun­tered in film and TV. “When you make films about women, you can’t get fi­nanc­ing in the same way you would if it was a film about men,” she told one in­ter­viewer. Like Vikan­der’s Vikar­i­ous, Rebel Park is com­mit­ted to giv­ing fe­male di­rec­tors op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“Fe­male stars were im­me­di­ately at­tracted to the idea of fe­male pro­duc­ers, and, as they watched us, they be­gan pro­duc­ing them­selves, wrap­ping them­selves in their own lever­age, which, be­fore, had al­ways been used by oth­ers. This was a sea change,” Sleep­less In Seat­tle pro­ducer Lynda Obst wrote in the New Yorker this month about a trans­for­ma­tional pe­riod from the 1980s on­ward when women like Dawn Steele, Sherry Lans­ing and, a lit­tle later, Amy Pas­cal, be­came stu­dio bosses and when many of the most suc­cess­ful movies were pro­duced by women.

Even so, data gath­ered this sum­mer by the Cen­tre for the Study of Women in Tele­vi­sion & Film for its Women in In­de­pen­dent Film 201617 re­port re­vealed that in­de­pen­dent films in the US “em­ployed more than twice as many men as women (72 per cent com­pared with 28 per cent) as di­rec­tors, writ­ers, pro­duc­ers, executive pro­duc­ers, ed­i­tors and cin­e­matog­ra­phers.”

Look at the track records of the pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies launched by fe­male stars and you re­alise that rel­a­tively few have pros­pered over a pro­longed pe­riod. When a star’s pop­u­lar­ity wanes, her pro­duc­tion com­pany will of­ten wither away. “Change is slow and peo­ple don’t like to share. They es­pe­cially don’t like to share power, or money, or re­sources,” Hunger Games ac­tress turned pro­ducer and director Eliz­a­beth Banks (who runs Brown­stone Pro­duc­tions, the out­fit that made the Pitch Per­fect films) re­cently told Van­ity Fair.

None­the­less, if the gen­der bal­ance is to be shifted and dif­fer­ent types of stories to be told, fe­male stars like Vikan­der re­alise that they need in­flu­ence be­hind as well as in front of the cam­eras.

Mar­got Rob­bie re­cently launched Luck­y­chap En­ter­tain­ment.

Tomb Raider star Ali­cia Vikan­der launched her pro­duc­tion com­pany Vikar­i­ous last year.

Eliz­a­beth Banks with John Michael Hig­gins in Pitch Per­fect 3. Banks’s film com­pany Brown­stone Pro­duc­tions is be­hind the Pitch Per­fect fran­chise.

Mary Pick­ford co-founded United Artists in 1919.

San­dra Bul­lock founded For­tis Films in the mid 1990s to find good roles for her­self and gain creative con­trol.

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