Oscar Women Behind the Camera


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Cristen: Hello there, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Cristen.

Molly: This is Molly.

Cristen: Molly, the Oscars are coming up. Awards season is in full force.

Molly: I've got Oscars fever.

Cristen: You've got Oscar fever? Awesome!

Molly: Until someone gives me a show where I can talk about fashion, then we're just going to talk about women and the Oscars here on the podcast.

Cristen: Yeah, and I think that this is the very first time that I've been more excited about who's going to win the Oscar for best director than for best actor and actress.

Molly: Yes, we have the fourth woman ever nominated for best director.

Cristen: And this is kind of a big deal. It's Kathryn Bigelow.

Molly: Yes, director of The Hurt Locker.

Cristen: The Hurt Locker. She's already won the Directors Guild Award, which is usually a very strong predictor of who's going to get the Oscar nod. I think there have only been like six times in the history of the award that the same person who gets the DGA Award has not also gotten the best director Oscar. And she would be the first female to ever win best director, which would be, I think, pretty awesome. High time. It's 2010, people, come on.

Molly: Yeah. But there is just a lot to consider when we think about her winning.

Cristen: Yeah, because before that, only three women, aside from Bigelow, only three women have ever been nominated for a best director Oscar. We have Lena Wertmüller in 1977 for Seven Beauties. We've got Jane Campion in 1994 for The Piano, and then we've got Sophia Coppola in 2004 for a fav of mine Lost in Translation.

Molly: So now Bigelow is the fourth, but in my reading of the gossip mags and the entertainment mags, which are a pretty large percentage of my reading, not going to lie, I feel like Bigelow is pretty much over as being identified as a female director.

Cristen: Yeah. Even when she won the DGA Award, so many of the congratulatory comments were mostly directed at her legs and her general hotness!

Molly: Yeah, so I could see why she would be kind of sick of this.

Cristen: I'm not going to lie - Kathryn is a very fine woman.

Molly: But I feel like that of all the women that I can think of, who would want to be like a first woman to win something like - I'd love to be the first woman to win something, but I feel like she doesn't want to be that standard-bearer because that might haunt her career, and I feel that she wants to be recognized as a filmmaker rather than a female filmmaker.

Cristen: Yeah. There's a quote from an article about this in The Daily Beast from Nora Ephron, who directed movies such as Sleepless in Seattle, and she said, "When you direct a movie, what you are is a director, not a woman director.When you make a movie, there is not the remotest sense on a day to day basis that you are not exactly the same as anyone else who directs a movie," and I think that kind of sentiment is shared among a lot of more prominent female directors that they want to just be respected for their art and not for their gender, kind of like saying, "Oh, wow, it's amazing that as a woman, you were able to make such an incredible movie about guys in Iraq, Kathryn Bigelow."

Cristen: Yeah. And while a lot of her movies have been big studio releases, they have not been financed by big studios. She's still had to strike out on her own to get the financial backing for a lot of these.

Molly: And when we started researching this podcast that makes a lot of sense because apparently it's these evil studios that just want to make billion dollar blockbusters.

Cristen: They want to make Avatar, let's face it.

Molly: And speaking of Avatar, another thing about Kathryn Bigelow is she cannot escape the fact that she used to be married to James Cameron.

Cristen: She was married to James Cameron for three years like 20 years ago, and the headlines will not shut up about it.

Molly: I know. And they really are offensive. This poor woman has had such crap written about her. There was one, I think Huffington Post title that said like, "Kathryn Bigelow is better looking than her husband and wins more awards than him."

Cristen: Her ex-husband, yeah.

Molly: She made a really great movie. Can we just say that? Which is again why I kind of had mixed feelings about this podcast because on the one hand, I do love the Oscars immensely and I want to talk about everything related to them, but on the other hand, I do bad kind of pointing out over and over again she is a woman. Do I have an obligation as a woman to go see a movie directed by a woman?

Cristen: I don't know.

Molly: We'll get in to all these issues later, but let's go back to these evil studios.

Cristen: Yeah, we've got a pretty famous or infamous incident, I should say, in 2007, when the Warner Brothers Picture Group president Jeff Robinov allegedly said that he never wanted to do any kind of big budget movie with a female lead because he'd had this series of flops with Jodie Foster as The Brave One, Hillary Swank's The Reaping, and Nicole Kidman's The Invasion. They just totally tanked at the box office. Then we followed up in 2008 with Sex and the City and Mamma Mia, two very girly movies bringing in lots of bucks.

Molly: And whenever a movie like that brings in lots of bucks, you will always see some sort of article that's like, "Oh, well, we forgot that women go to the movies."

Cristen: Yeah, who knew? Because typically teen boys are the number one movie going cohort!

Molly: And so that's what studios are designing around. So every time there's a big female-centric movie, they'll be like, "Okay, now we're going to make more movies with women," and The Daily Beast that Cristen cited earlier is now saying that 2009 is the year of the woman because there are about, what, 10 movies that are female-focused?

Cristen: Well, we don't really have like pretty huge blockbuster hits like something as simply as The Proposal, starring Sandra Bullock that was directed by Anne Fletcher, but in the Oscars, we have Julie and Julia, which was nominated by Nora Ephron, and Meryl Streep has been -

Molly: Directed by Nora Ephron.

Cristen: Directed by Nora Ephron, right, and Meryl Streep is up for an Oscar for that. We've got An Education directed by Lone Scherfig, and of course, we've got Bigelow's The Hurt Locker. So there does seem to be a pretty good representation of female-directed movies in this year's Oscars. But still in 2009, only 10 percent of the films, at least reviewed by The New York Times, the bigger films, were directed by women.

Molly: Yeah, 10 percent seems to be the sticking number. We were reading this other article where that was essentially the number from 2008, and it was the number from 1998.

Cristen: Yeah, still 10 percent only of all the big movies that came out.

Molly: And The Guardian kind of put it an interesting way that there had been more than 400 director nominations since the Oscars started for best director, four of them go to women, so we've got a pretty big gap. There's this one group that put out a billboard that said that the U.S. Senate is more equal than the moviemaking industry. We tend to think of moviemakers as more liberal, more enlightened. Why is still this gender gap in filmmaking?

Cristen: Well, it isn't necessarily because there are fewer women going to film school for directing. That same Guardian article that you referenced says that women make up around 34 percent of the directing students in Britain, and I would only assume that similar statistics can be extended to film schools in the U.S.

Molly: Which reminds me of a quote, Cristen, from Martha Coolidge, who was the first female President of the Directors Guild of America, and basically when she applied to go to film school, they're like, "Well, you'll never be a director. You're a woman." So I think that despite the advances that women have made in essentially every other field, I think there's still that thought by those already established in the field that women just can't do it.She had another quote where she was told that, "No woman over 40 could possibly have the stamina to direct a feature film," that these films are just too tough, too big, they can't take it, so if you've got already the people in your industry thinking that you can't do it, despite the fact that women have done it, that's just troublesome.

Cristen: Yeah, and I think that women who want to direct a movie, who need to go out and get financing for it, who kind of have to bang down all these doors, do have sort of a different battle to fight than male film directors, okay? Let's just take, for instance, going out to find financing. A lot of times you're going to probably go to wealthy men, producers, to go see if you can get some help with your movies.A female going out for drinks, negotiating drinks, business drinks with a guy, different kind of dynamic than guy-to-guy, kind of talking film shop. A lot of times it might be misconstrued as flirtation. There was one article that we ran across saying that a lot of times some of these female directors might be really hated by the wives and girlfriends of these wealthy backers.

Molly: And in some cases, they were propositioned.

Cristen: Yeah, like, "Do you want to direct this video or not?" And there have also been questions raised of, "Well, maybe it comes down to gender differences in negotiation." We've talked about negotiation in the podcast before a lot, and women are not as, I guess, forthcoming in some situations with negotiation as men are. We might not be as comfortable about self-promotion because it might come off as unfeminine. However, that kind of argument was kind of debunked in the article, too, but I think that it might come into play sometimes.

Molly: I think so. You've got to go out and sell, and I think that women are taught to soft sell.

Cristen: Yeah.

Molly: So let's say you're working outside the studio system because we've talked about how the studios want to make these films for these teenage boys - let's say you're working outside the studio system, you've cobbled together enough money from those awkward cocktail meetings with the producers, and these women are saying that when they first step on set, there's just a noticeable difference between what they can do and what a male director can do.Already, they've got their subordinates saying, "Oh, we thought you were the assistant to the director," or something, but I thought we found a pretty interesting NPR article that profiled Nia Vardalos, who was the star and creator of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. She's directing a new movie called I Hate Valentine's Day, which Cristen and I have already discussed, that we do not like this title, but she has said that one day someone on her set said, "I'm glad that you're only doing just a few takes and keeping everyone on time because if you didn't, everyone would be breathing down your neck because you're a woman." Whereas, let's say Martin Scorsese needs a few extra takes, no one's going to criticize that.

Cristen: Well, and Martin Scorsese is probably - well, obviously, is going to have a much bigger budget to work with. Some women filmmakers might just be considered more of a financial risk because they're not going to be making the $400 million Avatar out there that's going to make $1 billion in a week or whatever, insane box office draw that it had. But the interesting thing is, it seems like women directors are able to do more with less. They'll make a movie like The Proposal for under $30 million and totally blow it out of the water at the box office.

Molly: Right. And they've done studies where they try and compare the lowest moneymaking movies to the highest, and gender has nothing to do with that. Women have proven they can do the job when they're given the job, but they're still not getting the job. Or if they are, they're being pigeonholed into romantic comedies.

Cristen: The rom coms. But I think one great point that Nora Ephron brought up in a Salon article from 2002, was the power and influence of the foreign market onto industry decisions because basically, she was saying that if you don't have a movie starring a male star who's big in Asia, then the movie's not going to make a ton of money, and execs aren't going to be very interested in it.

Molly: It's clear that to be successful in Hollywood you have to make money, so that reminded me of something we read about an article of these women who started sort of a first weekenders club. So if a movie came out directed by a woman, they would just bombard their email list with "please" to go see this movie, like go see this movie, support women, remind Hollywood that we're a viable audience, and they'll make more movies for us.That's when I started to feel rubbed a little bit the wrong way because I don't want to have to go see movies just because a woman directed them; I just want to go see good movies. So it's a little bit, like I was saying, where I'm a little bit uncomfortable that we're highlighting Kathryn Bigelow because despite this amazing accomplishment, she really just at the end of the day wants to be remembered for making a good movie.

Cristen: Right. But I do like the idea of maybe intentionally exploring more movies, not necessarily just going out to the movies, not just new ones, but really learning more about what female directors are out there. There was an article highlighting female directors in Bitch magazine, and I didn't realize that some of these movies that I really loved were directed by women, so I thought it would be kind of cool to call out some of these names because a lot of times when I think of a film director, honestly - Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino - it's all these guys that immediately come to mind.

Molly: Did you see that quote in one of the articles about how Quentin Tarantino ruined it for the indie female filmmakers?

Cristen: Oh, because of Pulp Fiction?

Molly: Yeah. They thought they could really operate in that indie world, and then Quentin Tarantino showed Hollywood that Indies could make all this money, and then they had to make money, too. So I'll start off, although we've mentioned her because she directed one of the year's fem friendly movies, Jane Campion, who was obviously one of the three who got a nomination before Kathryn Bigelow.If you haven't seen Bright Star, the movie she directed this year, I thought it was great, but she's also directed Portrait of a Lady and In The Cut. She's from New Zealand. She did win, the year she directed The Piano, for best original screenplay.

Cristen: We also have Karyn Kusama, who debuted with Girlfight, but she also directed a movie that came out this year starring Megan Fox, called Jennifer's Body. It's a vampire film that came out. I've heard it's kind of campy and entertaining. We also have Julie Taymor, who directed Titus and Frida, Across the Universe, and the upcoming - or I think it's probably already come out now - The Tempest.

Molly: Right. Did you see Bend It Like Beckham, Cristen?

Cristen: I didn't see it.

Molly: Oh, Cristen.

Cristen: I know.

Molly: Gurinder Chadha. That came out in 2002, but she also did a movie called Bhaji on the Beach and one called What's Cooking?

Cristen: Now one director on this list that I am really interested in delving into a little bit more is Deepa Mehta, and she's an academy award nominated director and screenwriter who's best known for her Elements Trilogy, and I watched the - I haven't seen any of these movies, but I watched the trailer for the second film in the series called Earth, and it looked pretty awesome, so I might Netflix some Deepa Mehta movies.

Molly: One last one, Mira Nair, who directed Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake.

Cristen: But I think that this list would - we would be remiss if we didn't mention two heavy-hitters in the female director world. You have Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron, and Ephron we've mentioned a number of times throughout this podcast, but Nancy Meyers we haven't talked about so much, but they are really some major power players in Hollywood.Nancy Meyers actually has final cutting rights on all of her films, which is, evidentially, a rare privilege for a director according to this article in New York Times Magazine, and she is paid upward of $12 million for each film she makes. In the movies that she has directed since a partnership with her ex-husband Charles Shyer, her movies have surpassed $200 million in revenue worldwide, so she's got some leverage.

Molly: She does, but we were reading a New York Times profile of her, and it seemed that even though she had this tremendous leverage, she's made so much money for Hollywood; they still kind of temper profiles of her with "this is pretty good for a woman."

Cristen: Yeah. I think there was one bit in the article that said that someone has described her aesthetic as "the cashmere world of Nancy Meyers" because evidentially, she pays a lot of attention when she's directing to just the interiors. I think the house where Something's Gotta Give was directed was featured in like Architectural Digest. It's always these very kind of Hamptons-esque, very beachy, lots of whites and linens and creams in the background, and they're kind of dismissing it as just her feminine side coming out.

Molly: Her female touch.

Cristen: Yeah, her female touch.

Molly: So I think that that's frustrating. No matter how great your movie is they're going to look for something.

Cristen: Yeah, it's not just basic attention to detail as probably a lot of really great male directors have. It's because it's in this specific domestic setting. Then we also have Nora Ephron, who also kind of leads the charge on these films that today really appeal to older, kind of second-wave feminists, I guess, kind of navigating this kind of post-divorce world that they're living in with films like It's Complicated and What Women Want.

Molly: So Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron are two that have kind of gotten pigeonholed as these middle-aged female fantasy directors, with all that architecture and you think about a movie like What Women Want, where Nancy Meyers directed, it was pretty much what women wanted, Mel Gibson to read their minds. Well, not anymore.

Cristen: Mel Gibson in pantyhose.

Molly: I don't know if she read my mind.

Cristen: Not what this woman wants, but -

Molly: But still a cute enough movie.

Cristen: Yeah.

Molly: So that's our mini Oscar preview. Something to look out for when you're watching the Oscars, whether Kathryn Bigelow takes it or not, and if she does, I think it will be fun to watch how many commentators just focus on the woman thing.

Cristen: Yeah, if she does win, you could probably make a drinking game to how many leg references, face references, and James Cameron divorce references are made.

Molly: Oh, yes.

Cristen: People, get over it. She's an attractive older woman who happens to be a badass director as well.

Molly: Exactly. So that's our point of view on her, and guys, share with us your favorite female-directed movie, Oscar picks.

Cristen: And if you noticed, we haven't said a think about Oscar-nominated actresses at all.

Molly: Could have been a two-parter.

Cristen: Could have been a two-parter. Oh, well.

Molly: So Oscar thoughts send them our way. The email is MomStuff@HowStuffWorks.com and before we wrap up, we'll read some emails from people who wrote to that very address. First off, I'm going to read one from Erica who writes, "I'm hyperhidrosis affected. For a while, I tried the clinical deodorants and even got prescription deodorants. Prescriptions would work, but made my underarms ache. I was also nervous about the aluminum content, which was much higher than retail deodorants, especially because of family history of breast and other cancers.A new doctor recommended Botox injections to stop the sweat, which I tried. It works like a charm. I get the underarm injections about every 6-8 months. While it's quite painful, it's over quickly and I'm underarm sweat free for months. I've experimented with use of deodorant and found that while I need much less, the sweat-loving bacteria still make me stinky. Botox injections is also used to dry the palms of the sweaty-handed." So Cristen, should you really want to be dry-handed at the next wedding, Botox may be key. I think we all remember Cristen talking about her sweaty palms, so thanks, Erica, for some good advice for Cristen.

Cristen: And can I go on record as emphasizing that that's kind of a joke about my sweaty palms.

Molly: No, she has really sweaty palms.

Cristen: Ah man, Molly, you don't know that. All right. Well, I've got an email here from Joe in response to our episode on cheating, and he responded to a lot of different points in the podcast. I'm going to highlight one from a statement we made saying that men admit that the women they cheat with are not as pretty as their wives, and he said, "I'd like to say that this is a plausible statement because I feel that when men cheat, it's for something cheap and tawdry.Men find women that they love to be the most beautiful women in the world, but even if the woman they cheat with has more sex appeal, we'd see her more as a tool that we're looking to accomplish selfish goals with. Two examples - in the movie Analyze This, Robert De Niro's character admits to cheating on his wife rather nonchalantly. He asks if he's happy, and he replies that he is. Then he asks why he cheats, and he angrily replies, 'She kisses my children with that mouth.'That leads me to believe that he loves his wife and children, but would do something with a woman, just a tool to him, he doesn't care about to fulfill selfish pleasures. Another example comes from a woman Tiger Woods cheated on his wife with. His wife is very obviously a beautiful woman, and the women that came forward paled in comparison to his wife's looks."

Molly: So there you go.

Cristen: So there you go, Joe.

Molly: A male's point of view on it.

Cristen: Yeah. So if you guys want to send us your thoughts, email us at MomStuff@HowStuffWorks.com and as always you can check out our blog. It's called HowToStuff, and you can find it and a bunch of other fun articles to read at HowStuffWorks.com.

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