Women Directors Dissect Biz

"Everything's becoming genderized," director Martha Coolidge lamented during a panel session at the Women in Film & Television International Summit Sunday.

Discussing the challenges faced by female directors, Coolidge ("Lost in Yonkers"), explained that as marketing has become more sophisticated, the film industry is aiming movies at ever-narrower slices of the audiences: Girls under 9, girls 14-17, girls 18-25. As a result, she described witnessing boys and girls going together to the multiplex, where the girls go off to one movie and the boys to another, and then they meet up again afterward.

Describing it as "the most appalling development, and it's the result of marketing," the one-time president of the Directors Guild of America noted that the studios tend to ignore boomer women, and the men who accompany them to films, because of a perception that it is difficult to market to older consumers. In turn, that makes it more difficult for female directors -- who often are relegated to working on the sorts of character studies that appeal to older audiences -- to secure studio assignments or financing for their films.

Coolidge was joined on the "Directing Feature Film" panel at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Century City by Penelope Spheeris ("Wayne's World") and Tamar Simon Hoffs ("Red Roses and Petrol").

All acknowledged that while a director is ideally hired to provide a film with a point-of-view, a successful helmer also must be adept at multitasking, possess a self-confidence that reassures investors and producers, be skilled in communicating in order to coordinate the many departments on a film, sensitive in their dealings with actors, familiar with all the details in a movie's budget and, when working in the independent arena, capable of raising financing.

"You really have to learn the business of raising money, putting together partnerships," said Hoffs. "You've got to learn how to get the money to do it."

The panelists argued that in the feature film world, the situation female directors face has become more difficult because studios have abandoned adult-themed movies. Although studio execs will invite in such established directors as Coolidge or Spheeris to discuss prospective projects -- "You're auditioning," Spheeris noted -- they often then turn over the material to young, less experienced video directors whom they believe can be more easily controlled.

"I gave up on the studios," said Spheeris, whose latest film, the independently produced and distributed "The Kid & I," will have its world premiere at AFI Fest 2005.

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Gregg Kilday writes for The Hollywood Reporter.

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