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THE COMPANY OF WOMEN – AN ORAL HISTORY
Women in Hollywood Special Issue 1993
1993

(Excerpt)
Producing

Sherry Lansing: They say, "Why aren't there more women running studios?" There are only six jobs. And can I say something? It's not a good job! When you produce movies, you get up every day and say, "I want to tell this story," and it's hard to get them to give you the money to tell the story, and it's hard to get the right director. [But] it's your story, you know. Of course, the director directs, but you work from your vision to develop the screenplay. Yes, it's frustrating, and yes, you fail as much as you succeed, but you're your own boss.

Lynda Obst: The reason you are seeing so many women producers is that women have figured out that there is no glass ceiling -except in fees‑ when they are entrepreneurs, which is what you can be as a producer. So a route has been invented that is independent of the boys' club.

Kathleen Kennedy: E.T ? It was this little, tiny movie. I don't think Steven would have asked me to produce it if he had thought it was this big, giant movie. It was the first movie I ever produced. It was probably the scariest experience I ever had. I was completely aware of what I didn't know and quite overwhelmed most of the time. I had no sense of pacing on that movie. Every weekend I'd go home and I'd be sick the whole time. But on the other hand, I don't think that there was any better way than to just jump in and have this all thrown at me and sink or swim. And I was lucky enough to have Frank Marshall [around], because Frank was such an experienced producer; I had somebody there all the time that I could ask questions of. It is the hardest thing about movies: you really do take on the role of becoming like the general in charge of all these troops, and you're strategizing and moving people and trying to stay ahead of the game and anticipating what it is that needs to be done. And everything is screaming along behind you at a huge cost.

Laura Ziskin: I was dismissed, or sort of pushed aside, by Taylor Hackford on Every­body's All‑American. I will modestly say that had we been involved, my partner and I, he would have made a better picture. He didn't understand what the movie was about, and we did, because we lived with it for six years. That's an interesting case of a male sensibility. I bought the book because I was very interested in the woman's story. It was a story about two icons, people that we all knew in high school and college who were the perfect couple, the beauty queen and the football star. And in the story, she was able to move on and grow and change, and he wasn't. His story was not that original, was only interesting to me in terms of his impact on her story. But when Taylor made the movie, he thought his story was really interesting. And since that wasn't the script that we had developed, it didn't work.

I fought every inch to stay and work, and I was pushed aside. I was in such a rage about it for such a long time. I felt like I had been raped. I remember when I got the first draft of the script, I wanted to have a baby. But I said to my husband, "I can't get pregnant, because this script is so good. I'm going to make this movie this year, and I don't want to make this movie while I'm pregnant." When the movie got made, my daughter was six years old. During those six years, literally a day did not go by that I would not come into the office and try to get that movie made. I felt that it was really my efforts that finally did get it made. And then to be, you know, dismissed. Really not because of anything I did, just because a male director was going to have total control, and he didn't care who I was.

When I saw the movie, the lights went down and the movie came up, and within five minutes all the anger left me, because it wasn't my movie. It was something completely different, and my anger went away. I said, "This will never happen to me again." And it never has.


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Extra, extra: Producer Rosilyn Heller dressed as an extra for a scene (which ended up on the cutting room floor) in Martin Bell's American Heart, 1993.

Sherry Lansing: The movies that you choose to do are a Rorschach test for your own personality in a certain way. I loved Fatal Attraction, and I wouldn't make it today. I was in my 40s, I had broken up with somebody, and I missed him, and I called him in the middle of the night. I was running a company! I called him in the middle of the night, I heard the "Hello?" and I hung up the phone. And I thought to myself: I have a college degree. Why am I calling this person? What does it mean that he said hello? Does it mean that there's nobody there? It was comical ‑do you know what I mean? And I remember thinking, Well, if I'm doing that ... But we've all done it. Everyone's had that kind of pain. That interested me. It doesn't really interest me today. I was fascinated by the woman, the seemingly together woman.

Stephanie Allain: Boyz N the Hood came to me because, actually, I was looking for a reader, a person of color. They were all white readers. And somebody said, "I'm really looking for black readers." John [Singleton] was looking for a job as a reader, but he was also a writer. I read a sample of a script that he had written, and it was phenomenal! And then I found out he was, like, 21, 22 at the time, and so I brought him in, essentially to talk about the reading job.

But then after I read his script, I thought, He's really a good writer, and he told me about Boyz N the Hood. I said I'd love to read it, and he's, like, "No, I'm gonna direct it. You can't look at it." I had to do a whole song and dance with CAA on it. I had to really sit down with people and talk about the movie and why I thought it was a good movie. Everybody here who'd read it and I'd had a one‑on‑one with, got it. I had to beat the drums, but once I did and they were exposed to the material, the material really stood up for itself.

Barbara Boyle: The way I describe movies to myself has to do with what I ultimately feel they're about. So to me, Desperately Seeking Susan was this: inside every Roberta is a Susan yearning to breathe free. That women want to be wives, lovers, mistresses, lawyers -we want multiple roles, just as men do.

Sarah Pillsbury: It was in trying to get Desperately Seeking Susan made that we [Pillsbury and her producing partner, Midge Sanford] started to feel more of what it meant to be a woman in this town. To me, it's the quintes­sential movie experience: you go to the movies to transform somehow and to take on another identity, and here is a movie where actually that's what it was about! But men simply didn't respond to the material.

Barbara Boyle: Everyone has been very generous about Desperately Seeking Susan, but it is absolutely true, I put my own job [at Orion] on the line and said, "You turned me down on Splash. If you don't do this movie, I'm out of here. Why did you hire me and pay me this huge amount of money if I don't get to finally make something I believe in?"

And somebody said, "Make it for $5 million, and I don't want to hear about it ‑my God, okay? You're so dramatic, you're so in­tense." I've always taken that as a compliment. "You're so emotional. My God, women are so emotional." My reaction has always been, "Isn't that wonderful?"

Ronda Gomez‑Quiñones: I always felt that I wasn't going to be intimidated by the men and made to feel that it was wrong if I got a little emotional. I made that perfectly clear up front. I used to point out that they showed emotion ‑fists through walls, chairs across the room. So as far as I was concerned, if I did get emotional about something, that was okay, too. It didn't mean that I was weak.

Terry Press: Men are brought up to think that making a woman cry is an awful thing. [So if] you start to cry, I don't know if you will win your point, but the battle is over, you know what I mean? Everything comes to a grinding halt, because they feel that you're not playing fair. At that point, your being a girl is what you're drawing on, not your smarts or anything like that. And also it is sort of, like, "Don't get in the sandbox if you are going to cry when the sand gets kicked in your face."

Dawn Steel: I do call people I like "asshole." It's a term of affection to me. I have also in my life called people "fuckhead" or "fuckface" ‑but never "motherfucker." Do you understand the difference? For me, there was a big difference.

Shelly Hochron: I actually did use it sometimes for effect: "Yes, I may be young, yes, I am a woman, but hey, don't fuck with me."

Dawn Steel: I'm not going to tell you that I am Mary Poppins. I am not going to tell you that I am always this soft‑spoken, gentle‑well, I can't even say that, because I actually do think of myself inside as gentle and compassionate and caring. But some days were really bad. There were some days where the stress and the anxiety and the palpable fear were so high that I could barely contain the top of my head. By the way, there were times that it was completely legitimate that I was upset: somebody wasn't doing their job, or they had done something badly, or some piece of material wasn't as good as it should have been. It is a very frustrating thing to constantly push people to get the best out of them. There were days when I was less than compassionate, and there were days when I lost my temper, and there were days when I yelled. And what can I tell you? I'm a human being.

Lindsay Doran: Dawn has a big temper, and she yells at people and they feel hurt. They are really surprised by it, you see. It was interesting to watch a woman at that level of power. I am not somebody who spends any part of my life worrying about sexism, but I did get the sense that anger from a woman is much less acceptable than anger from a man.

Gale Anne Hunt: People would come in for interviews [on Aliens] and say, "Who is really producing the movie?" Like they expected someone to jump out from behind my chair and say, "I'm really producing this movie." "No, you are the director's wife ‑who is really producing the movie?" I said, "I really know what I'm doing." Then other people would say, "I want you to know right out: I won't take orders from a woman. I have never had to do that in my career, and I never will." "Thank you very much. Next?" And then they would say, "Well, what do you mean?" I said, "The interview is over. You have just said you won't take any kind of instructions from me, so consequently that rules you out." I was very tough. I never gave in. I never gave up. You can't be in this business and hope to be liked. You can't always expect to be respected. But you can't let it deter you.

B. J. Rack: Here was the situation [on Total Recall]: I was the adversarial person from the studio who was saying no to the director [Paul Verhoeven]. That was my job. The director ... had to sign off on certain things, and I would get a signature on [a document] because he would give me a verbal agreement. So I made him sign, and in Latin he signed "C.F.," which means "under duress," and his last name. And I said, "Oh, no, no, no." He signed his real name, and he handed it to me. I started to walk out, and he said, "Wait a minute," and he ripped it out of my hand. I ripped it back, and somehow I knew he was going to chase me, so I started to run.

I'm running down the hallway past the production coordinator, past the production man­ager and the stunt coordinator, and he gains on me just as we're passing the production coordinator's desk. She must have been in total shock.

[After a tussle], he ended up on his back, and when he stood up, he came at me. I'm easily three inches taller and twenty pounds heavier. We're struggling back and forth, and he grabs my shirt and slams me into this rack of videotape machines, and all the videos fall on me, and I twist my ankle. I was lying on the ground trying to get up, and he was laughing with all these tapes on top of me, and he took off. So I get up ‑I totally fucked up my ankle- and I look at the stunt coordinator still standing there going, "Are you okay?" and I said, "Why didn't you do anything?" He said, "Because you were doing pretty good."

So I went back to the hotel, and the producer hears about it, sends the doctor over. The studio calls, and they probably thought that I was going to sue them. I don't know why I didn't. This was a guy who had intentionally spit in my face. This was a man who had many, many, many times called me a cunt. The abuse had been so constant for so many months, this didn't even seem out of the ordinary. It was like a classic abusive relationship. I don't think he would do it to a man, because he would know he'd get hurt.

What I should have done very early on is said, "Nobody should be treated this way," but I just didn't want to tell him I couldn't do it. And I think maybe part of that is, as a woman, you can never quit a picture. I just would never do that. I mean, script supervisors would put their arms around me and say, "It's okay to quit sometimes." There are a couple of other males that were beaten up, but nothing like this. It is just distasteful for me to see him. After I ignored him at the premiere [a year later, of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which Rack coproduced] he sent me a telegram saying that T2 was an incredible movie and an incredible accomplishment, and I know it is because of you. And then he said, "Your enemies love you. Love, Paul." Is this a sick relationship?

Lindsay Doran: I always compared myself to Wendy and the Lost Boys from Peter Pan.
Every now and then, when people would call me for a job, I'd say, "You want a Wendy." And they would say, "Yeah, you're right. I want someone to come back to from the wars and who will make pockets for us. And we'll build a house for you." It's that dynamic. I think that's a very real thing. I think a Wendy is archetypal ‑that sort of nurturing presence who is proud of her boys. Boys go out and fight pirates all day, and then they come home and you say, "You did great." You know, when Bruce [Joel] Rubin won the Academy Award [for Ghost], it was one of the most wonderful moments of my life. What has it got to do with me? He's not my relative. He's not my child. He's older than I am. And yet I can't imagine his mother was any prouder than I was. I really did feel as though my little boy won an Oscar.

Sherry Lansing: When we conceived it, we thought Fatal Attraction was a very strong feminist movie; it was a movie that said, "Your actions have consequences, and you are responsible for what you do." That's also the theme of The Accused. It was painful to me when Fatal Attraction was perceived as antifeminist. It really hurt. Of course, I didn't understand it. I was shocked. One review ‑I literally balled it up and said, "Can I explain what I am saying?" I'm a very strong feminist. I'm on every feminist board, in every organization that there is. I don't want to have to justify my life. Now I do understand the criticism. That's not what we wanted to do ‑it's the way it was interpreted. To me, the Glenn Close character said, "I will not be ignored." She makes trouble. I still say to you that, in my opinion, there isn't a man who will take a woman away for the weekend and just [forget about her] without thinking of that character. I still think that Fatal Attraction has created a strong female threat that fights back, that won't be a victim. And I still think that people identify with her pain. And then because she goes too far, they say, "Well, thank God that's not me."

Dawn Steel: I need to tell you that I have enormous respect for Backlash. But every single movie [Susan Faludi] talks about [in depth] was my movie ‑including Fatal Attraction, including The Accused, which was a movie that came from my heart and my belly…And Faludi takes it apart, she takes Sherry apart, and takes all these other movies that I worked on apart. I was devastated reading this. Here I have worked for all these decades in the movie business thinking that I had to have some consciousness, and she thought I had no consciousness. And by the way, she didn't mention me once. But ‑and I'm sure she doesn't know any of this‑ I was devastated by it.

Sherry Lansing I remember sitting home and watching the [Anita Hill‑Clarence Thomas hearings] with my husband [William Friedkin], who directed The Exorcist. One guy is reading from The Exorcist, and he is talking about this thing with the pubic hairs and the Coke, and then he says, "Let me talk about Fatal Attraction." We were both sitting there going, "I don't get it!"

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