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Zurich Summit: Economics of the gender gap don't add up, say experts

Four of the five top-grossing independent films in the US this year have starred and centred on women.

Both Hollywood and the independent film world are missing a financial trick by failing to engage with female audiences, top sales agents, financiers and producers warned at a panel on the economic impact of the gender gap in the film business at the Zurich Summit on Saturday.

“There’s a lot of money left on the table when you’re leaving out certain audiences,” commented agent Laura Lewis of Creative Artists Agency.

Fim sales supremo Kim Fox of MadRiver Pictures noted the recent box office success of US comedy Bad Moms, underlined the fact that women liked films capturing their realities.

“People like to see themselves on screen. We find territory by territory that a lot of home-spun product is eclipsing Hollywood fare. Women want to see themselves on screen but have a hard time finding that which is one of the reasons for its success.”

Most of the highest grossing indie films to open in limited release in the US this year (The Witch, Eye In The Sky, Hello, My Name Is Doris, Love & Friendship and The Lady In The Van), noted Lewis, starred women and followed stories about women.

But in spite of the growing economic argument for making more female-focused pictures, the film business remains fixated at every level with male-driven stories, said the panellists.


Top indie producer Christine Vachon — whose filmography includes a long line of strong female stories from Boys Don’t Cry to Still Alice and Carol — said there was immense pressure to cast big name male actors to draw in financiers and distributors.

“With Still Alice, there was a lot of pressure for us to cast up for the role of the husband and the running joke was that it wasn’t called Still Alice and John. We were just lucky that Alec Baldwin didn’t have that ego a lot of male actors have that would have prevented him from being involved in a good movie.”

She also noted that few top male actors were prepared to take on supporting roles.

“I can’t tell you how the number of times we’re asked to write more scenes,” she recounted. “When we made Far from Heaven — also starring Julianne Moore - we sent the script to Todd’s [Solondz] first choice actor. His agent called and said, ‘He thinks this is the best script he’s ever read. There’s just one thing. It kinda of seems like Julianne is the star?”.

“When I replied, ‘yer, she is,’ his response was: ‘If he can play that part he’ll do it’. A lot of women will play the wives and the women and the second or third bananas but it’s hard to get their male counterparts to do so.”

In another disappointing but enlightening anecdote from the session, FilmNation executive Karen Lunder revealed that during an early meeting for Denis Villeneuve sci-fi Arrival, one studio executive asked whether the role ultimately played by Amy Adams could be played by a man.

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