Making an impact
Video: Making an impactMaking an impact provides you with in-depth training on Video. Taught by SBIFF as part of the 2011 SBIFF Women's Panel: Creative Forces: Women in the Business
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As a presenting sponsor of the 26th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival, lynda.com puts you in the front row of four fascinating panel discussions with some of Hollywood's top filmmakers, including a number of Golden Globe, Emmy, Grammy, and Academy Award winners and nominees.
Moderated by Madelyn Hammond from Madelyn Hammond & Associates, the Creative Forces: Women in the Business panel features five talented women filmmakers whose talents range from visual effects and animation to documentary films. The women speak eloquently about how they each got their start, their mentors and inspirations, and the positive effect that they feel women have on the creative arts. We hear stories from the making of Toy Story 3, doing costume design with director Tim Burton on Alice in Wonderland, and working with George Lucas at Skywalker Sound.
This panel includes Darla K. Anderson (Producer, Toy Story 3), Colleen Atwood (Costume Designer, Alice in Wonderland), Gloria Borders (Executive Visual Effects Producer at Digital Domain on TRON: Legacy), Lesley Chilcott (Producer, Waiting for Superman), and Alix Madigan (Producer, Winter's Bone).
Making an impact
Madelyn Hammond: All right! So Darla, I have got to ask you. There was a lull, wasn't it, with Toy Story 3, which was like 11 years later when you had to get things going again. But things have changed so much from a technology standpoint. I mean, was that problematic? I mean, think about 11 years ago. Things were so different. Were you looking at like hard copies of things or were you just like, let's just start over, can't deal? Darla K. Anderson: Yeah, we pulled up everything. We pulled up all of the old drawings and all of the old technology that we could. The hard thing was is that Toy Story, we knew at the time when we were making it that it was not-- It would be obsolete looks-wise pretty quickly, because we did the best that we could do with the technology at the time.
There was no mistake that we used hard plastic, because that was easier back then for the computer to compute. So the human design wasn't very good and some of this-- Everything just wasn't as beautiful as it could be now, but we had to stay true to the language of the design of the whole thing. So anyway, it was hard to stay true to the feeling of Toy Story because it's so beloved but still update it with all the gorgeous new tools.
Madelyn Hammond: Keep it fresh. Darla K. Anderson: Keep it fresh, but we were the ones-- We hired all the same folks that did Toy Story, the same production designers and character designers, so that helped a ton. But we worked really hard on it, yeah. Madelyn Hammond: So how much do you get involved as a producer? Because there are very strong female characters in there. So do you have any impact on that, or is that just the writings, is that Michael and everybody? Because it's pretty awesome. Darla K. Anderson: I would like to take credit for that unless Michael is in the audience. (Laughter) Madelyn Hammond: I don't see him... No, he is here.
But you do have a little bit of say-so? Darla K. Anderson: Definitely, definitely. I mean I definitely interject. And it's hard. There is a lot of guys at Pixar and I really believe that real art comes from your truth. And so when there is a lot of guys telling their truth, that's what happens. So I think it definitely helps to have some strong women around. But I have to say, Michael, and I think he is in the audience right now, he was amazing at-- He really was. He was really great about coming up with some strong women moments.
And also it's just fresh. It's just interesting to do something a little bit different and he is a big proponent of that. Madelyn Hammond: I have met him before and I told him it was just awesome. When a man writes good for a woman, whatever it is, whether it's... Oh, who is the guy who did Penelope Cruz and all those foreign films? I can't think. Various panelists: Almodovar? Madelyn Hammond: Almodovar, yeah. Whether it's him or Michael or someone that does it and they capture it, then you just know, this is great. Anyway, all right, so Lesley, I was reading some stats on Superman, Waiting for Superman.
Each year 1.2 million students in the U.S. fail to graduate from high school. 1.2 million. And they also discovered that there's a direct correlation between kids committing serious felonies and education. So my question to you is when all this came out, as you got into it, were you surprised at some of these statistics, or was it like-- Did you know it was this bad when you started? Lesley Chilcott: I think it-- No, it was worse than I thought. And we actually have something in the film, for those of you who have seen it, that compare the costs of sending a kid to a private school for 13 years, like including kindergarten, versus what it costs to incarcerate someone for that period and it turns out to be less to send them to your average private school.
So there is a whole cradle, they call it the cradle to prison pipeline, and about 70% of inmates don't have-- It depends. About where you are, but majority of them, 68-70%, don't have high school degrees. And what happens when you get incarcerated at a younger age, a lot of the prisons don't have the money anymore and you don't continue to get an education. Your education stops so the recidivism rate is really high, and it's all directly related to a lack of education.
I mean sure, there would be some crimes no matter what, but to have such high percentages of people across the country in jail, and we have the highest incarceration rate of all other countries combined in total, and then you say 70% of those people don't have high school degrees, then you know that it's related. Madelyn Hammond: Has anything changed? Tell us about what has changed, because your documentary is what they call now an advocacy documentary, where it's written hoping that change happens. So what's the best thing? Lesley Chilcott: Hoping that there is some sort of-- When you make a film that you think that affects so many people, you design this advocacy campaign or social action campaign to go along with it.
And we have been so lucky that such a bright light has shunned on our film, because - is that a word? Shunned, shown, shined? Shanned? Shined? (Laughter) I have a college degree but you wouldn't know it. So we have been very fortunate that this has happened and as part of our social action campaign we have held and we continue to hold, I am going to Austin on Monday, we have held townhalls all across the country, and we invite people to come see the film and then we have a discussion afterwards.
And we have invited heads of unions. We have invited Republicans, Libertarians, Democrats, like the full spectrum, and we say "Talk about what you are feeling and what you saw on the film. What did you agree with? What did you not agree with?" And the idea was we could never have this perfect film where we covered every issue. We could do a whole film about special ed or I would love to do a whole film about how amazing teachers are and how teaching is the hardest job in the world and should be valued and teachers should be rock stars. All those things. (Applause) So I guess my point is that the life of the film is ongoing and we have a campaign associated with the DVD, where if you buy the DVD you get a $25 gift card to use at DonorsChoose.
I don't know if anyone knows about this web site, but you go to DonorsChoose.org and you can pick your hometown or where you went to high school and teachers have posted projects that they need money with. Like I want to take my kids to The National History Museum but there's no budget. It costs $432 to take all 25 of my kids. You can use your $25. We did this with the film too. Buy a ticket, you get a $15 coupon. So you use the money to fulfill the classroom project and DonorsChoose sends them the money to go to the museum or they send them the projector or whatever it is that they wanted.
So in addition to hopefully learning something from the film or going to the film and saying "I didn't like it," whatever, you got to contribute to an actual classroom that was in need or something. Madelyn Hammond: Which is great, because a lot of kids, they don't even know the whole idea about contribution and philanthropy and what it means, so you get them hooked in that way. It's great! All right, Alix, tell us about the journey of Winter's Bone, because I imagine that this, I think this is one of the lower grossing films that has actually been nominated. So I want to hear about the journey.
And is it tougher now doing an indie film, getting that audience? Alix Madigan: Well, just to-- the movie was started actually in 2005. I was submitted the book. I work at a company called Anonymous Content in Los Angeles, and I met with Debra and her producing partner, creative collaborator, co-writer, Anne Rosellini, and I had loved their first film that they had done together, a movie called Down to the Bone, which kind of launched Vera Farmiga. And Debra had won the directing award for Sundance for that movie in 2004.
And I read Winter's Bone. It was submitted to me as a galley. It was by an incredible writer, a gentleman named Daniel Woodrell, who lives in that area of the Ozarks where the movie took place. And I read the book and I gave it to Debra and Anne and I think we were all very taken by the lead character. It was just a woman who, as Debra puts it, was just filled with moxie and would just not take no for an answer.
And we started the long process of putting the movie together. Anne and Debra went away and wrote a script, which I have to say was pretty near perfect by the time I read it about six months later. We started really trying to put the movie together in kind of the classic indie model, which is essentially casting some sort of name actors to try to get foreign financing or some sort of domestic company behind it. And fortunately that didn't work out and we ended up getting equity financed by someone who really believed in Debra and loved her vision for the movie.
For that reason we could cast unknown actors, and you know what, the highest compliment I think anybody ever paid me, paid the film, I thought was Gregg Araki, the great independent film director. And he said, "You know, I haven't seen that kind of unusual world since Avatar." Which was the most bizarre comparison to compare Winter's Bone to Avatar. But it was just like-- I think it was that you could really escape to this world, because we could cast people who were amazing at what they did but not really known names.
Yes, I think it is the lowest-- I think it's one of the lowest budgeted movies nominated and I think it's also-- Madelyn Hammond: It was kind of a badge of honor in a weird way? Alix Madigan: Yes. Madelyn Hammond: Did you get involved a little bit with the marketing and distribution? Alix Madigan: I did. That's the thing with working on an independent film. When I have worked on studio films you kind of like, once the film is shot, you sort of like show up now and again to kind of look at finished cuts, see how things are progressing. There are some marketing meetings.
But Anne Rosellini and I were the music supervisors, we were the postproduction supervisors, because we couldn't afford these people on our small budget. And we did get very involved with the marketing and distribution of it. We had Roadside, who were just incredible distributors on this project and they really had folks primarily on documentaries before. They had taken out The September Issue and The Cove was there big documentary that did very well for them.
But they just platformed the release of this movie in an incredible way and the movie really took off. Our biggest, surprisingly our biggest, sources of revenue were in places like Tucson, in Milwaukee. Middle America really embraced the film. It didn't really earn most of its money in the sort of standard specialty markets, which was a surprise to us. Madelyn Hammond: Yeah, I heard like 16 weeks in Saint Louis. Alix Madigan: It was. Madelyn Hammond: That's crazy. Alix Madigan: I know, it was really unusual, yeah. Madelyn Hammond: So Gloria, you are certainly, I would say working in a man's type of stereotypical man's field, with sound and postproduction and all that.
Looking back on your career, has it gotten better, same, worse? Do you see changes? Do you think it's more opportunities for women and emerging filmmakers? Gloria Borders: Yes and no. I wish that there were more women in visual effects especially. I think that they are-- It's interesting. It is something we can all talk about today. There are many women that are producers, but you don't see that many women that are visual effects supervisors. You don't see that many women that are sound designers. You don't see that many women that are mixers.
But there are more and more as each year passes. But I think that we women are great producers. You know whether we are producing Winter's Bone or Toy Story or we are acting like the president of a company like Digital Domain, we are really good at getting people to get along and walk in the right direction. I think that we, possibly as a group, whether we are born that way or genetically disposed to go there, we should be helping women go into these technical fields probably a little bit more.
There are great women animators. I saw that at DreamWorks and I am sure you see that at Pixar. I don't see that many director of animation, heads of animation. I don't see that as much as we should. Production designers, absolutely. Madelyn Hammond: I agree with you. I think that extra Y chromosome does-- We are more collaborative. We are nurturing. We know how to pull people together. Gloria Borders: I think that's what it is. But yeah, it's getting better. It's probably not as fast as it should be. Madelyn Hammond: So along those lines, Darla, what happens when you have something-- How do you get everybody, if you have had a bad day on the set, this goes to you too Alix, how do you lift everybody's spirits and get them back on track? I mean it falls on you, and you too Lesley.
I mean, I am sure that just like at work, you have got good days and bad days. So what do you do, because it's up to you to change the tenor and the tone of the day? Darla K. Anderson: You know it's-- I mean, I actually laugh a lot. I crack a lot of jokes. Madelyn Hammond: Jokes are good. Darla K. Anderson: And I think that when-- Or you know what, sometimes I just send everybody home. Because I think a lot of times people get-- We work so hard and we drive them. The producers drive people to work so hard, and they are just-- I think people are shocked when you say, you know what, I want everybody to just go home today.
I want everybody to go watch a bad movie, or go just do something. It just shocks people into doing something different. What I have found is that when you do something like that or you throw an impromptu party, and my favorite thing is to go see a kooky movie, just take the whole crew spontaneously. I think that it gets more productive in the long run, because it just shakes it up a little bit. People see things from a different point of view. Madelyn Hammond: Yeah, it's an interrupter. Darla K. Anderson: The burnout can be tough. Madelyn Hammond: Well, Alix, on your film, I mean there were some parts that were so depressing and bleak. You must have really had to like party on.
Alix Madigan: You know, it's funny. Because when you work on a comedy, like when I was working on Smiley Face, it was a very like jubilant, fun set and everybody joked around. And when you do work on a darker movie, the tenor of the set definitely changes I think. But no, I totally agree with Darla. I think it's a really important thing to kind of treat the crew sometimes in a way that you really want to-- I mean to make them feel as valuable as possible. And actually Renny Harlin was a terrific director at doing that. Like he would have like "Crewmember of the Day" and that crewmember would get a bottle of champagne.
And it's really nice to create that atmosphere, I think, on set and a very necessary thing to do as well.
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