2011 SBIFF Women's Panel: Creative Forces: Women in the Business
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).
How to break in and stay in
- Well here we go with the women's panel. First of all I'd like to thank Sandy Stahl, our sponsor for the luncheon backstage this afternoon. I also would like to thank Girls Inc of Santa Barbara for sponsoring the panel today. (audience cheers and applauds) Thank you all. Okay, let's get started. We have a great panel this afternoon. I wanna introduce, quickly here, Colleen Atwood. (audience applauds) Colleen? Here she comes. Darla Anderson.
(audience applauds and cheers) Welcome. Gloria Borders (audience applauds) Lesley Chilcott (audience cheers and applauds) And Alix Madigan (audience cheers and applauds) And my son's godmother and my very favorite moderator, Madelyn Hammond. (audience cheers and applauds) - All right. Welcome everybody.
We're so excited. We usually do this on the second weekend, so we're thrilled to be here the first weekend. Thanks, Jeff. I don't know what I'm more proud of. I'm not really the real godmother; I'm just the faux godmother 'cause I love his kids. So guys, here we are, we got an amazing panel today. Before I make the introductions, can I just say how, you know, sometimes as women we think, "God, we don't really get equal pay. "Sometimes things aren't so great." But I gotta tell you, I'm pretty proud of today. If you look at this panel, two of our five panelists are nominated for a Best Picture Oscar as producers.
(audience cheers and applauds) Alix, raise your hand, producer for Winter's Bone, and Darla for Toy Story. (audience applauds) One panelist is nominated for costume design for Alice in Wonderland and also has previously won Oscars, and of course that's Colleen Atwood. Colleen? (audience and panelists applaud) And the other two have already won Oscars. They have those statues somewhere. And that's Lesley, raise your hand, Lesley, so you guys can see, (applause) for Inconvenient Truth, and then Gloria for Terminator.
(applause) So, pretty good. Okay, so let me just do some quick introductions for those of you that might not know who's sitting up here. Two my immediate left is Darla Anderson. Darla has produced Toy Story 3. How many people here have seen it? I hope almost everybody. All right. Well if you don't know, it is the most successful animated film in history. - [Panelist] Wow! (audience applauds) - Which to date--pretty awesome. To date it has grossed over 1 billion dollars.
(audience gasps) Darla also is only the seventh-- - And I got a percentage of it. (audience laughs) - You did; you love that. So great. And Darla is only, if I can brag just a little bit more about her, she's only the seventh solo female producer ever nominated for Best Picture. (audience applauds) So, that's pretty cool. Colleen Atwood, to Darla's left, is a Oscar nominee and costume designer, as I said, for Alice in Wonderland. Her credits include Philadelphia, Silence of the Lambs, Edward Scissorhands, Beloved, Chicago, Mission Impossible III, and most recently, The Tourist.
But many other credits, these are just some of the ones I listed. Her last Oscar nomination was in 2009 for Nine, and she's also won Oscars previously for Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha. I love this, Colleen, I was looking at your resume, I mean, not your resume, but your bio. You started out 30 years ago as a wardrobe assistant. Wow. Did you know it was 30 years? - You betcha. - You betcha. That's pretty good. Okay, then we've got Gloria. Gloria was, Gloria, just recently was at Digital Domain, which is an award-winning visual effects and technology company.
She was there for a couple of years where she ran the entire feature film production, both for Venice and Vancouver. They have two different facilities, and before that Gloria worked at DreamWorks Animation where she oversaw Shrek the Third, Madagascar, and a bunch of other films. And before that she was Head of Post over at Revolution where she oversaw all their post and visual effects. And then before that, 20 years working as VP of Lucas Digital and GM of Skywalker Sound. She oversaw the soundtracks for Saving Private Ryan, Titanic, the first two Toy Stories and many many others.
So, thrilled to have Gloria with us. (applause) - Thank you. - Then we have Lesley Chilcott. She's a producer, Waiting for Superman, which is out in theaters now, Inconvenient Truth, as I mentioned, The Obama Documentary, and of course my favorite, this great doc called It Might Get Loud about guitars, guitarists. She has her own company with Davis Guggenheim called Electric Kinney Films, and they produce documentaries. Before she was with Davis, she produced hundreds of commercials, PSAs, and music videos.
(applause) - And last but not least is Alix Madigan. She's currently Head of Production for Anonymous Content. She's also Producer of Winter's Bone and nominated for her first Oscar, as I mentioned. She previously has produced the cult comedy Smiley Face with Anna Faris, Married Life with Patricia Clarkson and Chris Cooper. She did a film called Cleaner, directed by Renny Harlin, I think a Santa Barbara resident, starring Samuel L. Jackson. She exec produced Neil LaBute's film, Friends & Neighbors, starring Ben Stiller and Nastassja Kinski.
And four years ago, she exec produced Sunday which won a bunch of awards in Sundance and Deauville. So that is our panel. Pretty good, huh. (applause) So in no particular order I would like to take a step back for a second before we talk about the present and certainly the future and what projects we've got, but Gloria, I'm gonna start with you and ask if you, let's talk a little bit about George Lucas. Was he a mentor? How much do you collaborate with him? I mean, think about it, 20 years working there, and it was one of your first jobs in this business, so tell us how that relationship-- - And I would have to say absolutely, George was a mentor.
When I started at Skywalker, I was a Sound Editorial Assistant and went through the ranks to be a Sound Supervisor for about 17 years. And it was after and during that time, primarily because we were so connected with ILM. We actually worked on some pretty fantastic movies like Terminator 2 and Forrest Gump and all sorts of fantastic-sounding films, and George was a mentor because he wanted us to be the best sound company in the world, and he wanted us to get into that level of organic detailed sound work.
Also Ben Burtt was there. There was a whole group of people that he made very special just by giving us great films to work on and having this wonderful company, ILM. So, yeah, George was amazing. - Do you remember that first time you met him? Were you a little bit intimidated? - You know, I think I was... I felt like an obnoxious teenager maybe, a little bit, but I loved meeting George. I also loved meeting Marcia Lucas who was his wife at the time because in college, she was the picture editor that I was adoring.
She just did amazing work for Scorsese and others, so the two of them were quite a combo. And, yeah, George is fantastic. - So, Alix, along those same lines, you started your career working for Alan J. Pakula, who did, of course, All the President's Men, To Kill a Mockingbird and a lot of other films. What was that like? And would you consider him a mentor? - You know, I worked for Alan Pakula in 1987, and he had just done Orphans, and he was kind of going into the second phase of his career where he was doing Pelican Brief and all those other kind of movies.
He was a really wonderful man, incredibly, incredibly smart, really only had women working for him which I though was really interesting. His producer was a woman named Susan Salt who I now think teaches Comparative Literature somewhere and Lisa Lindstrom who ran his story department. I loved working for him. I don't know if he'd be a classic mentor because for a director to mentor a producer, it's just a different line of business.
- But he gave you a shot. - He did. - And kinda got you going. And Darla, what about you? Did you have someone? Because you've been doing this for so long, was there a particular person that gave you a hand early on? - I would say I was really fortunate enough when I started at Pixar 18 years ago, it was a really great time. It was a few years before Toy Story came out, and at the time, Steve Jobs had just recently bought Pixar from George Lucas.
And at that moment in time, NeXT had just dissolved, his company, and so Steve had a lot of time on his hands. So Steve was at Pixar 40 hours a week, just right down the hall. I had just gotten my first gig producing-- I had been doing commercials, and then I got the opportunity from Steve and Lawrence Levy, who was our CFO at the time and brought us public, and Ed Catmull, who ran Pixar, and John Lasseter. All these men gave me a big break to go from 30 seconds to producing A Bug's Life.
Steve was amazing, he was really amazing, really dynamic. I learned so much from him, and it was also intense. - I bet. Were you the first to get-- - Is the movie great yet? And I'm like, "Yeah, it's great." I don't know. - [Madelyn] Oh yeah, never let them know. - [Colleen] No pressure. - Were you one of the first to get an iPad? - Yes. (audience and panelists laugh) - So Colleen, I don't know, because you worked so closely with Tim Burton, so I'm not sure if he would be the one that you would say really gave you a shot because you started off so long ago, but I know you've worked with him on-- - You make me sound like I'm 300 years old.
- I know, that's right, 30 years ago, but-- - Well, she started when she was 10. - [Colleen] Yeah, I started very young. - [Madelyn] With your Barbie dolls - [Colleen] Remember it's a youth-oriented-- - [Madelyn] Well that's true, did you dress your Barbie dolls in a very stylish way. - My Barbie dolls were often restyled by me. I enjoyed cutting their hair off and making them weird outfits out of handkerchiefs and things like that. - See, it all starts at a young age. - I started early, yeah. I did, kind of, de-Barbie them a little bit.
- And Ken? Was Ken part of the whole situation, too? - You know, I didn't really embrace Ken until I saw Toy Story 3, and I see a missed opportunity there. - It's true, Darla. Ken was-- - You brought Ken into the light. - Well that first outfit is a real outfit called Animal Lovin' Ken. They came in the boxes, like Animal Lovin' Ken from 1985. - With the ascot? - With the ascot, everything, the entire thing is a real outfit, Animal Lovin' Ken, with his own chimpanzee to care for and love.
(audience awws and laughs) You cannot make this stuff up. - No you cannot. Did you see those billboards around LA that say, "Barbie, I want you back. Ken" - No. (audience and panelists laugh) - I don't know. That's all it says, so I didn't know if it was something with Toy Story 3 or just some other weird thing. But Colleen, getting back to you, was there, getting back to Tim, is it a good relationship, or do people think, "Oh, Colleen's with Tim."? Is it a, tell us, what's that like? - You can't work with a director like Tim Burton and not, as a Costume Designer, pretty much anything, and not have it be a good thing.
Tim gave me an opportunity to work on a different kind of film than what I'd been working on before. I came from New York where it was sort of, location, sort of, that kind of film, not particularly the hotbed of fantasy filmmaking at that time. And Tim gave me a shot on Edward Scissorhands to really do a different kind of work than I'd done. I'd sort of had a taste of it prior to that on a movie called Joe Versus the Volcano that John Patrick Shanley wrote and directed, which was just off enough to make me go, "Oh, this is kind of where I belong in this kind of film." And Tim really gave me that chance and has been incredibly loyal to me since, and we have a great time.
I'm getting ready to start a movie with him now called Dark Shadows, and I'm-- - Is that based on the TV show, I guess? - From the old TV series, yeah - Barnabas. - So, yes, Barnabas Collins and Mrs. Hoffman, all those people. So I've been watching it a lot, and it's just like, oh boy, we're getting together and what are we gonna do? It's sort of like, almost like theater in a way where you have that family atmosphere, but not, you know, you're kind of all a little bit dysfunctional, but it works. (audience laughs) - Well, it's true, but you've got the trust and the collaboration and the shorthand, which I assume is really important? - Yeah, it's key.
Especially now with the directors, they're all so, they have so much to think about with their work that you can't go, "Um, do you think this tie will work?" You have to kind of organize it so they can get a lot quick. - Did you ever have a situation, though, with him where you were very adamant about a particular look or style that you wanted, and he disagreed, and you guys just duked it out and did you win? - No. - [Madelyn] No? - Not really, I mean, sometimes I go, "Don't you think "they might need to have a change there?" or "There's gonna be a lot of blood, "how many multiples do you think I need?" And he'll go, "Oh, no blood, no blood." And then two days before he goes, "You know what I was thinking, "there's gonna be blood everywhere." (panelists and audience laugh) So more of that than really any of the other stuff.
- And Lesley, your first job, which I think is super cool, was with MTV networks, and you were actually part of the team that created the MTV Movie Awards. Now did you have any idea back then that it would have such impact on young people and how they appreciate film? 'Cause it really did change the whole landscape for award shows for younger people. - Yeah, what's interesting about the movie awards is that we thought, "Oh, we're a new program. "We'll create new categories. "So we'll have Best Onscreen Kiss! "Why not?" And then it came time to have this live event, and we're like, we have a category called Best Onscreen Kiss, and we have to give this award to somebody.
And Best Action Sequence. And now there's a lot of award shows that maybe the categories aren't quite as silly as that, but there are different categories now. And so that other people who work very hard on the crew, or actors that work very hard at doing something nontraditional can get recognized, so that part is definitely kind of fun. But MTV was great training for anything. - I bet. 'Cause I bet at that time it was just like a free-for-all, whatever, anything goes. - Yeah, when I started I didn't know what I wanted to do, and the first job, you know you're a Production Assistant when you start.
And I showed up, and it was a live comedy show, and they're like, "Hi. What's your name? "Cue Card Person didn't show up. "Can you write neatly?" And I'm like, "Yes." And so I got a pile of cue cards, a big marker, two sets of headsets thrown on me. And I'm like fresh out of college, and then on the headsets, it says, "Hi! I'm Beth McCarthy," who, for those of you who know her now directs Saturday Night Live, and she's a big director. And she said, "Just hold up the cue cards below the camera. "You're Camera Five, when you hear 'Camera Five' "drop the cards or if you don't you'll up the show." (audience and panelists laugh) So, excuse me, and I was like, "Okay." (laughs) - Well how'd you do? Did you the show? Was it good? - Thank God, no, 'cause it was live, and that would have been a really big deal.
- Wow. - That's pretty good. I like that.
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