There seems to be some kind of quiet rumor going around that there’s going to be a new Star Wars movie. (Don’t quote me on it, but that’s what I’m hearing.) So I got interested in the perennial kvetching point about why so few movies with budgets over $100 million are directed by women.
For example, Maureen Dowd complained at length in the New York Times:
The Women of Hollywood Speak Out
Female executives and filmmakers are ready to run studios and direct blockbuster pictures. What will it take to dismantle the pervasive sexism that keeps them from doing it?
By MAUREEN DOWD NOV. 20, 2015
Colin Trevorrow’s Hollywood fairy tale started at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012. The bespectacled, bearded director, then 35, came to Park City, Utah, with an endearingly quirky time-travel romantic comedy executive-produced by the endearingly quirky Duplass brothers, Mark and Jay, and starring Mark. The $750,000 indie film, ‘‘Safety Not Guaranteed,’’ went on to make $4 million in theaters.
The young director soon found a mentor in Brad Bird, who became famous at Pixar directing ‘‘The Incredibles’’ and ‘‘Ratatouille.’’ Trevorrow started hanging out with Bird on the set of his big-budget George Clooney movie, ‘‘Tomorrowland.’’ Bird called his pal Frank Marshall, a producer of ‘‘Jurassic World,’’ to give him a heads up.
‘‘There is this guy,’’ Bird said, ‘‘that reminds me of me.’’
Marshall was so impressed with Trevorrow that he took him to meet Steven Spielberg. That’s where Trevorrow hit the jackpot: He was tapped to direct and co-write the $150 million ‘‘Jurassic World.’’ The movie went on to make $1.6 billion, and Trevorrow was signed to direct the ninth ‘‘Star Wars.’’ …
In August, Trevorrow drew ire by suggesting that the dearth of female directors making films involving ‘‘superheroes or spaceships or dinosaurs’’ was because not many women had the desire to direct studio blockbusters. He had already drawn a backlash for portraying Bryce Dallas Howard’s character as a cold career woman running away from dinosaurs in high heels. ‘‘Would I have been chosen to direct ‘Jurassic World’ if I was a female filmmaker who had made one small film?’’ Trevorrow mused in an email to Slashfilm.com. ‘‘I have no idea.’’
As I pointed out last summer responding to a very similar article in the NYT, starting off an article about Hollywood sexism by complaining about Trevorrow getting the Jurassic World gig seems a little self-defeating since his movie made about $800,000,000 more than the expectations for it.
Anyway, even though female directors have not taken off in Hollywood — the only two to get nominated for Best Director in this century are Kathryn Bigelow (who won for The Hurt Locker — ex-wife of James Cameron) and Sofia Coppola (nominated for Lost in Translation — daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, cousin of Nicholas Cage, ex-wife of Spike Jonze, and I’m sure I’m missing some other connections) — there have been lots of female production executives now for several decades.
For example, a name I’ve seen in credits a million times is Frank Marshall’s wife Kathleen Kennedy — she has 93 production credits, including 8 Best Picture nominations, from E.T. in 1982 through Lincoln in 2013. She’s now president of Disney’s subsidiary Lucasfilm, which is bringing out the new Star Wars film.
I got to wondering about Kennedy’s background. What kind of pull did she have to get launched on such a productive career? It turns out: not much. A nice family (father a judge). But it’s long way from Redding to the Oscar ceremony via local TV in Anchormanville.
Kennedy was born in Berkeley, California, the daughter of Dione Marie “Dede” (née Dousseau), a one-time theater actress, and Donald R. Kennedy, a judge and attorney. Kennedy has two sisters, one of whom is a location manager. Kennedy graduated from Shasta High School in Redding, California, in 1971. She continued her education at San Diego State University where she majored in telecommunications and film. In her final year, Kennedy got a job at a local San Diego TV station, KCST, taking on various roles including camera operator, video editor, floor director and finally KCST news production coordinator.
After her employment with KCST, she then went on to produce a local talk show, entitled You’re On, for the station for four years before moving to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, Kennedy secured her first film production job working as an assistant to John Milius, who at the time was executive producer of Spielberg’s 1941.
So there’s her secret: John Milius liked her.
In fact, I’m starting to think that a secret history of big money Hollywood over the last 45 years could be entitled: The Friends of John Milius: Coppola, Lucas, Spielberg, and the Rest.
Milius, a rightwing gun nut who got Spielberg hooked on shotgun shooting, has himself only been moderately successful: he directed Red Dawn, Conan the Barbarian, and The Wind and the Lion and wrote Coppola’s Apocalypse Now plus Dirty Harry’s 44 Magnum speech and Jaws’ USS Indianapolis speech. That’s an impressive track record; on the other hand, he was already a legend 40 years ago.
Milius’ friends from the 1970s, however, including his one time assistant Kathleen Kennedy, have very done well for themselves.
So maybe that offers some insight into the much discussed topic of women and power in Hollywood: you need to be able to get along with guys like John Milius.