Ellen Page in ‘Tallulah’; film’s producer says she was told this story with female leads that wasn’t about ‘getting the guy’ was ‘not commercially viable’ (Photo: Sundance)
It’s hard for many filmmakers to get financing for their movies, especially if they’re working on independent projects perceived as “niche” or “risky.” But for producers and artists behind films that focus on women, raising the necessary cash can be damn near impossible, according to several producers at a recent panel discussion hosted and covered by Variety in New York.
“This film was deemed not commercially viable, because it was a woman’s story, and it wasn’t about getting the guy,” said Heather Rae, producer of the indie film Tallulah, starring Ellen Page and Allison Janney, who added that executives said this to her face. Netflix bought streaming rights to Tallulah prior to the film’s strong debut at Sundance.
Two other producers who participated in the panel, Lydia Dean Pilcher and Alix Madigan, said they have encountered similar issues, particularly because there’s a perception that films made by or about women can’t become global successes. “The foreign sales side is very, very male-driven,” Madigan said. “There are maybe one or two female film directors on lists we get back from our foreign sales, and a very small handful of women are seen as viable.”
The focus on a movie’s performance in international markets has become increasingly significant over the past decade, in ways that affect not only female-driven films. Earlier this year, Don Cheadle noted that a white character was added to his Miles Davis portrait, Miles Ahead, because it was considered necessary in order to secure financing. “There are different metrics by which those who are going to spend money on films determine if it’s a good risk or not, and there is a lot of apocryphal, not proven evidence that black films don’t sell overseas,” he said at the time.
Whether it’s true that black films or female films don’t sell overseas, the perception exists and that puts a pretty big barrier in front of anyone trying to tell a story that doesn’t fit within the preconceived notions of what will appeal to international audiences. But the constant dialogue around these issues in recent months suggests that perhaps progress can start to be made; during that Variety panel, Pilcher said she was heartened recently when a marketing executive at Disney said that “authenticity” is what would sell Queen of Katwe, Mira Nair’s film about a female chess player from Uganda that Pilcher is producing.
Change is possible. But, in life and in the movie industry, it often happens at a pace that is maddeningly slow.
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