NICOLE HOLOFCENER
Writer-director

In a town where youth is worshipped, sex sells and a movie without a male lead is considered box office poison, it takes, well, balls to make ensemble films about women who are struggling with relationships and getting older. “I’m asking for trouble, in a way,” admits Holofcener, the 46-year-old writer and director of “Walking and Talking,” “Lovely and Amazing” and this year’s “Friends With Money.” All three turn “happily ever after” inside out, and we recognize bits of ourselves in her characters, whether we want to or not.
Holofcener’s deft handling of urban narcissism and neuroses has earned her comparisons to a West Coast Woody Allen, which she says is “dumb,” yet she can’t deny his influence. “I’m a Jew from New York! I know 10 of his movies by heart.”
Holofcener says she uses her work to express “the issues in my life, and the pain in my life.” And she has found something of an alter ego in Catherine Keener, who’s been a fixture in her films since 1996. “I’m lucky to have her,” says the director, noting that “it’s always nicer to work with friends, ’cause you wanna be with your friends.”
That is, when she’s not taking care of her 9-year-old twin boys. “I feel like I run a zoo,” she laughs.

Career mantra: “Avoid the craft service table, at least until 4 p.m.”
Role models: “I often say, ‘What would Joel and Ethan Coen do?’ Does that make them role models?”
What’s next: Try to write a script and make another movie before 2010.

— Steffie Nelson

KARI LIZER
Creator, “The New

Adventures of Old Christine”
In a karmic kind of way, divorce has worked out exceptionally well for Lizer.
It was a result of her amicable separation from her husband that “The New Adventures of Old Christine” was born. The CBS laffer launched at midseason with strong ratings and has cemented the 9:30 spot on Mondays on the Eye’s upcoming sked.
“The basic idea was representing divorce in a different way,” says Lizer, who had been a TV actress and writer for many years on shows such as “Will & Grace.” “So many people are in the same boat as I am.”
Among them were CBS execs Nina Tassler, who was a mom at Lizer’s son’s private school, and comedy chief Wendi Trilling. So when they heard the pitch, they were immediately onboard.
“They got it right away,” Lizer recalls. “It doesn’t always happen. They knew the world I was talking about.”
When casting began, “Seinfeld” alum Julia Louis-Dreyfus was pitched for the lead. She and Lizer bonded immediately at their first meeting.
“It was like a great blind date,” Lizer says. “I didn’t know her and hadn’t ever met her. I was a fan and a ‘Seinfeld’ addict like everyone else.”
While top casting and a comfy timeslot have helped “Christine” succeed, it’s the real-life premise of holding on to something good from a bad marriage that’s made it a winner.
“It comes from a real place,” Lizer says. “I know what the stories are.”

Career mantra: “I never take myself too seriously. I work only so I can go on vacation.”
Role model: “Norman Lear. He gave me the best advice: ‘If you cry every time you’re upset, nobody’s going to take you seriously.’ “
What’s next: “Whatever is fun. I have a cabin in Vermont, and I want to go there and write plays and hang out with my kids.”

— Stuart Levine

DEEPA MEHTA
Director

Mehta doesn’t care for the word “controversy.”
“It labels you, compartmentalizes you, belittles you,” she says. “I didn’t seek the controversy, it was imposed on me.”
The director found herself in the center of a controversy in 2000 when she went to film “Water,” the third pic in her trilogy, in Benares, India. “Water” focuses on widows in colonial India forced by poverty into prostitution. Although the government had given permission to shoot in the holy city, Mehta recieved death threats and was burned in effigy.
Four years later, Mehta completed the pic in Sri Lanka under a different name, and it went on to premiere at the Toronto fest, where it wowed audiences and critics. Honors followed at the Bangkok and Valladolid fests as well as the Genies and Vancouver Critics Circle.
“I definitely wanted to make ‘Water,’ but not until I stopped being angry,” she recalls. “That would have been disastrous and distorted the truth.”
Mehta, who never went to film school, learned on the job by working for Cinema Workshop, which made docs for the Indian government in Delhi. She immigrated to Canada in the late 1970s after marrying Paul Saltzman; they have since divorced.
“Human emotions are universal,” says Mehta. “India makes me passionate in the ideas it evokes in me. Canada gives me the freedom to express those ideas.”

Career mantra: “Wear comfortable sneakers.”
Role model: “My mom, Vimala: She’s strong, she’s honest, and she’s compassionate.”
What’s next: Mehta is finishing up a script for a film called “Exclusion,” based on a 1914 incident when a shipload of Punjabis trying to escape the Brits went to Canada hoping for sanctuary but were turned away.

– Shalini Dore

SHONDA RHIMES
Exec producer and series creator

ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” created by Rhimes, exploded into a megahit this year, scoring the coveted showcase slot following the Super Bowl, posting massive Nielsens and topping things off with a strong 11 Emmy nominations, including drama of the year.
“I absolutely still pinch myself,” Rhimes says. “I honestly can’t believe we’re on TV at all. Every time we air, I call my sister and ask her if we’re actually on.”
ABC exec VP Francie Calfo says Rhimes represents “that perfect combo of being tenacious, strong, sweet and funny.
“She gets into the heads of characters like no one I’ve ever worked with before,” Calfo says. “We were convinced and determined that this woman had something to say.”
ABC believes so much in Rhimes and “Grey’s” that the net is banking its fall scheduling strategy around the hot show. “Grey’s” will slide into the tough Thursday 9 p.m. slot this September, doing battle against CBS’ solid “CSI” and NBC’s gameshow hit “Deal or No Deal.” In the process, the Alphabet web hopes to become a player on a night it has long left almost dark.
“I look at it two ways: It’s a challenge to move to Thursday night, but it’s a huge vote of confidence,” Rhimes says. “The show just has to stay the show.”

Career mantra: From “The Godfather”: “Never let anyone outside the family know what you’re thinking.”
Role model: “The Princess Diaries” producer Debra Martin Chase, who gave Rhimes her first job in the business.
What’s next: Rhimes is shooting a pilot this summer that revolves around the world of journalism through the eyes of four women; it’s a reworking of the war-correspondents project she developed at ABC four years ago.

– Michael Schneider

CURTIS SITTENFELD
Novelist

Sittenfeld has tackled the book world, so maybe it’s time for Hollywood next?
“I’m interested in writing a screenplay, mostly to see if I can,” she admits.
There hasn’t been much the novelist couldn’t do in her young career. Sittenfeld’s debut, “Prep,” was the surprise smash of 2005, a girls’ boarding-school tale praised for its acute wit and emotional depth. Many critics compared it, not lightly, to “The Catcher in the Rye.” John Goldwyn bought it for Paramount, with Noah Baumbach attached to direct after he finishes his follow-up to “The Squid and the Whale.”
Sittenfeld’s latest, “The Man of My Dreams,” came out in May. Also a coming-of-age story, it begins in the redolent summertime air of Pittsburgh and tracks a young woman’s difficult path into adulthood.
The book has earned mixed reviews, but critics have praised it for capturing the tensions and texture of young womanhood.
Publisher Random House so prized her talents that after “Prep,” it anted up nearly $1 million for a two-book deal to keep Sittenfeld from defecting. Not a bad coming-of-age tale itself for the 30-year-old novelist.

Career mantra: “Meaning, sense, clarity.”
Role model: Canadian short story writer Alice Munro.
What’s next: “Starting my third novel.”

– Steven Zeitchik

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