Spinning Cinderella stories
Diversity, empowerment and wish fulfillment underscore Debra Martin Chase’s extremely popular productions. From the color-blind casting of the Emmy-nominated “Cinderella,” starring Brandy, to the giddy chemistry of the Cheetah Girls ensemble to her success transforming young-adult bestseller “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” into a bigscreen franchise, Martin Chase has more than earned her reputation as “the Queen of Tween.”
Her sophisticated eye for style and talent helped launch the careers of Anne Hathaway, America Ferrera, Mandy Moore and Blake Lively (she gave Lively her first paid gig straight out of Burbank High). The Harvard Law School grad worked her way up the studio system, moving from the legal department to exec assistant under Frank Price at Columbia Pictures to head of Mundy Lane, Denzel Washington’s shingle, before landing her first-look deal at the Walt Disney Co. seven years ago.
Because of her success with “Cinderella,” Martin Chase was pitched “The Princess Diaries,” the first installment in the now-popular book series by Meg Cabot, which she immediately optioned. The critics were lukewarm, but girls eagerly embraced the modern twist on Disney’s fairy-tale tradition. The film not only spawned a sequel but also propelled book sales (there are now 12 volumes in Cabot’s series).
“The Princess Diaries” also boosted her career. “That movie changed the landscape in Hollywood by letting the powers that be see you could make a movie for girls and women and have it be successful,” she says.
With kids watching more TV than ever, Martin Chase believes it is important to contribute work that not only entertains but also delivers a positive message. “It’s immensely rewarding to know that you are having a huge impact on the self-image, values and life perspective of kids,” she contends.
Recent breakthrough: Two Chase projects made a splash in August: Disney Channel debuted “The Cheetah Girls: One World,” while “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” earned $43 million for Warner.
Role model: Mentor (and Columbia studio chairman) Frank Price. “He took me under his wing as his executive assistant and was incredibly generous.”
What’s next: Another Cinderella story, this time against the backdrop of the NBA. In “Just Wright,” Queen Latifah falls for an out-of-her-league basketball player.