Why Catherine Hardwicke Started to Fight Back Against Hollywood Sexism

Catherine Hardwicke on 'Miss You Already,'
Rex Shutterstock

Catherine Hardwicke recently stormed the red carpet of her latest indie, “Miss You Already,” at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. With her male publicist carrying her golden purse, Hardwicke’s hands were free to point and gesture in animated bursts. Every time she’d step up to a new reporter, she’d be asked a similar question: “What’s it like to be a woman director in Hollywood in 2015?” Rather than shrug off a non-response, like many of her female colleagues have in the past (think Kathryn Bigelow or Sam Taylor-Johnson), Hardwicke launched into a series of passionate speeches about gender inequality.

Here are some of the points that Hardwicke would address: That, in 2015, it’s still damn hard to get hired as a female director in the industry; that only 16 percent of the 3,900 episodes on television last season were directed by women; that on the big screen, those small numbers shrink even more (only 7 percent of the top 250-grossing films of last year were directed by women). And that the issue isn’t getting better. A free spirit from Texas, who broke out as the indie director of 2003’s “Thirteen,” Hardwicke went on to make one of the most biggest films of the last decade: 2008’s “Twilight,” which grossed $393 million worldwide.

But with success in Hollywood came more setbacks. After “Twilight,” Hardwicke tried to get other projects off the ground, including a retelling of “Hamlet” starring Emile Hirsch, but financiers balked. When she finally directed 2011’s “Red Riding Hood,” Warner Bros. asked her to take a 57% pay cut after they shrunk the budget of the film to $40 million from $75 million, Hardwicke revealed to Variety. “There were possibly other ways the problem could be solved,” says Hardwicke, who has been vocal about sexism in the industry. “They will tell you other people cut their salaries. I don’t know. I don’t have the paychecks of the other guys working for Warner Bros. at the time.”

“Miss You Already” is, in many ways, a return to Hardwicke’s early days as a filmmaker. While “Thirteen” was about a pair of rebellious teenage girls, her latest feature focuses on two 40-something pals in London who struggle as one (Toni Collette) is diagnosed with cancer and the other (Drew Barrymore) gets pregnant. Hardwicke worked on a revision of the script with screenwriter Morwenna Banks, taking out sentimentality and injecting the tear-jerker with a tougher edge. Hardwicke spoke to Variety about the film and how women in Hollywood are demanding more.

You’re very open about the obstacles female directors face. Many other female directors go in the other direction — they don’t want to be defined by their gender.
I used to think I was alone. When no one was speaking about this, after “Thirteen” or “Twilight,” I thought it was all me. “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m not smart enough. I don’t work hard enough.” I’d hear the negative comments — “Oh, she’s difficult or emotional.” And I’d think I’d lead by example. It hasn’t changed the needle, though. Being quiet is not working. We can read the statistics.

Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep and Jessica Chastain have all talked about the pay gap for actresses recently.
We could see a seismic change this year. There’s a tidal wave. I don’t think people can ignore it. Even women in studio positions are starting to realize, “I’m part of the gender bias too.” They had to work hard, and they join the boys club sometimes. I love Jill Soloway. Did you read the thing about crying on set? She goes, “Listen, we’ve always been told if you want to cry, go to the bathroom or car, because it’s not acceptable.” I’ve been told that crying makes a man think about his wife, mother or sister, and we don’t want to bring the wife, mother or sister into the workplace. Why wouldn’t you? They are part of the buying force. When I had some tears on “Twilight,” during a storm and we couldn’t film, I went behind a tree in the forest, I cried for like 30 seconds and I came back and finished the day.

You felt like you had to hide it?
I had a $150,000-a-day pressure. Most directors scream. We’ve seen videos of it. They yell. They fire people. They don’t come out of their trailer. Some people drink. Some people bring hookers. Everyone reacts to the extra pressure in different ways. Well, I just thought, “I’ll go over there and cry for a second and come back.” Someone saw, and reported it. I’m suddenly labeled “emotional.” And yet, now I’ve learned of two instances of male directors who cried on set and they got a standing ovation, because they were so sensitive. Of course it’s a double standard. Of course it’s gender bias. I’ve never gone over budget, and my movies have made a ton of money. Still, I get labeled whatever code word they want to label me. I’ve had 20 movies since “Thirteen” that I’ve tried to get made. On “Red Riding Hood,” I had to take a 57 percent pay cut right after I created a $400 million movie and a huge franchise.

After Sam Taylor-Johnson left “50 Shades of Grey,” Universal hired a man — James Foley — to make the sequel. Did the studio ever approach you?
They didn’t. But then again, my agent asked me if I was interested. I guess I could have tried to pursue it. It wasn’t right for me. I didn’t respond to the material.

How did you come across “Miss You Already?”
Christopher Simon, our producer, sent me the script. At first, I had the gender bias too. I was like, “Will this movie ever get made? It’s about two girls. It’s pretty emotional territory. Am I going to do a chick flick?” Then I started getting really drawn to it, and thinking this is a badass subject, actually. A woman’s identity is being taken away — your hair, your breasts. And I said, “Let’s make it even less sentimental.” Every time in the script it said someone cries, I was like, “No. Let’s make her more badass.”

In some way, “Miss You Already” bookends “Thirteen.” Did you think about that while you were filming?
I kind of did, that they were companion pieces. And they each had a female friendship with the mother. Of course, there was Holly Hunter in “Thirteen.” And this had Jacqueline Bisset.

It looks like it was shot in the same style.
The same cinematographer, Elliot Davis, shot both of them. And there’s a couple scenes I shot. There’s a neat scene where Toni and her husband found out the she has the cancer diagnosis. I just started seeing them laughing. I thought, “This is kind of cool.” I got on the bed, talking through it. Some of those moments are the most intimate.

There’s a stamp on a Catherine Hardwicke movie now.
This had a lot.

Like the soundtrack?
Oh, the music is so good. As you know, there’s a lot of original songs. Tyson Ritter from the All-American Rejects, who plays Ace, he had writer’s block for over two years. After he did the first sex scene with Toni, he went home and wrote a song — that’s in the trailer. Joan Jett wrote a song. Diane Warren wrote two songs. And then, of course, there’s R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” [which plays on a road trip that Collette and Barrymore take]. We didn’t have any money. Toni is close with Michael Stipe. She texted him and said, “We need your song!”

I really like that Toni has two love interests — who are both younger than she is.
Female director, baby! As we know from Maggie Gyllenhaal and everyone else speaking out, people in Hollywood are willing to cast a 20-year-old girl with a 50-year-old guy. So why can’t it go the other way?

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  1. Andrew says:

    Way to throw Kathryn Bigelow and Sam Taylor-Johnson under the bus. Both women are absolutely phenomenal filmmakers with strong filmographies and kind, hardworking demeanors- and it is both callous and unfair to amount them and those attitudes to essentially passive voices in the fight for gender equality.

    Just because Bigelow doesn’t cry out from the rooftops about inequality doesn’t make her any less effective. As a male, my perspective on female directors has always been informed by what Bigelow doest best- produce and direct great work, and allow that to do the talking.

    Taylor-Johnson, likewise, is known to be precise and stubborn about what she wants directorially. But I respect that, and (more or less) it shines through positively in her work.

    These are respected and talented women with name-brand recognition, at least to me, not because they’re vanguards for gender equality through voice- but through the example of their tireless work ethic and excellent films. Quite a shame to amount them as lesser-beings to the woman best known for directing Twilight.

  2. The Observer says:

    Boo hoo. It’s hard to get hired as a MALE director in Hollywood too. Regardless of your experience.

    Welcome to the film business.

    I’d also like to know how many female directors there are vs male directors. And looking at the DGA (Director’s Guild of America) records would be very telling.

    Maybe that would be a more telling comparison of male vs female directorial opportunities. If there ARE more male directors, it only stands to reason that there would be more male directors getting jobs.

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