H’wood femme toppers club defies stereotypes

Women who run the show

For women executives, how far is far?

Not far enough, although the last 30 years have seen real changes. It’s hard to grasp how isolated women were in the early 1970s, or how few VPs were women — about five.

In the 1980s, women proved their value. By 2000, three women chaired studios (Sherry Lansing at Paramount, Stacey Snider at Universal and Amy Pascal at Columbia). Now other women hold key positions including Helene Hahn, co-chief operating officer, DreamWorks; Donna Smith, president-CEO of Cinema Completions Intl.; Nikki Rocco, president, Universal Pictures Distribution.

But old habits persist. There are few women on entertainment company boards and women hold just 3% of senior media positions, such as chairman, CEO or president.

Yet as half the audience is female, the workforce should be as diverse as the consumers. It’s not too much to say the future depends on women in positions of authority.

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What affects women’s performance today, and their future as executives in the industry? Certainly gender differences. Men and women work and communicate differently, using what women call a less competitive, more collaborative approach, or what is now referred to as “Web-Thinking.”

As Pascal says in the book “Women Who Run the Show,” women make very good executives “because it uses so many of our nurturing skills. It’s also about compromise and about not leaving your fingerprints because it doesn’t need to be about you.”

The power of numbers

“What really happens in the studios,” says executive and producer Marcia Nasatir, “is the influence of one person and the influence of numbers. Each person in a meeting makes a contribution. Each contribution creates a step toward change.” When more women are in the room, the process of developing and producing the world’s stories can change.

Women as partners

Women’s partner approach is manifested in many different ways. In 1998, Lansing agreed to pair up with 20th Century Fox to spread the risk and finance a film that could have sunk or swum — “Titanic.” It made over $1.21 billion overseas and $488 million domestically.

Paramount partnered with DreamWorks to produce “Deep Impact” and “Saving Private Ryan,” as well as with other studios, such as Warner Bros. (“Payback”), Disney (“A Civil Action”), Miramax (“The Talented Mr. Ripley”) and Polygram/Universal (“Angela’s Ashes.”)

Universal partnered with Miramax to co-finance “Shakespeare in Love.” Sony has formed international partnerships in the U.K., Hong Kong and Germany.

What women want

Does the subject matter change with women executives? Not necessarily. At the studios run by women, there is the usual selection of action, comedies, dramas and one or two femme-skewed films.

However, some of the best-known films with female protagonists and/or female subject matter have come from these three studios.

Sony produced “Charlie’s Angels,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” and “As Good as it Gets.” Paramount did “Runaway Bride,” “Lara Croft” and “What Women Want.” Universal produced “Notting Hill,” “Erin Brockovich,” and “Mulholland Drive.”

These studios are doing just as well, sometimes better, than the studios run by men. Universal doubled its boxoffice gross from 1998 to 1999, the most dramatic improvement in its history. Sony showed an increase in their revenue-per-film average, up 18% from 1999 to 2000 and 43% from 1998 to 2000. From 1994 to 1997, Paramount produced three of the four Oscar Best Picture winners — “Forrest Gump” (1994), “Braveheart” (1995), and “Titanic” (1997).

No studio has a truly exemplary record for employing women directors, writers or producers. A survey of the top 250 films for 2001 by Dr. Martha L. Lauzen, professor of communications at San Diego State University, showed women directors decreased from 11% in 2000 to 6% in 2001 and women writers 14% to 10%.

However, in some areas, the three studios run by women show a slight edge. In 1999, Paramount employed 24% women writers. The most impressive statistic comes from Sony. In 2000, 40% of the writers of their films were women, a fact that could have a lot to do with Pascal’s strong choices and development skills. Her contributions are a clear indication that, given the right resources and talents, the glass ceiling can be broken, against all odds.

Linda Seger is the author of “Women Who Call the Shots,” (published Nov. 1996) and “Web-Thinking: Connecting, not Competing for Success” (published June 2002). Mollie Gregory is the author of “Women Who Run the Show”(published August, 2002).

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