Variety femme fest panel pushes passion

Oscar contenders talk women in the business

SANTA BARBARA — The third panel of the Santa Barbara Film Fest’s opening weekend assembled successful femmes from both sides of the camera. Sponsored by Variety and moderated by Variety associate publisher Madelyn Hammond, Sunday’s event — “Creative Forces: Women in the Business” — featured three Oscar contenders: thesp Virginia Madsen (“Sideways”), producer Karen Elise Baldwin (“Ray”), costumer Colleen Atwood (“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”) as well as docu producer Candace Schermerhorn (“Coming to Light: Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indians.”)

Underscoring themes of passion and perseverance, the women weighed in on the strategies and mentors that had guided them throughout their careers. Madsen cited her mother, Emmy-winning documentarian Elaine Madsen as a “role model and inspiration.”

Baldwin mentioned her husband and longtime partner Howard. And Atwood spoke highly of helmers she’d worked with including Michael Apted, Jonathan Demme and Tim Burton. Baldwin and Madsen advised aspiring film industry femmes to “recognize your inspirations and research them.”

Hammond, too, cited the importance of research: “After seven years at Variety the reason I know as much as I do is because I read my own paper.”

Of their guiding philosophies, Schermerhorn long ago decided, ” ‘No’ is not an acceptable answer. You have to listen to ‘Yes.’ ”

Baldwin and Madsen echoed that theme. Having each toiled for two decades in their respective fields, they finally found success last year with two projects that were deemed undesirable from a marketing perspective. “Eighteen years in the industry and an ‘overnight success’ on ‘Ray,'” quipped Baldwin, to which Madsen added, “For any woman, it’s never an overnight success. A lot of work goes into it.”

Madsen reflected sadly on the diminished presence of women in physical production in the wake of expected artist strikes in 2000 and Sept. 11. Years ago, she said, there were more female grips and crew members, but those events, along with the rise of reality TV, have been devastating. “It’s coming back a little bit,” she said. “It has to.”

Hammond offered a piece of advice to the women in the audience: “Don’t self-impose your own glass ceiling,” adding a favorite quote from the late Barbara Jordan: “If there’s not a seat for you at the table, pull up a folding chair.”