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‘Hustlers,’ ‘Booksmart’ Producer Jessica Elbaum on What Feels Like ‘the Greatest Victory of All Time’

Booksmart” and “Hustlers” have been traveling a parallel path since their debuts at SXSW and TIFF respectively, with awards buzz building as both films picked up crucial nominations from the Independent Spirit Awards and Gotham Awards. But aside from the critical support, the coming-of-age comedy and the strip-club-set thriller have even more in common — the two films are linked by their shared producer, Jessica Elbaum.

On Monday night at AllBright (a members-only club for women) in West Hollywood, the teams behind the two films collided as Elbaum celebrated at cocktail parties with “Hustlers” star Jennifer Lopez and “Booksmart” duo Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein.

“Tonight, I talked to two young girls who were like, ‘This is our anthem, this is our movie!'” Elbaum told Variety. “I feel like we’ve been trying at this for a while, but people are really embracing female-driven, female-made movies.”

“Lots of my work is female-driven, so that’s incredibly validating,” she added, noting that both movies faced challenges on the road to the big screen. “To fight the fight and have it pay off like this, as a producer, it’s like the greatest victory of all time.”

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Elbaum gives all of the credit for both films’ success to the vision and passion of their filmmakers: Olivia Wilde (“Booksmart”) and Lorene Scafaria (“Hustlers”). “If Lorene didn’t have the vision that she had, not only from the script, but Jennifer Lopez was Lorene’s idea from day one and not everybody would’ve thought of that [casting] as a no-brainer,” Elbaum explained. “But Lorene knew it had to be Jennifer and knew it had to be done a certain way, and would not relent.”

Jennifer Lopez, Lorene Scafaria and Jessica Elbaum celebrate HUSTLERS at AllBright West Hollywood on Monday, November 25, 2019(photo: TK/ABImages)

Speaking of Lopez, the megastar caused a notable frenzy when she entered the “Hustlers” party. Though dressed down in a black sweater, white pants, large dark-rimmed glasses and with her hair in ringlets, Lopez still exuded the same glamour and strong presence that made her performance as Ramona in “Hustlers” so powerful.

The actor was back in LA after wrapping filming on her upcoming movie “Marry Me” and while beginning her preparations for the Super Bowl halftime show in Miami (she’s been FaceTiming with co-headliner Shakira to plan their performance). While shaking hands with members of the HFPA and the press and regaling the group with stories from the set of the film — like the fact that she was surprised with a gift from STX in the form of Ramona’s fabulous fur coat — Lopez described the awards attention around the film as “surreal.”

Also joining the celebrations (featuring movie-themed cocktails provided by RedBull) were Scafaria and “Booksmart” co-writer Katie Silberman, who shared that they’ve become fast friends through their films, an example of the supportive atmosphere Elbaum says she’s experienced among female creatives (like “Honey Boy” director Alma Har’el and producer Jennifer Todd) during these early stages of the awards season.

“We always say ‘It’s such a good year [for movies by women],'” Scafaria shared. “But this year, it’s actually such a good year.”

And for the progressive trend toward more female-fronted content (and awards love for them) to continue, Elbaum says that “starts with the studios.”

“There’s not a lack of material, there’s not a lack of talent,” Elbaum continued. “There’s so many talented women that I meet daily that I would die to give opportunities to and I can give them to a certain level, but I need studios or financiers to get behind it as well. And I’d like to think that ‘Booksmart’ and ‘Hustlers’ are great examples to point to of why they should.”

— Additional reporting by Jazz Tangcay

Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein and Jessica Elbaum celebrate BOOKSMART at AllBright West Hollywood on Monday, November 25, 2019(photo: TK/ABImages)

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