Did you know that an equal number of men and women graduate from top film schools? If so, then you must be frustrated by the fact that little more than 5% of the top-grossing films from 2013 were directed by women.
Enter Gamechanger Films — a film fund dedicated exclusively to financing feature films directed by women. They’re in good hands, too. President Mynette Louie was the 2013 recipient of the Independent Spirit Piaget Producers Award, and with nearly 20 producing credits to her name, she is no stranger to what it takes to make a great movie.
Even at the beginning of her career Louie was drawn to the work of women, producing three graduate thesis films written and directed by female NYU Tisch students. It’s her dedication to seeking and promoting the talent of women in the industry that makes her the perfect person to be at the helm of Gamechanger Films.
What is Gamechanger Films?
Gamechanger Films launched in September 2013 as the first for-profit film fund dedicated exclusively to financing narrative features directed by women. Only 6% of the 250 top-grossing Hollywood films in 2013 were directed by women, and gender bias in financing is cited as the foremost obstacle to a woman’s career development in film. There is a huge undervalued talent pool of women directors who need the financing to bring their work to audiences worldwide.
Knowing this, the company’s founders, Julie Parker Benello, Dan Cogan, Geralyn Dreyfous, and Wendy Ettinger, decided to take action and form a company with the mission of shifting this gender disparity in film. The founders brought me on to run the company as President, and veteran producer Mary Jane Skalski serves as our senior advisor. Collectively, our team has individually produced and financed an array of films that have premiered at festivals like Sundance, Cannes, Berlin and Toronto; gotten worldwide distribution; and won Oscars® and Spirit Awards.
Gamechanger’s first feature, LAND HO!, an Iceland-set buddy comedy by Martha Stephens & Aaron Katz, premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, where it was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics. It opens in theaters this Friday, July 11th. Our second feature will be Karyn Kusama’s thriller, THE INVITATION, and we have more great projects and directors in the pipeline.
What are your goals with Gamechanger Films? What impact do you hope it will have for women both in front of and behind the camera?
The company’s primary goal is to enable the unique artistic voices of women directors and help bring their perspectives to the big screen–in essence, we are greenlighting the voices that are currently missing from the biased film landscape. We do this by investing in narrative features directed or co-directed by women that have both critical and commercial potential.
We have pooled together funds from a large group of socially conscious and commercially minded impact investors, many of whom are women. We aim to cultivate these investors into a new community of sophisticated and empowered film financiers by making investor education an integral part of their Gamechanger experience. We want to create a new source of “smart money” that can support a new generation of women directors while making a return on their investment.
We believe, and studies show, that more women at the helm will influence the sort of films that are made, the way those stories are told, and the POV of the characters that inhabit those stories. More women at the helm will also spark a trickle-down effect of greater female representation among the entire crew–cinematographers, editors, sound mixers, production designers, and more. By investing in women-directed features, Gamechanger is investing in the leadership and employment of women behind the camera, as well as in a greater diversity of perspectives on screen.
What led you to Gamechanger?
I was lucky enough to have worked with one of our co-founders, Dan Cogan, who, outside of Gamechanger, runs a company called Impact Partners, which invests primarily in social issue documentaries. Impact co-financed a narrative feature I produced called CHILDREN OF INVENTION, which premiered at Sundance in 2009. After Gamechanger was conceived and the founders were seeking its president, Dan thought of me as a potential candidate, and I’m happy to say, I got the job.
Though I did not found the company, I feel very aligned to its mission and goals. As a creative producer of narrative features, I’ve often helped make sure that female characters in my films are depicted multi-dimensionally and realistically. I have also, in all my years of producing, witnessed a lot of latent sexism among cast, crew, financiers, and other industry types, and I’ve always tried to do my part in helping people become aware of, and correct, their own prejudices. We hope that Gamechanger does this by calling attention to the lack of women directors and leaders in the film industry, and by giving the underrepresented half of the population more representation.
Who do you think is a “gamechanger” currently in the entertainment industry?
Every woman who chooses to direct, produce, shoot, edit, act, etc. is a “gamechanger” in my book. The cards are stacked against us in all positions. It is hard for anyone, woman or man, to work in film, but it is so much harder for women. Because there are so few of us working in the industry, everything we do is automatically seen as representative of our entire gender—if a woman director is indecisive, then all women directors must be indecisive; if a woman producer is difficult, then all women producers must be difficult. The film industry needs to start seeing women as unique individuals! By making the choice to work in the industry, no matter the difficulties and discrimination we may face, we are changing the numbers and the preconceptions, and therefore, we are changing the game.
What do you think is the biggest challenge women face in Hollywood?
As I mentioned above, financing is the biggest challenge. Why? Because men control it. And men are more comfortable betting on directors who walk and talk like them. It also doesn’t help that studios are in the tentpole franchise business, and still hanging their hopes on the teenage boy quadrant. And guess which gender of director they think is more suited to translating a comic book hero for the big screen—male or female? I’m hoping that the studios’ traditional thinking is waning in the face of recent female-centric successes like THE HUNGER GAMES, FROZEN, and BRIDESMAIDS, as well as the consistent artistic achievements of directors like Kathryn Bigelow, Sophia Coppola, Nicole Holofcener, Andrea Arnold, and many more, but change can’t come fast enough! Another big problem is that over 80% of film critics are male. I’ve read so many reviews written with blindly sexist perspectives, and I think this is a big reason why so many women directors are shut out during awards season.
What can women do to be more supportive of one another?
Become educated and discerning consumers of films and film culture—know what the director’s perspective is, what the critic’s perspective is—because film has a lot of social and cultural power. Be more aware of the discrimination of women within the film industry, and tell your friends about it. Most importantly, buy tickets to see women-directed films, and tell your friends to buy tickets. Vote with your dollars—the official language spoken by Hollywood! If the studios and financiers see that there is strong audience demand for films directed by women, then perhaps they will be more motivated to hire these women or finance their projects.
How has feminism played a role in your life?
The question should be, how has feminism not played a role in my life? If I did not feel empowered to consider myself equal to men, I would not exist in my current form.
What’s your favorite thing about yourself?
I’m passionate, empathetic, and open-minded. I like solving problems. And I don’t mince words.