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Chicks With Flicks

In this—the season of Knocked Up and Entourage—Hollywood has a little woman problem. One producer’s lament for a lost Camelot.

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Illustration by Christopher Sleboda  

We all know Hillary is counting on this being the era of the woman, but if she’s counting on Hollywood, her timing is off. All around are ominous signs that a long, bad season has descended upon what was once the Camelot for working women. It’s not quite raining locusts, and no one’s asking for a pity party, but this year has seen longtime female execs aced out in power plays, alleged to be in catfights, and struggling to find jobs in a tightening market where one woman I know was told explicitly that, though she was perfect for the job, the employer was looking for a guy. With the loss of respected studio toppers like Paramount’s Sherry Lansing and Disney’s Nina Jacobson, and of Gail Berman, former Fox TV scheduling genius, the numbers in the boardroom, as the New York Times recently pointed out, are worse than at any time since the eighties.

If there really was a Camelot, as I maintain (and I am what the trades alarmingly call a veteran), the eighties were its dawn, literally and figuratively. The era that saw Dawn Steel smiling provocatively from the cover of this magazine as the “Queen of Mean” ushered in a time when women not only ran studios and, like me, became producers in large numbers (we began our careers together with the chick flick Flashdance), but were also breeding up-and-comers to run them after they got fired—in Dawn’s case for going into labor while upstaging her boss. The first-generation dames created day-care centers on the lot, made it okay to leave the office to go to PTA meetings (I had to sneak; now the dads leave to cheers), and crashed doors so wide open that a generation of their protégées walked through. Dawn spawned Amy Pascal, who herself has spawned half a dozen more. Dawn greenlit Nora Ephron’s directorial debut (which I then produced), Amy made Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own. The breastbone is connected to the thighbone, and on it went until, it seems, now.

What happened? Attrition and the market. It’s too hard, and these days we have to make boys’ movies. It’s all about 300 and Silver Surfer and Pirates and lucky Laura Ziskin, the girl who’s got Spidey. Even our very own genre, the romantic comedy, once scorned by men, has, astonishingly, been taken over by them: The new romantic mythmaker Judd Apatow, of the genre-bending hits Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, is making leads out of tubbies like Seth Rogen and nerds like Steve Carell. Be still my beating heart. The power of the vehicle is being subverted to tell us that man-boys are adorable and hotties like Katherine Heigl should be happy ending up with zhlubs.

It’s true that the women still in charge are among the best and most entrenched studio heads the town has seen for decades. No one wants to do anything about Amy Pascal or Stacey Snider but raid them. Beloved by their bosses, each trailing scores of hits—made for every gender—thank God for them, they make the very idea of a long-term future possible for many women still struggling in the trenches. There are terrific women running studio indies and ferociously talented female execs on the rise at major studios as well, many smart enough to have had husbands and babies on the way.

But this is the other big thing: It’s a Darwinian grind, and there is a huge dose of attrition killing the most normal of these women, as a superhuman kind of desire is necessary to deal with the hours, the lying, the incredible and increasing difficulty of putting a movie together—mixed with the apparently singularly difficult proposition of having both a life (and even sex) along with a big career. So the frequent bonding conversation among some of the best of the singles is that in the “glamour capital of the world,” they’re getting the short end of the stick.

And lately, much of the bonding has been over that quintessential male-bonding show, Entourage, straight from the Hollywood-guy id. This past season, when HBO gave us the ultimate fantasy chick in Amanda, the power agent who lands Vince after Ari blows it, we got by far the most illuminating insight into how men in Hollywood see powerful women.

Amanda, exquisitely played by Carla Gugino, is the cool, strong, hip-swinging, big-breasted superagent with the blow-job mouth who has weapons Ari doesn’t pack and isn’t afraid to use them.

She has to. It was never a fair fight. There is no series if Ari doesn’t have Vince as a client. So it was manifest character/narrative destiny that she should seduce Vince only to lose/fump (fuck and dump) him.


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