What Is Muchness & How Can You Get Yours?
The latest 3D version of 'Alice in Wonderland' is known as Tim Burton's baby, but are you aware the record-breaking money-maker (it's in an elite clique with a grand tally of $1 billion in worldwide earnings before hitting the home video market; the DVD and Blu-ray are out on Tuesday, June 1) was written and produced by women?
I knew, but the fact really didn't resonate with me until I was invited to the grand DVD launch party thrown by The Buzz Girls founder Heather Hope Allison in sunny Santa Monica Beach, Calif.. The theme was "Muchness" in celebration of the ladies of 'Alice.'
What is muchness? It's an archaic word, and had been around long before author Lewis Carroll picked up on it for use in 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' (1865). The Dormouse asked Alice, "That begins with an M, such as... muchness -- you know you say things are 'much of a muchness' -- did you ever see... a drawing of a muchness?"
In the film, screenwriter Linda Woolverton puts a feminine spin on it, as muchness refers to Alice coming into herself as a fully-fledged, intelligent and proactive woman. (Want some tips on how you can come into your own muchness? Check out this amazing blog I stumbled upon recently -- Positively Present: Muchness)
An especially fully-fledged, intelligent and proactive woman at the Muchness Party was 'Alice' producer Jennifer Todd. Along with her sister Suzanne as Team Todd Productions, she's given us the 'Austin Powers' films, 'Boiler Room,' 'Must Love Dogs,' 'Memento' and 'Across the Universe,' to name a few.
I was lucky enough to get a few minutes with her to share her wisdom about not only being a power-player in Hollywood, but how being a career woman and a mom fits into that equation.
Q. How did you and Suzanne glom onto 'Alice in Wonderland,' and what elements were changed to make it more a woman's story than a child's?
A. Well, Linda Woolverton is a writer we have known for awhile and she brought us an idea she had of a new 'Alice in Wonderland.' She added a lot of story to the books and had taken elements from 'Through the Looking Glass' as well as characters, and she also had the idea to make Alice a bit older in the story, which was really interesting to us, because we felt we could tell a little bit more of an adult tale.
Q. There's a lot of females working behind the camera on this movie, which is a little different -- we mostly focus on the actresses an you talk a little bit about where women producers are now, as opposed to 10 years ago, in what you've seen (in the industry)?
A. I think women are inherently good at producing. Producing is a lot of multi-tasking, a lot of managing of people, egos and personalities. So I think women are really lent to it. I think there is more now than ever. I don't think it is 50-50 yet in the way that women are given certain projects, or are paid necessarily. But I think it has probably improved.
Thankfully to have a movie in the top 10 grossing movies of all time is remarkable. Not a lot of female producers are on the list. The ones that are, are married to the director. But we're getting there. This last year was a great year for female directors. I think in every profession I think we're inching forward.
Q. What was the motivation for you and your sister initially start your own production company?
A. We both love film. We both grew up here (in Southern California). We went to film school and started working. And we were sort of sat nearby in jobs within the business, but not together. Then we started producing a couple things together. Michael De Luca, who was at New Line at the time, said we should be doing this together and gave us a deal and sort of made our company, which was great. That was in 1997. Suzanne was a partner with Demi Moore, and I worked for Bruce Willis. This was about 15 or 16 years ago.
Q. Would you say things are better for women now, after 15 years in the business?
A. It probably is. But I don't want to sound negative in any way. I am so proud to be a woman, and I love my job. I work really hard, and I try to support other women. The difference between when you're starting out, you think it is an even playing ground and then as you get older you realize that it's not. But you are trying to fight the best you can. Some things seem easier to be in a little bit of a boys' club. The more women that are in the business the more you can counteract that.
Q. Do you find that women who are in the position to help other women are willing to do so?
A. I do now. And I think that is more recent. I think that when I first started about 20 years ago, there was like one woman at every studio and they were almost in a defensive position. They couldn't afford to have a second woman around. I don't think that's true anymore. I think there's enough, and you look at the studios - you have Donna Langely, Amy Pascal and Stacey Schneider. At most of the studios, you've got a woman far up the executive branch, which is nice. And Donna has a female president under her. So, now we're able to do that.
Q. What advice would you give to young women wanting to break into the film industry behind the camera?
A. I would just say, try to get as much work as you can. Work at any job you can get to. Try to work for companies that are busy. Trying to get into places that are actually doing things and where there's more movement as far as jobs are concerned, and places that are doing stuff. Do whatever job you can to get your foot in the door -- whether you are a PA or an assistant. Because if you're really good, people will see that and you'll rise. But you have to be there.
Q. Is there anything one should not do?
A. You shouldn't be too picky. I don't think you should wait for your dream job. Always in the film business and the combination of the market in the film business -- no one is going to give it to you. So you have to be creative. And I also think it is a great time now with the technology for filmmakers to not wait. There are people who make movies very inexpensively, like this great movie called 'Breaking Upwards' that was made for $15,000. And it looks great. So, if you're a filmmaker you don't have to wait to make a film. Don't wait to try and raise $5 million. If you can't, then make a film for whatever you can afford, or whatever you can get people to give you. And grab one of these digital cameras that look beautiful. That's exciting for me right now. It's funny, since I'm talking about a billion-dollar movie ('Alice in Wonderland'). The reverse side of this is exciting in that technology has helped filmmakers, so they don't have to shoot on film anymore to make something that looks amazing in the theater.
Q. There are so many brother director teams -- the Scotts, the Coens, the Wachowskis -- working in Hollywood. Do you and your sister plan on ever directing films?
A. That's interesting. We've talked about it from time to time. We both have young children, which I think is very hard to direct a film when they're young. I might give it a couple of years. But it would be nice to get some more sister teams out in the world.
Q. What are some films produced or directed by women would you recommend?
A. The ones that I loved from last year were 'An Education,' Jane Campion's film 'Bright Star' -- I thought was so beautiful -- and I loved 'The Hurt Locker.' That's why I thought last year was such a great year for female directors. Of recent... I don't know. Unfortunately, this early part of the year doesn't lend itself to those kind of movies. Hopefully, there will be some more by the fall. That's when they'll all come out.