Nicole Holofcener (“Walking and Talking,” “Friends With Money,” and most recently “Please Give“) and Shari Springer Berman (“American Splendor,” “The Nanny Diaries,” “The Extra Man“) might make very different kinds of films, but they have at least one thing in common — they both hate being in front of the camera. “If I wanted to be in front of the camera …” Springer Berman started as Holofcener finished her thought for her, “you’d be Lena Dunham.” “I didn’t even want to take photos at my wedding,” Springer Berman confessed. “I hate being photographed.”
“I’m happy to take a million ugly pictures with my family and doing silly poses, but I’m never happy with staged, posed photographs, which feel fake,” Holofcener. “Although my toes were in ‘Please Give.’ You don’t even have to look hard to find them — it’s a close-up.”
Sitting down with The Playlist before a panel about the glass ceiling at the Columbia University Film Festival, the directors, along with fellow Columbia alum Lisa Cholodenko (“Cavedweller,” “The Kids Are All Right“), chatted about what they’re plotting next, and the difficulties they face in filmmaking because of their gender.
“Why is it a glass ceiling?” Holofcener said. “Glass is a symbol that doesn’t always work, because it makes it sound easy to break. Or maybe it’s because you get hurt if you try to make it — and then you’re bleeding?”
“And if you’re discriminated against, how do you really know?” Cholodenko asked. “You’re not there in the room when they’re not picking you for the job.”
Since Springer Berman co-directs with her husband/partner Robert Pulcini, she actually is in the room for some of those meetings, and has witnessed firsthand how producers and crew members sometimes automatically defer to her male partner when it comes to decision-making.
“Bob is quieter than I am. I actually talk more than he does, because he’s a little more withdrawn, and I’m more outgoing,” she said. “But when we go meet a high-level person, they address everything to Bob. And Bob would notice it, and it would make him very uncomfortable, because he was used to me doing all the talking, so he would try to redirect it — ‘So, Shari, what do you think?’ — to get me to talk. It happens a lot. So I have to earn the respect of all the grips and the electrics that I work with. They have to know that I’m tough.”
Holofcener said that while she doesn’t have a lot of problems, she suspects that if she were male, she would make more money, have more control over casting, and get sent better scripts to direct. “I would say that most of the A-level scripts go to men, absolutely,” she said. “But if I offer a part to Bruce Willis and he goes and watches my past movies and passes, is it because I’m a woman, or because I made those movies?”
A few months ago, when Holofcener was putting together her next film and running into brick walls, she was “screaming about how sexist this business is,” she confessed. The studio wanted her to cast an actress as her lead that she didn’t feel was right for the part, and they couldn’t come to an agreement on anybody else. “I was really depressed. At one point, I buckled, and I said, ‘Fuck it! Okay, I’ll offer this actor the part.’ And when she passed, I was so relieved.” For a while, the movie died, but once Holofcener asked the studio for her movie back, they finally came to an agreement. “There were so many times I thought she was going to walk away from this project,” Cholodenko said, “and I’d be like, ‘No, don’t!’ And then I’d get an email from her saying, ‘Yeah, the cast came together, and we’re going into production.'”
“So there’s no such thing as sexism anymore,” Holofcener joked. That cast for the as-yet-untitled dramedy, to shoot this summer, now includes Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini, but so far, no Catherine Keener, who is usually a mainstay of Holofcener’s films. (“She won’t work with me,” the director joked. “If a guy asks her, she will.”) “I would say this film is not as dark as ‘Please Give,’ but it’s definitely my blend of humor and misery,” she added. “They’re not mutually exclusive. But this one might be a little lighter than the others.”
Now that she’s editing “Imogene“ (in which she says Annette Bening is “fantastic”), Springer Berman’s next project will be “The Royal We” (The Playlist broke this story back in the day). “It’s a script we wrote a long time ago that has been living with Harvey Weinstein,” she said. “Harvey wants to do it, but it’s not easy getting a movie green-lit” — whether the director is male or female.