Amy Heckerling Explains How Director Jail is Different for Men and Women

Amy Heckerling Explains How Director Jail is Different for Men and Women

Discussions about diversity, the gender gap and Hollywood’s need to buck the (conscious or unconscious) exclusionary tactics that keep the movie-making business such a decidedly white men’s industry have seemingly reached a fever pitch. Between the star turn by producer Effie Brown on “Project Greenlight,” A-list movie stars like Jennifer Lawrence speaking out for equal pay and the #OscarsSoWhite push (capped off by host Chris Rock’s outstanding work at the Oscars), it seems like things have to change, and soon. But is that really the case?

In order to see what the future may hold, Epix has looked to the past with its new series, “The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem.” The new series uses research done by USC professor Dr. Stacy L. Smith to examine how and why female filmmakers are consistently shut out of my big screen offerings (the “4%” of the title refers to the percentage of women who directed the top 100 films from 2007 to 2014). 

READ MORE: The Below-the-Line Star-Making Power of Modern Classic ‘Clueless’

Epix premiered the first episode of the six-episode short film series last night at the Museum of Arts and Sciences in New York City (incidentally, on International Women’s Day, which led to plenty of joking about “International Men’s Year” amongst the crowd). Told in a relatively straightforward talking-head style, the short directed by Caroline Suh gathers a stunning array of Hollywood talents to chat about their industry’s gender problem. 

Participants in the film include Judd Apatow, Lake Bell, Amy Berg, Patricia Clarkson, Toni Collette, Jonathan Dayton, Julie Delpy, Valerie Faris, Paul Feig, America Ferrera, James Franco, Debra Granik, Catherine Hardwicke, Mary Harron, Amy Heckerling, Dawn Hudson, Anjelica Huston, Vicky Jenson, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Mimi Leder, Franklin Leonard, Tina Mabry, Michael Mann, Lori McCreary, Mo’Nique, Michael Moore, Mira Nair, Amanda Peet, Kimberly Peirce, Keri Putnam, Melissa Silverstein, Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Jill Soloway, Indiewire’s own Anne Thompson, Rosemarie Troche, Christine Vachon and Kristen Wiig.

Snappily edited and viciously enlightening, the first episode flew right by, and it left the audience riled up and seriously hungry for change. Afterward, Elle editor-in-chief Robbie Myers led a panel discussion with the short’s director Suh, Dr. Stacy Smith and directors Mary Harron and Amy Heckerling. 

And that’s when Heckerling — beloved director of such modern classics like “Clueless” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” — got pretty real about how the industry reacts to female filmmakers, especially as it applies to tossing them in so-called “director jail,” something that Heckerling knows a thing or two about.

“I was at a point where I had a kid, and I wasn’t doing so well because I did ‘European Vacation,’ and even though it made money, I was not getting a shitload of respect,” Heckerling remembered about her 1985 contribution to the “Vacation” comedy canon.

After that film, Heckerling didn’t direct another film for four years — she was in so-called “director jail” — until she managed to get her “Look Who’s Talking” made, which she both wrote and directed. Even that took some serious finessing. 

“I had to go into that studio and pitch this idea I had about a woman and her baby looking for the perfect father, and the baby was talking. So I said, ‘It’s all from the boy’s point of view, the baby, and I would only need a big star for a couple of days that’s a funny guy,'” she said. “I made it very much like it was about a talking baby played by a male comic. They insist that women are not funny, so it’s almost like you gotta trick them.”

READ MORE: Watch: Film Community Speaks Out About Hollywood’s Gender Problem

So how else can you get out of director jail, besides tricking execs into thinking your movie is about dudes? According to Heckerling, by accident. 

“People always think like, ‘How are you going to get yourself out of it?’ There’s gotta be a game plan. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, things will change’ or suddenly they’ll like you again. There’s gotta be some compelling reason why you’re allowed back,” Heckerling continued. “Sometimes they just forget about it, like new people come in and they forget that they hated you. You know, younger people who grew up with your movies may not have worked on the one that was fucked up, and so they don’t hate you as much as the other people who are leaving do.”

“I do know some men who have been in director jail, but it’s harder [for women] because [men are] allowed a couple of failures before they get sent there. It’s uneven,” she said.

“The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem” debuts tonight on Epix. Find out more about the series right here.

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