In order for a woman to land one of these gigs, she has to be truly impressive and have proven her chops, poise and talent. Indie directors making the transition to studio hires are always a gamble, male or female. They are used to being in control. Can they give that up and work well with others, are they able to communicate with not only cast and crew but the suits who routinely interfere with big-budget productions? It’s always a challenge.
Are women indies less willing to compromise? Men are more used to playing with the team (something you learn in sports) even if they are suffering in order to move ahead in their careers. There’s also a big difference between a parting of the ways over creative differences during the laborious development phase, with countless studio notes during a long ramp-up to a project—TV director-for-hire Michelle MacLaren (“Game of Thrones,” “Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad,” “X-Files”) is in that category with “Wonder Woman”–and someone actually being thrown off a movie during production. This would have been MacLaren’s feature film debut, which clearly made Warner execs anxious.
Warner Bros. quickly replaced her with another woman who has been flirting with the comic book universe, Patty Jenkins, who herself parted with Marvel during the script phase of “Thor 2.” Jenkins, like many women directors, has found more work in TV (“The Killing”) than in movies since Charlize Theron earned her Oscar for indie “Monster.” According to Variety sources, MacLaren had a very different take on Wonder Woman, imagining an epic origin story like “Braveheart,” while Warners was focused on a more character-driven story.
Women often fight for their POV. Sam Taylor-Johnson leaving the “Fifty Shades of Grey” franchise is an anomaly–where the author E.L. James was in charge. In that case, Taylor-Johnson went the distance despite her discomfort and wound up with bragging rights to a global hit ($567 million worldwide). There was nothing to be gained by moving forward with that franchise. On “Twilight,” Catherine Hardwicke wanted more time to do a good job when Summit was rushing the sequel. Because they were invested in broadening the franchise to a larger male audience, they hired Chris Weitz, who delivered arguably the weakest installment before Bill Condon took the series home.
Based on his track record, my guess is that Marvel fave Joss Whedon –who still licks his wounds on “Wonder Woman,” as no one at Warner/DC ever told him what was wrong with his take–was probably going in the right direction. He handles women well–see Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow. She’s continuing on in the new Marvel “Avengers” lineup, but we still don’t know the fate of a Marvel feature (Nicole Perlman, who plucked “Guardians of the Galaxy” out of Marvel’s bin of second tier comics, turned in a treatment in 2011). Fan pressure has been mounting ever since Black Widow become an important fixture of The Avengers and Johansson scored as bad-ass actioner “Lucy.”
One problem the studios are facing over time is that the jump between indies and huge tentpoles is so great–with so much at stake–that indie farm talent, male or female, have little opportunity to gain more experience in mid-level production. Instead they head straight for television, which is a very different kind of experience. In film, directors learn how to be in charge. Not in television.