Betsy Beers Gives Rousing Keynote on Shondaland Success: "Women on Television Are Not a Fad"
Rashida Jones, "Frozen" co-director Jennifer Lee and Netflix original content vp Cindy Holland talked Hollywood breakthroughs at Marie Claire's New Guard luncheon
"I am really, really f—ing intimidated by your shoes. I mean, this is a damn fashion lifestyle magazine lunchy-thingy-doodle, and gorgeous shoes are kind of a thing of wonder to me, like unicorns or Republicans who report a woman's right to choose," said executive producer Betsy Beers in her kickoff keynote at Marie Claire's New Guard luncheon on Thursday afternoon, which celebrated breakthrough women in Hollywood on the 44th floor of New York City's Hearst Tower.
Among anecdotes of working with diverse casts and crews (who keep getting pregnant and receiving cupcakes from Scandal's Kerry Washington) and unapologetically clarifying that Katherine Heigl's drunken one-night stand in the Grey's Anatomy pilot was based on her life ("I actually arrived for my first day of work at my new job with a hangover and a spring in my step!"), she retraced the roots of her creative partnership with Shonda Rhimes. "Every movie I touched bombed. I was like the Typhoid Mary of the movie business! … She was obsessed with pop culture and literature, loved songs from the '80s and we both loved America's Next Top Model."
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After warning guests that "I swear like a trucker when I'm excited," she also spoke on the speed of brand expansion and said of Grey's spinoff Private Practice, "I think the network was hoping for Grey's Anatomy: SVU. … We sort of rushed it into production without having clear ideas as to what we wanted to say. Initially, the show really suffered for it, but luckily we got a second season, and we took a beat to really examine why we wanted to make it in the first place. And the show about moral and ethical dilemmas that we all face was born. A few years later, we actually delayed making Scandal until Shonda felt like she had the space to create the world and the characters she really wanted to write."
Of creating realistic women onscreen, Beers recalled a recent conversation with Shondaland's Alison Eakle about which cable networks were calling for female-centric shows. "As much as I was encouraged by the number of female-centric shows being bandied about, it feels like we're being treated like a trend or a quota to be filled. Women on television are not a fad, we are not a trend; we are a reality! We always have been — we are the main person at home wielding the clicker. The fact that there are more shows on now than ever with compelling female voices is simply as it should be. … I hope girls all over can count on our shows on Thursday to remind them it's OK to be strong and complicated, and they will find a reliable group of friends who will be waiting there for them. And if we can have our own night, someday they can too."
The luncheon, sponsored by Estee Lauder and Swarovski, also featured a panel discussion with actress and A to Z producer Rashida Jones, Frozen's screenwriter and co-director Jennifer Lee, and Netflix original content vp Cindy Holland.
Jones said she began creating because she wasn't getting roles she wanted. "I was inspired slash angry about the Judd Apatow model — which I love so much, but this was before Lena [Dunham] and Kristen [Wiig]. He was making movies with his friends where they were all just being themselves, and it was hilarious and great and a representation of their lives. Shit, why can't I do that? What's my version? … I realized I wasn't gonna get any further by just waiting for other people to create opportunities for me."
Lee recounted how Frozen nearly regurgitated the good-vs.-evil conflict of Disney's classic animated fairy tales. "I remember the film not getting its legs, and I went to John Lasseter and said, 'It's not gonna work if we keep trying to make Anna some codependent who is just too madly in love and Elsa is evil but you're gonna redeem her. … I told him the story that Anna's ruled by love with all its flaws, and Elsa's ruled by fear." Lasseter then drilled her to repeat and streamline the pitch until it was irrefutable. Also, she told executives, "Frankly, Hans needs to have a bulge or I'm not gonna buy it!"
Holland added of creating content led by female protagonists, "It's just not an option not to — I wouldn't think it was good, credible or compelling if it didn't have well-rounded female characters in it. It's sort of like second-nature for me," and she shared excitement with the other panelists about Netflix's upcoming Jane Fonda-Lily Tomlin comedy Grace and Frankie.
"A lot of them didn't have a clear path, so they had to create a space for themselves," Marie Claire editor-in-chief Anne Fulenwider told The Hollywood Reporter of selecting honorees for its second annual power list. "Women are tearing down the old stereotypes of power: it's not, 'Did you get the corner office and the promotion?' but changing the way the world works."