Women in Film ushering in Hollywood's next class

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Hollywood has referred to women many ways over the years: Dames. Broads. Gals. Babes. Lasses. Chicks. Tonight, the women of Hollywood will refer to themselves in their own way: as successes.

Women in Film's 2007 Crystal+Lucy Awards, set to take place this evening at the Beverly Hilton hotel, will pay tribute to "the best of the best" -- the night's theme -- of women from behind and in front of the camera in both film and television. Honorees include Academy Award winner Renee Zellweger, "Grey's Anatomy" creator/executive producer/writer Shonda Rhimes along with other women of ABC's primetime medical drama, actress Emily Blunt, director/writer/producer Nancy Meyers and cinematographer Uta Briesewitz.

But the team that runs the nonprofit WIF insists that the organization is there to support working women in Hollywood year-round. "It always shocks me when people ask, 'What does Women in Film do besides the Crystal Awards?'" event chair and ICM agent Iris Grossman says. "No matter how many times we tell people, they seem to forget: We finish films. We mentor young women. We're out there with the Fulfillment Fund doing internships. We're preserving our history."

The former WIF president adds, "For every person who opened up a door for me, for every door I held open for Jane (Fleming, WIF's current president), we would like to make way for the next group of young women."

For all the positive strides made in recent years, many sectors of the entertainment industry do show a disparity between the numbers of men and women they employ. Briesewitz was lauded repeatedly by the awards' organizers for her role as a director of photography -- not an easy job and, for whatever reason, not a job with many women in its ranks. Only 2% of the cinematographers working on the 250 top-grossing domestic films of 2006 were women, according to a study by San Diego State University professor Martha Lauzen.

The staggering numbers demonstrate the need for mentors and organizations like WIF to champion up-and-coming filmmakers in Hollywood. To that end, producer Kathleen Kennedy will receive the inaugural Paltrow Mentorship Award, named for the late producer-director Bruce Paltrow.

"(Three) years ago, we honored Gwyneth (Paltrow) and (her mother) Blythe (Danner), and we put together a mentorship scholarship in Bruce's name because Bruce was supportive of women and mentoring at large," Fleming says. "When we wanted to do the mentorship award, we thought it would be nice to name it after the family."

Producer Kristin Harms, who once worked as Kennedy's assistant, says she's the perfect candidate for the honor, describing Kennedy as compassionate yet tough-minded when it comes to the industry. "She's very honest and fair and gets back to people quickly," Harms says. "I'll always remember this: She felt it was better to give people a quick 'no' instead of a long 'maybe' -- that's when they get upset, when people are led on. I've always respected that."

For producer Cathy Konrad, it's Kennedy's respect for the little things that inspired her. While filming 1990's "Arachnophobia" on a remote island off the coast of Venezuela, Kennedy would have the plane that was flying out the dailies return with Pepperidge Farm cookies and McDonald's hamburgers for the crew. "This was 20 years ago, and a lot of the technology to wrangle these things didn't exist then," Konrad says. "She made it look easy."

Lucy Webb of Calm Down Prods. will executive produce tonight's event for the third year in a row (and the first without her production partner, Peter Henton, who passed away last fall). Webb says she remains up for the challenge thanks to the enthusiasm with which the awards are greeted every year.

"What's great about this time of year is that you talk to just about any woman in the business, and she wants to pitch in," Webb says. "They say there's a boys' club in Hollywood, but there's definitely a girls' club. I never meet a woman who doesn't try to help. Never. All of them go out of their way to try to make it great for Women in Film."

Webb has spent the past few months finalizing the details of the ceremony, but when the glitz and glamour is over, it's back to work the next day.

So, what advice would Kennedy give a woman looking to break into the business? Simple: Settle back and listen.

"We spend a lot of time talking about ideas and having opinions," Kennedy offers. "But we're in a business that isn't defined by what's right and what's wrong. It's defined by personal taste and ideas and passions because it's a collaborative art. I would say learning how to listen is a very, very valuable skill."   
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