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Directorial novice Angelina Jolie (In the Land of Blood and Honey) and her Kung Fu Panda 2 director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, the highest-grossing female director of all time, were shot by Peggy Sirota for the cover of the current Hollywood Reporter. Recently, they sat down with THR senior film writer Pamela McClintock for a frank discussion on the lack of female directors in Hollywood, their own directorial mentors, feelings on awards nominations (Panda 2 leads the Annie noms with 12 and Blood and Honey could get a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign language film) and the status of a Kung Fu Panda 3. Jolie also opens up about being a first-time director, explaining how she got a “famously unsuccessful” topic (war) funded, when she found the time to write and what really happened to shut down the Bosnia set of Blood and Honey, which opens in limited release Dec. 23.
Their interview ran as a part of THR‘s larger female directors package, highlighting Vera Farmiga (Higher Ground), Dee Rees (Pariah), Phyllida Lloyd (The Iron Lady), Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) and Patty Jenkins (Monster).
WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT HOLLYWOOD’S DEARTH OF FEMALE DIRECTORS
Although neither would label herself an activist for female causes per se, the duo are mystified as to why there aren’t more women directors — only 13.4 percent of the DGA’s director members are female. To boot, Kung Fu Panda 2 is only the second animated studio pic solely directed by a woman, after The Tigger Movie.
Angelina Jolie: “Isn’t that crazy? Animated films are so family-oriented, you’d think that there would be women.”
Jennifer Yuh Nelson: I don’t think about the gender thing very much. But when I speak at schools, I’ve had female students say to me afterwards, “I never envisioned myself being a director, since I’ve never seen women do it.” But after seeing me, they can picture themselves directing, so maybe we’ll see more female directors. And half of these kids in art and animation schools are girls.
ON MAKING THE SECOND KUNG FU PANDA AND WHY IT TOOK THREE YEARS
Nelson: It’s a long process, and you have to know exactly what’s going to happen next. You can’t do coverage. Everything has to be planned ahead of time. And you have to make sure that people are still motivated and happy and creatively challenged so that it can all be stitched together. The voice acting starts after a lot of the storyboards are done. With Angie, things would change when we got into the booth and played with her lines. We would discover things in the moment and rewrite the script on the spot. She really knows the character, so when she would say, “A tiger wouldn’t say that,” she was absolutely right. She gives Tigress that extra level, and that’s why people like the character so much. Sometimes, Angie’s kids would be in the booth with me. [Jolie’s son] Maddox would say, “That take was good,” and I’d think, OK, he likes it, let’s take that one.
Jolie: On the first Kung Fu Panda, I would fight a line. With Jen, she would politely say, “Can we just try it?” And you kind of melt and say, “OK.” She is a genuine artist who can see the bigger picture. And, fortunately, I’ve scored some points at home because of Kung Fu Panda. They love Tigress, who is my alternate personality. Otherwise, they think Brad [Pitt] and I are just so not cool.
THEIR DIRECTORIAL ROLE MODELS
Jolie: I’ve had the fortunate experience of working with so many interesting directors, from Michael Winterbottom to Clint Eastwood. I tried to remember the experiences that were my best as an actor, and what a director did to give me comfort and confidence. And I tried to keep a happy crew, which I learned a lot about from Clint and Jen.
Nelson: I remember being in the middle of Kung Fu Panda, which took three years, and everyone was upset and tired and wondering if we were ever going to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and Guillermo del Toro stopped by and gave me the “man” speech. He said, “You’ve gotta man up and take this, and don’t be scared of making bold choices.” He was such a great supporter.
JOLIE PERSONALLY FUNDED LARGE CHUNK OF IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY‘S $15 MILLION BUDGET; GRAHAM KING PUT UP THE REST
Jolie: I worked with him on The Tourist, and one day I asked him if he’d read my script. I didn’t know how he’d react, since on many levels, this was a big risk. I wasn’t going to star in it, and I wanted to cast all local actors. It wasn’t a pile of good news for him. But he was great, and he took the chance.
WHEN SHE FOUND THE TIME TO WRITE THE SCRIPT
Jolie: I wrote whenever I could, when the kids were asleep or in their classes. Halfway through some of the most horrific scenes, I’d hear, “Mommy, I need another story, I can’t go to sleep,” and so I’d pause what I was doing and go tell happy stories about bunny villages. I studied a lot about the war, and watched a lot of documentaries. They won’t see this movie. They know that mommy, on occasion, goes off to Libya or other places. I make them very conscious of the fact that there are a lot of people struggling through different things, and I don’t protect them from the fact that war isn’t a video game, it’s a very, very horrible thing.
THE REAL STORY BEHIND THE BOSNIAN WOMAN WHO PROTESTED HER MOVIE
Before reading her script, the Bosnian government temporarily suspended Jolie’s filming permit when the Association of Women Victims of War in Bosnia objected to a Muslim woman falling in love with her Serb captor. But, that wasn’t the case — the two fall in love before the war starts — so the film’s permit was reissued.
Jolie: There was one woman who hadn’t read the script, and who didn’t want to meet with me. This is a very sensitive subject for someone who lived through these things. It’s only been 15 years since the war and it’s a painful memory. In my heart, the film was done on behalf of all people who suffered through this. A lot of women’s groups have seen it, and the New York premiere of the movie was co-sponsored by Women for Women International, another group founded after the war in Bosnia. They felt it was the right thing to support it.
Nelson: It’s definitely not a passive movie and it makes you think.
THE STATUS OF KUNG FU PANDA 3
Nelson: There’s plenty left to tell.
Jolie: We can say we are in discussions. Tigress is my alternate personality, especially with children. I love animation because you get to do things you don’t normally get to. For one, I could bring my kids and wear my pajamas, and hang out with Jen. And my character is just so badass.
Nelson: And the stunts are safe.
Jolie: Yes, eating pizza is the hardest stunt we did.
FEMALE DIRECTORS AT THE WORLD BOX OFFICE
1. Kung Fu Panda 2: $663 million
Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s sequel narrowly bested the $631.7 million earned by the original Kung Fu Panda.
2. Mamma Mia!: $609.8 million
Phyllida Lloyd’s film adaptation grossed an astounding $465.7 million overseas.
3. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The SqueakQuel: $443.1 million
Director Betty Thomas’ other credits include Doctor Dolittle and 28 Days.
4. Twilight: $392.6 million
Catherine Hardwicke’s pic proved that women and girls are as fervent as fanboys.
4. What Women Want: $374.1 million
Like Nora Ephron and Penny Marshall, director Nancy Meyers has cracked the studio system, primarily with romantic comedies. Anne Fletcher is another to watch, with The Proposal earning $443.1 million.
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