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Reese Witherspoon and her Pacific Standard producing partner Bruna Papandrea spoke at the Produced By conference in Los Angeles about their focus on creating interesting roles for women in film.
“We share the goal of making movies solely with women at the center of the story,” said Papandrea during the Saturday panel, which was moderated by Will Packer.
The duo, who produced Gone Girl, Wild and Hot Pursuit, were quick to emphasize that, while their focus was on stories about women, they were not making movies only for women.
“The films we make aren’t for women, they’re not chick flicks,” said Witherspoon at the panel on the Paramount lot.
“Women make up 50 percent of the population, so we should make up 50 percent of the [roles and stories] in movies,” she added. “It’s not a crazy thought, it’s just a representation of reality.”
Witherspoon says she decided she wanted to produce about three years ago.
“I was just reading scripts, and the scripts were sort of diminishing. I just started to notice they were making less movies for women, and that meant less parts for women,” she said.
Her husband, agent Jim Toth, suggested she start buying books herself, and making movies. Her agent connected her with Papandrea, and together they started with Gone Girl and Wild. They were able to get both those movies made in a year to a year and a half, both earning critical claim and performing extremely well at the box office.
“We are looking for great female parts. If she’s the girlfriend or the wife, probably don’t send it to us,” said Witherspoon of the material they’re seeking out.
Both agreed that there’s still a long way to go when it comes to opportunities for women — both in front of and behind the camera.
Witherspoon said that women needed to be encouraged to work in film starting out at a young age.
“I feel like it starts very, very young. Women aren’t getting those critical internships when they’re 18, 19, 20,” she said. “The best way to learn how to make a movie or a television show is to be standing on set.”
It wasn’t easy when Pacific Standard first started out. Papandrea said when they first brought the manuscript for Gone Girl around to studios, no one gave it a chance.
“We sent the book to every studio, and nobody read it. And then it went to No. 1. And they all scrambled,” added Witherspoon, who said that not enough people read today.
The duo said book adaptations will always be the main basis for their films as they’re both passionate readers. “We love books. We’re such book dorks,” said Witherspoon.
They said that, with their recent success, several studios have asked them to sign deals, but they’ve declined because they feel that each of their projects has a unique path.
“I’m an independent producer and that’s who I am in my heart. We’re growing a company,” said Papandrea. “It has driven me and Reese to activate out movies and move fast. I don’t feel successful if we’re just in development.”
Their upcoming slate includes the women-focused military drama Ashley’s War, Big Little Lies which they’re making for HBO and the recently acquired Luckiest Girl Alive, a dark tale set up with Lionsgate.
During the audience Q&A portion of the event, Witherspoon was asked if she’d ever play Hillary Clinton, now that she’s running for president.
“I’ve actually been asked to play Hillary Clinton a couple of times,” she said. “But didn’t I play her already? When I did meet Hillary Clinton she said, ‘Everybody talks to me about Tracy Flick in Election, all the time.”
Asked for her advice for other fledgling producers, Witherspoon said: “There’s different ways to the watering hole now. There’s so many ways to get movies made these days, which is exciting.”
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