Paul Feig Responds to Claims of Lack of Female Directors: "You're Wrong"

Paul Feig visits Build Series - Getty -H 2017
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The director of 'Bridesmaids,' 'Ghostbusters: Answer the Call' and 'A Simple Favor' says it's "insulting" that people assume a woman can't be the best person for the job at Rome's MIA Market: "They're out there. You just have to give them the jobs."

Director and producer Paul Feig, an ambassador for ReFrame, attended Rome’s MIA Market to discuss how the American program could be implemented in Italy.

ReFrame, a nonprofit organization from Women in Film and the Sundance Institute, employs ambassadors to promote programs such as unconscious bias training with key industry decision-makers in an effort to have a more inclusive workforce in Hollywood.

It has created a 14-point culture change and production roadmap that can guide companies toward hiring more women at every stage of the development of a film.

The ReFrame Rise Directors program aims to sponsor female directors to get them high-level industry jobs. By advocating for specific women directors (think Judd Apatow executive producing Lena Dunham’s Girls), the ambassadors hope to expand the talent pool. It's hoped the ReFrame Stamp will become a seal of approval given to films that have achieved gender parity in their production.

The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Feig in Rome about his role as an ambassador, how he would respond to people who say there are not enough female directors, and why he can’t get enough of Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding.

What does it mean for you to be a ReFrame ambassador?

I got involved with ReFrame because there are over 60 ambassadors, people who actually have influence or the ability to get people hired and sponsor people. What I like about it is that it's actually not a mentorship program, it's a sponsorship program. Which means once we find the people who we believe in, the female directors that have the goods, then we are actually sponsoring them by going out and advocating for them, telling industry heads that we vouch for this person, we know they can do it.

With directors especially, there are a lot of female directors, but a lot of them haven't been "legitimized" by the industry, even though they are legitimate directors. This allows us to advocate and get them jobs, hopefully, so we can grow the pool, because now they have been vetted by the industry. 

What do you say to people who say there are no female directors to hire?

There are. You're wrong. They're out there. You just have to give them the jobs. The dirty sentence that people say all the time is, "Well, we just have to hire the best person." I find that very insulting, because it implies that we're saying, "Just hire any woman." Here's the great thing about this: we ambassadors are established in the industry. Our reputation is all we have. So why would we possibly advocate for somebody who's not going to do a good job? It's going to make us look terrible. Once we find the people that we think are good, we can put our money where our mouth is and get them out there.

What are you doing in your own company to solve this?

For me, the ultimate goal is just to change the default setting in everyone's brain. When you're looking to hire somebody, don't just go, "Oh, we know that guy!" Instead, before you hire the guy think, "Wait. Are there any women we can find? Let's interview some women for this." 

With my company, FeigCo, when we're developing things, people will pitch us things and say: “Oh, it's about this guy." I'll say, "Can it be a woman?" We just set up a TV show that came in that was pitched to us about a guy. At the end of the pitch, I said: "I really love it. Have you thought about making the lead a woman?" The writer said, "I hadn't thought about that," then went back and redeveloped it. Now it's even better because of that. It’s a musical show we just sold to NBC called Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.

What else needs to change?

I also think it's a problem that not as many women have been able to make films. It goes back to the pool. There are all these films made by guys, and here's this smaller pool of films made by women. So of course the ratio is off. It just has to be from the top down. Jennifer Kaytin Robinson just directed a Netflix movie, Someone Great, which she wrote. She brought it to us, and she wanted to direct it. We were able to go out, set it up with Netflix and advocate for her. We have a number of other projects that women are directing for us. We can talk about it all day, but until we actually start actively making it happen, those of us who actually have a say, need to push these projects through.

There’s talk of Italy adopting ReFrame. Would you like it to be in every country?

Oh yeah, definitely. It's a great program, because of the sponsorship and also the training that they give to executives and the studio. It's beyond unconscious bias. It's even more active than that. The ReFrame stamp, I think, is really important, because I think labels are really important. It's like one of those film festival stamps on a movie, which makes you go: "Oh, I bet that's good!" When you see a ReFrame stamp, we want to get to the point where people go: "Oh, cool, that's an inclusive project."

What does ReFrame’s unconscious bias training look like?

Honestly, it's just like any business training. Again, the goal is so simple. I always just sum it up, before you say yes, go: "Could it be a woman?" Obviously, also someone of color or LGBTQ, anyone who identifies as a woman. It's just getting that inclusion, because it's just criminal to not show the world as it is. When you see this homogenous view of the world and then walk around the actual world, you say: "This is completely out of sync with what reality is."

And because it's good for business?

It's amazing for business! Women control most of the money. Yeah, it’s just dollars and cents.

What can we expect from your next film, Last Christmas?

I'm in pre-production on the film now. We're going to shoot in London. Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings, a great playwright, wrote. It's Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding. We're putting the rest of the cast together, and we start shooting in December. It's a big love letter to London. It's a romantic comedy, with elements of It's a Wonderful Life. We just want to do a fun, beautiful Christmas movie.

This will be your second film with Golding after A Simple Favor. Had you already seen Crazy Rich Asians when you cast him?

No, no. When I was putting together A Simple Favor, I wanted somebody new for that role. I just needed this handsome, erudite person. My wife is a fan of the books, and she said: "I just read this thing, that this guy was found after a worldwide talent search." So, then I looked at him and saw his reel, because he used to be a travel show host, and I thought he was so charming and funny.

I met with him and called John Chu and said: "Is he the real deal?" They had literally wrapped [Crazy Rich Asians] two weeks prior to that. I pulled John out of the delivery room, while his wife was having the baby, to ask if Henry was good. John said, "He's great, you'll love him." Then, the studio, once they got into the idea, was very happy. I wanted to have an inclusive cast. Now, I just cast him in this new movie. So, I love the guy.