Reese Witherspoon on Her Production Company: "We Support New Female Voices in Film"
With such hits as 'Gone Girl' and 'Wild,' the actress and partner Bruna Papandrea's Pacific Standard is breaking down the boys' club barrier.
This story first appeared in the Oct. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Reese Witherspoon is known for her lovable comedic characters in Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama and her critically acclaimed work in last year's Wild and 2005's Walk the Line, which earned her a best actress Oscar. But it's her work behind the scenes as a producer through her Pacific Standard banner, which she and Bruna Papandrea founded in 2012, that has made her a true industry force. "One of the best parts of our job is we're buying books and helping authors navigate the process of getting a book all the way to the screen," says Witherspoon, 39, who will receive the 29th American Cinematheque Award on Oct. 30.
After the successes of Gone Girl and Wild, are publishers flocking to you at Pacific Standard?
When we bought Gone Girl, we could barely get anyone to read it. But there's been such an incredible response to our company and what we're trying to accomplish. Cheryl Strayed went from selling 1.5 million [copies of Wild] before the film was announced to selling 6 million books in two years. That's huge for an author.
Did you and Bruna know you would work well together right away?
I really wanted a partner, not an employee. It's a self-funded company, and we purposely chose not to be at one studio because we wanted to be able to take material everywhere. I met with her, and I'm sure she didn't have any idea if I wanted to just develop material for myself or if I had real perspective about other stories or business acumen. Then I sent her Wild, and she said it was amazing and wanted to start this company. The next project we got within a month was Gone Girl.
How do you split the responsibilities?
She handles things I absolutely could not handle; she's incredibly logistical and strategic. [Among her credits: All Good Things, Andrew Jarecki's fictionalized take on the Robert Durst story.] She knows how to put together budgets and location scouts and a lot of developmental work. I do a lot of the creative and dreaming for the company. And I'm looking at new technologies and creating opportunities for the company. We both read very quickly and passionately. We care about finding new writers and new voices and helping support new female voices in film.
Pacific Standard focuses on creating opportunities for women in front of and behind the camera. What should Hollywood do to end gender discrimination?
It starts at a really young age. I wish more people were bringing girls in who are 19 and 20 for internships on sets and at production companies. It's such a bubble, and it's really hard to get your foot in the door, particularly if you're not from the same socioeconomic background. If we educate young gals and give them the opportunity to see what a wonderful business it is, we could, ultimately, guarantee their success.
What are your goal for the future?
We’re excited to develop television. There’s a huge captured female audience there that we want to service and help, and authenticate the female experience through storytelling. We’re in the nascent stages with a large internet platform to talk about creating direct-to-consumer content. I think Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are such exciting companies because you’re speaking right to the customer: you know if they love books, you know if they love comedy, and you’re getting content directly to them. It’s also a huge captured female audience. I’m excited to create content that will speak to my daughter and her friends. We’re even talking to companies about short-form content and mobile content.