By Susan Cartsonis
Telling stories from the female perspective is good box office. However, only 16 percent of movies are made specifically with women in mind even though half of the ticket buying public is female, which means Hollywood is missing the bet financially—with a few notable exceptions that prove my point.
There are many reasons why there’s a dearth of movies made for women: it has to do with how women are treated in the business in the boardroom, the pressures and logistics of the business, and “conventional wisdom” as opposed to facts and the reality of the changing audience landscape.
Note to the studios: stop trying to get the boys back and go after the women.
Here are some facts: not only do women account for more than 50% of the ticket buying audience, they often choose the movie a couple sees, and choose movies for their children.
Here are some movie marketer/distributor observations: Women are often repeat viewers, and view cross-generationally – as they did for The Princess Diaries which was made for grannies and five-year olds but all the women of in between ages came too, making it a hit that grossed $126M in world wide box office—although it cost just $26M to make, and. Women view therapeutically too—how many women do you know who watch Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, or Brigitte Jones’ Diary repeatedly and fight over who the best Mr. Darcy really is? Movies for women don’t have to be expensive because they’re more “people powered” than special effects-powered. Think Twilight: it cost $37M and made a $384M return! Or The Help: a $22M investment that generated $180M at the box office – so far! That compared to a Transformers or Spiderman or Pirates Of The Carribean – which we may love but they cost well over $100M to make and don’t have nearly the profit margin of a well-made romantic comedy.
Here’s what I know in my bones: Women have a need to hear their stories told in an authentic way. And they’re also interested in the inner lives of men. I know because I’m an audience member as well as a movie-maker and there are too many Friday nights when I feel that there’s nothing I really want to see. Nothing that speaks to me personally. And if a movie is made that speaks to me, my friends and I throw a party and go en masse!
I’ve made well over a billion dollars in movie ticket sales as an executive and a producer (leaving aside the huge ancillary markets that include DVDs that would triple the amount of money made). I’ve done this by making movies from a female perspective, often with female writers, subject matter, and directors. So I don’t believe that the female audience isn’t a good audience. I know it’s a great audience.
I’ve had to fight to get a lot of these movies made and marketed well. I’ve had to fight for marketing dollars when I should be able to use my energies to make more and better movies rather than to justify the market. I think, no, I know that within the business we can and should change the way we perceive women and entertainment for women.
There are great champions for the female perspective such as Geraldine Laybourne, the founder of Nickelodeon, Oxygen and the Chairman of Alloy Entertainment. She told me that she feels that we need more female media company owners. In other words, women who have the power and support to “green light” material that is unique and speaks to the hearts and minds of women. Men who run the major media companies give the go-ahead to projects that speak to them most viscerally—and I have observed that the visceral overrules any number crunching a company engages in to predict success.
Clearly, telling stories to women is good business. And when men come too---well it just adds to the profitability. Look at how well Bridesmaids did. Here’s to Judd Apatow for extending a hand to his fellow comic geniuses Kristin Wiig and Annie Mumulo and helping Bridesmaids get made. But look at what a well-documented struggle this was!
The studio seemed afraid that men would stay away from a movie that showed the iconography of a line of bridesmaids on a movie poster, so they seemingly marketed almost exclusively to men pre-release. In fact, men went in groups, a phenomenon that they called “wolf-packs”.
Anecdotally, I found that a lot of women stayed away that first weekend thinking that the movie was purely a gross out comedy, until they heard Bridesmaids had romantic and emotional content with female-friendly humor. When they did go, they found exceptionally original moments like the “cupcake making scene”. I’m going to go out on a limb and say: had the studio done more marketing to women pre-release, the film, (which cost $32 M and made $169 M) would have made 20 to 30 percent more money because women would have come in even larger numbers that opening weekend. And I’m going to go out on another limb and say that men probably loved the cupcake making scene---because it’s a little peephole into the inner lives of women. They want to know what makes us tick, particularly if it’s told in an original way. When we did the market research on an extraordinarily female oriented and female marketed film (it was even an Oprah’s Book Club pick!) we found that men rated the film even higher than women. Turns out men want to know about the inner lives of women, too.
So my solution? Get out and vote with your dollar, see women’s movies. Women drive over 60% of messaging in social media---talk about the movies you like and encourage your friends to go. If you’re a film maker, keep making films and find a way to invest in your own work financially so that you can drive the creative and financial decision making process. Your voice and your perspective are legit and profound and powerful—and will find an audience.
Susan Cartsonis is a producer and former studio executive. In 2000, she was named one of the top five grossing producers of the year, thanks to her box-office-record-breaking film What Women Want starring Mel Gibson, and Where the Heart Is, starring Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, and Sally Field Most recently, Susan produced the upcoming Beastly (a retelling of Beauty and the Beast) for CBS Films and Aquamarine for theatrical release. While at Fox, she developed and supervised: Nell, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Rookie of the Year, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which launched the successful television series. Susan was an instructor with New York University’s dramatic writing program. She received her MFA in dramatic writing from NYU and a bachelor of arts in theatre from UCLA. Susan was recently elected Chair of the Foundation Board of Trustees of Women in Film.