The missing middle

Amy Heckerling on the demise of the medium-budget film and The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Caroline Suh, Dr. Stacy Smith, Robbie Meyers, Mary Harron and Amy Heckerling
Caroline Suh, Dr. Stacy Smith, Robbie Meyers, Mary Harron and Amy Heckerling Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

In our conversation the Fast Times At Ridgemont High and Clueless director Amy Heckerling brought up the loss of the middle (which conjured up for me an image of Alicia Vikander from Alex Garland's Ex Machina), Amy Pascal, and that Paramount's Sherry Lansing in particular was helpful to her. The Epix preview screening and panel on Caroline Suh's The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem was hosted by Christine Baranski, Maria Bartiromo, Joanna Coles, Katie Couric, Cristina Cuomo, Natasha Lyonne, Alec Baldwin, Baz Luhrmann, Marlo Thomas and Elle Editor-in-Chief Robbie Myers at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.

Epix president-CEO Mark Greenberg introduces Robbie Myers
Epix president-CEO Mark Greenberg introduces Robbie Myers Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: The film is called The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem. Where do you see the starting points to a solution?

Amy Heckerling: I don't know. I used to think that if women were a bigger part of the audience it would make things change. But obviously women are just as big a part of the audience as men and it hasn't had an effect. Then I thought, if women were running studios. And then, there was Amy Pascal and what's her name at Paramount?

AKT: Sherry Lansing.

AH: Yeah, Sherry Lansing. I was actually very fortunate to do some movies under Sherry and it was amazing and great. So I think that that helped. It's crazy. I don't understand. Also, there's something else. There used to be big, big budgets and medium size budgets that tend to be more humanistic stories. Like, there would be a superhero and then there'd be like a romantic comedy. That middle - it's like the middle class - it disappeared.

And all the human stories sort of went in the way low budget area. They just stopped bothering with them because they only wanted to make their superhero stuff with a bigger chance of a huge profit. And not mess around working too hard on things that had a chance of a medium-ish profit. That disappeared and I think a lot of women's opportunities disappeared with it.

Alex Gibney, executive producer of The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem
Alex Gibney, executive producer of The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: I covered The Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center and the percentage of films directed by women is far greater. More than half of the filmmakers I spoke to were women. How much is this an American problem? The disappearance of the middle class is…

AH: It's not healthy to not have a middle.

AKT: For anyone, that's true. [In my mind, the image of Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina appears]. We are living in scary times.

AH: Yeah, it's either people running around with digital, very cheap stuff with people not getting paid. Millions of products and no outlet or the big, big giant every-shot-has-a-bunch-of-effects-in-it movies.

AKT: Some of these look obscene, for their waste. If you look at the economy, when you walk on the streets in New York and see the growing number of desperate people and then you blow up millions in some movie … Sometimes it makes me so angry.

AH: Yeah. I'm with you.

Julie Delpy on The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem and making films in France.

Director Caroline Suh on The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem.

The series of shorts produced by Erika Frankel is airing through March on Epix.

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