Award season roundtables are all the rage now, and Vulture is getting in on the action with a roundtable discussion featuring eight Oscar nominees, including Alicia Vikander, Bryan Cranston, and screenwriting nominees Phyllis Nagy (Carol) and Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton). During the discussion, the importance of nominations came up, particularly, how they impact careers. The Coen Brothers recently dismissed the Oscars as “not that important”, but as I said before, they can afford to be dismissive. They’ve already won multiple Oscars and have benefitted from a system in which the Oscars are the pinnacle. The current crop of nominees have a different perspective.
When asked about being pigeonholed as a “woman writer” and how that affects what offers she gets, Nagy responds, “Not since Thursday. I’m not exaggerating. My phone has been ringing with the kinds of big studio jobs that I wasn’t getting before the nomination.” Nagy was nominated twice at the Emmys in 2006 for writing and directing an HBO film called Mrs. Harris, but that didn’t change her career. She has yet to direct again, and Carol is only her second credited screenplay in a decade. And yet, according to her, she’s getting studio offers off the Oscar nomination. This is not to say Film > TV, so much as the Oscars do carry weight. Within the industry if nowhere else, being nominated for an Oscar has meaning. It can change your career, especially for those to whom so many doors are closed.
That topic also comes up. Documentary director Liz Garbus says the doc field is more “hospitable” to women, “partially because the budgets are lower. So there's more willingness to hire women.” That echoes what Ava DuVernay said about directing her second film, versus Colin Trevorrow and his second film. They both made their directorial debuts in the same Sundance class, and DuVernay got $20 million to make Selma as her sophomore film, while Trevorrow got $150 million to direct Jurassic World. She called it a “stagnant place”, the sophomore film ghetto where so many female and minority filmmakers get stuck with comparatively low budgets—and thus, less overall investment—while their white male counterparts make the leap to blockbusters and the full support of major studios.
When asked about this phenomenon, producer Steve Golin (double-nominated for Spotlight and The Revenant), says, “It’s very difficult to understand why it is the way that it is.” (No it isn’t.) Nagy jumps in, “I wrote and directed a movie for HBO that was really successful. The difference […] is that there were not a million people knocking on my door to direct another movie. I have seen examples of this happening with men. They do get that interest.” The exchange ends with Golin conceding, “But more young men get the first shot, and that’s what’s unfair.”
Golin’s discomfort comes through clearly. He mentions that he has personally hired “four or five” female directors, which is great, but what happened to them after? Did he keep in touch? Pass their names on to other producers? Advocate for them with studios? Trevorrow got the Jurassic World gig after Brad Bird dropped out, and Bird personally recommended Trevorrow to Steven Spielberg, because Trevorrow reminded Bird of himself. Who was looking at Phyllis Nagy after Mrs. Harris and saying, “Yeah, she reminds me of me”?
THAT is a huge part of the problem. Trevorrow has a hit at Sundance and gets inducted into the Baseball Cap Boys Club, but there’s no equivalent for female and minority directors. That’s why promoting mentorship is so important. The Academy is making a lot of changes to try and diversity their ranks and create more inclusion among future Oscar classes. A strong mentoring program couldn’t hurt.
(H/t to Karen!)