spotlight on producersAll illustrations by Chloe Leeson

‘Spotlight On’ aims to highlight the efforts and achievements of women across a range of film roles, so each month, we’ll be choosing a department to praise, where SQ writers can talk about their faves. This month is Producers.


rosa tran

From running Adult Swim‘s puppet department to producing last year’s Academy Award nominee for ‘Best Animated Feature’, warrior princess Rosa Tran is paving the way for many aspiring creatives who, too, wish to someday spawn something as hauntingly beautiful as Tran’s very own treasure trove, Anomalisa (and to, you know, break Kickstarter records in the process, and to, I don’t know, go through trial and error with Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson for 3 consecutive years; screening Kubrick films inbetween takes for science).

With productions like Robot Chicken, Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole, and Morel Orel under her belt, there is nothing this woman can’t do; technological blockades that would frustrate the average person is no match against her can-do attitude and engrossing spirits.

Although the cyperspace is very meticulous when it comes to Tran’s personal advancements (her *birthday* is yet to be listed) she is definitely one to keep tabs on. I, for one, am dying to decode her Zodiac Sign. –Kassandra Karlstrom


Lauren Schuler Donner

Donner has a prolific career with a main focus on family-friendly and youth entertainment, with  a diversion into today’s dominant genre, the superhero film. She has worked on various of the X-Men incarnations and most recently, quite the opposite of her previous works, the smash hit Deadpool. Donner’s impressive output is extensive, likely including some of your childhood favorites and memorable 1980s classics. A brief list includes: Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, Radio Flyer, Free Willy, You’ve Got Mail, She’s the Man and The Secret Life of Bees.

Donner’s interest in photography led her to study film production and editing at Boston University. Her 1970s move to Los Angeles led to a job as a camerawoman for NBC’s news division. She also freelanced for concert shoots, sitcoms and TV movies. Donner was a rare camerawoman in the male dominated market, becoming the first woman admitted into the IATSE Electrical and Camera Guild. Donner eventually moved in scriptwriting and associate producing. Donner was not afraid to stand up for her talents, directly asking the NBC programming director to hire her for a project, subsequently her television producing debut.

Donner’s personal friendship with John Hughes led to her work on his seminal Brat Pack films and comedies, with Mr. Mom as her film producing debut. After marrying Richard Donner, whom she also produced several films for, she was inspired to pursue action and superhero films. The current popularity and oversaturation of this genre has led Donner to massive success, on top of her already impressive resume. Donner is a staunch liberal who chooses projects that reflect and advance her political views. She has served on the advisory boards of Planned Parenthood and TreePeople, as well as frequently campaigning for animal rights. –Caroline Madden


bruna papandrea reese witherspoon

In 2012, Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea created their production company Pacific Standard, a merger of their previous production companies, respectively Type A Films and Make Movies. Witherspoon has worked as an actress since 1991, won an Academy Award in 2005 for her role in ‘Walk the Line’, and has worked to create some of the most iconic female characters in film of the last 20 years, including over achieving student Tracy Flick in ‘Election’ (1999), and ambitious law student Elle Woods in ‘Legally Blonde’ (2001). Australian born Papandrea has been a well established producer for many years, her credits including ‘Milk’ (2008) and ‘Warm Bodies’ (2013). Witherspoon has stated that Papandrea’s experience is key to the logistical workings of their companies, as she is able to handle budgets and development, whereas Witherspoon herself handles the more creative side of production, reading scripts and seeking female voices to bring to the centre stage.

Together they have produced ‘Wild’ (2014), ‘Gone Girl’ (2014) and ‘Hot Pursuit’, films which are testament to Witherspoon’s claim that Pacific Standard’s aim and focus is to create opportunities for films about and created by women to be made. Their films feature a dynamic, powerful women at the forefront, the former two are based on books by women, and the latter is directed by a woman. These two female producers are clearly committed to elevating the representation of women in film, across a range of genres; the three films they’ve produced are strikingly different, covering action, comedy, thriller and biopic. Their next film will be ‘Tinker Bell’, in which Witherspoon and Papandrea will turn their heads to a more family friendly venture, a live action take on the titular character. Furthermore, 2017 will see their first foray into television production, with the release of HBO limited series ‘Big Little Lies’, focused on the unravelling lives of a group of mothers, starring Witherspoon herself alongside ‘Wild’ co-star Laura Dern, Nicole Kidman and Zoë Kravitz – a formidable group of actresses indeed. –Ashley Woodvine


Emma Thomas

Emma Thomas is incomparable. Producer of cinematic greats, co-founder of a successful British production company and the wife of legendary filmmaker Christopher Nolan, her successes are too big to ignore. After first working as a coordinator for Polygram Filmed Entertainment, Emma went on to start Syncopy Films alongside Christopher Nolan in 2005, and has produced films such as Inception, Interstellar and the Batman trilogy. Being a woman in the movie industry in no easy feat – due largely to the stereotypes, underrepresentation and limitations facing women, but with Thomas frequenting the superhero/action genre (ie a genre people wrongly assume women dislike) and repeatedly collaborating with distributor giant Warner Bros Pictures, it’s clear that her heroic production abilities are enough to prove villainous sexisms wrong. –Sharon Igbokwe


Megan Ellison

Megan Ellison grew up in and around money, probably the reason she’s so godddamn good at getting films financed. The daughter of one of the richest men in America, Ellison definitely had a one up from most other starting-out producers and women in the film industry but has managed to stand alone from the privilege she grew up with to back and drive forward some of the past few years’ most interesting films. These films have gathered her Academy Award nominations for American Hustle, Her and Zero Dark Thirty, the former of which she was working only when she was only 27! She is the Martin Scorsese of the producing world, which a vast number of projects under her belt (considering her age), a diverse filmography and an attachment to some of the biggest names in cinema (Paul Thomas Anderson, Richard Linklater, Harmony Korine, Spike Jonze, David O. Russell), and most closely with the only women filmmaker to win Best Director, Kathryn Bigelow. An out lesbian Ellison lends her hand to the support of female filmmakers quite frequently, most recently she is producing Ana Lily Amirpour’s 2nd film The Bad Batch. Ellison is a big supporter of independent financing, preferring to step back from huge studios that will tighten their grips on scripts, names and budgets. She has her own production company called Annapurna Pictures. Some of her most notable other works include: The Master, Spring Breakers, Everybody Wants Some, Foxcatcher and True Grit. She will also be the producer on Paul Thomas Anderson’s next hotly anticipated project centered around a 1950s fashion house. –Chloe Leeson


Christine Vachon

Since 1995, Christine Vachon has worked with professional partner and Killer FIlms co-founder Pamela Koffler to produce films that work to question our idea of “normal”. Looking back through her output, you see films like Rose Troche’s Go Fish, Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol, Kimberly Peirce’s Boys Don’t Cry, and all of Todd Haynes’ films, including Carol. Though in 2014 Killer Films merged with digital-media company Glass Elevator and rebranded itself as Killer Content, the mission hasn’t changed. Vachon is a tireless advocate for sex equality and equal representation, both onscreen and behind the camera. Occasionally, a public figure will distance herself from her passions or identity to gain approval from the film industry. Though understandable, this attitude only perpetuates the problem–if not on a wide scale then on a personal level. I remember speaking with a lesbian filmmaker some months back who, though publicly out, didn’t want the label attached to her name because she thought it might be off-putting to potential producers. And again, I get it–believe me. I know it’s hard sometimes to put yourself out there and risk ostracization or prejudice. Part of me really sympathizes with this. A larger part of me knows without acknowledgement and consistent dialogue, nothing will change, and that’s why I so deeply admire Christine Vachon’s work. By taking chances on unknown directors she believes in, Vachon has shown time and time again the value of the individual. Vachon’s next project is another collaboration with Todd Haynes–the film Wonderstruck, set for a 2017 release. I’m beyond thrilled to have such an outspoken voice for women in the business and cannot wait to see what she’ll go on to create. –Juliette Faraone

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