Dapper as usual in a tartan-print suit, Paul Feig entered the Scottish-themed Tam O’Shanter’s in Hollywood’s Los Feliz neighborhood Tuesday evening to a dim room full of bright women.
The Ghostbusters director volunteered his Tuesday night to mentor eight women in the film industry, each hailing from a different discipline. The woman are members of the non-profit Cinefemme – a group of key creatives that work to connect female filmmakers and foster opportunities to greenlight their films.
The Dinner with Dames event is one such opportunity. Writer/director and program director Jenna Payne started the intimate gatherings last September and has been able to snag mentors like Simon Barrett (The Guest, You’re Next), Zoe Bell (Camino, The Hateful Eight), Dean Cundey (Jurassic Park, Back to the Future), Vicky Jenson (Shrek, Shark Tale), Joseph Weisberg (The Americans) and Byron Willinger (The Commuter).
“I want things to actually get made and not just sponsor people,” Feig explained during informal introductions over dirty martinis. “I want to hear other stories told, other points of view. When I watch Issa Rae’s show [HBO’s Insecure] or Moonlight, I get excited, because they are stories I didn’t know existed, voices I didn’t know, situations that are not in my wheelhouse.”
The goal of Dinner with Dames is a strategy to find gender parity, because, at the rate Hollywood is going now with getting women equal to the men, parity will be reached by 2250, according to a study done by the University of Southern California. “It’s one thing to care about it and it’s another to take action,” Emily Best, founder and CEO of Seed & Spark – a fundraising and distribution platform solely aimed at increasing diversity in filmmaking – remarked in response to Feig’s presence.
Within 10 minutes, Feig was offering up his producing partner to writer-director-stunt person Toy Lei once she mentioned Boxer, the action film she’s been working on.
“I love action,” he said. “I want to do more action, always.” The discussion throughout the evening weaved from changing the game of Hollywood, to the grunt work of trying to make it to the top, cat videos and Feig’s litmus test when looking for a new project – “It’s gotta be commercial.”
Many of the Dinner with Dames participants have shared materials with their dinner hosts over the last six months, and they’ve managed to expand some industry leaders’ views on the systemic, often unconscious, bias against women in the film industry. “I feel confident that it’s only a matter of time before our Dames make serious inroads into Hollywood, and I’m ecstatic to see this progress,” said Payne.
“The number one thing is getting something made – it transcends gender,” offered Feig. “Beyond that, what are the greatest challenges that you feel you hit in this industry, and how can I help?”
And as for getting his friends in high places to help as well, Feig had a message: “You have to get involved. It’s your duty. If you’re an ‘A-lister’ you’re always insecure that whatever job you’re on is your last. While I can’t in good conscience call myself an A-lister, I know I’m not in major competition with up-and-comers. At some point you have to give back – although, I don’t even like that term. It feels like charity work; we’re storytellers, creators, we live and breathe this stuff, and I’m tired of hearing my voice.”
“I’ve lived my take on the world. Now I want to know other people’s take on the world. To not try and empower people who may have a unique voice or who might do something that’s awesome is kind of criminal. If you love this art form, you want to see it expand.”