SBIFF’s Women’s Panel celebrates producers, writers and developers

Saturday's Women's Panel featured, from left, moderator Madelyn Hammond, Allison Abbate, Lucy Alibar, Marissa Paiva, Katherine Sarafian and Pilar Savone. MIKE ELIASON/NEWS-PRESS
Saturday’s Women’s Panel featured, from left, moderator Madelyn Hammond, Allison Abbate, Lucy Alibar, Marissa Paiva, Katherine Sarafian and Pilar Savone.

Why are there not more women in Hollywood?

This is the perpetual question, recently raised in several articles quoting the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University’s findings that only 18 percent of directors, writers and camera people of the top-grossing movies are women.

It’s also been a familiar question at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Women’s Panel for the last few years, and it was asked again Saturday afternoon at the Lobero Theatre.

Moderator Kathryn Hammond interviewed six women involved in the industry: Allison Abbate, producer, Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie”; Lucy Alibar, writer of “Beasts of the Southern Wild”; Marissa Paiva, director of development at Fox, representing “Life of Pi”; Katherine Sarafian, producer of Pixar’s “Brave”; and Pilar Savone, producer of “Django Unchained.”

Ms. Hammond began with beginnings, and how each woman got into her career.

Ms. Savone said she was burned out at working as a first assistant director and was thinking of taking a break until Quentin Tarantino asked her to work on “Kill Bill.”

“If anybody is going to bring my passion back for making movies it’s Quentin,” she remembers thinking.

For Ms. Abbate it was more personal, remembering watching late-night movies with her parents.

For writer Miss Alibar, it started with diary writing that then turned into characters and dialog, and then plays. The stories were all pretty personal, and usually started at an early age.

Ms. Sarafian told her story of being interested in both science and storytelling, and when she saw Pixar’s first short, she realized computer animation involved both. She wrote many letters to the Pixar offices, sending in her resume, and got a job through perseverance.

The question again arose over what a producer actually does, because outside the industry, many still don’t know. That led to some panelists talking about the brother-sister relationship that can happen between producer and director.

Ms. Abbate finishes Mr. Burton’s sentences for him. Mr. Tarantino, Ms. Hammond joked, probably finishes Ms. Savone’s for her.

But it was more than that — Ms. Savone said she was the one who knew the director’s mood at the beginning of the day before anyone and planned accordingly.

The casting of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” made for an interesting story, as Ms. Alibar’s play, the film’s source material, started as an autobiographical tale.

But when Quvenzhane Wallis was cast — 5 years old, not 9 or 10, and black, not white as in the play — Miss Alibar completely overhauled her script.

However, she said, the portrayal of the father in the film remains very close to her own dad.

There were more anecdotes. Mr. Tarantino bans all cellphones, iPods, and iPads on set — there’s even a “checkpoint Charlie” to collect them all.

Ang Lee blesses every location he shoots with a Buddhist prayer and begins his film productions with a large meal of roasted pig. Mr. Tarantino’s crew do shots every 100 feet of film.

But back to that question asked by one audience member, and alluded to by another.

“Making a decision from my chair has nothing to do with whether they are male or female,” said Ms. Paiva. “It’s the material.” She listed several films she’s helped make that had many females in the main jobs.

“I don’t know if there’s something we can actively do,” she concluded.

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