Elizabeth Banks On How Boredom & Sexism Led Her From Acting To Directing

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You know her face and her name. You are also probably well familiar with Elizabeth Banks’ talent on screen in the many roles she has played over the years. More recently as Effie Trinket in ‘The Hunger Games’ movies, and as the quick-quipped commentator in both ‘Pitch Perfect’ movies. Here’s what else you need to know about Elizabeth Banks (if you didn’t already), she is a badass director and producer and Hollywood better watch out.

It’s no secret that women are a dime a dozen when it comes to directing major Hollywood films, or even smaller budget and indie films for that matter. Time and time again we’ve spoken of the fact that only one woman has ever won the Oscar for ‘Best Director’, and only 4 women have ever been nominated. While directing has traditionally been a male-dominated job, the balance is starting to shift a little with the rise of more and more women recognizing that directing as well as other behind-the-scenes roles such as writing and producing come with more power than being a lead actress.

Rose McGowan is doing it, as is Lake Bell and Angelina Jolie. In a recent interview, Elizabeth talked about the two things that pushed her into adding more strings to her bow: boredom and sexism.

She told Deadline that she is well aware of the gender bias that exists, which drove her toward, not away, from a job that more men do in Hollywood.

“I think it drove me to direct for sure. I definitely was feeling that I was unfulfilled and a little bit bored by the things that were coming across my desk,” she said.

Elizabeth also touched on the problem that many women in Hollywood have faced. That when they hit a certain age, their prospects change and not always for the better, but with men it is entirely different.

“I think at a certain point, everything that’s coming across my desk, I’m like, ‘I’m vibrant and vital and interested. I still got my looks.’ I think it’s really just about my peer group. Just watching my peer group get to still have lead roles in movies and know that more and more, those are going to up-and-comers instead of people who are veterans in the industry,” she said.

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Her honest view of where she was at in her career says a lot about how much the industry still needs to change.

“I mean I look at Gwyneth Paltrow who has her Oscar and played fifth banana to Iron Man. That to me is a great example of the fate of women in Hollywood. Like what more can you do? I didn’t even date Brad Pitt so what more can I do?”

In an interview with the Independent back in May promoting ‘Pitch Perfect 2’, she also said she felt “under-used” by Hollywood and how producing and directing gave her a different sort of power within the industry, but most importantly, what being a female director represented to young female audiences.

“I’m hopeful that making this movie –  that was written by a woman, directed by a woman and stars a lot of women – I’m hoping that we inspire more women to go behind the camera and take leadership positions,” she said.

It was Elizabeth and her production company, Brownstone Productions who she runs with her husband Max Handelman, who sold Universal Studios on the idea to make ‘Pitch Perfect’ in the first place. The movie was based on a book called ‘Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory’ by Mickey Rapkin and we all know what a success the first installment was.

It brought in $103 million in box office and home video sales in total, not a laughable figure for a film featuring mostly women. But it was the second film which Elizabeth also directed that really solidified what a home run it was. In it’s opening weekend it surpassed the entire box office sales of the original ($70.3 million vs. $65 million) and also beat out opening weekend competitor ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ by a cool $35 million.

But wait there’s more… It has also become one of the best openings of all time for a non tentpole film (a film that is not a blockbuster and not necessarily expected to bring in big money, usually an indie film). We think you get the idea. So with figures like this, why is it still so hard to fathom women as directors, or better, actresses turned directors, in Hollywood?

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In a feature on Elizabeth for The Hollywood Reporter around the time ‘Pitch Perfect 2’ was released, writer Seth Abramovitch shares some interesting thoughts.

“Lots of actors become directors — but almost exclusively they’ve got Y chromosomes. The number of still-acting female stars who have successfully made the jump to the other side of the camera can be counted on one hand (actually, two fingers: Jodie Foster and Angelina Jolie, but many continue to try). And to find an actress who has directed a big studio comedy, you have to go all the way back to Betty Thomas and Penny Marshall. Even for female directors who do not moonlight as actresses, Hollywood can seem like a cold, inhospitable place — just ask Michelle MacLaren, who in April was fired from ‘Wonder Woman’ over unspecified ‘creative differences’ and replaced by Patty Jenkins, who herself was fired from ‘Thor 2’,” he writes.

The gravity of what women are up against is not lost on Elizabeth, but it certainly isn’t about to stop her, either.

“The list of women who get to make studio-level films is very short. And I’m not quite in that club yet. Until this movie comes out, then we’ll see. This shoot is the test. I like to get A’s,” she said, and that was BEFORE she well and truly aced the box office test with ‘Pitch Perfect 2′.

The 41 year old has never been one to wait around for opportunities, however. She won the role of Marcela Howard, the second wife of Jeff Bridges’ character in ‘Seabiscuit’ at the age of 28 because she wrote a letter to the director Gary Ross saying how much she loved the character in the book and wanted to play her. Although Gary was initially intending to cast a bigger name actress, Elizabeth got her part in the end. When Elizabeth found out Gary was also going to be directing ‘The Hunger Games’ she wrote to him again saying how much she wanted the part of Effie Trinket, and of course the rest is history.

She is well aware that if she doesn’t take those opportunities, they may not come her way, simply because of her age and gender.

“A lot of us are surviving. Some of us are not. I used to go to auditions with Tara Reid. So, you know, we didn’t all make it. We’re not all still here,” she said.

The Hollywood Reporter points to a recent study by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film which found “nearly half the industry workers surveyed still believed that female-directed movies appeal to a smaller audience than films directed by men. It also found that female directors were far more likely to find work in inde­pendent productions than mainstream studio pictures. Twelve percent said women ‘can’t handle’ commanding a large crew, and 25 percent cited lack of ambition as the reason so few women get hired as directors.”

In feature for Net-A-Porter’s ‘The Edit’ magazine, Elizabeth was interviewed by Mickey Rapkin, the author who inspired and began her ‘Pitch Perfect’ journey, and had this to say about her directorial debut and subsequent success:

“The importance of this cannot be overstated: in 2013, the major Hollywood studios released exactly three films with female directors; in 2014, that number rose to five,” he writes.

In that same interview, Elizabeth is quick to point out that despite the dismal odds stacked against female directors in Hollywood, she relished the challenge to prove studios wrong.

“Both Max and I have had to fight misconceptions. ‘She’s just a blond actress who works with her husband.’ ‘Who are they?’ ‘She’s not even that successful of an actress!’ But none of this is a vanity project. I want to tell stories and have more control over my life,” she said.

That right there is the essence of the reason for many women turning to producing and acting: control, not just on screen but in their lives.

But when it comes to better representations of women on screen, it is imperative that the statistics are changed.

Another study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University showed that women only make up 7% of directors on the biggest money-making films over the past 17 years. For the record, the study also showed that women were best represented as producers (23%) followed by executive producers (19%), editors (18%), writers (11%) and cinematographers (5%).

It doesn’t take a genius to understand the move from acting to directing for women like Elizabeth Banks. While she is still being seen in a string of films on-screen, we are most excited about the moves she is making behind the camera.

The message to all the women aspiring to be directors, producers, and writers, is that no matter what the odds, the industry and audiences desperately need you. It will make a huge difference in the representation of women on screen when we have more women represented in those key power roles.

Here’s to the next blockbuster film directed and produced by Elizabeth Banks, making the road ahead for future directors just a little bit easier.

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