Recently here as a speaker at the Screen Forever conference run by Screen Producers Australia, veteran producer, Paula Wagner (Mission: Impossible I, II & III, The Last Samurai, Jack Reacher – as you can probably tell, she ran a company with Tom Cruise) reckons that Hollywood is taking notice of the gender and race inequality pervading the film industry. “I actually think now everybody is paying attention to the issue,” she says. “And the studios are waking up to the fact that they need to encourage more diversity in general; all diversity across all areas of filmmaking. And I think that studios are putting forth an effort; the whole industry is. So I am heartened and I’m positive that we’re going to have changes, and if we don’t, then we will have to make more radical suggestions.”
One of these suggestions occurred on the eve of Wagner’s appearance at Screen Forever, namely Screen NSW announcing that they have set a target of 50/50 gender equity in its development and production funding programs by 2020.
“Even though your numbers are slightly higher than ours,” says Wagner, “In [Hollywood in] 2014, 5% of the women directed the top studio pictures; 30% speaking roles on screen. I’m surprised because I became very involved in the feminist movement in the ‘70s. And certainly in the ‘90s we were working to try to bring more women behind the camera, and in front of the camera I might add. It hasn’t changed enough. In some ways, in the big commercial film arena, it has gone backwards.
“So I think it’s an excellent way to encourage to move the needle faster, and to encourage in the hiring of women,” she comments on Screen NSW’s initiative.
Wagner’s visit also coincided with the box office success in this country of The Dressmaker, a film made by women, and attracting a large female audience. “Sounds like a great movie,” says Wagner who was yet to catch the film. “But female filmmakers should be considered not only for female-driven movies, but I’d like to see a female filmmaker direct a James Bond or a Mission: Impossible. It’s time. Women can cross-over, women can make big action-driven films as easily and as competently as men can.”
When you look through Wagner’s recent filmography, it is noticeable how this actress, turned actors’ agent, turned producer has been quiet of late. But not so, according to Wagner. “One of the things I’ve been doing is theatre,” she says. “In the last couple of years I’ve produced three plays on Broadway. I also produced a special for Lifetime called FIVE about how breast cancer affects not only women, but everyone related to them, with five female directors I might add. I have three or four films I’m working on. I’m also working on the musical of Pretty Woman with Garry Marshall and JF Lawton for Broadway. So I’m really active and I’m really busy. In addition to that I’ve been lecturing all over the world, I’ve been teaching, I’m an Adjunct Professor at Carnegie Mellon University where I teach a course through the Graduate School.”