Q+A: Orange Is The New Black's Alysia Reiner, Film Producer Suzanne Curry & Producer-Actress Sarah Megan Thomas, All From the New Film, Equity
Equity, released at the end of July this year, was promoted as the first Wall Street movie about women, and on television news, as "a women's Wolf of Wall Street." The film received input from real Wall Street women and Bloomberg, who according to IMDb, "consulted with the producers and writers throughout the production."
I sort of know you in a way! You were in Harris Doran's film, The Story of Milo and Annie. You were great in the movie, and Harris is such a cool guy. I love how involved he is politically and being that kind of gentleman who can talk about anything, film or non-film. How outspoken have you become about women at work in a Harris sort of way ever since working on this movie? What did you learn from this whole project's experience?
It's so funny I was with HARRIS this weekend!!
I have always been very outspoken about what I believe in - be it about the environment or politics - and for me a large purpose of art and film is starting conversations. In working on ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, I became very outspoken and an active volunteer with the Women's Prison Association and they even honored me with their Susan Huntington award. It was deeply eye opening for me doing the research for this film and learning some disheartening statistics about women in the work force, and then empowering to work against those stats to move the needle with this film. We have all female producers, director, writer, production designer, costume designer, not to mention a film staring 3 women. I live the mantra: BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE. I love working with THE GEENA DAVIS INSTITUTE to help create change in this way.
Vulture.com features a quote from your main investor on women often having advantages in the Wall Street world, like wearing a pink suit to do more aggressive things that day. How does Equity portray that side of women's corporate work?
I love that my character uses her sexuality to get the information she needs from a man. Particularly considering that she is a lesbian. We have a lot of examples of powerful complex women in this film and I'm proud of that.
What was the best part of the film itself for you if you watched this as a critic?
I am so close to it that would be hard to say. I wish critics could see the quilt of collaboration that goes into film making. It all starts with the script and I think Amy Fox is a spectacular screenwriter. I absolutely love Meera as our director, could wax poetic for hours about her and her eye and collaboration with our DP. Critics never really know how much an editor can help craft a movie but ours was spectacular. Our production designer made true magic on our tiny budget - aided by great lighting and my husbands mastery in helping us secure the perfect locations. And of course our phenomenal cast- so would love us to get an ensemble award!
The "producer" label can mean anything to different people depending on what they want from the job. What did you do in your role as a producer?
I had a lot of fun!. This was a fantastic experience. I came in very early to this film, before the script was even finalized. As a producer we followed the the whole production. Watching the move go from script to finished project was eye-opening. It's never what you have in your mind, actors, directors, music, sound... it takes a team to create the movie and even the slightest change can affect the whole. We actually had a different ending than the one out in theaters now.
I also did some media consulting for it. Being in PR, it was interesting to watch how the movie was marketed from start to finish. Publicity is many-faceted these days. I believe some of the success of this movie was due to the media plan they had. There was a story behind the story, several of them, and different angles were pitched.
Also as part of the marketing for the movie, many of the producers helped in spreading the word about it through social and print platforms. Many of us bought out theaters or filled theaters in our area and this happened all across the country. Part of the marketing for the movie was having panel discussions after the show on different topics. Some were about the film, the female aspects of it, about females in banking, etc. We had some prestigious speakers on the panels. For a screening I did in South Jersey, we had Alysia Reiner, David Alan, Basche, Executive Producer Candy Straight, SPC President Tom Bernard and myself on the panel.
The New York Times in their profile on your movie talks about how the film was pitched about not representing women as strippers or sexualised characters in Wall Street films. However, I do think strippers and women making themselves appear sexualised for work are themselves powerful as long as they are in those careers by choice and that would be an amazing film in itself profiling them. How varied were the opinions of people to whom you told this viewpoint? How did they help you out? Long question! ;)
Since the film's inception we have used the word "first female-driven Wall Street movie". As some articles state, and state correctly, the point was to show complex, intelligent women working side by side with their male counterparts and oftentimes leading them as well. The women in this movie are there because of their intelligence, they are not just the secretary or the wife or the girlfriend of a man working on Wall Street. That I believe is the basis of that observation. The women in this movie are not like Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. It's a different ballgame.
Most of the people who heard this all felt that is was time to make a movie like this. I really did not hear much criticism of that. There were two scenes in the movie, however, one where Samantha, played by Alysia Reiner, used her sexuality to get some information and yet another when Erin, played by Sarah Megan Thomas, used her feminine ways to get what she needed. But these are isolated instances and they are meant to make the story more entertaining, and not the whole of their character.
I do love how the movie does portray women on Wall Street because there are many in real life, and we don't see that side of corporate life on shows like Sex and the City. Was there anything you heard about from the investors' real life stories that did not make it into the movie yet is valuable to people and you'd like to share?
Dozens of women that worked on Wall Street were interviewed for this film. Fortunately, as the majority of the other producers were women, I got to learn a lot about their world. First, I did hear that the "chocolate chip cookie" incident was based on a real story but that it happened to aman. Also, many of the female investment bankers shared that they had a male mentor, and that made it into the story. As far as stories that did not make it in, one current banker shared with me how much support she had from her assistant when she had her children and also how she was one of the first in her company to ask for paid maternity leaveback in the 80's (and get it). Since the concept was bought by Tri Star, perhaps we will see a story line like that in the future!
What kinds of movies would you like to produce? This is your first big one. Would you ever write your own material?
I am a big romantic comedy fan, I also like drama and sci fi. I am reading some scripts now. But, being in PR my whole life there is a writer in me with lots of ideas. I have started a script already. I won't say that I want to produce a film with a lot of meaning, but I do want to produce something that is entertaining and puts you in a better mood after seeing it.
Sarah Megan Thomas
Thousands of people out there want to make movies and are not well off enough to finance their own work. You were able to get enough funding for this film, the release and its PR campaign. What did you have to do to make people not only hold meetings but agree to invest?
With any indie film, even as someone who’s made multiple movies, it’s always really hard to fundraise. Movies are a high-risk investment, and people going in didn’t know if my movie would make money. So finding people to invest in my idea was really, really tough. But I persevered, and the film Equity (in which I also co-starred!) was made and is coming out this year.
The most important aspect of selling an idea is being passionate about it yourself. People invest in people. Be yourself, and bring your excitement for the project along with you. You have to be passionate about it or you cannot sell it. (Or, you can, it just won’t be as fun! Or fulfilling).
After your passion, here are some other things you should remember when you’re getting ready to sell someone on your big idea.
1. Be a little ballsy.
All of the connections I made happened through meeting one person, who introduced me to people who introduced me to more and more people. I read a New York Times article about a senior male executive working at a major bank, who had taken up rowing as a hobby. My previous movie had been about women rowers, so I sent him a copy of that with a personal, handwritten message about my new film. I had no way of knowing if he’d even get it, let alone read it. But he set up a meeting with me within two weeks. And while he wasn’t able to invest, the idea for my film really struck a chord with him. This Wall Street executive introduced me to a man who was a mentor to women on Wall Street. This mentor in turn introduced me to many women who he thought could help. The movie wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t put myself out there like that.
2. Do your homework, and be honest.
I like to think I’m a nice person, which may get me in the door, but I’m always prepared. I come in with a business plan and numbers to back up my work. I can always prove that I’ve done the research. When pitching Equity, I put together a business plan with movies on similar subjects that were also indies of this level to show an accurate, honest picture of how they performed in the box office. I wasn’t about to compare my Wall Street movie’s potential earnings to what The Blair Witch Project made, because they’re not comparable. And I always stressed to people, yes, you could lose your money. I was always honest about the risks that the person could take by getting involved, as well as the rewards.
3. Know what’s in it for the other person.
It’s really important not only to know why your idea is great for you, but to understand what the other person could want or get out of it. What would help sweeten the deal for them? Before every meeting with any potential investor, I did a lot of research about who that person was—what they liked, what they had invested in before and what was important to them. Then I would go into the meeting and sell them based on what I had learned about them. Maybe they wouldn’t make their money back on this film (although luckily with Equity, they did!), but I could offer on-set visits, cameo appearances or help telling parts of their own personal story. It was always different for every person. Know who you’re talking to and tailor your pitch to that person’s wants and needs.
An investor discussed how the film "isn't the right marketing piece" to convince women to pursue a finance career. Do you agree or disagree with her?
A little of both. This film is meant to be an interesting and entertaining piece of fictional drama and was never intended to be a marketing piece for women in finance. That said, many young women who have sen the film have thanked us for creating it because they have never seen women in finance in leading roles in a feature film before and they didn't realize those job positions were a realistic thing for them to dream to be. As Geena Davis likes to say: "if she can see it, she can be it."
Your character gets pregnant in the movie and isn't pleased at all. I appreciate this perspective because it reflects mine and probably a view shared by millions of young women around the world. We are forced to believe, if you watch every other movie and show out there, unplanned pregnancy is this amazing thing, and you'll live happily ever after with a guy like James Marsden. What did you consider in this plot line so it would be as realistic as possible?
I interviewed many women on Wall Street (some who felt they had to hide their pregnancies if it was bonus season or they were up for a promotion) and that is something we directly incorporated into the Equity script. I am also a mom to a 3 year old boy and, as a working mom, understand the conflicting emotions that can happen during pregnancy. For my character, I really wanted to show this ambitious women in Equity whois deeply conflicted with how having a child will effect the career she has worked so long and hard for. We wanted it to be controversial and are pleased Erin's pregnancy in the film has really struck a chord with so many working women.
Other than this cast and crew and its storyline being all female, what is groundbreaking about this movie?
This is the first female driven Wall Street drama. also, so many films take place during or prior to the financial crises. Ours takes place in current times when regulations are tight. In addition, we explore the IPO and investment banking side of Wall Street which is something we haven't seen before on film. And I would argue we have a groundbreaking female "Villian" in the movie.