A new fund

Mynette Louie, left, Mary Jane Skalski, second from left, Julie Parker Benello, third from left, and Dan Cogan, right, have created a new financial fund for women directors. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times / September 20, 2013)

NEW YORK -- Can money solve a Hollywood gender imbalance?

That's the question posed by a new film fund that aims to boost the number of female directors.

The fund, called Gamechanger Films, will exclusively finance movies directed by women, The Times has learned.

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According to an announcement scheduled for Friday, Gamechanger aims to fully or partly finance up to 10 narrative feature films in the coming years, in budgets generally ranging from $1 million to $5 million, across all genres.

“Hollywood speaks in terms of money, so our goal is to use that same language,” said Mynette Louie, an independent-film producer (“Children of Invention”) who will serve as president of Gamechanger. “We want to shift the balance, to effect long-term change and increase the number of women directors.”

The fund, which organizers say is the first of its kind, grew out of studies such as one at San Diego State University titled Celluloid Ceiling that found that women were vastly underrepresented behind the camera.

For example, though women constitute roughly 50% of U.S. film-school graduates, the study found, they composed only 7% of directors on the top 250-grossing Hollywood and independent films over the last several years. A Sundance Institute-sponsored study conducted by USC's Annenberg School reached similar conclusions.

Money for Gamechanger was raised by the New York-based female-oriented fund Chicken & Egg Pictures and the New York-based film-investment group Impact Partners.

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Impact has been behind some notable documentaries in recent years, including the 2012 Sundance darling “The Queen of Versailles.” Chicken & Egg's principals backed movies such as Dee Rees' drama “Pariah” and Jill Soloway's Silverlake marital tale “Afternoon Delight.”

Principals from the companies said cash for Gamechanger comes from a range of equity investors. Though some have socially conscious missions, Gamechanger is a for-profit enterprise.

The company says it will focus solely on scripted features, in part because documentary films, which require less up-front investment, already see a greater proportion of women directors. On the other hand, those investing in scripted movies tend to be less willing to put up money for a film directed by a woman.

“There's an unconscious prejudice in which people just don’t feel confident giving their money to women filmmakers and getting their money back,” said Impact co-founder Dan Cogan.

The idea is that by financing these films -- and earning a satisfactory return -- Gamechanger can change that perception.

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In a season when movies by and about blacks are undergoing a renaissance -- ”Lee Daniels' The Butler” recently crossed $100 million at the box office and Steve McQueen's civil rights drama “12 Years a  Slave” was the toast of the recently concluded Toronto and Telluride film festivals -- the time is right for more films directed by women too, founders say.

But most independent narrative features aren't successful, either failing to find a mainstream audience or a commercial distributor. And if a few of Gamechanger’s movies fail, it could reinforce negative stereotypes.

Gamechanger principals reply that box-office success is not the only goal.

“When creative executives get in a room and go down the list of possible directors for a movie that's already financed, they simply don't see many women to choose from,” said Mary Jane Skalski, a veteran feature producer (“Win Win,” “The Station Agent”) who is serving as a senior advisor to Gamechanger. “If we get more women making movies, there will be more people to consider from that list. On some level it's simply a numbers game.”