Sometimes the art of a pitch depends on the art of the pivot.
A new documentary currently in production on the timely topic of gender bias in Hollywood was born when Jennie Peters (BA/Com/PR ’04) changed direction in the middle of a pitch.
“It wasn’t long ago that I was sitting in a small restaurant on Melrose Ave., pitching my services to a couple of documentary filmmakers that I’d just met for the first time,” Peters says. “Mid-way through that meeting, I decided to stop pitching myself and start pitching an idea I had to make a documentary that would explore the gender bias happening in the entertainment industry.” Peters was pitching her marketing services to production company CreativeChaos vmg. When she asked what types of films the company was interested in making, the conversation turned into a brainstorming session for film ideas when the topic of gender inequality in Hollywood came up.
“This is something that has been on my mind for a long time,” she says, “but it took meeting over breakfast to discuss press to realize we should all do this project together.”
Following that moment of serendipity, the group formalized the concept into a quick elevator pitch. From there it was packaged, a production team was formed and pitching to producers commenced, including to Academy Award-winning actor Geena Davis, founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, and the Institute’s CEO Madeline Di Nonno. Both agreed to sign on as executive producers, along with Peters.
“We knew we wanted to use the Institute’s research and involve Geena in a bigger way,” says Peters.
In addition to Davis, the filmmakers are in conversation with top women in Hollywood, including director Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight), producer Nina Jacobson (The Hunger Games), actress Rose McGowan (Charmed), producer Wendy Calhoun (Empire), writer Callie Khouri (Nashville), actress Ashley Hammon (Raising Arizona), producer Dana Cook (My Strange Addiction), writer Maria Giese (When Saturday Comes), director Stacy Title (The Last Supper), producer Marcia Nasatir (Vertical Limit), Google’s Julie Anne Crommett and California State Senator Hannah Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) . The project is shooting for a 2018 premier at Sundance and has a theatrical release commitment from ArcLight Cinemas, another client with whom Peters worked.
Of the 14 producers, 10 are female, a percentage on one project that is a rarity in Hollywood. Another rarity for the subject matter, and one that caused a fair bit of controversy, was the decision to go with a male director: Emmy-nominated Tom Donahue (Casting By, Thank You For Your Service). While the concept of a male directing a film about the struggle of females in Hollywood didn’t seem odd to Peters or the project’s male supporters (including producers Glen Mazzara (The Walking Dead), Jon Avnet (Black Swan), Rodrigo Garcia (Blue), and Ross Putman (The Young Kieslowski), not everyone shared her sentiment.
“Why wouldn’t you want more males championing for change and supporting this cause?” she asks. “It was Tom and Ilan (Arboleda of CreativeChaos vmg) and their team who really put the production team together stacked with powerful women and got female financiers.”
“I don’t discount the way people feel about it at all but that at the end of the day we’re just trying to make a documentary that will enact change in some way,” says Peters.
And that is the major goal of this project. “Change is the number one thing. It is a huge motto for CreativeChaos, they don’t just make docs to make them; they choose concepts that will help drive policy change. It’s not enough just to say there is a problem and shine a light on it, you actually have to do something to fix it.”
For more information on Creative Chaos vmg, visit http://www.creativechaosvmg.com/
About her experience at Chapman:
Following her graduation from Chapman, Peters held a variety of marketing, publicity and PR positions for companies including Leader Enterprises, Rogers & Cowan, and Allison & Partners, where she spent five years as vice president before striking out on her own. Later she consulted for Relativity Ventures and then struck out on her own, when she met with CreativeChaos.
“Everything is totally transferrable.” says Peters of her studies in public relations. “The people skills necessary for PR are applicable and everything is easily transferred over to the physical production aspect. There is a learning curve regarding how production is handled form start to finish and what that all looks like, but my experience repping Sony camera and my agency/consultation experience – booking talent, liaising with publicists, pitching press – contributed to the creative process necessary to make this project a reality.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of In Production. Read other great articles, and catch up on older issues, by clicking here.