Last time I checked, there were at least seven (probably more) Sundance films currently in theatres. That is, if you live in New York. If you live outside of New York, there's probably only one. Nevertheless, late August seems to have become the season of Sundance theatrical distribution for those films lucky enough to make their way to the big screen from the country's most prominent independent film festival. Perhaps distributors see Sundance films as the antidote to big studio releases filling up the multiplexes all summer long, and decide to jam them into the theatres all at once. Riding this counterprogramming wave is Celeste and Jesse Forever, written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, directed by Lee Toland Krieger, and produced by Jennifer Todd. Thanks to the Academy Conversations video below, we get a brief glimpse into the story's origin, shooting location ironies, and portraying real women on screen.

Here's the trailer for Celeste and Jesse Forever:

Academy Conversations video:

At the very end of the video, Jennifer Todd describes how studio films tend to portray women and why the portrayal of Celeste's character meant so much to her:

[W]hen you’re developing a studio film, to make a woman likable, the script always has to start with her losing her job, getting dumped by a guy, tripping in high heels. It’s sort of the requisite what-you-have-to-do to then be likable and be picked back up and have someone fall in love with you. And it’s sort of the rules that we’ve sadly developed a lot of stories by. And that’s what I loved about this, that [Celeste] seemed like such a real character to me. She was so recognizable. I see myself in Celeste, I see my friends in Celeste…I think she is a likable character…. I like that we weren’t concerned about it. [We] were just presenting someone who felt very real to me.

Real, strong female protagonists seem to be in short supply in movies even though women purchase half of all movie tickets according to the MPAA (BTW, female assassins may be strong protagonists, but I don't believe they necessarily belong in the category of real female protagonists, just to head off those arguments). Perhaps the demographics of screenwriters contribute to the dearth of real female protagonists, but for me, Jennifer Todd's argument about likability for female characters rings especially true. More important than likability is sympathy for a character--can the audience relate to the character? Female characters should be allowed to make mistakes, get angry, lash out if that's what the character needs to do in that moment of the story. Too often, when readers confront these scenes in scripts, they tend to label the female character as a bitch. In reality, these scenes actually portray another facet of a dynamic female character who may be justified in her actions or who may be making a big mistake, but in the end has also become more sympathetic to audience members who have experienced the same emotions.

Here's hoping more producers like Jennifer Todd produce more movies with real female protagonists. Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Link: Academy Conversations

[via Nicholl Fellowships Facebook feed]