January 30, 2020
Sundance 2020

Why Julie Taymor Couldn’t Get $$$ from Hollywood, and What She Did Instead

Could the auteur director’s alternative financing for The Glorias be a model for others?

Julie Taymor has been directing in Hollywood for decades. She stormed into the industry when it openly disparaged women directors. She's taken on studio heads to maintain her vision. She's an incredibly original visual storyteller. But it has not gotten easier over the years for her to make movies in Hollywood.

Why Hollywood balked at funding Taymor's new film

The accomplished director behind Frida and Across the Universe first approached Hollywood sources to finance her future film The Glorias, which just premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. In a panel discussion at the Festival, she was asked about the funding for her film. She had only gotten one offer from a Hollywood source: $10 million. Sure, Taymor has made movies for that amount of money, as she described in the conversation. In fact, she made Frida for around $12 million, but that was 18 years ago. (Even then, the film grossed over $55 million, earning financiers a cool $44 million back on their investment.)

Taymor's signature filmmaking style usually involves sweeping, visually stunning stories with a healthy dose of surrealism that makes her work so epic. It's not a style that can be accomplished on a small budget. But, unsurprisingly, Hollywood was afraid. The fear? That the film was just for women. "Which is absolute nonsense," said Taymor. "It's not for women, it's for people.” She continued:

“Why should [Gloria], of all heroes in our country, be treated as if it's a little low budget movie when you get these epic Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, LBJ and all the big heroes that we've heard about and have had multiple movies made about them and TV shows, Why don't we have that with the women?”

Here's a look at recent films about the figures mentioned went for twice or three times as much as what Hollywood offered Taymor.

  • The Darkest Hour  (Winston Churchill): $30 million budget estimate
  • LBJ (Lyndon B. Johnson): $20 million budget estimate
  • Selma (Martin Luther King Jr.): $20 million budget estimate

But this time around, studios told Taymor that they were concerned the film would be too political and would be just for women.

'The Darkest Hour', 'Selma', and 'LBJ'

How Taymor got her film financed in the end

Taymor wasn't content to shelve the project until Hollywood financiers were ready, but she wouldn't settle for a low budget offer for the epic life of Gloria Steinem. Why should she? The LBJ team did not, and LBJ is not exactly a sizzling hot figure that audiences are demanding to see.

Instead, Taymor sought funding outside the Hollywood system, through an unnamed not-for-profit source. The catch? If you can call it that. Profits from the film would go to women's causes wherever Gloria Steinem saw fit. It's a great way to bypass the studio system altogether. Now that The Glorias, starring Julianne Moore, is done and has premiered at Sundance, we can watch for how it will fare with audiences.

Beyond talk about getting the film financed, she also talked along with Steinem herself about the making of the film. Watch the full conversation and read a few of the best takeaways.

Try to create film crews that resemble the population

Taymor doesn't​ have all male or all female crews. She thinks it's fair to have a crew who mirrors our society -- which means seeking out women to be in positions of leadership beyond the hair, make-up, and costume departments.

At the panel, we asked Taymor about how women work on her crew, and she responded:

“I wanted to work with Rodrigo Prieto because I just love him. I did Frida and Midsummer with him. There wasn’t any question. I wasn’t going out to arbitrarily find a different, female DP because that didn’t make sense...For crew, you can see them in the film, because the people on the bus are our crew. We had a lot of female crew. And I thank my producers for helping find them. It’s a pretty balanced crew, male and female, which quite honestly I like. That’s the world. I love the men on my crew because they love The Glorias. The men who’ve seen this film, Michael Barry, our sound mixer, he said, ‘I can’t wait to show this to my daughters.’ So I think it is quite important to find the women and bring them into those positions, but you have to decide if you need to have it all one way. It can be a dilemma for some women directors. It’s a developmental process, however, to get more women into roles like grips and gaffers that have been so historically male.” 

"It’s a pretty balanced crew, male and female, which quite honestly I like. That’s the world."

Strive for authentic emotion in an inauthentic

Taymor described how she chose to portray men in the film, saying:

“I really wanted to make sure the men in the movie to be good. I’ve seen too many movies about sexism where [the men] are assholes. I don’t feel that these guys were. I felt like the men [in the movie] respected Gloria but they didn’t get how far advanced she is as a writer and intellect...what I liked what how Gloria responded to them.” 

Know that casting is huge

“Julianne Moore was first person we cast,” explained Taymor. “People always say I’m so visual, but casting is not my weakness.”

Don't feel compelled to make your characters 'icons’

Taymor discussed Steinem's icon status in society and how that informed her making her film:

“Gloria is always called an icon. An icon to me is something that’s not living. It’s a sculpture, it’s hard, it’s stone, it’s wood, it’s gold, it’s gilded, it’s rigid, it’s religious...the thing I really wanted to do was get to her humanity...people look at finished products. I’ve been through this too. Especially about women. They think they have no human vulnerability.”


For more, see our ongoing list of coverage of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

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