Joanna Langfield chats with Picturehouse’s Marian Koltai-Levine

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When I first met Marion Koltai-Levine some 20 years ago, we were both just starting our on our careers, she in film marketing, and I in film journalism. Marian, who is now Executive Vice President of Marketing for Picturehouse, was recently named one of the 100 most powerful women in Hollywood by The Hollywood Reporter. We got together to raise glasses of Evian in celebration, and had a long conversation about the list’s signigicance and what it says about today’s Hollywood and women.

LANGFIELD: Marian, I must tell you when I read The Hollywood Reporter and saw your name as one of Hollywood’s 100 Most Powerful Women, I was so excited for you!

KOLTAI-LEVINE: Thank you.

LANGFIELD: How long have we known each other?

KOLTAI-LEVINE:20 years. Isn’t that hard to believe?

LANGFIELD:Yes, it is.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: It’s funny how when something like that happens, your tendency is to say ‘oh, it’s not that important’ or ‘gee, it’s nice to be included,’ and that kind of thing, But when you’re in marketing, you’re always in the backround. That’s part of the job. I know that and love it. But it’s interesting– for people like you and me, who’ve known each other so long– it’s a much different feel because it is an acknowledgement from your peers and that carries a different weight. I always feel like I’m so lucky to have fallen into what I do. Which it was– I mean, I fell into it as a freshman in college and I’m so grateful that I get to work with filmmakers that I really care about and also whom I think can really make a difference. Whether it’s at Picturehouse or Fine Line or even during my days at PMK, to work with people to whom you were able to give a platform, and that platform, in some way, changes people’s lives.

LANGFIELD: I like to feel that way, too. I like to feel we’re not just selling tickets. We’re trying to enhance something we care about, support people whose work we believe in.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: Right.

LANGFIELD: For me, being on the air, it’s about trying to make the person who’s listening to me have a brighter day, even if it’s just for a minute.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: They get a little smile. I agree with you. And I think that’s a unique opportunity. I always say that the theatrical world and in media, in general, is a business for optimists. Because it’s a gambler’s business. You can protect yourself in a million different ways, but ultimately there’s a level of gambling. And I think gamblers are optimists to begin with. And also resilient. And that’s what keeps you going.

LANGFIELD: Do you think that a list like The Most Important Women in Hollywood is different than it would have been 10 years ago, in its impact? Do we still need lists designating women that way?

KOLTAI-LEVINE: That’s an interesting question, and my husband and I have had a lot of talks about it, too– because in many ways I think it’s probably part of women’s character to organize things a little differently than men. We need organization of a lot of different things that allow us to feel good, productive and supported all at the same time. I think it’s in our DNA to be on teams and to be team leaders. I think the difference from 10 years ago is that, now, more women are in more senior positions. That’s just a natural thing that’s happening. It’s interesting that women still feel the need to do a women’s list, versus a person’s list. Because, I’d argue, that men’s support groups are not organized in the same fashion. I think there aren’t specifically men’s support groups or alliances. Rather, the way men do business is in a different, singularly focused manner. I think it’s part of DNA. That’s just a difference– it’s not good or a bad. But I think that for women to have complete equality, in a sense they’d have to stop being especially noted as women.

LANGFIELD: The reason that we formed the Alliance of Women Film Journalists is that, as critics and writers, there simply aren’t that many of us.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: That’s true. And in media– particularly, in critical media– there aren’t that many. And that’s an interesting area– it’s harder journalism. It’s critical thinking. It’s a different kind of journalism. And for whatever reason, there aren’t that many women.

LANGFIELD: We’re working on it.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: And I think that’s an area of concentration. We look at Manohla, Ella Taylor, Carrie Rickey, you, Lisa Schwarzbaum, Thelma– you can probably count 10 or 15 major critics, but that’s probably it.

LANGFIELD: And, I’m in the Broadcast Film Critics group, too. Look at that list. There’re not that many women in it even now.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: Why do you think that’s the case?

LANGFIELD: Well, in terms of broadcasting, certainly ageism. That’s a huge factor.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: Sure. For women, not men.

LANGFIELD: That’s right. In terms of writers, I really don’t know. That’s why we’ve created this group– to make a little noise.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: And I think you’re right.

LANGFIELD: We’re there to support each other. Because when you feel you’re out there by yourself, it’s nice to know there’s somebody else, who’s going through a lot of the same stuff.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: For kids in colleges and journalism programs, there must be role models that are easily accessible. Not just Pauline Kael. There are others who’ll have that same degree of influence, and relationships and respect.

LANGFIELD: The Alliance of Women Journalists is very committed to outreach, in terms of mentoring.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: Mentoring and education are key components. And I think mentoring is the reason why you see women in more key positions in management, although not in the highest positions in large media conglomerates yet. I think mentoring is a big element. Time/Warner has a big outreach to women– I’ve experienced it, been part of it and I’m enormously grateful. Especially at this point in my career, to have Time/Warner say, ‘we want to cultivate you, we want to educate you so you can rise. That’s a big deal. Pat Fili at Time/Warner is extraordinary. She comes from CBS and HBO. She has an extraordinary approach. It’s really smart, and it breeds loyalty. She put together an incredibly impressive program.

LANGFIELD: What does that feel like, when someone comes to you and says we want to cultivate you? I can’t imagine!

KOLTAI-LEVINE: It’s funny. Firstly, it feels great. And you’re honored. The other thing is, at age 45, unlike at age 20, I’m ready to learn in a different way when you go back to school, which you do for a limited amount of time– in my case, a week. I went back to school with a practical application in mind. That changes your learning curve, and that changes your enthusiasm. I’d like to go back and get my executive MBA. I regret that I didn’t finish my masters– not that I think it would change my career, it’s the higher level of education that I want.

LANGFIELD: You went back for a week? What did they teach you?

KOLTAI-LEVINE: It’s a leadership program they put together– like a week-long executive MBA program teaching management and negotiation skills, responsibility, cause and effect.

LANGFIELD: All women?

KOLTAI-LEVINE: All women. Senior women.

LANGFIELD: Do women need different lessons than men?

KOLTAI-LEVINE: I’d argue yes. Because some women– although you can’t generalize, just like you can’t generalize about men– but some women think differently than men do, and in their heads, conduct their lives differently. You don’t see people asking men, ‘How do you balance it all? How do you have three kids, a significant other that works full time?’

LANGFIELD: And a dog!

KOLTAI-LEVINE: Right. And a dog. For me, that’s one of the things I’m most proud of and love to discuss. It’s a questions that’s asked all the time. When I got pregnant with my third child, lots of people looked at me and asked, ‘was this an accident?’ It wasn’t. It was something I desperately wanted for a long time. And I think media is more supportive than other work arenas, probably. But I also think it’s incumbent upon me to make it work. To come back from my maternity leave, to keep my work schedule and figure out how not to have a hiccup. That’s not fair to the company, it’s not fair to the people that work there. If you have to over accommodate, then that’s the deal.

LANGFIELD: Do you think you’re harder on people who work for you that do have a hiccup?

KOLTAI-LEVINE: I’m definitely critical of women that I feel take advantage. I think they make it very hard for women who don’t. I think it promotes the stereotypical ‘oh, she had a baby and decided to work part-time’, or ‘if she had a baby, she’d probably want to work part-time’, or ‘she has children, how could she handle a bigger job?’ attitude towards women. Everyone has to make their own choices and I respect that. I just think it’s extraordinarily important to maintain a level of professionalism in those arenas that are particularly sexist. Having a baby is a sexist item. Now, adoption’s a different thing and that’s becoming more prevalent. There’re exceptions for anything, but I’d put that same rule on anybody. Because, again, you’re walking around the office pregnant, probably…

LANGFIELD: It’s hard to hide.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: Right. That’s the way it is. That’s why I feel it is extremely important to be professional. And most people are. Anybody that really wants to continue working, I think, gets it.

LANGFIELD: Let’s talk about film. You must really love the Alliance of Women Film Journalists having named Pan’s Labyrinth best picture of the year. You won our first EDA award.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: We’re thrilled. Super thrilled. It’s interesting. With a film like Pan’s Labyrinth, as a bit of a genre film, I think it says even more for the Alliance that they picked it. I don’t think in some senses, it would be an obvious choice. Although Guillermo Del Toro is quite female dominated. If you hear him talk about the film, it’s a uterine experience, as he says. That’s how his fantasy world is. It’s shaped in the round, colored like amniotic fluid or red, for blood. He’s very conscious of it. He has two daughters, and the heroine who’s his main character has more courage than any man.

LANGFIELD: Two, actually.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: Yes, two. So it’s very exciting for us.

LANGFIELD: Do you think women market, or have a view of marketing, that’s different than men’s?

KOLTAI-LEVINE: I don’t know that I could say it’s different. To me, marketing’s about finding the big hook. But I also think marketing’s about subtleties.

LANGFIELD: Subtleties! That’s interesting! I think people think of marketing as being slammed over the head!

KOLTAI-LEVINE: I know. But I think it’s the subtleties that ultimately distinguish good marketing. I think the audience is smarter than people realize. The other thing is, they’re tremendously media savvy at the moment. My old boss, Chris Pula used to say, if Kalamzoo, Michigan is running box office reports….

LANGFIELD: I’m thrilled when I’m on air and get calls from the middle America with the most perceptive, most knowledgeable questions.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: Yeah! I find that true, too, while doing all these Q and A’s with Guillermo across the country for Pan’s Labyrinth. He’s an incredible speaker, a renaissance man. Audiences, because of the Internet, can access information in a much different way. If there’s even a mild interest, the level of information is tremendous. People want to get that information, and they look for it all day long. That’s what’s changed everything. That’s why I say I think marketing deals with subtleties. People are paying attention to what’s different. So you have to find a way to show what’s different. With Pan’s Labyrinth, it’s easy because it’s so original. It doesn’t fit into a genre–is it fantasy, horror or an art film? This summer, when we did Prairie Home Companion, with Altman– it was a great honor to work on this film– and Garrison Keillor has a tremendous audience, well, this was a very different mix of elements for him and his 15-million listerners per week. We looked at those differences and went after finding the audiences who would really understand them. We grossed over $20-million. That’s one of the highest grossing Robert Altman films ever.

LANGFIELD: I loved that movie.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: It’s a great movie. It was fun. You wanted to be there and you wanted to participate. It was easy. You could go with anybody. You saw the theatrical wearwithall on the screen, too.

LANGFIELD: So what do you do when you have a harder film to sell?

KOLTAI-LEVINE: Well, we’ve certainly had those, too. Look at Fur, which was a very difficult, very unconventional movie. I thought it got slammed a little bit more than it deserved, frankly. Obviously, with Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey, Jr., you’re going to sell that like crazy. We used the writers quite a bit, too. Patricia Bosworth, who wrote the book and Erin Cressida Wilson, who also wrote Secretary. It was interesting to read about her and her thought process working with Steve Shainberg, the director. They’d collaborated on Secretary. We found some very interesting pieces. But, ultimately, we didn’t motivate people to see the movie.

LANGFIELD: You also had a problem in that Nicole’s personal problems kept her from participating in promotional efforts.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: Yeah, well that was one of the…well, you know, there’s nothing you can do about that. But I think, ultimately, this was a film that needed reviews– or more interesting reviews– written about it, and that didn’t happen. Because even when you get a bad review, if it’s written in an interesting way, it still motivates people to go to the movie.

LANGFIELD: How do you try to get that?

KOLTAI-LEVINE: I always say extremes are good. For example, when we did Dancer in the Dark, we had tremendous extremes. People loved that movie– I was one of them– or dispised it. But those extremes make for good conversation. If we’re gonna get a bad review, I’d rather get a terrible review. I think mediocrity is a tough place to be. It is for anybody.

LANGFIELD: It’s hard to write, too. I hate walking out of a screening going, ‘it was alright.’

KOLTAI-LEVINE: It’s tough.

LANGFIELD: But a “B” film has its place on DVD.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: Yeah, but the problem with that is, if it’s coming out theatrically, then you have to, from a financial standpoint, spend accordingly so by the time you get to the DVD, you’ll be in the position to reap those benefits. The DVD business is changing, too. It isn’t quite the bonanza is used to be. I think it’s the responsibility of a marketer and any theatrical company to understand those ancillary rights well. Because that either gives you a leg up or not. With margins between what you spend and what you make quite thin, it’s really important to understand where you can make money and what becomes a loss leader. In awards campaigns, you can spend a lot of money going after wins, but it’s important to weigh in the percentages of what categories make a financial difference.

LANGFIELD: What categories are worth it?

KOLTAI-LEVINE: Best Picture. You can get a 10-12 % bump from that. Multiple wins. Nominations get you through the theatrical, but that’s it. It’s winning that makes a difference. Best Supporting Actress only? Doesn’t. Screenplay? Doesn’t– maybe 2 – 5%, but how much did it cost to get there? But, the flip of this is, you’re branding a company, too. For example, at Picturehouse, we’re really proud to have had Prairie Home and Pan’s Labyrinth and, of course, we want to tout that. When you look on Movie City News right now, where you get a tally, we have two films in the top 20 of all pictures released this year. Out of 400 films a year, that’s a big deal.

LANGFIELD: In addition to having 250 lists, you have almost 250 people giving out different awards.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: Well, you do. And, obviously, you want to be a part of everything and support everything. It’s like running a political campaign. Probably, if I wasn’t in entertainment, I’d be in politics. They’re very similar. But there’s probably a different reality– that’s why I like entertainment more than politics.

LANGFIELD: Yeah, ‘probably.’

KOLTAI-LEVINE: That’s a whole other conversation. But that’s what’s interesting. I love the strategy, the machinations that go on. And again, I think the Academy and a lot of these other organizations have kind of buttoned themselves up quite a bit where, maybe five or ten years ago, it wasn’t quite the same way. They’ve morally and ethically reviewed what they’re doing and realized the importance of it. Look at United 93. I haven’t seen it because I just didn’t want to, but I can’t tell you how much respect I have for it. I appreciate very much that it is getting the attention it deserves, the accolades and the support. It may not win, but it’s out in front right now.

LANGFIELD:: It’s an amazing movie and gets you on so many levels. One of the actors in it was at the screening I attended and we left together. He asked me what I thought of it. I was kind of overwhelmed, but I said, ‘this just shows you how important film can be’.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: And it’s so satisfying when that happens.

LANGFIELD: It’s thrilling.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: You know how when you read a great book, you go back and read a chapter again just because you loved it, or you slow down because you don’t want to reach the end? It’s so satisfying and inspiring.

LANGFIELD: You really should see United 93. It’s important.

KOLTAI-LEVINE:I will. And you know, I was a little worried about World Trade Center and Oliver, and all that kind of stuff. But, it’s a perfect example of integrity, really. It’s not filled with movie stars. I feel the same way with Pan’s Labyrinth– not about movie stars.

LANGFIELD: What’s cool is that Prairie Home Companion is and it still has that feel.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: Yeah, but with all these movies out there, including mine, I was really glad to see United 93 is getting attention and people are remembering it was a fine movie. A fine, fine movie.

LANGFIELD: So let’s look ahead.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: At Picturehouse, we’re 18 months into the company, co-owned by New Line and HBO, and we’re really up and running. We have Starter for 10, a delightful comedy, out of Playtone, Tom Hanks’s company and you know, it’s fun, not a big deal. People will be tapping their toe, saying that was a fun, good movie. Then, in June we have Gracie, from Andrew and Elizabeth Shue, about a 14-year-old girl, soccer player. It’s Elizabeth’s story. Her husband, Davis Guggenheim, who did Inconvenient Truth, directed it. The whole family’s in it– Andrew, Elizabeth. It’s pretty great, a wonderful opportunity. And we have Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony’s film, El Cantante. It’s fun, and so good. It’s so not what anybody would anticipate– it’s about Hector Lavoe. Marc plays a Puerto Rican salsa singer, which is what he is. Jennifer plays his wife, which is what she is. It’s a great story– Lavoe started the salsa movement, which was a big deal and continues to be a big deal. Marc Anthony is a genuinely talented singer.

LANGFIELD: And I think he’s a talented actor, too.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: He is. And I have to tell you. Watching them together? They’re fabulous! It’s so entertaining.

LANGFIELD: Ok, so as the marketer, you’ve got a couple that needs to maintain their own privacy, dignity, etc, making a movie about a couple….

KOLTAI-LEVINE: You’re right. But think about it. It is something they understand. They produced it, it’s very much a part of their makeup, who they are, in themselves. They’re Latin. It’s the same thing as when Jennifer did Selena.

LANGFIELD: Well, not really. Back then, it was different. She was out kissing babies to sell the movie.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: I think Jennifer, the way she’s conducted her life over the past few years, since they got married, has been pretty impressive and respectful. I mean, I don’t know them. My information is pretty much the same as everybody else’s. But I have to say, they’re respected, they’re talented, they’re philanthropic and they’re movie stars. She in particular. And you know what? The world needs movie stars. I think she’s a genuine movie star. In those romantic comedies, she’s great. She’s beautiful, she always dresses. If you’re thinking about Hollywood, you want to see that. If you’re thinking about the stars from the ‘30s and ‘40s, that’s what you loved. The Sophia Lorens or whomever, you felt they were different. We’re marketing this movie. We’ll go out to the Latin community, first and foremost. The thing that works with El Cantante for the summer is that it’s got great music. And Salsa music’s fun. And you respond to it that way.

LANGFIELD: So here we are, sitting on Fifth Avenue, in your office and you made the most important women in Hollywood list.

KOLTAI-LEVINE: And I live in New York.

LANGFIELD: I’m just saying…..

KOLTAI-LEVINE: You know I’m from LA.

LANGFIELD: Is there that New York/Hollywood thing anymore?

KOLTAI-LEVINE: There is, but I think everyone’s so bicoastal at this point, it’s a little different. I’ve always wanted to work in New York. Since I graduated UCLA. I’ve been lucky to have my career blossom here. For me, what I really like is the diversity. It’s the center of media, versus Los Angeles. Being in marketing, we’re at the core of where magazine publishing is, where production is. The other thing that New York offers is that it’s more global, a more global economy. For me, personally, it’s been a more satisfying lifestyle.

LANGFIELD: Who’ve been your role models?

KOLTAI-LEVINE: Certainly in my early career, it was Carl Ferazza. We all love Carl. I have to give Lois Smith and Leslee Dart a lot of credit. I still talk to them both a lot. They taught me a tremendous amount of integrity. Joy. As Lois said, ‘we’re not curing cancer here, we’re entertaining people.’ That’s a perspective I really enjoy. And, now that I’ve been at New Line and am at Picturehouse, I must give a lot of credit to Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne, as leaders. And Bob Berney, but this has only been 18 month. But Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne are about to celebrate their 40th anniversary of New Line. There isn’t another executive like Bob Shaye out there, that’s run his own company for 40 years. He’s a unique, rebellious, innovative individual. Good, bad or indifferent– the point is, he’s showing up every day. Now that he’s directed a film again, there’s really a difference. With Bob Shaye, there’s this desire, ambition and balance. And I think that’s something to be respected and emulated. They enjoy it. And I look at Bob Berney, who’s had tremendous success over his career, and I watch him with filmmakers. He’s a person who listens. I can’t highlight that enough. He’s willing to do things differently. And you run into a lot of people at his level who aren’t. He’s willing to be unorthodox and find different ways to do things and I’m really enjoying learning from him that way.

LANGFIELD: Well, I’ve really enjoyed talking with you about all this. Thanks!

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Joanna Langfield

Her voice is heard throughout the 50 states and around the world by more than one million listeners on her syndicated radio programs: Joanna Langfield’s People Report and Video and Movie Minute. She’s also seen and heard as a regular contributing commentator on CNN International, CNN, Fox News and CNBC. In print, her articles have been published in such high profile magazines as Video Review and McCall’s. Joanna Langfield is known for taking interviews to another level with probing looks at celebrities’ insights rather than just their latest projects. As a result, she’s secured a niche among the nation’s premier interviewers and movie critics. Joanna began her career on the production staff of a local Boston television station. She then focused her energies towards radio and produced talk shows at WMEX-AM in Boston. After moving to New York, she became executive producer at WMCA-AM for talk show personalities Barry Gray and Sally Jessy Raphael. She began hosting a one-minute movie review spot which, in turn, led to her top-rated weekend call in-show, The Joanna Langfield Show (1980-83). Joanna moved to WABC-AM to host The Joanna Langfield Show on Saturday nights from 9:00pm to midnight. It was the highest rated show in its time slot. From 1987-1989, Joanna hosted Today’s People on the ABC Radio network, which was fed daily to over 300 stations around the country. She also appeared on WABC-TV as a regular on-air contributor. In 1989, Joanna formed her radio production company, Joanna Langfield Entertainment Reports, to syndicate her radio reports. She is considered to be one of the top authoritative commentators on the entertainment industry. Read Lagfield's recent articles below. For her Women On Film archive, type "Joanna Langfield" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).