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 Hollywoods 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. Isnt that hard to believe?
LANGFIELD:Yes, it is.
KOLTAI-LEVINE: Its funny how when something like that happens, your tendency is to say oh, its not that important or gee, its nice to be included, and that kind of thing, But when youre in marketing, youre always in the backround. Thats part of the job. I know that and love it. But its interesting for people like you and me, whove known each other so long its a much different feel because it is an acknowledgement from your peers and that carries a different weight. I always feel like Im so lucky to have fallen into what I do. Which it was I mean, I fell into it as a freshman in college and Im 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 its 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 peoples lives.
LANGFIELD: I like to feel that way, too. I like to feel were not just selling tickets. Were trying to enhance something we care about, support people whose work we believe in.
LANGFIELD: For me, being on the air, its about trying to make the person whos listening to me have a brighter day, even if its just for a minute.
KOLTAI-LEVINE: They get a little smile. I agree with you. And I think thats a unique opportunity. I always say that the theatrical world and in media, in general, is a business for optimists. Because its a gamblers business. You can protect yourself in a million different ways, but ultimately theres a level of gambling. And I think gamblers are optimists to begin with. And also resilient. And thats 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: Thats an interesting question, and my husband and I have had a lot of talks about it, too because in many ways I think its probably part of womens 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 its 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. Thats just a natural thing thats happening. Its interesting that women still feel the need to do a womens list, versus a persons list. Because, Id argue, that mens support groups are not organized in the same fashion. I think there arent specifically mens support groups or alliances. Rather, the way men do business is in a different, singularly focused manner. I think its part of DNA. Thats just a difference its not good or a bad. But I think that for women to have complete equality, in a sense theyd 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 arent that many of us.
KOLTAI-LEVINE: Thats true. And in media particularly, in critical media there arent that many. And thats an interesting area its harder journalism. Its critical thinking. Its a different kind of journalism. And for whatever reason, there arent that many women.
LANGFIELD: Were working on it.
KOLTAI-LEVINE: And I think thats 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 thats probably it.
LANGFIELD: And, Im in the Broadcast Film Critics group, too. Look at that list. Therere not that many women in it even now.
KOLTAI-LEVINE: Why do you think thats the case?
LANGFIELD: Well, in terms of broadcasting, certainly ageism. Thats a huge factor.
KOLTAI-LEVINE: Sure. For women, not men.
LANGFIELD: Thats right. In terms of writers, I really dont know. Thats why weve created this group to make a little noise.
KOLTAI-LEVINE: And I think youre right.
LANGFIELD: Were there to support each other. Because when you feel youre out there by yourself, its nice to know theres somebody else, whos 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 wholl 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 Ive experienced it, been part of it and Im 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. Thats a big deal. Pat Fili at Time/Warner is extraordinary. She comes from CBS and HBO. She has an extraordinary approach. Its 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 cant imagine!
KOLTAI-LEVINE: Its funny. Firstly, it feels great. And youre honored. The other thing is, at age 45, unlike at age 20, Im 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. Id like to go back and get my executive MBA. I regret that I didnt finish my masters not that I think it would change my career, its the higher level of education that I want.
LANGFIELD: You went back for a week? What did they teach you?
KOLTAI-LEVINE: Its 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: Id argue yes. Because some women although you cant generalize, just like you cant generalize about men but some women think differently than men do, and in their heads, conduct their lives differently. You dont 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, thats one of the things Im most proud of and love to discuss. Its a questions thats 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 wasnt. 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 its 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. Thats not fair to the company, its not fair to the people that work there. If you have to over accommodate, then thats the deal.
LANGFIELD: Do you think youre harder on people who work for you that do have a hiccup?
KOLTAI-LEVINE: Im definitely critical of women that I feel take advantage. I think they make it very hard for women who dont. I think it promotes the stereotypical oh, she had a baby and decided to work part-time, or if she had a baby, shed 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 its extraordinarily important to maintain a level of professionalism in those arenas that are particularly sexist. Having a baby is a sexist item. Now, adoptions a different thing and thats becoming more prevalent. Therere exceptions for anything, but Id put that same rule on anybody. Because, again, youre walking around the office pregnant, probably
LANGFIELD: Its hard to hide.
KOLTAI-LEVINE: Right. Thats the way it is. Thats 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: Lets talk about film. You must really love the Alliance of Women Film Journalists having named Pans Labyrinth best picture of the year. You won our first EDA award.
KOLTAI-LEVINE: Were thrilled. Super thrilled. Its interesting. With a film like Pans Labyrinth, as a bit of a genre film, I think it says even more for the Alliance that they picked it. I dont 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, its a uterine experience, as he says. Thats how his fantasy world is. Its shaped in the round, colored like amniotic fluid or red, for blood. Hes very conscious of it. He has two daughters, and the heroine whos his main character has more courage than any man.
LANGFIELD: Two, actually.
KOLTAI-LEVINE: Yes, two. So its very exciting for us.
LANGFIELD: Do you think women market, or have a view of marketing, thats different than mens?
KOLTAI-LEVINE: I dont know that I could say its different. To me, marketings about finding the big hook. But I also think marketings about subtleties.
LANGFIELD: Subtleties! Thats interesting! I think people think of marketing as being slammed over the head!
KOLTAI-LEVINE: I know. But I think its the subtleties that ultimately distinguish good marketing. I think the audience is smarter than people realize. The other thing is, theyre tremendously media savvy at the moment. My old boss, Chris Pula used to say, if Kalamzoo, Michigan is running box office reports .
LANGFIELD: Im thrilled when Im 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 As with Guillermo across the country for Pans Labyrinth. Hes an incredible speaker, a renaissance man. Audiences, because of the Internet, can access information in a much different way. If theres even a mild interest, the level of information is tremendous. People want to get that information, and they look for it all day long. Thats whats changed everything. Thats why I say I think marketing deals with subtleties. People are paying attention to whats different. So you have to find a way to show whats different. With Pans Labyrinth, its easy because its so original. It doesnt fit into a genreis 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. Thats one of the highest grossing Robert Altman films ever.
LANGFIELD: I loved that movie.
KOLTAI-LEVINE: Its 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, weve 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., youre 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. Theyd collaborated on Secretary. We found some very interesting pieces. But, ultimately, we didnt motivate people to see the movie.
LANGFIELD: You also had a problem in that Nicoles personal problems kept her from participating in promotional efforts.
KOLTAI-LEVINE: Yeah, well that was one of the well, you know, theres 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 didnt happen. Because even when you get a bad review, if its 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 were gonna get a bad review, Id rather get a terrible review. I think mediocrity is a tough place to be. It is for anybody.
LANGFIELD: Its hard to write, too. I hate walking out of a screening going, it was alright.
KOLTAI-LEVINE: Its tough.
LANGFIELD: But a B film has its place on DVD.
KOLTAI-LEVINE: Yeah, but the problem with that is, if its coming out theatrically, then you have to, from a financial standpoint, spend accordingly so by the time you get to the DVD, youll be in the position to reap those benefits. The DVD business is changing, too. It isnt quite the bonanza is used to be. I think its 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, its 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 its 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 thats it. Its winning that makes a difference. Best Supporting Actress only? Doesnt. Screenplay? Doesnt maybe 2 5%, but how much did it cost to get there? But, the flip of this is, youre branding a company, too. For example, at Picturehouse, were really proud to have had Prairie Home and Pans 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, thats 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. Its like running a political campaign. Probably, if I wasnt in entertainment, Id be in politics. Theyre very similar. But theres probably a different reality thats why I like entertainment more than politics.
LANGFIELD: Yeah, probably.
KOLTAI-LEVINE: Thats a whole other conversation. But thats whats 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 wasnt quite the same way. Theyve morally and ethically reviewed what theyre doing and realized the importance of it. Look at United 93. I havent seen it because I just didnt want to, but I cant 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 its out in front right now.
LANGFIELD:: Its 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 its so satisfying when that happens.
LANGFIELD: Its 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 dont want to reach the end? Its so satisfying and inspiring.
LANGFIELD: You really should see United 93. Its 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, its a perfect example of integrity, really. Its not filled with movie stars. I feel the same way with Pans Labyrinth not about movie stars.
LANGFIELD: Whats 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 lets look ahead.
KOLTAI-LEVINE: At Picturehouse, were 18 months into the company, co-owned by New Line and HBO, and were really up and running. We have Starter for 10, a delightful comedy, out of Playtone, Tom Hankss company and you know, its 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. Its Elizabeths story. Her husband, Davis Guggenheim, who did Inconvenient Truth, directed it. The whole familys in it Andrew, Elizabeth. Its pretty great, a wonderful opportunity. And we have Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthonys film, El Cantante. Its fun, and so good. Its so not what anybody would anticipate its about Hector Lavoe. Marc plays a Puerto Rican salsa singer, which is what he is. Jennifer plays his wife, which is what she is. Its 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 hes a talented actor, too.
KOLTAI-LEVINE: He is. And I have to tell you. Watching them together? Theyre fabulous! Its so entertaining.
LANGFIELD: Ok, so as the marketer, youve got a couple that needs to maintain their own privacy, dignity, etc, making a movie about a couple .
KOLTAI-LEVINE: Youre right. But think about it. It is something they understand. They produced it, its very much a part of their makeup, who they are, in themselves. Theyre Latin. Its 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 shes conducted her life over the past few years, since they got married, has been pretty impressive and respectful. I mean, I dont know them. My information is pretty much the same as everybody elses. But I have to say, theyre respected, theyre talented, theyre philanthropic and theyre movie stars. She in particular. And you know what? The world needs movie stars. I think shes a genuine movie star. In those romantic comedies, shes great. Shes beautiful, she always dresses. If youre thinking about Hollywood, you want to see that. If youre thinking about the stars from the 30s and 40s, thats what you loved. The Sophia Lorens or whomever, you felt they were different. Were marketing this movie. Well go out to the Latin community, first and foremost. The thing that works with El Cantante for the summer is that its got great music. And Salsa musics 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: Im just saying ..
KOLTAI-LEVINE: You know Im from LA.
LANGFIELD: Is there that New York/Hollywood thing anymore?
KOLTAI-LEVINE: There is, but I think everyones so bicoastal at this point, its a little different. Ive always wanted to work in New York. Since I graduated UCLA. Ive been lucky to have my career blossom here. For me, what I really like is the diversity. Its the center of media, versus Los Angeles. Being in marketing, were at the core of where magazine publishing is, where production is. The other thing that New York offers is that its more global, a more global economy. For me, personally, its been a more satisfying lifestyle.
LANGFIELD: Whove 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, were not curing cancer here, were entertaining people. Thats a perspective I really enjoy. And, now that Ive 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 isnt another executive like Bob Shaye out there, thats run his own company for 40 years. Hes a unique, rebellious, innovative individual. Good, bad or indifferent the point is, hes showing up every day. Now that hes directed a film again, theres really a difference. With Bob Shaye, theres this desire, ambition and balance. And I think thats something to be respected and emulated. They enjoy it. And I look at Bob Berney, whos had tremendous success over his career, and I watch him with filmmakers. Hes a person who listens. I cant highlight that enough. Hes willing to do things differently. And you run into a lot of people at his level who arent. Hes willing to be unorthodox and find different ways to do things and Im really enjoying learning from him that way.
LANGFIELD: Well, Ive really enjoyed talking with you about all this. Thanks!