It’s not just about the girls. Karly Meola and Virginia Madsen look beyond chick flicks to expand opportunities for women filmmakers – and tell stories that transcend
With a name like Title IX Productions and a mission statement that purports evening out the playing field for women in the entertainment industry, the six-month-old shingle founded by actress Virginia Madsen and her producing partner Karly Meola could seem like your typical company gone feminist. But Title IX, in spite or maybe because of its mission, has a broader range of stories on their forthcoming slate, and indie versions of The Women or Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants are nowhere in the mix.
“People always ask me ‘what kind of movies do you want to make?’ and my answer is good movies, movies that transcend, movies that capture a particular time and place – we want stories that go a little bit deeper, sometimes, than Harry Potter,” Meola tells me in a recent phone interview, describing a small company developing material with complex characters and unusual stories – whether they feature a female lead or not. “There’s nothing wrong with Harry Potter,” she says, “but you wonder why there’s not one screen dedicated to a documentary at a movie theater. People forget why they go to the movies sometimes. The media tells us what we want to see.”
If thirty percent of journalists writing about film are women, fewer women, it seems, are actually making them. Even award-winning first-time directors like Nicole Kassell (The Woodsmen) have yet to see a second feature green lit, which could put could put a company like Title IX – which operates, it seems, for itself rather than along the lines of commercial success – in a pretty crucial place.
“Having the power that we have as a media outlet, that’s a huge responsibility,” Meola says. “We’re looking to give women an equal chance in the industry, and that goes beyond the script stage – we’re looking for women directors, women writers, women editors.”
“Which isn’t,” she adds, “to say we wouldn’t work with male directors and writers.”
Meola met Madsen while working on the set of The Number 23, and the first thing the actress asked her was “What do you want to do?” “We shared a lot of like mindedness,” Meola says, recalling conversations about movies they loved, and movies they wanted to see made. This developed first into the production of a documentary, I Know a Woman Like That, directed by Madsen’s mother Elaine, a writer, and spotlighting a series of remarkable women between the ages of 64 and 94, a testament to age increasing wisdom. Featuring women including Rita Moreno and Lauren Hutton, it’s currently being edited, and they’ll be sending it out to festivals next year.
With the documentary under their belt, they began taking meetings around Los Angeles and discussing their new company.
“A couple of people have said, ‘you guys are going to do that one fluff thing so you can do whatever you want,’” Meola recalls. “That was hard to hear. We’re not gonna do something just to have that first thing produced. It’s not just one project: we’re putting something out there, and we have a reputation to uphold. We have the utmost integrity when it comes to that.”
Following the announcement of their official status, Meola and Madsen were inundated with scripts along chick lit lines. But they didn’t want to be seen as a feminist production company. “Especially with the documentary being the first thing we did,” Meola says. “We’re being very selective with the material we’re choosing in that way. We would do a project with a male lead, as long as there’s a strong female character, too.”
While she doesn’t rule out the possibility of producing documentaries in the future, for now their focus is on several fiction projects that run the gamut from an electrical romance to a tumultuous friendship between high school girls to an ensemble piece a la American Beauty.
First on their slate is an update of 1984 sleeper Electric Dreams, which starred Madsen as a girl romanced by a guy and his computer. Meola describes the new version as “a high concept romantic comedy.”
“When Virginia first came to me with the idea to remake it, it was like, ‘how do I tell this classic story and make it incredibly modern?’ I kind of threw around the idea of technology being ubiquitous and kind of comedic. There’s this guy who’s a genius, and this girl he meets who is soulful and spiritual and isn’t really up to date with current technology, and this computer that comes between them.”
They’re also producing an adaptation of The Bitch Posse, Martha O’Connor’s much praised 2005 novel, which alternates between three protagonists as adults and teens, narrating a tragedy that ends their friendship. With an acerbic tone and an unusual take on what could otherwise read as low-brow high school melodrama, the book is chick lit mocking chick lit – gritty rather than fluffy.
“The thing that stuck out to me most about the book was the idea of friendship – friendship among friends who come from broken homes,” Meola says. “The idea of betrayal at that age is so specific. In order to make it cinematic, to prevent it from being a cheesy movie à la…I’m not going to say any names…we’re making it about friendship and betrayal, the bond that is really rich and interesting because it becomes so dangerous.”
Rounding out upcoming projects is the ensemble drama Creve Coeur, “a wonderfully written script in the vein of Garden State and American Beauty” that will co-star Madsen. Though the protagonist is a sixteen-year-old girl, everyone, Meola says, has a character arc.
“It is about women,” she says. “But there’s something else underneath.”