Women in Focus at Chapman University Dodge College

Top Filmmakers Stacey Snider, Debra Martin Chase, Leslie Dixon, Nina Jacobson, Jennifer Yuh Nelson Share Wisdom at “Women in Focus” at Chapman University’s Dodge College

Leave it to Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts to bring in some of the world’s top filmmakers – who just happen to be women – to address students at “Women in Focus.”

On Apr. 20, five extraordinary speakers came to share their experiences, dispense advice to students and meet the program’s sponsors and other Chapman VIPs at an elegant pre-event lunch on a state-of-the-art soundstage. As in years past, panelists were at the top of their profession, with the 2012 line-up consisting of the following panelists:

* Stacey Snider, co-chairman, chief executive officer and Steven Spielberg’s partner in DreamWorks Studios, which this past year released two highly acclaimed, Academy Award Best Picture nominees: “War Horse” and “The Help.”

* Debra Martin Chase, whose producing credits include three hit movie franchises, “The Princess Diaries,” “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and “The Cheetah Girls,” as well as Whitney Houston’s final film, “Sparkle.”

Leslie Dixon, screenwriter of the highly successful films, “Freaky Friday,” “Hairspray,” Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Outrageous Fortune” and “Limitless,” which she also produced, starring Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro.

* Nina Jacobson, producer of the record-breaking film, “The Hunger Games,” which grossed $152.5 million in its opening weekend and is still going strong. Jacobson is also responsible for the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” film series.

* Jennifer Yuh Nelson, director of the Academy Award Best Animated Picture nominee, “Kung Fu Panda 2,” which grossed $645 million in worldwide sales, making Yuh Nelson the highest grossing female director in global box office returns.

* Dawn Taubin, the day’s moderator, had been president of domestic marketing for Warner Bros. and orchestrated campaigns for the “Harry Potter” films, “The Matrix” and “The Dark Knight” before becoming a Chapman professor.

Taubin asked questions of the panelists, before giving students a chance to ask their questions of the filmmakers. Regarding the speakers’ motivation to take up filmmaking, Snider said she believed she spoke for everyone, when she suggested that the panelists came to their professions out of a belief that movies can change the world. She gave as one example, “Philadelphia,” centering around the controversial issue of AIDS, which may have given people a greater understanding after seeing one person’s story.

And while women have made major inroads in the industry – clearly demonstrated in the credentials of the speakers – some discussion ensued about the paucity of female directors. There was a thought that some self-selection might be at work, as perhaps not all women want that spot.

“It’s like being the general of an army. You send people out to die,” said Yuh Nelson, the first female director of a big-budget animated film.

And while Jacobson reminded that women are powerful decision-makers at the box office, Yuh Nelson said she looks at her films through a teenage boy “filter.”

As an African-American filmmaker, Martin Chase is in yet a smaller minority. On going into meetings, she said, “I know I’m going to be the only one like me in the room.”

And when asked about the marketing of “Sparkle,” Whitney Houston’s last film, Martin Chase said the campaign would be respectful of Houston and treated as a celebration of the superstar’s life.

The discussion ended with Taubin asking panelists to give advice to students.

Said Martin Chase, “Believe in yourself.”

“Find stories with urgency,” said Snider.

“Stay positive,” said Dixon, advising prospective screenwriters to make readers want to “keep the pages turning.”

Women In Focus 2012 continues an annual tradition of bringing leading female filmmakers to address Chapman students and supporters.

Last year’s roster consisted of Dawn Hudson, executive director of Film Independent; Susan Cartsonis, producer of “Beastly” and “What Women Want”; Shana Feste, writer-director of “Country Strong” and “The Greatest”; Mary Lambert, director of “Pet Sematary” and Madonna’s early music videos; Cathy Schulman, “Crash” producer and president of Mandalay Pictures; Nancy Utley, president of Fox Searchlight Pictures (“127 Hours” and “Black Swan”); and Rebecca Yeldham, producer of “The Kite Runner” and “The Motorcycle Diaries.” Alexandra Rose acted as moderator.

Sponsoring “Women In Focus” were Twyla Martin, Tricia Berns, Laurie Rodnick, Eve Kornyei Ruffatto, Harriet Sandhu and Bonny Schumacher.

Also on hand were Robert Bassett, dean of the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts; Jim Doti, president of Chapman University; Alexandra Rose, producer of “Norma Rae” and chair of the graduate conservatory; and Kristina and Lawrence Dodge for whom the college is named. Others were Marion Rosenberg, who presented the Meredith MacRae Award, plus Carol Chacamaty, Deborah Miller and Gayle Nachlis from Women in Film; and Charles Martin, venture capitalist and author of “Saboteur.”

Top photo: From left, moderator Dawn Taubin, panelists Leslie Dixon and Debra Martin Chase, Chapman professor Alexandra Rose; Dodge College dean Bob Bassett; and panelists Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Nina Jacobson and Stacey Snider at Women in Focus at Chapman University Dodge College

Second photo: Event sponsors from left: Tricia Berns, Harriet Sandhu, Twyla Martin, Eve Kornyei Ruffatto and Laurie Rodnick at Women in Focus at Chapman University Dodge College (not shown: event sponsor Bonny Schumacher)

Third photo: From left, panelists Debra Martin Chase, Stacey Snider and Jennifer Yuh Nelson at Women in Focus at Chapman University Dodge College

Fourth photo: From left, Bonnie Bruckheimer with panelists Leslie Dixon and Nina Jacobson at Women in Focus at Chapman University Dodge College

Bottom photo: From left, Dean Bob Bassett with actress Sharon Lawrence and producer Debra Martin Chase at Women in Focus at Chapman University Dodge College

All photos: Michael Munson, courtesy of Chapman University Dodge College of Film and Media Arts

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Women in Focus at Chapman University Dodge College

Published May 5, 2012 – Ellen Olivier, Society News LA