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Joining me at Dodge College of Film and Media Arts' "Women in Focus" conference were Twyla Reed Martin and Dean Bob Bassett

Joining me at Dodge College of Film and Media Arts’ 15th Annual “Women in Focus” conference were major supporter Twyla Reed Martin and Dean Bob Bassett

The 15th Annual “Women in Focus” Conference, organized by Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, proved once again to be a high-powered gathering of the brightest and most accomplished women in film and television today. This year’s theme was “The Business of Entertainment,” and the day began with a gathering of 120 on Dodge College’s Hirsch Sound Stage B, where the group enjoyed a delicious lunch and talking with the panelists. Dodge College of Film and Media Arts Dean Bob Bassett welcomed everyone and noted that the original purpose of the conference was “a conversation between our students and women in the film business.” Eventually, he said, it evolved into an open discussion with students and members of the community regarding the film womens’ personal experience in the industry.

Dodge College Professor and Chair of Special Projects and Industry Initiatives Alex Rose, who received an Academy Award nomination for Norma Rae, was the conference chair. She thanked the sponsors, who included Twyla Reed Martin, for whom Robert Bassett’s Dean’s Chair is named, Eve Ruffatto, Harriet Sandhu, Laurie Rodnick, Adrienne Brandes, Diana Martin, and Joyce Tucker.

Once inside Dodge College’s Folino Theater, where hundreds of film students also gathered, Rose introduced conference moderator and Chief Marketing Officer for DreamWorks Animation (The Help, The Dark KnightDawn Taubin, who, in turn, introduced the panel. The discussion was lively and, at times, quite humorous. Asked for an example of when it would be better to be a man in the business, CBS Films Co-President (Last Vegas, Inside Llewyn DavisTerry Press quipped, “The day I gave birth to my child!” All the panelists agreed that most films that debuted domestically five years ago are now launched internationally first and that figuring out the audience for the film is crucial to its success. “It’s important that we’re talking about one primary audience and the film can speak to a universal theme,” said Cathy Schulman, Academy Award-winning producer (Crash, The Illusionist) and President of Mandalay Pictures. TV producer/director (Breaking Bad and Game of ThronesMichelle McLaren voiced the challenge of making telling the story – “You only have 1 1/2 hours for the audience to have an emotional connection.” Erica Huggins, President of Image Entertainment, (J. Edgar) said that their film, Rush, was a disappointment at the box office because, “We didn’t capture what the movie was about through our marketing.” Sue Kroll, President of Warner Bros. Pictures Worldwide Marketing and International Distribution (The Great Gatsby, Argo), said Gravity sold as an experience for all ages and worked all over the world. “It’s important to begin the connection to marketing early,” producer (The Master, Magnolia) JoAnne Sellar said. They all agreed that marketing was a powerful tool but that often, unfortunately, it costs as much to market a film as it does to make it.

The panelists said there was gender bias in the industry but they choose to work through it. Those who have children admitted that there is a delicate balance between family and work, and they all declared their passion for what they do, with Kroll putting it best, “You get this incredible satisfaction. I well up watching reels. Having that responsibility is worth all the hard work.”

Aside: Dawn Taubin is a former professor of Public Relations and Advertising at Dodge College and her daughter, Kendall, a senior  film student at Dodge in Producing and Public Relations, graduated in May. Cathy Schulman, who teaches graduate level film producing at Dodge College, received an Honorary Doctorate at its 2014 commencement, for which she gave the commencement address.

Selected photos by Michael Munson and Westin Ray WiF1-01WiF2-01WiF3-01WiF4-01