Wednesday brought terrific news for comedy fans: Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, who have worked together on a string of very funny movies, as well as getting the comedy site Funny Or Die off the ground, are starting a new production company. And this one, Gloria Sanchez Productions, will be lead by Jessica Elbaum, a producer and former assistant to Ferrell, and focused on developing films and television by women. It’s always a reason to cheer when established people decide to put their clout behind genuinely interesting ideas. But for Gloria Sanchez to stand out, the project will have to do more than simply contribute to the modest lady comedy boom. Here are four ways Elbaum, Ferrell, and McKay to push comedy forward, and to make Gloria Sanchez Productions matter.
1. Be The Pipeline: When a chorus started to swell in agreement that Saturday Night Live’s lack of an African-American female cast member was hurting the show, Kenan Thompson argued that the auditionsSNL held hadn’t turned up a qualified woman to work with him and Jay Pharoah. It turns out, the show just needed to look a little harder. After another search, SNL added Sasheer Zamata, who’d been performing at Upright Citizens Brigade and doing funny, well-circulated work on the web, to the cast in January.
One of the most valuable things Gloria Sanchez Productions could do, both for the cause of women in entertainment, and in the simpler service of making itself a useful and profitable addition to the Hollywood landscape, is to connect the supply of female talent to the pipeline. Ferrell and McKay’s Funny Or Die site has provided many actors with opportunities to play with the kinds of parts and content that weren’t previously a part of their resumes. Gloria Sanchez could start moving some of those actresses into film and television jobs, beefing up their resumes, and making them more visible to folks like Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels. It’s one thing to say the talent is out there, if only you know where to look. It’s quite another to eliminate the need to go digging for it. By making good projects, Gloria Sanchez Productions could help create an environment where it’s much harder for shows like SNL to say they just can’t find women of any kind.
2. Defy Age Restrictions: In late January, an analysis of actors’ salaries published in the Journal of Management Inquiry suggested that actresses’ paychecks peak when they hit 34. But that doesn’t mean that their skills decline at the same time. Look at the box office for Nancy Meyers’ movies. Or the delighted reaction to Emma Thompson’s spontaneous chucking of her high heels. Or the enduring power of Christine Baranski’s way around a line reading as Diane Lockhart in The Good Wife. Or the underused comedic potential of Octavia Spencer. There’s work to be done when a woman’s no longer an ingenue, but before she’s reduced to being a Betty White-like naughty little old lady. Gloria Sanchez should tap this underused strategic resource.
3. Cast A Wide Net For Female Creators, And Think Broadly About Female Experiences: If all Gloria Sanchez Production does is crank out more shows and movies from the Librarian Glasses Mafia and alumni of SNL and The Office, it could produce a string of hits and still not end up meaning all of that much. I do love me some Tina Fey, Liz Meriwether, Kristen Wiig, and Mindy Kaling. But these women all have plenty of viable ways to get their work on screens large and small. And if Gloria Sanchez productions is going to work with women who are already established in the business, it would be great if they’re doing so in order to have a cushion they can use to bring other women along.
It’s been difficult enough in recent years to convince some in Hollywood that projects by and starring women are a durable demonstration that women are interesting and funny subjects for audiences, and that women as a class are just as capable of exhibiting good taste and business sense as men. Gloria Sanchez Productions can contribute to the ongoing project of demonstrating otherwise. But the recent lady-centric comedy in film and television means that the company can’t just turn out clones of Bridesmaids and New Girl. Instead, to stand out, the company should look both at comedy writers rooms and at web series, and beyond white, middle-class women experiencing their twenties in New York City. The death of Bunheads leaves room for great shows about high school and the arts. The work Melissa Fumero and Stephanie Beatriz are doing on Brooklyn Nine-Nine has brought the lack of Latina comedians on television into stark relief. And Teal Sherer’s My Gimpy Life, which is about the experience of being an actress with disabilities, simultaneously highlights her industry’s failings and reminds us of what could be.
4. Remember That Any Story About A Woman Doing Something Is A Story About Women : An easy mistake to make is to assume that increasing the number of stories about women necessarily means making those stories about domestic life. But that’s not actually the case. Exploring romantic disappointment, anxiety about marital expectations, and the fraying of friendships in your late twenties and early thirties are all interesting and important things to do, and the precision with which it addressed those emotions is a great deal of what made Bridesmaids great. But foregrounding a wedding or a romantic relationship isn’t the only way to get at these questions. The Heat is an inferior movie to Bridesmaids, but one thing it does well is to use the characters’ experiences with work to get at their relationships with their families and their romantic lives. Gravity might have benefitted from a tighter, less sentimental screenplay, but it’s a valuable illustration that you can tell stories about work, loneliness, and science all at once. And sometimes movies and television shows with female lead characters don’t have to be about their domestic lives at all! Ellen Ripley may have worried about Newt and her cat in the Alien franchise, but sometimes, a gal has other things on her mind than romance.