2002’s K-19 Is The Most Expensive Live Action Film From A Female Director

A quick look at the continuing inequality in Hollywood.

Yesterday Paramount Pictures handed the keys to Star Trek 3 to screenwriter and producer Bob Orci. The film will probably cost less than the previous two, which topped out at $190 million, but there's almost no way to expect the movie to be budgeted under $150 million. That's just the reality of movies today; even notoriously cheap Marvel Studios has seen their budgets going above $150 million. Right or wrong, that's the cost of making big movies in Hollywood today.

By hiring Orci Paramount made a statement: a man with no hands-on directing experience is preferable to a female director with any experience. I heard about a number of directors who came in to meet about Star Trek 3; none were women. If you look back at Paramount's recent history you see the last live action film they released directed by a woman was 2012's The Guilt Trip, with a modest budget of $40 million. Stop-Loss was before that in 2008, with a budget of $25 million. The last blockbuster Paramount film directed by a woman was 2006's Aeon Flux, and they gave Karyn Kusama a $62 million budget, which was small for the scale even then. 

But you have to give Paramount some credit: they released the most expensive live action film ever directed by a woman. That was K-19: The Widowmaker, and it cost $100 million and Kathryn Bigelow directed it*. It was released in 2002, twelve years ago

The most expensive live action movie ever directed by a woman cost $100 million dollars. This is a world where first time director Joseph Kosinski gets $170 million (officially) to make Tron: Legacy. This is a world where Bob Orci gets at least $150 million without every directing anything. 

We almost broke this streak last year; Marvel Studios had Monster director Patty Jenkins on to make Thor: The Dark World and then they let her go. "Creative difference" was the reason given. So the director of an Oscar-winning movie almost got as big a budget as a guy who had made some cool TV commercials. 

Why don't women get the budgets men get? The argument tends to be a circular one familiar to many post-college job hunters: you need two years of experience to get this entry level job. No women are given big budgets because no women have made big budget movies. This becomes an excuse for keeping certain people out of the game, an excuse that - if you look quickly - makes sense. Well, why would you entrust a huge budget movie with a director who has never had a huge budget like that? It's simply common sense! 

But Bob Orci breaks that argument. 

Which means Bob Orci has just made a huge advance for women in film. By removing the 'experience' excuse from big budget filmmaking, Orci has opened the door to anyone to waste $150 million plus of the studio's dollars. Literally every single woman who has ever directed anything is more qualified than Bob Orci. Which means Paramount, at least, is out of excuses as to why a woman shouldn't be brought in to direct Transformers 5 or GI Joe 3 or any of their other tentpole pictures.

But who am I kidding? These franchises will go to some guy who made a great Diet Coke commercial, while Michelle MacLaren - who has directed TV episodes that are more cinematic than most of Hollywood's output - will be lucky to get $35 million to make a romcom.

* Maybe the key to being a woman and having money to make a movie is to have a Y in your name.