Kevin is joined by Martha Coolidge, a celebrated American film director known for her groundbreaking work in the film industry.
Martha Coolidge, Director
Coolidge has directed a wide range of films over the course of her career, including the iconic 1983 teen comedy Valley Girl, the critically acclaimed drama Rambling Rose, and the romantic comedy Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. She has received numerous awards and accolades for her work, including the Women in Film Crystal Award. She has served as the president of the Directors Guild of America, making her one of the most influential women in Hollywood. Throughout her career, Coolidge has been a trailblazer for women in the film industry, inspiring a new generation of filmmakers with her innovative storytelling approach and commitment to diversity and inclusivity.
An Actor’s Director (4:05)
Martha has the reputation of being an actor’s director. Having worked with such names as Nicolas Cage, Val Kilmer, Halle Berry, Laura Dern, and Robert Duvall, Martha shares her directing process and how her goal is to figure out what an actor needs to be relaxed.
Early career and turning trauma into a documentary (6:28)
Martha talks about her early directing experience at the Rhode Island School of Design. She discusses her early years as a documentary filmmaker.
“Gag me with a spoon.” On self-producing Valley Girl(11:28)
Kevin asks Martha about her first job in Hollywood, and Martha talks about financing Valley Girl, shooting it in New York, and capturing the idiosyncratic voice of the movement. Martha shares how Brian Grazer saw Valley Girl, liked it, and how that led to her directing Real Genius starring Val Kilmer.
The screening process and being a literal nervous wreck (13:19)
The test screening process tends to make filmmakers nervous. Martha shares her experience with the audience preview of Valley Girl and how they pulled people in off the street to preview the film.
Love for directing and making a movie several times (19:12)
Kevin asks Martha about her favorite part of filmmaking. Martha talks about her love of directing and her special relationship with actors. She also shares her passion for post-production and how you make the movie several times in post.
First woman president of the Director’s Guild of America (28:45)
Coolridge was named the first woman president of the Director’s Guild of America. She talks about how some were not ready for a woman president, but most welcomed the diversity. Kevin and Martha discuss women in filmmaking and the underrepresentation of female directors.
Host: Kevin Goetz
Guest: Martha Coolidge
Producer: Kari Campano
For more information about Martha Coolidge:
For more information about Kevin Goetz:
Audienceology Book: https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Audience-ology/Kevin-Goetz/9781982186678
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @KevinGoetz360
Linked In @Kevin Goetz
Screen Engine/ASI Website: www.ScreenEngineASI.com
Podcast: Don't Kill the Messenger with Movie Research Expert Kevin Goetz
Guest: Award Winning Film and Television Director Martha Coolidge
There's a little-known part of Hollywood that most people are not aware of known as the audience test preview. The recently released book, Audienceology, reveals this for the first time. Our podcast series, Don't Kill the Messenger, brings this book to life, taking a peek behind the curtain. And now, join author and entertainment research expert, Kevin Goetz.
Kevin Goetz (00:23):
Like, oh my God, I totally have the most bitchin’ guest today. In the early years of her career, the breakthrough film of today's guest was the 1983 independently produced movie, can you guess? Yep. It was Valley Girl. Martha Coolidge has enjoyed an award-winning career in the entertainment industry that has spanned five decades. She has over 50 directing credits to her name, in addition to a few producing and writing credits. Among the 25 films she's directed are also Real Genius, the wonderful Rambling Rose, which is where I think I met Martha, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge,Out to Sea, Angie, and The Prince and Me. Martha's 25 television series credits include episodes of Weeds, Madame Secretary, CSI, Sex in the City, Leap Years, and The Twilight Zone. She's worked with an impressive list of actors from Halle Berry and Laura Dern and Michelle Williams to Robert Duvall, Jack Lemon, Walter Matthau, and Patrick Swayze. She also discovered talent including Nicholas Cage. Oh yeah, him. Val Kilmer, and James Gandolfini. Martha has been significantly awarded. She gives back to the industry. She's an avid horsewoman, which I want to talk about. And she made history in 2001 when she was elected the first woman president of the Director's Guild of America. Martha, I am so happy to have you here today.
Martha Coolidge (01:54):
<laugh>. It's great. I feel very old now after listening to that though.
Kevin Goetz (01:58):
<laugh>, And did I mention I was at your wedding?
Martha Coolidge (02:01):
Oh, no, you didn’t.
Kevin Goetz (02:02):
I was at your wedding.
Martha Coolidge (02:03):
Kevin Goetz (02:04):
I was invited to your wedding to your wonderful husband, Jim, who, shout out to Jim, who is an extraordinary production designer.
Martha Coolidge (02:11):
Yes, he is.
Kevin Goetz (02:12):
And you worked with him on…
Martha Coolidge (02:13):
I met him, well I first met him on Out to Sea.
Kevin Goetz (02:18):
But since then I think you did…
Martha Coolidge (02:20):
Oh, I've done lots of movies with him.
Kevin Goetz (02:22):
Martha Coolidge (02:23):
And he's done, you know, yes, television and he's come and helped on things. He's really fun.
Kevin Goetz (02:29):
You know what I love about this industry and Martha and I just saw each other coming up from the parking garage and we were just introduced to Nigel Lithgow right outside the studio here. And he said, where do you know each other from? And we were both like <laugh>, I don't know where we met. And I think it was Dorothy Dandridge, but it was definitely on a movie.
Martha Coolidge (02:49):
Yeah. Maybe it was Rambling Rose.
Kevin Goetz (02:52):
Oh, I'm sorry. Rambling Rose for sure. And I remember seeing that and saying, oh my God, this artist, this director is so extraordinary, <laugh>. It was just so cutting edge at that moment in time and a beautifully crafted movie.
Martha Coolidge (03:07):
Well, that's extraordinary because the script was actually quite old. Really, and had just been buried by people turning it down. And I've, it came out of a library that somebody found and gave me the script, and I couldn't believe that it hadn't been made.
Kevin Goetz (03:25):
Who was that? Somebody?
Martha Coolidge (03:26):
It was a development executive.
Kevin Goetz (03:28):
Ah. So it was done at a studio.
Martha Coolidge (03:31):
It was well Carolco, but.
Kevin Goetz (03:35):
Got it. Oh, Carolco Or Carolco or, or however you want to say it.
Martha Coolidge (03:38):
However you want to pronounce it.
Kevin Goetz (03:40):
Yeah. I have to say that was Mario Kassar and Andy Vajna, right?
Martha Coolidge (03:42):
Kevin Goetz (03:43):
God, they did a lot of movies.
Martha Coolidge (03:44):
Yes, they did.
Kevin Goetz (03:46):
Mostly action fare though, right?
Martha Coolidge (03:47):
Yes. And this was quite different. And I gave it to Renny who was producing Rambling Rose at the time, and he wanted to direct it, but he said I'd love to produce it.
Kevin Goetz (03:58):
So Renny's in my book, Renny Harlin. Yeah. He's a terrific guy.
Martha Coolidge (04:02):
Yeah, he is.
Kevin Goetz (04:02):
And that's an interesting fact. I didn't know that.
Martha Coolidge (04:04):
He's a character.
Kevin Goetz (04:05):
Indeed. Martha, you are, to me, the epitome of the great director. You're also known as the actor’s director. And my background as an actor, I have a great appreciation for people who love actors as much as you do.
Martha Coolidge (04:21):
I do love actors. Yeah.
Kevin Goetz (04:22):
Can you speak to that, why you have that reputation?
Martha Coolidge (04:26):
I think that I have the reputation because I started out in high school acting and then directing. So I came out of sort of more of a theater background in Connecticut, in Connecticut.
Kevin Goetz (04:40):
See, I know, I know too much about you. See, I have to be a better interviewer than usual.
Martha Coolidge (04:42):
That's true. <laugh>. It was Connecticut, <laugh> all over the place. But I really care and I want an actor to be their best. And therefore, whatever that actor needs, which is the great fun of directing, is trying to figure out what do they need to be relaxed. Do they need to have fun or do they need to be tense? Because there are a few who do. And certain scenes.
Kevin Goetz (05:09):
What do you mean by that? They need to be tense?
Martha Coolidge (05:10):
Well, there are people who, with certain scene in front of them, want someone to be insulted and to be run really hard till they're exhausted because it gets them ready for that scene.
Kevin Goetz (05:26):
Interesting, interesting. I like that. And you'll serve whatever the situation is, I guess, at the moment.
Martha Coolidge (05:31):
Yeah. But if they need to be, they need to be relaxed. That's true.
Kevin Goetz (05:35):
Well, that's what I'm, that's what I'm getting at.
Martha Coolidge (05:36):
But they can be relaxed within the game.
Kevin Goetz (05:41):
Have you ever had a situation and you don't even have to give the name, where you just couldn't break through, the actor wasn't connecting with the scene and it was just stopping everything in its tracks. How do you deal with that?
Martha Coolidge (05:53):
That's a tough one. I have. Generally, I do find a way to break through.
Kevin Goetz (06:00):
Do you excuse the crew? Usually?
Martha Coolidge (06:03):
It depends. Depends where you're at in that particular log jam. But it is something that does happen usually because there's a fear and a communication problem. Also, some actors have a tough time reaching certain emotional places and they may know they have to go there, but they may not have enough experience to understand how difficult it is.
Kevin Goetz (06:28):
You began your directing career in documentaries, correct?
Martha Coolidge (06:33):
Yes. I guess you could say that. Well, that's hard to say because I did start my directing career at RISD where I went to school at RISD. Right. Which is Rhode Island School of Design. And I was directing, the first films were sort of visual puzzles or things about creating an atmosphere or creating a story but it's a story of like plants coming out of winter or something like that.
Kevin Goetz (07:02):
But then you always connected to the deeper emotionality.
Martha Coolidge (07:06):
I like stories. Yeah.
Kevin Goetz (07:07):
And I know you've been public about this, so I'll just say you had a terrible experience of a date rape when you were 16 years old.
Martha Coolidge (07:13):
Kevin Goetz (07:13):
And in fact, you memorialized that in a documentary movie. In a movie that, well, it was a doc, right?
Martha Coolidge (07:20):
Well, it's hard to call it a doc, but it's a fiction film inside of a doc.
Kevin Goetz (07:26):
Well, whatever, however you characterize it. Yeah. It got you a lot of attention.
Martha Coolidge (07:30):
Yes, it did. It was different.
Kevin Goetz (07:32):
And what, how did you leverage that experience to get to Hollywood?
Martha Coolidge (07:38):
Well, that's a very odd connection because it isn't the obvious movie you'd bring to represent exactly you in Hollywood. But it was the movie which got me a lot of attention so I brought it and the others. But this one was different and people liked it because it was a story within a story. And it was kind of a very honest experience to go through encouraging you also to talk about your experience.
Kevin Goetz (08:07):
And incredibly authentic, obviously.
Martha Coolidge (08:08):
Yes, very authentic. And it was really interesting. I'm getting the movie ready to go where one day away from shooting and I walked down the street and bump into my high school roommate who was my roommate during the period that I'm making the film about. I bump into her. So we talk and I ask her if she's still acting because she had been. And she said yes. And I said, well, do you think you'd like to play yourself in my movie? Which was odd, but she did.
Kevin Goetz (08:43):
Do you keep in touch with her still?
Martha Coolidge (08:45):
Vaguely. It's not so easy. But we both write.
Kevin Goetz (08:48):
What was your first break in Hollywood? How did you finally lay your stake here I guess?
Martha Coolidge (08:52):
Well, are you talking about screenings in public or are you talking about making films?
Kevin Goetz (08:57):
Martha Coolidge (08:58):
Because when I came here…
Kevin Goetz (09:02):
I guess I don't understand the difference between…
Martha Coolidge (09:04):
Well, what it is is a movie that gets out to the public can bring you attention and that can make a connection in Hollywood. And I think that's probably generally how it was. But because Not a Pretty Picture, which is what I named that film is so different that not everybody considered having a person…
Kevin Goetz (09:27):
Seeing the commercial sort of talent come through.
Martha Coolidge (09:30):
Yeah. On the other hand, I was interviewed a number of times by Sean Daniels for Animal House. That would've been interesting.
Kevin Goetz (09:39):
To direct Animal House? Mm-hmm.
Martha Coolidge (09:40):
<affirmative>. I wanted to.
Kevin Goetz (09:42):
But that is, I was about to talk next about your commitment to female-driven characters <laugh>.
Martha Coolidge (09:49):
Well, you see.
Kevin Goetz (09:50):
That’s the epitome of male testosterone.
Martha Coolidge (09:53):
But you see, it's important to understand that we are ourselves and people are their gender in relationship to other people. And that's how you can really define yourself and other people.
Kevin Goetz (10:07):
Is there a leitmotif to Martha Coolidge's films? Is there a theme throughout everything?
Martha Coolidge (10:13):
Kevin Goetz (10:14):
Do you know what it might be?
Martha Coolidge (10:16):
I don't know.
Kevin Goetz (10:16):
Not the money jobs. Yeah,
Martha Coolidge (10:18):
Kevin Goetz (10:19):
Let’s just say there are money jobs that we've all done in our lives.
Martha Coolidge (10:21):
No, but all films to me, if I don't see and understand what it's about, what it's trying to bring the audience, what it's trying to tell them, I, I don't know if I can really direct it, but I like to know what's going on, you know? But I did things like Siren, which is the thing about the mermaids kind of attacking a village in New England and stuff like that.
Kevin Goetz (10:50):
And you also just did this beautiful movie. I tested it as Music and Lyrics. It came out as the name of it was,
Martha Coolidge (10:58):
Oh, it's I'll Find You.
Kevin Goetz (10:59):
I'll Find You. And it's a love story. It's a love story set in the background of the Holocaust.
Martha Coolidge (11:05):
And World War II.
Kevin Goetz (11:06):
And World War II. And it was just beautifully done. Production was fraught with…
Martha Coolidge (11:11):
The production had challenges. Yeah.
Kevin Goetz (11:13):
Woohoo. Oh, <laugh>. We, we won't get into that, although I would love to because that's a podcast in and of itself, isn't it?
Martha Coolidge (11:20):
It is, it is.
Kevin Goetz (11:21):
But I want to go back to early Hollywood though. Yeah. So your first big job, I suppose, or your commercial job was what?
Martha Coolidge (11:28):
Oh, that's a good question. I suppose my first job was Valley Girl. Valley Girl wasn't a job. I did it in New York. I financed it.
Kevin Goetz (11:39):
You did? Yeah. So was that your calling card more towards your commercial career?
Martha Coolidge (11:43):
I brought Valley Girl, I came with Valley Girl. I had to have Rambling Rose.
Kevin Goetz (11:48):
It's almost an oxymoron. A valley girl done in New York. Was the term valley girl a term that was already established in the zeitgeist or did you coin that?
Martha Coolidge (11:57):
No, no. It was established sort of because there was even one on Saturday Night Live. Oh, <laugh>. What I did do is I went into the Valley and met people at school and I sent all the actors there and they didn't say gag me with a, I mean, it was just…
Kevin Goetz (12:17):
Gag me with a spoon.
Martha Coolidge (12:17):
Yeah, it was a Moon Zappa song and we were tested for it. And in fact, we didn't have anybody say that phrase.
Kevin Goetz (12:28):
But so many of those phrases became in the cultural…
Martha Coolidge (12:32):
Yes, they did.
Kevin Goetz (12:34):
Who picked it up by the way? You, you financed it, but who actually, do you remember that?
Martha Coolidge (12:37):
Yes. At that time, filmmakers had a whole way of being seen by having your films distributed by 16-millimeter distributors. So it was Films Inc. Which was a very big one.
Kevin Goetz (12:53):
What was it called? Films Inc. And you shot it in New York?
Martha Coolidge (12:57):
Shot it mostly in New York, went to places and stuff that were appropriate.
Kevin Goetz (13:01):
And then the next kind of big break, I think, wasn't it Real Genius?
Martha Coolidge (13:06):
Yes. Yes. Because Brian Grazer saw my film, liked it and wanted. Saw Valley Girl? He probably saw anything I made, but yes.
Kevin Goetz (13:15):
I just interviewed him for my second book. Yeah. And it was a great interview.
Martha Coolidge (13:19):
We had fun together.
Kevin Goetz (13:19):
So funny, fun. Ron Howard and Brian just, and Michael Rosenberg sent me a pipe, like a pipe that you smoked by a fireside chat because I was invited to speak at their offsite and they had a fireplace, a fake fireplace. And I said I only if I had my pipe. So, a couple of days later, got one, arrived in with a pipe and said, thank you. Funny. Thank you so much. You know, and I was very appreciative of that. So let's go into when we first met on Rambling Rose. Now rumor has it, this came from your mouth, that on the way to preview screenings you actually, your nerves tend to get the best of you. Oh God, yes. You've had three car accidents, three independent times going to previews?
Martha Coolidge (14:07):
I did. Is that true? Yeah. Maybe two. I don't know.
Kevin Goetz (14:10):
And you refuse to drive yourself to a preview.
Martha Coolidge (14:12):
So now I, the whole day, I don't drive. It's just silly. I'm nervous. I’m nervous.
Kevin Goetz (14:16):
I feel terrible. Like I feel like do I induce or this process does?
Martha Coolidge (14:20):
It's just nerves. And when you're nervous, you're thinking about all these other things. Did I do this? Did I get this ready? You know, what's going to happen when they see this and you just run into something.
Kevin Goetz (14:35):
What's it like for you when you go to your first test preview? Nobody has seen the movie. Yeah. Tell us, tell the listeners what it’s doing.
Martha Coolidge (14:41):
Well, it's very interesting. I, I think the most fresh and easiest one to tell is Valley Girl because what we did is we just sent some people out on the, the street and pulled 35 people off the street.
Kevin Goetz (14:53):
No methodology. Just sort of like, whoever wants to come in, we're going to give.
Martha Coolidge (14:57):
Yeah. Basically. And they came and they really liked it. And it was a great screening. I was really happy with it. I learned a lot about humor, what kind of time you need on a joke and stuff like that. And it was great. It was great.
Kevin Goetz (15:13):
It's so funny. You're, you're, you're one of those directors when I have given notes from the audience. You really do listen. I mean, you really take it seriously. You don't dismiss it, but many might and you
Martha Coolidge (15:28):
Kevin Goetz (15:29):
Why do you have such a respect for the audience?
Martha Coolidge (15:32):
Well, well, I am an audience, let's face it. And I definitely respect the audience. That's who I'm speaking to. The movie is made for them.
Kevin Goetz (15:44):
I love that.
Martha Coolidge (15:45):
So it's very important that I then listen to them and see where they get up and go to the bathroom. I mean, that's important.
Kevin Goetz (15:54):
I know I've had this, I've mentioned this before on this podcast in other places that had this discussion with Ang Lee. When I, when Ang said, you know, Pablo Picasso never tested his paintings. And I said, well, Pablo Picasso wasn't given a hundred million dollars to make his painting. And if he didn't like his product, he could put it in the back of his closet. Ah, you don't get to there.
Martha Coolidge (16:13):
No, you don't get to do that.
Kevin Goetz (16:17):
You have navigated very nicely between film and tv and I'm very curious about something, you haven't run a show.
Martha Coolidge (16:25):
Kevin Goetz (16:26):
You've never been a showrunner, but you have been invited to direct many different episodes of many different shows. How do you pick up the style of a particular show? Is there a style guide, a style book that they keep?
Martha Coolidge (16:44):
I've heard some do.
Kevin Goetz (16:45):
How do you prepare for that?
Martha Coolidge (16:46):
Well, I think what, what I do is I just look at a lot of shows. All the recent shows and then the older shows too. And they'll create a style. It's usually obvious in the camera work or the mood or the lighting and the colors and all of that. Because the show has a certain attitude.
Kevin Goetz (17:10):
Let's take Sex in the City because I love that show. And I know that show. You step on set, you have four women who have been working together. Kristen Davis and I, by the way, went to school together. But you have four women who you don't really know, I imagine. Not yet. And exactly. You're walking in as the stranger. Are they embracing of you? Do they want to support you or it's got to be nerve wracking?
Martha Coolidge (17:33):
Well, that Kevin is one of the big tests, and this is why on a movie you have a bigger chance because you are there in prep longer and they come and have rehearsal time. But you don't get that in TV after all.
Kevin Goetz (17:52):
But you're all meeting each other for the first time.
Martha Coolidge (17:53):
First time. That's the problem. You're not hanging out with them and, and trying out the scenes and stuff. And that's a problem. So one thing that I do is I try to get to know them as best I can. I'd get to know their work. So I look at their work and I can come in and talk to them about it if they want to talk about it. Very rarely. And I think that I need to have an approach because I think that I've seen a certain acting issue or certain behavioral things and I just need an approach. For me, it's a secret with me <laugh>. And that helps me a lot. I'll go days early in the makeup trailer and chit-chat, get to know them.
Kevin Goetz (18:42):
Ah, that's really, that's good. Smart. Yeah, it's good. I mean, and also you've got a crew that is also very cohesive and then very, you probably feel, how am I being compared to the director last week?
Martha Coolidge (18:52):
Well, that's true. It isn't that I necessarily worry about that, but I do worry about what it's usually like because shows do have an attitude toward the directors. The crew has an attitude, usually.
Kevin Goetz (19:09):
What do you love about directing?
Martha Coolidge (19:12):
Oh my god, I love everything about it. It's a complex undertaking. It's because to do a created complex story, which is what real stories are, you have many layers. You have layers of background of emotional growth and development. You have friendships and relationships which are very strong and dictate people's personalities in a way. And I love figuring out how I'm going to let certain clues out and how we're going to reveal certain things without making them obvious. Because once you get involved in any kind of mystery, murder, mystery, whatever, you have to understand what kind of a clue it is. And you don't want it being too obvious.
Kevin Goetz (20:06):
Do you have a preference between the prep, production, or post?
Martha Coolidge (20:13):
Oh God, that's a hard one. I love production.
Kevin Goetz (20:17):
You love production being on a set.
Martha Coolidge (20:19):
Yeah, I love production.
Kevin Goetz (20:20):
Do you prepare a lot before night before And do you have a storyboard?
Martha Coolidge (20:25):
Kevin Goetz (20:26):
Clearly, you come in with a shot list that you…
Martha Coolidge (20:28):
Yes. Often I make a shot list because what I find is the shot list all the way through prep helps you, and even if you don't shoot that shot list, because things could happen. It could rain, you could, things could happen. But the point is, it tells you how much you need. Mm. What kind of a scene are you trying to do? Mm. Is it going to have a lot of shots or no shots? It does help you and the AD who's making the schedule know what you have in mind.
Kevin Goetz (21:01):
And clearly my favorite is the post-production process, which makes sense for what I do.
Martha Coolidge (21:06):
Yeah. You know, and post-production is great too. And it's great because that's where you really make the movie. I mean, you do make the movie several times.
Kevin Goetz (21:15):
You do make the movies. I love that. I'm going to use that. You do make the movie several times. You have it in the script, then you are making it with you have no idea. Right. You have no idea.
Martha Coolidge (21:24):
And then you're on in post and you're putting the scenes together. But that changes too. You can completely change scenes and how the movie plays if you recut it.
Kevin Goetz (21:36):
It's fascinating to me. Going back to the screening process, I want to just ask you, is there a memorable moment that you've had when you finally bring your movie to that audience and you said, wow, that comment is amazing and you've made a significant change as a result? Anything that comes to mind?
Martha Coolidge (21:55):
Well, I can't remember. Maybe I will, a change that I made, but I do remember what it feels like when you take your movie to a real audience. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it could be the test or it could be in a theater. And all of a sudden they're laughing. You hear laughs and reactions that are spontaneous and they're for the movie and they're fresh and they're stimulating.
Kevin Goetz (22:27):
Sean Levy says, it's sort of like a wash that bathes over you.
Martha Coolidge (22:30):
Well, it's true. That's true. And the thing is, is that if you have that, it's a wonderful thing. And by the way, every audience is different. They're really different. You can go to a different kind of neighborhood, have a completely different reaction.
Kevin Goetz (22:47):
Which is absolutely true. Which is why we do with the new kind of screening format that was, we invented during Covid called Virtuworks. And that's like a way to see the audience watching your movie. You get to watch the audience watching your movie online. Okay. In real-time. The samples from all over the United States as opposed to being in Long Beach or in Burbank.
Martha Coolidge (23:13):
Kevin Goetz (23:14):
So that gives you a really good sense of various opinions. But it's amazing to me how opinions are so homogenized now, like because of social media. People in Oklahoma could be speaking about the same thing as people in Atlanta, in Albany and Poughkeepsie and wherever else you may be. I'm going to take a short break when we come back, we're going to talk horses. Back in a moment.
Get a glimpse into a secret part of Hollywood that few are aware of and that filmmakers rarely talk about in the new book Audienceology by Kevin Goetz. Each chapter is filled with never before revealed inside stories and interviews from famous studio chiefs, directors, producers, and movie stars, bringing the art and science of audienceology into focus. Audienceology, How Moviegoers Shape the Films We Love, from Tiller Press at Simon and Schuster. Available now.
Kevin Goetz (24:19):
We're back with Martha Coolidge, who is one of my dear friends, and I am so grateful to have gone out with her to her ranch early on. She has had several ranches over the years. Martha, you are known for your love of Paso Fino horses <laugh>. I'd love to, and I would feel remiss if I didn't bring up your devotion to these marvelous animals. And as a male rider, I have to say, I appreciate the Paso Fino’s gait.
Martha Coolidge (24:52):
<laugh>. Ah, yes, I'm sure you do. I'm sure you do. You know, it's so funny because I'd always wanted a horse and it was my mother who said to me, I don't know why you don't have a horse. You could afford a horse now. You could. And suddenly I thought, she's right. What am I doing? And I went and started looking around and it was Gail Hurd who got me into Paso Finos. She had quite a few.
Kevin Goetz (25:20):
I didn't know it was Gail, because remember you and Gail and I went riding together. Yeah. It was fun as heck.
Martha Coolidge (25:25):
It was really fun. Really great. And it was Gail because she was selling one of her ex-husband's horses, <laugh>. And I got that horse and it was a great introductory horse. She was a great horse. And then I'm one of those people.
Kevin Goetz (25:40):
Did you have the grounds for it then?
Martha Coolidge (25:42):
Yeah. Well, I kept it where it lived.
Kevin Goetz (25:44):
Ah, got it. So, you didn't move it to your property?
Martha Coolidge (25:47):
No, I didn't.
Kevin Goetz (25:47):
And ultimately you moved to the horse's property.
Martha Coolidge (25:49):
Yes, yes, yes, yes. But it was great.
Kevin Goetz (25:53):
And you showed horses.
Martha Coolidge (25:54):
Kevin Goetz (25:54):
You sold horses. Yeah. How many did you have at the height of your?
Martha Coolidge (25:58):
Well, I owned with my partners probably 60, I'm just guessing.
Kevin Goetz (26:05):
I was going to say 40 if I remember.
Martha Coolidge (26:05):
Yeah, no, 60 horses.
Kevin Goetz (26:06):
Martha Coolidge (26:07):
But I was selling, and when you sell, you usually you're selling one at a time, so you concentrate on a few and then when they go, you can concentrate on another one. And also often they're untrained and young. So you're working on training them with your trainer. And they're a great horse. They're very friendly. They're gaited, which means it's a natural four-beat gait where the horse is moving and smooth.
Kevin Goetz (26:39):
So as I said,
Martha Coolidge (26:41):
You’re not boing, boing, bouncing.
Kevin Goetz (26:42):
Exactly. And as a sort of a novice rider, <laugh>, many people don't know this. I'm just going to share it, you know it. But I learned to ride horses when I was an actor and I had a Wrangler Jeans contract for three years, and I had to learn how to ride horses.
Martha Coolidge (26:57):
Oh God. You're not the only person with a sudden learning.
Kevin Goetz (27:00):
It was, and I fell in love with it. Yeah. I just, I loved it. And we went to great locations to shoot to Moab, Utah.
Martha Coolidge (27:08):
Oh, I bet you did.
Kevin Goetz (27:09):
And to even out in Santa Clarita. Oh yeah. You know where they, because you had your ranches were also out in the valley.
Martha Coolidge (27:14):
Kevin Goetz (27:15):
You know, Martha, you have such a love for the animals.
Martha Coolidge (27:22):
I love animals.
Kevin Goetz (27:22):
You showed them, right? Yes. Used to go to shows.
Martha Coolidge (27:25):
Yep. It makes you a better person, a better rider. And you have a lot of experiences that are fun.
Kevin Goetz (27:32):
You also give the adage, get back on the horse again. Yes. A new meaning.
Martha Coolidge (27:39):
Kevin Goetz (27:40):
I guess it was about five or so years ago, you fell off a horse and had a terrible accident and recovered beautifully from it. But that was a really scary thing.
Martha Coolidge (27:49):
It was, it was a particularly emotional time for me. And I'm sure that's why it happened at that time. And the horse, apparently it's, it was a youngish horse and the saddle broke.
Kevin Goetz (28:02):
Oh, I thought it was a snake or something.
Martha Coolidge (28:03):
No, the saddle broke. And this horse was not ready for that.
Kevin Goetz (28:07):
I know it was a long recovery because you were in the hospital and we visited you with my doggy. Yes. With Kugel at the time. Yes. My Labradoodle. Listen, it was touch and go for a little bit. And the fact that you came back as strong as you did and yes, as capable as you are, is just fantastic. So for those listening, if you fall off the horse, get back on.
Martha Coolidge (28:28):
Get back on. Why not?
Kevin Goetz (28:29):
And, and Martha did, I want to move to an area that is very near and dear to you, which is women in film and the fact that you were the first women president of…
Martha Coolidge (28:41):
Of the Director’s Guild.
Kevin Goetz (28:42):
Yeah, Director’s Guild. What was that like for you when you got that?
Martha Coolidge (28:45):
You know, it was great. I enjoyed it because when I first went there, it was actually one of the men who'd been president and he just said, you know, you're going to be president someday. And that was like, we're filmmakers. I'd never been in a corporate structure where they groom you for this or that. And it was great. I felt good about that. The only thing that was funny was there were some people who were not ready for that to have a woman president. So it was…
Kevin Goetz (29:14):
It was in early 2000. Yeah. 2001. Right. So I think I said.
Martha Coolidge (29:18):
Yeah. So it was sort of a challenge for some people, although for most people, it was very fun. And when I was elected some guy in rasta hair and all this came up and hugged me and said, you don't know how glad we are that you are president. And that was great. I felt good. There are people in the guild who identify with certain groups and are…
Kevin Goetz (29:42):
Martha Coolidge (29:43):
Kevin Goetz (29:45):
Underrepresented. Let’s talk the truth here. What is going on with the business right now? Huh? And I really want to get your perspective. How did we get here and where are things going?
Martha Coolidge (29:55):
Well, where are they going is anybody's guess. We can't completely predict it, but one thing is for sure, distribution has changed. How people get their films out, how they get discovered, what they can do. A short film can be made by a person quite professionally on their own and then distributed on YouTube and get out there and be seen. So it does happen and it's changed everything. Also how people's films are being seen and ranked. You have to include that place.
Kevin Goetz (30:34):
Why in 2023 are we still having these massive discussions about such lack of female represented directors? I mean, is there a theory that you have about why women are not in that seat?
Martha Coolidge (30:52):
Yes. It has to be something from the culture. It has to be.
Kevin Goetz (30:57):
Because when I've done studies…
Martha Coolidge (30:59):
Kevin Goetz (31:00):
People don't care who's directing the movie.
Martha Coolidge (31:02):
No, they don't. They don’t.
Kevin Goetz (31:03):
There's a few sort of a cadre, small cadre of directors that do help. A Christopher Nolan. Yeah. A Jim Cameron, a Steven Spielberg, a Ron Howard. They have a kind of commercial appeal that can help a movie. Yes. But by and large, when you have a superhero movie for example, people don't care who directed it. Why are there not more women that have, are behind all of these?
Martha Coolidge (31:30):
Given what some of the people have said to me is that they want or believe the financiers that the director has to be able to take control of all this money and all that machismo, which is in those kinds of movies and be a winner with it. And that they don't imagine a woman, they don't see a woman there.
Kevin Goetz (31:54):
I could see that 20 years ago, I don't see that happening now.
Martha Coolidge (31:57):
You would think.
Kevin Goetz (31:57):
I really don't, I mean, first of all, I do see change because I work on nearly 60, 70% of every movie that tests in Hollywood. So I get to see who's directing and I'm seeing some very wonderful directorial work by women who given that opportunity once given it, really turn it out.
Martha Coolidge (32:17):
Why? Why wouldn't we be that way? Since we're like that in many careers?
Kevin Goetz (32:24):
And I'm talking about full-on testosterone driven. Yeah. If you want to go there. Absolutely. So I just think it's a legacy thing and I just think it's a slow one to turn. And I heard a stat that a lot of female directors enter film school, you know, like want to be film directors but graduate not as wanting that.
Martha Coolidge (32:42):
Yes, that's right.
Kevin Goetz (32:43):
Because as a teacher at Chapman and other places that you've taught, you sense that as well, huh?
Martha Coolidge (32:47):
Well, I think it, what it is, is that the media says there are no jobs for women. I mean, they bring that out, they keep having that up. And girls will say to me, I want to go into some area where there's actually work for me.
Kevin Goetz (33:04):
That's a fair comment.
Martha Coolidge (33:04):
You know? And that's a fair comment. And it's sad and it does make entering into one of these careers even more tricky because why would you go into a career where you can't get a job?
Kevin Goetz (33:20):
I was also thinking that it had something to do, and this may be archaic as well, motherhood. When you are directing a movie, you must show up on set every day. Yep. And if you happen to want to have a child or are pregnant during that period, it's going to be really challenging in your ninth month or eight and a half months. Yeah. I'm wondering if that has some kind of even small effect. Now you have a child, Preston.
Martha Coolidge (33:44):
Never thought about it actually, whether I should or shouldn't do it, but what I'm wondering is I would love to talk to someone who was that pregnant and directing, because usually mm-hmm. <affirmative> directing comes in rather big sections of time. Sure. So generally, in my case, I just never had a chance to direct pregnant. I did when I did commercial, but not doing a feature film but I could and I would, but it’s…
Kevin Goetz (34:19):
It’s a catch-22, isn’t it.
Martha Coolidge (34:20):
It is a catch-22. It is. And it's what people think of you. But here's the other thing. There is a glamorous thing in our society where we think of the young Boy Wonder Director who shows up and makes this thing into a giant hit sort of in this Steven Spielberg mold. And I don't know if we have that about women at all.
Kevin Goetz (34:43):
I feel that way also about young stars. Like what are we doing to promote? Yeah. mm-hmm. <affirmative>. I don't think it's something we are doing. Actually, what I think is happening though is the nature of the way movies are done now and seen, and there's so many of them seen on streamers. Yes. There are. That we're not adding to this mystique of like, who are the new movie stars?
Martha Coolidge (35:08):
And that is a question I ask myself every day.
Kevin Goetz (35:11):
<laugh>. You know?
Martha Coolidge (35:11):
And that's only because it's important to us because all the people in distribution want us to have stars in our movies. And they can be tricky to get because they may not want to be in an underfinanced little independent movie. But it is something that's required or needed. And I don't know, one thing that happens is if you have a certain age group in your movie, then you start to get to know all the actors in that age group. And it's true. There are lots of surprises.
Kevin Goetz (35:45):
It's one of my theories about why romantic comedies have had such a struggle in the theaters is because the only one that sort of worked in recent memory was Julia Roberts and George Clooney.
Martha Coolidge (35:56):
Yes. That was a while. A Ticket to Paradise. Yeah.
Kevin Goetz (35:57):
And then you can argue that Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum had Lost City, but that really was more of an adventure. Yeah. But the idea though is those are tried and true. They're stars and personalities that we sort of embrace.
Martha Coolidge (36:11):
And that's what I keep asking myself, but it's partly because what do people do to flirt?
Kevin Goetz (36:18):
Martha Coolidge (36:19):
Are we seeing flirting done in our culture?
Kevin Goetz (36:24):
Netflix and Chill is the vernacular for a lot of young people, you know, we'll come back, watch a movie and stay in. Yeah. It's really interesting cultural sort of question.
Martha Coolidge (36:32):
It is a very big change. And I've wondered this having been teaching at mostly grad students and undergrad students, you know, you do get to watch them and see them and see what the interaction is like.
Kevin Goetz (36:46):
Are you hopeful for the future?
Martha Coolidge (36:47):
I'm always hopeful for the future.
Kevin Goetz (36:49):
Are there any filmmakers that you have your, that have your eye on them?
Martha Coolidge (36:52):
Oh God, yes. I think there are some great ones.
Kevin Goetz (36:55):
Who do you think is somebody that you, if you could see them right here, you'd say, yeah, I really respect what you do?
Martha Coolidge (37:00):
Oh, there's so many though. I can't even…
Kevin Goetz (37:02):
Was there a movie last year that you particularly loved?
Martha Coolidge (37:06):
Yes. I like a lot of movies, but
Kevin Goetz (37:08):
No, I didn't say liked.
Martha Coolidge (37:10):
Kevin Goetz (37:10):
I said, was there a movie that you loved?
Martha Coolidge (37:12):
Loved? I do love a lot of movies and
Kevin Goetz (37:14):
I loved the movie RRR.
Martha Coolidge (37:16):
I never saw it.
Kevin Goetz (37:17):
Oh. That was, I think one of my favorite movies.
Martha Coolidge (37:20):
Okay. I have to see it.
Kevin Goetz (37:21):
It was just, to me, the sheer entertainment value of that. And India did not submit it as their official submission. Yeah. So it, I know it wasn't nominated for anything except song, which it won. It was apparently made over like a two or three-year period and it's so epic. There's an intermission. It's crazy, but it's like Crouching Tiger meets like Rush Hourmeets sort of True Lies in the level of action. Great. It's just crazy. So I really, really, really like that and love that actually. Yeah. But love is a, is the metric that now I'm sort of pushing as many clients that will allow me to, because like is so passive and love cuts through noise.
Martha Coolidge (38:05):
Well, love does have to be in there because a person to make a connection with a character in a movie has to have some kind of love or compassion or identity with that person's problems in that movie. And we see a lot of movies that are not that happy, but they are loved and that's a very important part of it.
Kevin Goetz (38:31):
Absolutely. That movie I mentioned did have pure value, but there's plenty of movies that end tragically that I love. Yeah. You know, for various reasons. There's another theory about the lack of stars. Before we get off that, I just want to say that, and it just came to my attention and it makes total sense in this world where everyone has the 2 million, 5 million, 50 million followers. There's no mystery anymore. It's like, you know everything about these folks. So it's like, you know, we used to have sort of a veil of a mystery. And so when you saw the Academy Awards, for example, it was seeing these people who maybe you didn't see, except for one movie that year, that you know nothing about them. And now you're seeing their vulnerability perhaps come out. But now you, you almost expecting these things, you know, because you know them so well. They feel like friends and neighbors.
Martha Coolidge (39:20):
Yeah, that's true. And I think that is also part of the surprise of new movies coming out with, from new directors and new filmmakers, is that there are so many things that are in movies that really do surprise you. And they can be particularly personal to you, but they are a surprise to show up in a movie because they never have before. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yes. And that is a big thing. It's part of what living is, is that you face challenges that you didn't know were there.
Kevin Goetz (39:52):
What would you like to direct right now if you could? What's exciting to you?
Martha Coolidge (39:57):
You know, one of the things for a director is that you have something you really want to do. <laugh>, you want to do a passion project. Yeah. For a long time. And I have several films like that, for example. Okay, let's just talk genre. I love sci-fi. Oh. So sci-fi to me is great, but I also would like to do a Western, and I know it must be very challenging with all the dust and the horses.
Kevin Goetz (40:25):
But what about the Yellowstone’s success in the whole Taylor Sheridan universe?
Martha Coolidge (40:28):
Kevin Goetz (40:29):
Right now. You kidding? It's the best ever.
Martha Coolidge (40:30):
It's amazing. Yeah, it is.
Kevin Goetz (40:32):
So anyone listening, if you want a good western…
Martha Coolidge (40:35):
Kevin Goetz (40:36):
Call Martha Coolidge, and, and she will, she'll show up on that front. And I wouldn't touch a western if I didn't have a director who could work with horses.
Martha Coolidge (40:46):
Kevin Goetz (40:49):
Quite frankly, so you, you bring all of those things to the table.
Martha Coolidge (40:51):
And there's different cultures happening. One of the things that is so great about Westerns in particular are all the cultures that are involved. Yes. Yes. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you have Native American culture. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> mm-hmm. <affirmative> and various tribes. And then you have the people coming over from different countries and the reasons that came and criminals came and all kinds of people came. And it is fascinating when you think you go to a town and what kind of people went there in the Gold Rush, what kind of people went there to farm? You know, it, it's just…
Kevin Goetz (41:27):
Martha Coolidge (41:28):
And could we ever do, I can't imagine ever me doing it. I can't. I mean, I can imagine. Yes.
Kevin Goetz (41:35):
<laugh>. So Martha, before we break, I did want to ask you a question that I've asked several directors. What's your superpower as a director?
Martha Coolidge (41:47):
Well, I would say that my superpower is that I am good at going into complex situations. So I like to do a complex prep, have many relationships with people that I'm juggling, and I stay very calm in crisis. And it makes me think creatively and be productive. And that's something that I really like. I like to see it in me coming out. I do.
Kevin Goetz (42:21):
And I've seen it in all of your movies. Whether it's something light fair, like Out to Sea, or Prince and Me, and whether it's really more deeply expressed in a Dorothy Dandridge, or a Rambling Rose, you know, it's really exciting to see. You are such a treasure to our industry and really a legend and a pioneer in film, and particularly for women in film. And we thank you. I thank you. And I'm so proud to be your friend and continue to, and you amaze me.
Martha Coolidge (42:54):
Well, thank you, Kevin. And you do me too, because you've walked into this business and just along with a few other people, but turned this whole testing thing into a huge enterprise worldwide.
Kevin Goetz (43:10):
Thank you. Thank you. Martha, it has been such a pleasure having you here. Thank you so much for joining the show. And to our listeners, I hope you enjoyed our interview. I encourage you to check out Martha's body of work. For other stories like this one, please check out my book, Audienceology at Amazon or wherever books are sold, or through my website at KevinGoetz360.com. You can also follow me on my social media at KevinGoetz360. Next time on Don't Kill the Messenger, I will welcome television and film producer and CEO of the creative management company, The Gotham Group, Ellen Goldsmith-Vein. Until next time, I'm Kevin Goetz, and to you, our listeners, I appreciate you being part of the movie-making process. Your opinions matter.
Host: Kevin Goetz
Guest: Martha Coolidge
Producer: Kari Campano