The #DisneyDreamWorksEvent was truly one of the most memorable events that I’ve had the oppertunity to be a part of as a blogger. Being a huge Disney and movie buff I was extremely excited to meet a HUGE part of DreamWorks itself: Mrs. Stacey Snider. She is the Principal Partner, Co-Chairman, and CEO. As a woman and a mother I love getting a chance to meet independent women and hear how they juggle everything on their plate. We actually got to view the movie at the Amblin Entertainment Screening Room on the Universal Studios lot where DreamWorks main offices are housed. Of course no photos were allowed except one of all us girls with Mrs. Snider. Excuse all our red faces. We had been bawling after the showing of The Help.
From the get go Mrs. Snider was behind both Kathryn Stockett and Tate Taylor and was excited to bring the production from book to the big screen. She talked about visiting the set in Mississippi and having it set in for her. Here’s a bit of the interview:
Stacey: Did you guys read the book?
Blogger: Yeah, most of the way.
Blogger: I read it about two years ago.
STACEY : And did it conform to what you hoped it would?
Blogger : Absolutely.
STACEY : It’s funny how people have strong feelings about, you know, who’s Skeeter, who’s Minnie, who’s Aibileen, who’s Celia. You know, we tried to really cast it as truthfully as we could.
Blogger : The casting is great.
Blogger : It was really well cast.
STACEY : Well these girls were young and that’s what we wanted to do was really present the reality which is that it was young girls hiring women that had raised them, that, you know, were old enough to be their moms and, you know, would be therefore presented in a kind of a loving but awkward relationship and if the girls were older it wouldn’t have been as kind of heartbreaking.
Blogger : How did you guys choose The Help? Did you read it and wanted to adopt it for a film?
STACEY : No, I read the book when it was a manuscript before it was published and loved it and then — it was right before it got published. And then it got published and then it became a kind of word of mouth very slowly. I mean it wasn’t a kind of instant hit and I tried to get the rights. I called the author, you know, Katherine Stockett agents and she had given the rights to Tate.
Her childhood friend from Jackson, Tate Taylor, who wrote the adaptation and directed it grew up with Kathryn in Jackson, Mississippi and it’s a kind of great story because they were best friends growing up both raised by single moms, both raised by African American women who were like their moms and both trying to make it in their respective careers.
Tate was kicking around as an actor and a writer and a director but really kicking around and Kathryn was just trying to find herself and after 911 they were roommates, platonic friends, roommates in New York City. She really was distressed obviously by 911 and couldn’t stay in New York. Didn’t want to stay there, felt very unsafe and Tate said go back to Jackson and go home, maybe you’ll feel better there. And she did and she didn’t feel any better and she moved back to New York and he said to her well, what would make you feel safe? Where would you feel safe in the world? And she said on Demetrius’ lap and Demetrius is like Constantine.
Demetrius was the woman that raised her and he said well write about her. and so she started short stories about Constantine, about Demetrius and that’s began the writing of the book and she was rejected by 60 publishers, 6-0 and she finally got it published and gave him the film rights which, you know, when I read the book I said why don’t you give us the film rights and you can watch how we make the movie and you’ll learn and it’ll be a great apprenticeship, you know, experience for you.
And he said no [LAUGHER] and I said well, you know, it’s really hard to justify giving the amount of money that it will take to do a good job with this movie to a first time director but, you know, call me if you don’t get it set up. And by the time he called me he had written the script which was beautiful and, you know, it proved more than just that he had ambition. It proved that he actually had talent. Still doesn’t tell you if he can direct a movie but when you read a script that was as emotional and respectful as it was, it was a good sign.
So we tried to surround him with pros. Stephen Goldblatt who shot is in an Academy Award winning director of photography. Sharon, uh, I think her last name is Taylor. [OVERLAP] Sharon Davis was our costume designer on Dreamgirls so she, she supported him. Mark Rickard, our production designer is a great designer. He did all the houses and the wallpaper and that stuff so he had a good group of people around him and we said all right, we’ll give it a world.
You know, it was a great story of their loyalty to each other and I think, you know, from our standpoint it was, uh, a leap of faith but we have had good success working with first time directors. It’s scarier than when you’re working with someone with a track record but everybody’s gotta start somewhere.
Blogger : What are your plans for Oscar night?
STACEY : Well I’m too superstitious to even say anything about it but I do hope that the movie gets recognized that way. you know, we’re walking a line where we really want the film to be seen by a lot of people because it feels like it deserves to so our first debut will be in a more commercial way which is why we’re so, you know, relying on you guys to help us with your audiences so that we can get people to see it. And then gradually if it warrants it in the Fall after the summer release we’ll try to reposition it for award consideration if the critics and the audiences feel that it’s deserving.
Blogger : What feedback have you heard from the African American community?
STACEY : You know, when we first preview — what we do after we finish a movie we watch it, you know, ourselves and we give the director notes, you know, in a screen just like this. And then we take it to audiences that are just recruited and our first recruit was here in Pasadena and it was a mix audience and it scored really well. The reaction was great but I was, you know, concerned, you know, how Africa American women were gonna respond to it.
So we took it to Chicago to an almost exclusive African American audience and they loved it, they really loved it. Now, you know, it is without a doubt a different experience and more painful in, you know, for some women and, but, not to the point where it seems that there has been any rejection. And since then we showed it to Ambassador Young.
Had a big screening in Atlanta and what was interesting is that he called out not African American women but he called out African American men and he said I want every black man to see this movie to honor their mothers — this makes me cry, their aunts and their grandmothers and everything because people — it’s only a generation away.
Blogger : You know, watching it for me I didn’t cry but it was very powerful but I didn’t cry because I know these stories and I’ve heard these stories from my grandmother and my great grandmother and my mother going through this stuff. But still it was powerful and had the painful edge. How were able to still get it across to be entertaining without losing that painful edge.
STACEY : Well that’s all Tate. You know, I mean he’s — and Kitty. I think in the, in the material itself, you know, you can’t help but laugh when Minnie gets hurt, you know, shit pie. [LAUGHTER] And we think that the relationship with Celia and Octavia is very heartwarming but not too painful. You know, they’re both outcast. Sugar Ditch is a real place which I didn’t know but it’s a real place that’s, uh, you know, poor white trash. So, so Celia was just as ostracized and discriminated against as some of the black characters.
So I think that there’s a blend of truth to it and, uh, and humor and I think the way that the Tate, you know, Allison Janney, when she says, you know, you need to goat. You know, what does she say? That love and hate are the twin horns of a goat and you need a goat, you know. So she’s — there’s real love and humor in it so what happens I think is that you let your guard down. So then when it gets serious it’s like, you know, a punch in the solar perplexes.
I think one of the most exact scenes like that for me was the toilets in the front yard. We were laughing, belly laughing and then you see her strike her [INAUDIBLE] and you’re just
Blogger: How important was it for you to take this project on?
STACEY : Well, you know, I love all the movies that we make. You love all your children but like this one is a special one. I love this movie and it really reflects I think the values of DreamWorks. You know, Steven is known for humanist movies, movies that shed some light on the human condition but in a popular way. No one wants to pound anyone over the head with it so every part of this, you know, it’s an underdog story that Kitty got the book published.
It’s an underdog story that Tate got it made. It’s an underdog story that Aibileen gets that last word in. You know, when she says you’re a godless woman and she walks out, you know, go Aibileen. It’s really her movie. It’s really her movie. It starts with her and it ends with her so I think that, you know, those feel like values that mean something to us here so it took on special significance.
Blogger : Kudos on the casting. Sissy Spacek.
STACEY : You know, when we saw the dailies of Cecily, you know, who had tobacco in her mouth and she wanted to have gold teeth and it was a very, you know, idiosyncratic performance and I said to Tate when I saw the dailies, I said I have to show this to Steven just to make sure that he’s feeling what I’m feeling because I cried when she says you’re gonna do big things with your life. And I send it to him and he felt exactly the same way that it was just true. There were women that, you know, had their braids and the tobacco and she was representing a country girl.
Blogger : I find it interesting that you said in Atlanta they were talking about getting the men to come out and watch this because this is about the women in their lives because it’s a women center movie obviously. It’s a very female cast, very female issues because you talk about motherhood and somebody else raising your children for you and things like that. What are your challenges to try to make sure to get the guys out there?
STACEY : To not hate it. I mean we’re not gonna advertise to them. That would just be a [sounds like: sisephaie] in task. But I think if we can get the word out from publicity or people like Ambassador Young, you know, Reverend Al Sharpton wanted to see it and Tyler Perry saw it the other day. Called me, got it out of a meeting and called me and said whatever you need I will help, I love this movie.
So if we can manage men to be less resistant, you know, it’s like on a Saturday night. If you want to go to the movies and they say over my dead body, go with your girlfriends maybe we can have them say all right, I don’t really want to see this but I’ll go with you. That’s the goal.
Blogger : I saw Nate Berkus in the credit. What did he do?
STACEY : Well, you know, Nate grew up with Tate and Kitty and so they all formed a group. You know, he was the producer, Tate was the writer, director, she was the author and so he just helped use his contacts. He got it to Oprah who got it — she ended up not producing the movie but she’s seen the movie and loves it. So he used his Hollywood contacts to help those guys get it made.
Blogger : I’m a child of the 60s and so from purely a technical standpoint it was perfect, spot on. The sets were amazing. The bowl and china, everything about it is insanely perfect so to me that set such a realistic atmosphere to it so. And I know most of these ladies were much younger but the wearing of dresses so there was a lot of things — the women of those times were also held down and held in their positions by their status and life as well. And I just want to thank you for making it so realistic and really doing the research and find out.
STACEY : Well the first big decision was to shoot in Greenwood. You know, it would have been easier, cheaper maybe to shoot somewhere else but you can’t get houses and, and land. You know, that shot when she drives home, when Skeeter drives home and you see the fields. So we shot in Greenwood. We shot on location. They were all real people’s houses and what Mark Ricker would do is, you know, spruce them up.
And I would walk into the sets and, you know, all the actors were there and I’d go oh, look at this wallpaper and ignore the actors. They were times when I would call Tate and I would say her hair is so high. I mean this is ridiculous. No one has hair that high and he would say to me you all don’t know these girls. I grew up with these girls. They had their hair like that. And I was like well push Hilly’s down just a little bit. She looks crazy.
You know, they did their research and Sharon, you know, was very attentive to the fashions and the wigs and we had one whole room that was beautiful, that was all of — it was almost like a museum room. Had her sketches, she found vintage clothes, she made some of the clothes. It was really a lot of love. The people that were involved in this movie felt that it was special so they gave it that little extra.
Blogger : I was concerned when I heard the movie that you would make it very theatrical and lose the quality [INAUDIBLE]. You captured it.
STACEY : Well, you know, Tate, when he came to see us, we read the script and we loved it. I got a voice mail from Steven that — I switched services, I wanted to keep this forever and I switched freaking services and now I don’t have it anymore. but he left like a ten minute voice mail message, you know, this is us, this is what we stand for, walk don’t run, we have to meet this kid, who is this kid? And when we met him he did two things. First of all he’s from the place so he said you can caricature and make theatrical these women like that.
You don’t know. I grew up with it and I thought he’s right, what do I know? And then he also had — he brought with him a documentary that he started but never finished. I think we’re gonna finish it for the DVD that was just interviews of women from the south, black and white, and their experiences. [OVERLAP] and it was powerful.
You know, there was one, one couple that sat right next to each other and they said, you know, we are best friends. We’ve been together forever and the white woman was in her 90s and the black woman was in her 80s and they seemed like sisters. But the white woman would say now, of course we don’t eat together but we’re best friends and you’d think how can this be? But the story of the woman who, you know, the story about the man who bought the land for her, the two acres that was true. That came from the documentary. That wasn’t in Kitty’s book.
That came from these interviews and Tate said I’m gonna put not only the story in but the woman who told me. The story — she’s not an actress. Some of those women in the scene where they say we’re gonna help you, those are women that worked in houses in Jackson.
Blogger : One of them is Carol Lee.
STACEY : One of them is the woman who raised Tate.
Blogger : You know, my grandmother kept children. We were jealous of those children and they were jealous of us.
STACEY : You know, what there’s one girl in the documentary who’s in her 20s, whose mom raised white kids and she talks about how much she missed her mom. She’s engaged to a white guy. So she’s a black woman engaged to a white guy in the south and so she had an incredible story to tell because she says that part of the reason that she felt like she could fall in love with a white guy is that she would play with the white kids that her mom raised. So she was mad at them half of the time, but, raised like their brothers and sisters the other half of the time. So its, uh, it’s — their stories are still happening and worthy of being told.
Blogger : This is at the beginning that the question was asked when she started the book. Where do you feel safe and she said Demetrius’ lap. Taking on a project this big it can be overwhelming. So what’s your safe place when you get overwhelmed, when you started?
STACEY : Oh, god my confidence in the material. When I, when I, you know, when I start to think oh, god it’s gonna cost X and it’s gotta do Y and it’s up against Glee on that day or other movies that are easier to sell. I just go back and I read the material or in this case I watch the movie and I feel like my gut, my ability for a good story to get into my heart without filters — my filters come in later.
How much should we stand? And what date is the right date? And who is the talent to put around it? But my first reaction is you know, I either love it and am move by it or I’m not. So when I get nervous I just try to go back to the original feeling that I had.
Blogger : What are the main components a movie needs to be successful? What do you look for?
STACEY : Well ideally it’s a good idea for a movie. I mean there are certain movies where you just say well, that’s a good idea. This one isn’t. This one is a movie that has lots going against it. You know, it’s period. It’s female. It’s dramatic. You know, the racial issues can feel to an audience like you know what I don’t want to spend my money. I don’t need to spend money to be taught a lesson.
So there are so many things going against the pure core idea of this movie so what — so that’s on this hand. What gets it up is the execution was so perfect. With all of the elements that were going against it, it was a perfect story and it was, you know, it had the right blend of heart and pathos and humor and pathos. It was popular. You know, if it had been any less of a phenomenon it would have been that much more difficult.
There’s lots of worth stories that don’t become three year best sellers so the fact that there was an urgent fan base so, you know, things like, you know, trying to think. You know, Hangover is an easy idea for a movie. You know, five guys go on a bachelor party and they lose the groom. You know, you kind of like that’s easy, you get it, that’s a good idea for a movie, you get it and the execution hopefully is great. But if it’s just fair you’re okay. This one the execution has to be perfect to overcome some of the marketing limitations.
Blogger : There was a lot of buzz about the book because I think a lot of people read the book they want to see the movie. Do you think that will help?
STACEY : Yeah, without a doubt but it’s not enough. You know, the readership of a book is ardent and urgent but it’s not enough so what we are hoping for is through screenings like this that word of mouth. You know, how when you have a girlfriend or a friend or a family member that recommends something. You know, if you have a chance go watch Gamut Runs, okay. But then there’s other recommendations where it’s like you have to see this. If you want to be my friend you have to see this [LAUGHTER] or I’m gonna take you to see it.
Blogger : I’ll buy it for you. I just want you to see it.
STACEY : Exactly and that’s the difference. You know, if we can get that kind of evangelical, aggressive word of mouth it does make all the difference and, you know, I know I’ve got friends who will say I’m picking you up, we’re going. Or we’re not gonna be friends unless you listen to this, you know, music or something so we’re hoping for that.
Blogger : The very end of the movie when she leaves [UNINTELLIGIBLE] I think that spoke to all of us a mothers [OVERLAP] if you weren’t at least pulled by seeing the little girl. As a mom, you know, how did the themes of motherhood affect you in this movie?
STACEY : Well, you know, I have two daughters. I have a 12 year old and a 14 year old and, you know, I worked from when Katie — Stephanie and I worked together and I was pregnant at — oh, no I first went to Universal after Katie had been born. She had just been born and then I had Natalie two and a half years later and was, you know, arranging my schedule, the previous schedule around my C Section.
So I relied on women to help me raise the kids and I’m a pretty good hands on get home, get your butt home mom. But I’ve always felt like more love is good. More people that know them, that love them, you know, I know women who feel threatened by that. That feel that they don’t want — that’s a person that works for me. I feel like Jody, who’s the woman who’s been with us for 12 years, that Jody and my husband and I have raised the girls together.
And that, you know, she’s the boss when I’m not there and our values are comparable and she’s leaving us this year. So, you know, it’s funny my big girl graduated from eight grade yesterday and they had that, you know, as only teenagers get. I’m never gonna see my friends again and, you know, all the crying and then she got home and she saw Jody and she said and you’re leaving me too. How can you leave me?
So, you know, you just want your kids to have that love and that wisdom and you’re grateful, you know, to the women that takes a village. I used to get in bed with my, uh, my mom passed away when I was 17 so I used to get in bed with the night nurse that helped me when the kids were young and I would sleep with her all night. My husband was in the other room. it would be me and [sounds like: Lou Ella] and the baby and, you know, she got me through such a scary time that I just was attached like a little, you know, a little kangaroo. I didn’t want to let her leave.
Blogger : Does it make sense to any of you in the movie as to why you wouldn’t feel comfortable using the toilet of a black woman but you’d feel comfortable with them taking care of your children?
STACEY : It’s crazy. Well, that’s what she says. That’s what — when Skeeter is talking to Mary Steenburgen and she says, you know, we love them, they raise our children and yet we won’t let them use the [OVERLAP]. I mean when I was in Greenwood they’d be women in the houses that we would go visit, you know, that we were shooting at and I would want to talk to them and say hello but there was such a barrier and it’s just a different culture. It’s just a different thing and it doesn’t make sense to me.
Blogger : Just like in the movie she had it in her mind they had different disease. It’s the fear thing. The same thing happened when AIDS came out. Immediately if you were gay, you know, it was scary, you know, people treated you different.
STACEY : Well I think subtly there’s also a message in there about education. She goes off to Old Miss and she would have been — there’s no indication that Skeeter wouldn’t have been exactly like Elizabeth or if she stayed. It’s the fact that she went away, got out of that environment and got educated.
Blogger : They resented that she moved on.
STACEY : Exactly, exactly. It’s not heavily in the movie but certainly it’s clear that she’s the one that went to get educated.
Blogger : Not just catch a husband.
STACEY : Exactly.
Blogger : I want to say that even we believe that — because it wasn’t familiar to me. [UNINTELLIGIBLE] And since I know, I learn a lot of the pain and all these issues that every country has but because now this is my country I love this. So I think the movie is great because it talks to every mom. It doesn’t matter what you are. No matter where I come I enjoy it and it’s painful to see. But at the same time I think it’s great that a movie like this because we are the moms and we create this new generation of new people. They do not know about being open and, you know, the human and I think this is our responsibility.
STACEY : I agree. I showed it to my eleven year old the other night because my dad’s in town and he wanted to see it. She’s 12 — sorry, I always forget, uh, to the 12 year old and I thought well, is Nat gonna understand this? And she did understand it.
Blogger : They do. I watched it before I came. It was my sister in law and my husband and my seven year old watched it and we were watching the trailer and I, you know, were crying together and he has about the bathroom. Mama, why not? Why they couldn’t use it? So my husband is getting — he said oh, let me start talking to him and he was like oh, okay. But I don’t think there is no age for them to learn.
STACEY : Yeah, I agree and in some ways it’s an easy — it provides teachable moments that are easier sometimes than a textbook or a documentary.
Blogger : Yeah, so thank you very much.
STACEY : I’m glad. I feel the same way. Well, I’m so glad to share it with you guys and I have to say I’m emotional reaction to it so I look forward to seeing what you guys write. I’ll log on. Okay, thank you.
If you have NOT seen this movie yet then WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!?! In all seriousness I think everyone should see this movie once. Ragardless of age, race, or sex. This is one to keep yours on for The Oscar race!
em>***I was flown out to LA for the #DisneyDreamWorksEvent. Although I did get to see a screening of The Help it did not influence my post.***