Looking for practical help and advice on an operational area that may be outside your realm? Each month we spotlight one of our talented operators, who’ll share their expertise and offer insights and ideas that may help improve your own operations. This month we spoke to Danielle Renfrew Behrens, President of Animal Pictures, shortly before the debut of her latest project, Sarah Cooper: Everything’s Fine.
You recently landed a Netflix comedy special, which you’re executive producing alongside Natasha Lyonne and Maya Rudolph. What’s so exciting about this crew?
DANIELLE: You have to bring your best game when you’re working with geniuses. We all came to the table with different life experiences and points of view, but we all share common philosophy – life is too short to work on anything we don’t believe in. It has to be something we all find meaningful. I understand that’s a luxury, but hopefully we’ve earned it after being in the industry for 2+ decades. It’s very refreshing to have that as a guiding principal of a company, and Sarah Cooper: Everything’s Fine really encapsulated that spirit.
You’ve been a Hollywood founder and operator for some time now. How has the landscape changed for women over the last few years?
DANIELLE: Early in my career, I was often the only woman in a room. That’s changed now. The optimistic side of me thinks that’s because there are significantly more female execs in positions of power – yet the pessimistic side of me thinks big companies have simply caught on that a meeting with all white men is a bad look. They are including women and POC, but that doesn’t necessarily mean those people are decision makers.
How can the film industry do a better job of being inclusive?
DANIELLE: For a start, everyone can be more mindful when casting and crewing up. Over the last 6 months or so, there’s been a real uptick in buyers’ appetites for projects by and about BIPOC. I hope that continues and isn’t just a short-term reaction to the current political climate.
Why is it important for Hollywood to tackle the issues surrounding thing like politics, race, and gender?
DANIELLE: Film and TV give people a window into the experiences of others – a way to learn about other communities and cultures that they might not otherwise understand. I think it was Roger Ebert who said “film is a machine that generates empathy.” And there was just an article in the LA Times highlighting a study about how watching shows with immigrant characters inspired viewers to be more socially active.
I think there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with being the one to put a mirror up to the world or to show people (especially kids) what’s possible. Representation truly matters.
What’s one amazing insight no one knows about the film industry?
DANIELLE: It is not glamorous! You see people looking so fancy and made up on the red carpet (pre-COVID, of course). As a kid, I thought that looked so fun, but now when I see how much time goes into getting hair- and makeup-ready, it doesn’t look fun at all.
AOC often talks about the skills she picked up as a bartender, and others talk about what they learned working retail. What were some of those formative jobs for you?
DANIELLE: My first job was as an intern for Dorothy Fadiman, an Academy Award nominated documentary filmmaker based in the Bay Area. After my internship, she offered me a job as the grassroots outreach coordinator for a documentary film series about the history or reproductive rights.
I still use every skill I learned during that time, from formatting business letters to team building.
What’s the one condiment you could never live without?
DANIELLE: Oh, that’s easy: Tamari!
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