the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Deconstructing Gwyneth Paltrow


The following is a full-length article from the New York Times on August 10, 2005 titled "Gwyneth Paltrow Takes Her Turn Behind the Camera," written by Felicia R. Lee — interspersed with my own thoughts as I read the article.

Gwyneth Paltrow yelled "Cut!" as if her life depended on it. Sipping hot green tea on one of the hottest days of the year, standing in a meandering Brooklyn apartment that had been transformed into a movie set, Ms. Paltrow was directing her first film, "Dealbreakers," a short about the dubious charms of dating, with no small measure of authority.

(Hmmm. she is "sipping hot green tea on one of the hottest days of the year.  Does this mean that she is ultra-hip, a trend-setter, or just a masochist?  And did the writer make sure to check that the tea bag wasn’t in fact Earl Grey or is this another made up"Jason Blair"-type detail?)

At one point, standing at the monitor in a pink camisole that said "Mrs. Martin" (she is married to Chris Martin, the lead singer of the rock group Coldplay), Ms. Paltrow suggested a longer camera pan for a shot of Travis, a goofy hippie offering his date some gorp.

(Add one name-dropping of a famous husband.  And what the hell is gorp?  Oh, here it is on Google.  Oh, here’s a recipe.  Let me bookmark it.)

"One more shot, then on to Opera Man," Ms. Paltrow said, referring to another bad date in the film, a 10-minute short about those dating moments when you realize it’s not going to work, usually because of something your date has said or done.

(A fucking ten-minute short — that she is co-directing!  Does this deserve a whole column in The New York Times?  I made seven ten-minute shorts in film school — and I directed them by myself — and no one from the NY Times ever contacted me!)

Such moments of command were occasionally offset by more maternal concerns. Joined on the set by Apple, her 14-month-old daughter, Ms. Paltrow looked on in delight as Apple splashed in what had been a bucket of ice for water and soda.

(More name-dropping of the stupidly-named daughter.   This is supposed to remind me that Ms. Paltrow is not only a successful actress, but a doting Mom.)

Ms. Paltrow, who splits her time between London and New York, called the film a chance to stretch artistically and to help a good cause.

(A good cause?  I’m laughing already and I don’t even know what the cause it.)

The short was one of four stories made into movies by an advisory board of female executives and actresses in Hollywood, assembled to further the cause of women in film.

(OK, I’m into that.  That’s cool.)

The board chose from among 4,000 fact-based 750-word essays about life-changing events submitted to Glamour magazine by its readers earlier this year. Ms. Paltrow was the co-writer and co-director of "Dealbreakers" with Mary Wigmore, a close friend and filmmaker who is Apple’s godmother.

(Wait a minute.  Isn’t this supposed to further the cause of women in film?  Where is the name of the woman who wrote the Glamour article?   Why is the world-famous Ms. Paltrow the co-writer and director and not one of the thousands of terrific unknown women struggling in Hollywood?  Don’t we want to advance their cause… not that of the Oscar winning Ms. Paltrow?  Well, surely her co-writer and director must be a deserving young talent.  But what’s this? — the co-writer and director is a close friend and Apple’s godmother?  That smells more like nepotism than "advancing women’s causes.")

The Glamour "reel moments" entries included the usual tales of death and divorce and finding oneself after motherhood but also played with lighter moments of epiphany, like knowing when a date’s number is up.   The set of films will eventually be shown in 25 markets starting in October, and a DVD containing them will also be inserted into the December issue of Glamour.

The magazine will also make a donation to FilmAid International, a charitable organization that uses film to help communities deal with disasters. In this case, FilmAid will use the money for women in refugee camps in Kenya.

(A donation to women in Kenyan refugee camps?  Great cause, but what does that have to do with anything?  How much will be donated?  Why not set up training for women directors?  And by the way, still no mention of the woman who wrote the original article in Glamour.)

"The brand is about the empowerment of women," Leslie Russo, Glamour’s associate publisher said of the magazine’s involvement in the project. "Today, with the culture being so celebrity-obsessed, how do we extend that message? How do we support the telling of real women’s stories in Hollywood?"

(The answer:  By getting super-celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow and her daughter’s godmother to make a 10 minute film about this pressing new subject of "dating in New York.")

Glamour picked Moxie Pictures, a bicoastal commercial and feature film production company, to develop the stories, produce the shorts and assemble the advisory board that selected the essays and helped to cast the films. The board included the actresses Katie Holmes, Lucy Liu and Julianna Margulies, as well as Meryl Poster, the former president of production at Miramax Films; Caroline Kaplan, a vice president at IFC Entertainment; and Cara Stein, the chief operating officer at the William Morris Agency.

(More name-dropping)

The winning essays were matched with female talent behind and in front of the camera, including, besides Ms. Paltrow; Jenny Bicks, the Emmy-winning writer and executive producer of "Sex and the City"; the director Trudy Styler (the mini-series "Empire"); and the actresses Rosario Dawson and Debi Mazar.

(More established talent without the need for their cause to be advanced)

Of the three other films, one fixes on a woman’s quest to find the right little black dress, while another concerns a woman trusting her instincts on what’s missing in her life. The last is about a housewife’s accidental encounter with transvestites.

(From now on, I get all my story ideas from readers of Glamour.)

Ms. Paltrow said that she and Ms. Wigmore were both drawn to the comedic possibilities of "Dealbreakers," and structured the film as a faux documentary about the dating adventures of Fran, a 30-year-old New Yorker. They shot the film during three recent long, hot days in New York.

(… and then retreated back to Ms. Paltrow’s well-air-conditioned six-bedroom penthouse overlooking Central Park.)

"It’s been great," Ms. Paltrow said of her first effort at directing. "It’s been really interesting to kind of get in here and see that I have an instinct for it.  "I think I’m very sensitive to the actor’s perspective," she continued. "Obviously, I’ve worked on 30 films so I think I’ve learned a lot about filmmaking through osmosis. I’ve spent basically 12 years of my life on film sets the whole time."

("…so why would I want to give anyone else an opportunity to get into the industry and take work away from me?")

Ms. Paltrow, 32, who won an Academy Award for best actress in 1999 for her role as Viola De Lesseps in "Shakespeare in Love," is very much a child of show business. Her father, Bruce Paltrow, who died in 2002, was a producer and director; her mother, Blythe Danner, is an actress. Her brother, Jake, is a director.

(Moral of the story:  Who needs the "empowerment of women" when you already have the empowerment of show-biz parents?)

"My parents were very discouraging of me going into it," Ms. Paltrow said of acting as a career. "I think there was sort of the sense in the 60’s still and the early 70’s that show business was not as respectable a profession as some others and I think they wanted me to do something more intellectual."

(Does anyone believe for one moment that her parents ever said anything remotely like that or is this quote here to solely  make New York Times readers continue to salivate over their favorite young actress?)

And yet, show business has treated her very well, indeed. There is already buzz about her next film, "Proof," which is set for a Sept. 16 premiere. The movie, one of the last projects of the departing co-chairmen of Miramax, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, is based on the Broadway play about a mentally ill University of Chicago mathematician, played by Anthony Hopkins, and his unstable daughter Catherine, played by Ms. Paltrow. Ms. Paltrow said she hoped to work again with the Weinsteins, who are starting another production company after they leave Miramax on Sept. 30.

(Showbiz rule #1: Never do anything without promoting your next project — and not the bullshitty 10 minute one, either.)

Despite her own star power, she believes the industry has a ways to go when it comes to women.  "I think a lot of women writers in Hollywood write from their own experience," she said. "But normally in Hollywood those experiences get so kind of homogenized and put through the studio system that what started as a core idea from somebody’s life often gets turned in a movie that you’ve seen a number of times.  The men in Hollywood make it hard for women. I really believe that. What it means is that it’s kind of like the old-boy industries. It’s mostly run by men."

(I might be wrong, but I think three of the movie studios are run by women.)

Ms. Bicks said that the television landscape had improved for women with the network success of ABC’s "Desperate Housewives," and HBO’s former hit, "Sex and the City."  "It’s made a difference in pitching stories about women," Ms. Bicks said.  The Glamour project showed a group of talented women that they could handle jobs that some had not done before, Ms. Poster said. "I told Gwyneth she could tell people to move here, move there, without coming off as a fussy actress," she joked.

(Ha.  Sarcastically.)

With women now leading the studios at Disney, Universal and Sony, "someone said to me that the male studio head is becoming an endangered species," Ms. Poster said.


She contended that the industry is much more female-friendly. Women aren’t directing films in large numbers, she said, because it’s an all-encompassing job that is not often compatible with the complexity of women’s lives.

(…and Oscar-winning actresses who want to be directors are stealing the jobs from other women.)

Still, Ms. Paltrow insisted, "it takes women to write short films about women or features about women."

(Nonsense.  I wonder what my screenwriting friends think about that comment.)

"There’s no reason why," she said, "if there’s ‘Wedding Crashers’ for boys, there can’t be something really funny yet intelligent for women, that has something to say for women."

(Oh, yes, ‘Wedding Crashers’ really empowered me as a male.  It was about two complete jerks who manipulate women, and one of them gets repeatedly molested by one of his conquests — and ends up falling for her.   Gwyneth, feel free to direct the woman’s version of the film.  And I’m still waiting — where is the name of the newcomer who wrote the Glamour article?)


  1. Jim

    Boy, oh boy! Neil, this is so good, you need to be syndicated or something. I say we all email the LA Times and tell them to hurry up and snatch you. Anyone has the address?

  2. Anne

    I liked the picture of Ms. Paltrow. And then I scrolled down, and there was the flower. You’re evil.

  3. Jay

    I like anyone who can poke fun at the phoniness of celebrities, but you my dear, do it in style! Your commentary was dead on. Applause!

  4. ekramer

    you should send this in to the editors
    of the new york times.small synopsis of
    this and tell them . if they want to read the complete story go to there computer and

  5. Megarita

    Brilliant voice in your head, Neil. The fluff puff pieces can be total poison all too often.

  6. Jack

    I liked her role in Seven, especially the ending. 😉

  7. kristine

    i’m more upset that the journalist who wrote this piece has a job with the New York Times.

    “Gwyneth Paltrow yelled “Cut!” as if her life depended on it”

    so she sounded horrified? near death? shrill? violent?

  8. mrsmogul

    I made short films in school and didn’t make the NY Times until I did my film festival years later. See? I’m boasting 🙂

  9. Bad Maria

    Oh to be inside that fabulous mind of yours, Neil…wait, I just was….AND IT WAS GREAT!

    To address your question to your screenwriting friends, I don’t necessarily believe you have to be a woman to write a woman’s story or a man to write a man’s story – I do believe that anytime you’ve got a personal or physical connection to who the person is (jewish male, black female) you might have some innate knowledge of, or feeling for, the character. That said, writers are observers. We observe, we write it down. So Gwyneth, in case you hadn’t observed, it’s really f*&ing hot out and you’re drinking HOT liquid.

    Oh, and on a filmmaking note, according to my DP husband, the first thing every beginner director wants to do is a longer pan shot and it ultimately ends up on the editing room floor because it takes too much time in the telling of whatever moment they’re showing. (But I’m sure that longer pan shot was absolutely necessary in a 10 minute short.)

  10. lizriz

    “She contended that the industry is much more female-friendly. Women aren’t directing films in large numbers, she said, because it’s an all-encompassing job that is not often compatible with the complexity of women’s lives.”

    OK, that was a little much. However, I suspect for many women it is true. Hollywood has yet to see a woman director who works constantly, and there are definitely some cases where it is by choice. Personally, directing is my primary passion, but that’s not true for all women or men.

    That said, I cannot let this blog entry stand without saying that Bruce Paltrow was an incredible man who helped many, many men and women get their start in this industry. From what I have read and heard from Gwyneth and Blythe directly (as part of an audience), this mentality has always been part of their family. I don’t care what advantages Gwyneth has had in her life, you don’t reach a point where you’ve had so much success that it’s unfair for you to get a new opportunity. That’s total bullshit.

    She’s dipping her toes into directing, and it sounds like a pretty cool project, which I’m sure is reaching a lot of women in all sorts of great ways. As for working with her friend, that’s how film works. You surround yourself with strong colleagues as you go, quality people, and then you bring as many of them with you as you can when you go into production. It’s no different than hand picking officers for your ship so that there’s less chance you’ll die at sea. You surround yourself with people you know you can count on. Further, I’m sure the project is also involving many other people who perhaps deserve the opportunity more by your way of thinking.

    Further, Gwyneth directing a 10-minute film short is of interest to New York Times readers precisely because of who she is. Deal with it.

    The New York Times article was a little fluffy, I’ll give you that. But I found your blog entry wholly offensive.

    We all have to make our way with what advantages we have at any given point. I, for one, would expect Gwyneth to take any interesting opportunity that comes her way, the same way I do.

  11. Neil

    Finally, after all these month, I’ve got someone to hate me! I thought of all people, you being the female director, you would agree with me on this. I was even thinking of you when I was posting this. I have nothing against Gweyneth. I just thought the entire article was filled with irony. First, this organization says they want to get away from celebrity-obssesed Hollywood. And by how? Getting celebrities to make films, backed by celebrity backers? You know I’m all for women advancing in film. But let’s be honest about it. And I still can’t believe that they didn’t mention the writer of the article that the story was based on. Why have the Glamour contest if no one gets credit? Is it because the Glamour contest was really a cheap gimmick to get publicity for these women directors?

  12. Stacey

    “Finally, after all these month, I’ve got someone to hate me!”

    Make that 2 people.

  13. Claven

    GORP recipes? MUST…BE…NICE…TO…LAers

    OK, I’m back. She’s always bothered me for some reason that I’ve never understood.

  14. Neil

    Stacey, keep it coming. This means I’ve finally arrived on the scene.

    Claven — I always thought it was called Trail Mix.

  15. kristine

    yeah, no one calls it GORP except for that stupid writer. i’m hating on her.

  16. Tatyana

    Funny, nobody objects to this bit: out of 4000 reality-based entries the jury selected 4 (four) quintessential stories, “promoting the women cause in film”: – a story about lighter moments of dating; – a housewife and transvestites’ story; -a search for a little black dress, and one mysterious “trusting one’s instincts in life” story.

    Sounds revolutionary…for 1950? Or may be even 1880?

    Also, “surrounding oneself with quality people as you go” – isn’t it what Saddam and other model citizens did?

  17. kristine

    holy crap. excellent point, Tatyana.

  18. Melliferous

    Could there be MORE name dropping? Sheesh! Reading this makes me want to stab myself in the eye with a pen.

  19. Bad Maria

    I’m with you Tatyana – amazing….

  20. Edgy Mama

    Okay, I’ve got the title of your next book: Deconstructing Celebrities and Conversing with my Parents.


  21. lizriz

    Neil, if you’re asking about the original 750 word essay that Gwyneth’s project is based on, I believe that it was written by her and Mary Wigmore if I read the article correctly.

    Notice that this article is focused on Gwyneth, and therefore does not discuss the other projects in the specific. We don’t really know much about the mix of talent/essayists from just this article.

    However, I don’t see the problem if they are all light-hearted. I don’t see where the project as a whole was meant to produce heavy topic films. Is there something about “invoking women’s voices” that means these films have to deal with heavy issues? I mean, they certainly could, and that might be a very interesting project as well, but perhaps not one sponsored by Glamour magazine.

  22. Neil

    Are you saying Gwyneth Paltrow won the Glamour writing contest? That would be even worse. No, I think the Times and everyone else involved (including Ms. Paltrow) didn’t seem to care that much about giving that person any publicity or credit.

  23. introspectre

    Years ago I deveoped a deep sense of loathing for Patrow. Not sure why- it may be because she strikes me as a self absorbed bitch. Yes, perhaps.

  24. inky

    Apple, peaches, pumpkin pie…who’s not ready hollar I? .. this is what I think of everytime I hear about her daughter Apple…. Yeah I’m Czech….and it’s a great polka to scream out and then giggle loudly about. I love your comments about the article… Remember the link you thought was out of this world? Pure Romance…. later when I get home will send you another one….it was mind blowing for me. And made me realize just how sheltered I am living up here on the prairie…. be well, Amy

  25. M.A.

    Your blog marginalia is superb. Shall I call it bloginalia?

    Well, Paltrow does a nice English accent.

    And I, for one, would like to see films made by stuggling writers instead.

  26. Brooke

    Neil, the only thing you did wrong here was giving this subject even more attention than it has already received. If you hadn’t said this was in the New York Times I’d have sworn you got this article from People magazine. Gwynnie is making a ten minute short! Oh my! And she’s wearing a pink camisole! And drinking tea!! Kewl! Alert the media! Stop the presses! And no mention of being the ex of Brad? I’m surprised the writer showed that much restraint.

  27. Jason W.

    Excellent deconstruction! She drives me nuts, and I hate that I still find her incredibly cute.

  28. Tina D. Slatton

    Hi, Neil!
    My name’s Tina, and I’m one of the 4 who won Glamour “Reel Moments” contest. I’d never read the magazine until this month when, um, my name was in it. Back in January, I came across an announcement of the essay contest while touring the internet. Figuring that most of the 4,ooo regular women who entered would write about their painful divorces and other tragedies, I decided to submit one of the kookiest things that happened to me in my kooky life: Backing out of a parking space and slamming into what turned out to be a car full of transvestites. I guess where confusion comes in is the fact that once Katie, Lucy, and others more famous than I’ll ever be picked the “final four” to be made into short films, others rewrote the hell out of our humble essays. For example, instead of all the boring stuff that actually happened — exchanging insurance info and the like after my fender-bender — the REAL writers have me gallavanting off with the trannies in search of a missing gnome. I don’t have the knack for cinematic surrealism, I guess. Plus, in my real life I’m an old Chi-Town ghetto chick but onscreen, the actress playing me is that mom from “Gilmore Girls”(!) Sorry this is so long, Neil. Just want to say I’m not offended that Jenny Bicks (rewriter/director of my short) gets mentioned while I don’t. The fact that us 4 no-names will get flown out, limousined, and red-carpeted alongside Gwyneth, Sting, and the rest of the funky bunch is pretty doggone cool. If you want, you can see us “nobodies” with very little Paltrow at:

  29. Neil

    Tina, congratulations. I’m so excited for you.

    No matter how much they change YOUR story, it was your vision that created it (even if they substituted the Gilmore Girls chick for you). And I wouldn’t say you’re not a REAL writer because obviously you beat out a lot of talented women to be in the top 4. In Hollywood, even best-selling novelists get their material completely changed.

    I still think you guys who won the contest should get more attention. Paltrow doesn’t need any more publicity, but maybe this can help you start your own writing career (or at least get you a pay raise in your current job).

    I’m so jealous of you — getting to meet Sting! Can you do me a favor and ask him for some of those tantric sex tips he’s famous for. Don’t be shy… you’re the real star of that evening in my book!

    Best of luck and thanks for commenting.

  30. Gail Hildebrandt

    I am the woman who wrote the essay that they based Dealbreakers on. I wondered why I still have yet to see what they did with my story. I have only been contacted twice to be told that the premier had been moved to November from October. Glamour is sending me and a guest (I am bringin my 11 year old son) to NYC to walk the red carpet at the premier. Gail Hildebrandt, Atlanta 770-845-9464

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