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Female-led studio Level Forward invests in effort to break Hollywood’s glass ceiling

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Director Jen McGowan, right, plans a shot with cinematographer Michelle Lawler on the set of “Rust Creek.” A website McGowan founded to promote women for film and TV jobs is being relaunched, renamed and expanded with new investment.
(Level Forward)

Level Forward, a female-led studio founded in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein misconduct allegations, is backing an effort to break Hollywood’s glass ceiling by getting more women hired for jobs at studios and on film and television productions.

The New York- and Los Angeles-based company, launched a year ago by Abigail Disney and “First Reformed” production company Killer Content, said Saturday that it has acquired a 50% stake in Film Powered, a free website that seeks to connect experienced women with job opportunities in the entertainment industry.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

The Los Angeles-based site, founded several years ago by “Rust Creek” filmmaker Jen McGowan to increase female representation through classes and networking events, will be relaunched with the new name Glass Elevator in a broader effort to disprove the persistent notion that there aren’t enough highly qualified women to fill the behind-the-camera jobs that are dominated by men.

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Film Powered’s network numbers more than 3,000 women in entertainment, including executives, performers and crew members, the firm says. Level Forward said it aims to develop new revenue streams for the service and expand the site with new features to help women find jobs and employers find female talent.

A raft of sexual misconduct allegations against powerful media men after Weinstein’s downfall highlighted what experts describe as a systemic lack of opportunities for women in Hollywood. But while multiple men, including Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and Kevin Spacey, have lost jobs because of alleged misdeeds, much more needs to be done to change an entrenched entertainment industry culture that has created enormous barriers to entry for women, said Level Forward Chief Executive Adrienne Becker.

“We’ve been through a year of shaming, and while important for healing, it’s not as productive as it needs to be,” Becker told The Times. “The productive part is when we think more strategically to use our leverage to make changes behind the camera and in front of the camera.”

The issue of female empowerment in Hollywood has resurfaced in recent weeks as some men who were toppled in the #MeToo era have tried to stage comebacks, sparking a debate in the industry about who should get second chances and who gets to make the rules about their paths to redemption.

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Ousted Pixar Animation Studios executive John Lasseter was recently installed as head of Skydance Animation, sparking protests from female animators. Louis CK has made his way back to the comedy stage, though he has come under fire for the content of his routines. This week, former Weinstein Co. President David Glasser, who was fired last year after the New York attorney general accused him of failing to do enough to protect women from Weinstein, announced he’d secured $300 million in financing to launch a new film and TV company.

“We don’t know if what we’re seeing is sticking, and there are signs that it’s not,” Becker said. “We see the comebacks that are starting to be announced, and it’s disheartening…. We need another shift, and we need it right now.”

Becker is on the board of Killer Content, which has produced movies such as “Vox Lux” and “Carol.” Level Forward has six full-time employees and six advisors and consultants.

Killer Content and Disney, grandniece of Walt Disney, founded Level Forward last year after they made an unsuccessful attempt to buy the assets of Weinstein Co. when the studio was in free-fall. Weinstein Co. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and sold its assets to Dallas-based private equity firm Lantern Capital Partners for $289 million.

Level Forward has several projects in the works, spanning film, television, digital media and theater. The company is involved in the Diablo Cody-penned stage musical “Jagged Little Pill,” based on the 1995 Alanis Morissette album. It’s also collaborating with Killer Films on “American Woman,” a film directed by Semi Chellas, whose credits include AMC’s “Mad Men” and “The Romanoffs” on Amazon.

The Glass Elevator announcement is one of several initiatives the company is looking to push at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where it is hosting multiple events. The company is also launching a new version of the website Rotten Apples, an online database that lets users see if any given film is associated with someone accused of sexual misconduct.

The updated site will include links to relevant nonprofit organizations, including those that support women in the workplace and combat sexual harassment, Becker said.

ryan.faughnder@latimes.com

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@rfaughnder


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