Oscars 2014: ‘Frozen’s’ Jennifer Lee on being a female director

Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, winners of best animated feature Film for "Frozen," at the Golden Globe Awards show on Jan. 12, 2014, in Beverly Hills.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
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(Disclaimer: Written while fully appreciating every second of this insane and transient journey)

OK, so, throughout our entire “Frozen” press tour that began some four months ago, the question I’ve been asked most is: What is the hardest part about being a female director?

During production, I might have picked the infamous notes sessions that occurred every 12 weeks in our story room, where about 40 of my fellow directors, writers and story artists bombarded us with notes and tore our film apart. But that happened equally to my male directing partner, Chris Buck, so that can’t be it. And it’s not being undervalued as a woman making this film, because I wasn’t, not for a second.


And it’s not the insane schedule, or the legacy of Disney hanging over my head, or trying to be heard in a room full of men (that’s easy … just stand up). In fact, the hardest part about being a female director has had nothing to do with the film production at all. For me, at least, it all comes down to the red carpet.

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I’m a newbie to cameras, fancy dresses, strappy heels and makeup (I normally wear jeans to work and shoes I can kick off easily and leave beneath my chair). Going into all this, I didn’t know my measurements (I preferred to think that I didn’t have any). I didn’t know that being a Size 2 at the Gap might as well be a Size 92 to the elite designers. And I certainly didn’t know that a fitting for a proper boostie-yay would involve standing topless in front of three Ukrainian women, while they placed bets as to whether I was a D or a Double-D.

I didn’t know that I had so much to learn (and to purchase, because unlike men, women apparently cannot be photographed in the same thing twice). Since November, I have rarely lived a day that hasn’t involved hair and makeup or shopping or styling, and I now know more about myself than I ever wanted to. I know that my boobs don’t fit, ever. My eyebrows are wild and should be committed. I have a cowlick ... and that is bad.

I shouldn’t cover my shoulders too much because that looks matronly, but I shouldn’t wear strapless gowns either, seeing as I “just don’t have the armpits for it.” I am shockingly short-waisted and yes, one stylist actually used the word “shockingly.” I must wear no less than 5-inch heels … better yet, 6. They don’t make that dress for “regular women,” but I make a face when I’m thankful that that is just really unfortunate, and I should avoid it at all costs.

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I have never wanted to be an animated character so badly — especially one who can manifest the perfect dress and cape and hairstyle out of ice with the wave of a hand.

But I’m not complaining. I mean, not in a real way. All the above got me to the Golden Globes, respectfully tucked in my Oscar de la Renta dress, Judith Leiber purse and Prada shoes. When I smiled for pictures, I appropriately put my tongue on the roof of my mouth so I wouldn’t get a double chin. I crossed my legs for narrow thighs, slammed those shoulders back and cocked one hip up slightly, but made sure not to cock my head.

And I’ll admit, I felt great. I felt like a character in “Downton Abbey” going to a ball. And it didn’t matter that the wardrobe that got the most attention in our group was the snowflake bow tie that Chris got on It was a perfect night. That is, until I realized I had to pee, and that nobody had thought of peeing when they tailored my dress so tight that I probably wouldn’t be able to pull it up. And since I’d practically been sewn into it, I couldn’t just take it off. I will spare you the details of how I got through the night, but it involved stopwatches and salt.

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So here I am, preparing for the biggest carpet of them all — the Oscars. Months of hard work have all led to this. And I’m ready. The dress has been pee-tested. The eyebrows are restrained, and my sister (my Elsa) is flying out from New York to attend with me. And win or lose, I will savor every moment of it, knowing I may never get to go again.

But I confess that I’m ready, so very ready to get back to the freedom of the story room — tough notes and all, where it’s not about me being a “female” director. It’s not about me being only 5-foot-3. In the story room, my boobs fit just fine, because in the story room, it’s only the size of my imagination that matters.


Lee is the co-director of “Frozen,” nominated for animated feature film.