Claudia Weill Steps Up to the Big Leagues of Hollywood Directing with a Hit Aptly Titled 'It's My Turn'
Though they are unquestionably discriminated against in Hollywood, women directors have also slowed their own progress by a succession of bombs, from Jane Wagner’s Moment by Moment to Nancy Walker’s Can’t Stop the Music. One of the promising young comers, Claudia Weill, 33, seemed headed for similar trouble last year with her first big-budget opportunity, It’s My Turn. The movie is a sort of feminist fairy tale in which Jill Clayburgh is torn between her career in mathematics and two loves, Michael Douglas and Charles Grodin. The heroine, according to the buzz from the California set, had it easy compared to director Weill, who was supposedly walked all over by stars Clayburgh and Douglas, not to mention producer Ray Stark.
Weill concedes that Stark and the actors ordered some changes in the script by Eleanor Bergstein. “If their criticism hadn’t come I would have searched for it,” she adds diplomatically. “I never made it a secret that I didn’t know all the answers. The sort of director who orders everyone around is such a male thing.” Weill shunts the controversy aside by pointing out that the movie came in on time and on budget ($7 million) and opened this fall to delighted notices. But her third star refuses to let it drop. “I resented the way she was treated,” fumes Grodin. “Claudia is not the type to stand up and scream. And sure, someone like Jill, who has been nominated for Academy Awards for similar roles, is going to be assertive. But Jill eventually came to the conclusion that Claudia really is smart,” he notes. “Claudia would come on the set and say: ‘Let me see, I’m not quite sure what we’re trying to do here.’ She has a real gift for allowing talent to come out,” Grodin continues. “Her style is a strength that people like Ray Stark saw as a weakness. If she were a man she wouldn’t have been treated that way.”
Grodin’s fiery defense may be inspired by the fact that he himself has directing credits (with Mario Thomas) or, some say, by a romance with Weill. “If two people are seen at dinner it’s assumed they’re up to something,” laughs the divorced Grodin, 45. Weill insists no one is sharing the tiny one-bedroom apartment she’s hung onto for 10 years in Greenwich Village. (The kitchen’s cramped and the windows rattle, but the rent’s only $365 per month.) “On occasion I have lived with somebody,” Weill admits, “but that was a long time ago. It’s not the kind of thing you can program.”
Claudia’s composure might be a result of her solid Jewish upbringing in Scarsdale. The eldest of three daughters of Guy Weill, a still photographer, painter and retired clothier, and Marie Hélène Weill, an Oriental art lecturer at the Metropolitan Museum, Claudia is also “a distant cousin” of Kurt Weill, composer of The Three-penny Opera. She began Radcliffe as a history major and also dreamed of painting until a summer job as a gofer with a film company hooked her on movies. After her 1969 graduation she directed some 20 Sesame Street segments before her documentary work, distributed by New Day Films, a feminist cooperative, led to an invitation from Shirley MacLaine to accompany her on a goodwill mission to China. The result was Weill’s The Other Half of the Sky, a 1975 Oscar nominee. A $10,000 grant from the American Film Institute then gave her a start on her first feature, Girlfriends, and she raised the rest of its $500,000 cost by “scrounging.” The movie, about women setting out in the world and sisterhood, was a critical success.
She doesn’t intend to let her feminism or filmmaking get in the way of family. “At a certain point I probably will have a child, even if it means a less intense work effort,” she says. “And I’m conventional enough to think that I ought to be married to have kids.” Ought she to give up directing when the children are young? “It doesn’t mix with motherhood, though it might once you’re established. I haven’t worked it out yet,” she says. Meanwhile Weill is now mulling two projects, a futuristic detective thriller and a TV sitcom. “I don’t want to do films just about women and their problems,” she points out. “I’m accepted as a director now. In 10 years I expect that no one will even think of me as a woman director. The only thing truly significant to Hollywood types is if the film makes money.” By that standard, It’s My Turn may be a prophetic title. Despite (or perhaps because of) the creative abrasions on the set, Weill’s movie is becoming a box office winner.