The year I proudly tossed my graduation cap into the air celebrating my masters in film production, every major studio in Hollywood was run by men. As I negotiated my way through the early years of my career, whispers of women who were gaining a foothold in the studio world grew louder. Eventually, the likes of Sherry Lansing, Dawn Steel, Nina Jacobson and Amy Pascal would work their way into positions of power as heads of major Hollywood studios.
As a woman growing her career in a highly competitive business, I personally found my role model in Laura Ziskin. In 1994, Ziskin was made head of Fox 2000, a division of Fox Studios that, according to development executive gossip, was supposed to focus on female and art films.
Overnight, Ziskin took the reins and went head to head with top male producers battling for film rights to powerful projects such as Courage Under Fire, The Thin Red Line and The Fight Club. Ziskin took the box she’d been given and busted it wide open. She ruffled feathers, broke some molds and didn’t do what she’d been told.
I held my breathe one spring when one of her junior development execs pitched a script I’d developed. Ultimately Fox 2000 passed, but for a moment I got to dream of working with a woman I greatly admired, someone I saw as strong, intelligent but who maintained her humanity.
On Tuesday this week, as I was watching an amazing film, Breast Cancer: The Path of Wellness & Healing, by documentary filmmaker Nina Montee Karp a great interview with Ziskin came up on the screen. A thought flashed briefly that perhaps someday our paths would cross in this new community we shared far outside the world of film. But time had run out.
When I googled Stand Up 2 Cancer to read more about the organization, I was stunned and saddened to see the announcement of her death on Sunday, June 12th. Ziskin leaves an incredible legacy through her groundbreaking career, the glass ceilings she shattered and in her tireless efforts to create change in the model of how cancer research is done even while going through her own treatments and fighting to live.
Ziskin’s life and death reminds me that:
- One person CAN make a difference
- To create change you often have to ruffle feathers
- No one but you can define who you are
- When you have a clear vision you believe in and you share it, you will find the support you need to make it happen
Most of all, it reminds me that time runs out. It’s up to us to make the most of it, move out of paralysis or just surviving and get to the business of thriving…however we define the experience of thriving for ourselves. Laura Ziskin never knew me. She didn’t know the impact she had on my life as a young woman starting out in Hollywood.
She most likely never fully understood the difference she was making for other cancer survivors as she carved a new path in the fields of fund raising and cancer research. But the ripple effects of the films she made, the stories she told and, most importantly, the advances her organization will make in the years to come write the legacy of someone who will be greatly missed in the world.
Rest In Peace, Laura Ziskin. You were an inspiring angel among us.