"I thought after 'Twilight' my life was going to be easy," Hardwicke says. "I was the first woman to do that. But no, it hasn't been easy."
Warner Bros. then tapped her for its 2011 horror pic "Red Riding Hood." There was just one problem.
"I ended up taking a pay cut," Hardwicke says. "I guess I thought after the success of 'Twilight,' I might have had a bigger opportunity instead of a smaller one."
Hardwicke now is promoting "Plush," a $2 million sexual thriller about a girl rock star, which arrives on VOD in October. She's hustling to secure financing for more ambitious projects, but it's been a struggle. "I'm a five-four female from Texas with no family ties to this business," she says. "Of course there are double standards. No one can say it's a level playing field."
That's a recurring lament among a dozen influential women in the film industry interviewed by Variety about gender equality in Hollywood. Recent years have seen women land powerful positions, particularly at nascent tech companies -- think Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. But women are still grappling for equality, better pay and more jobs in the film business.
"We are making strides, but we still have a long way to go," says Amy Pascal, co-chair of Sony Pictures.
A decade ago, women headed three of the six major studios: Pascal, Paramount Pictures' Sherry Lansing and Universal Pictures' Stacey Snider. Today, there are two, Pascal and U's newly named chair Donna Langley, both of whom still report to men. While there's an increasing number of women throughout Hollywood's executive ranks -- including three key division heads at 20th Century Fox -- there are none at the next level up. You won't find any woman atop any media conglomerate, be it Time Warner, News Corp., Viacom, Disney, NBCUniversal or Sony Corp.
"Clearly, there is no shortage of qualified women in the industry, but what you don't see often enough are women owners and CEOs," says Pascal. "I would argue that across the board in high-risk/high-return businesses, women are under-represented and still facing institutional challenges."
In her bestseller "Lean In," Facebook's Sandberg explores why women's progress in attaining leadership positions has stalled, and how they must be empowered to realize their full potential. Snider, CEO of DreamWorks, echoes those views.
"What Sheryl Sandberg writes about women not going for (a job) or assuming they won't get it â¦ or for whatever reason being satisfied by really successful but not penultimate jobs (is) at play, too, along with institutional barriers," Snider says.
Decisions at the studios as to what movies are made are largely driven by market trends. And there are some encouraging signs that such trends may lead to a shifting of sands as far as gender is concerned. Though Hollywood perpetuates the myth that the box office is still driven by men, 51% of moviegoers in 2011 were women. The success of movies such as "Bridesmaids," "Twilight," "Hunger Games," "The Help," "Julie & Julia" and this summer's buddy comedy "The Heat," headlined by Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, gives studio chiefs like Pascal and Langley the motivation and profits to expand the kind of movies they make.
"There's a commerce to it," Langley acknowledges. "Women drive a lot of the box office and households."
Jennifer Lee, co-director of Disney's upcoming animated film "Frozen," agrees that the notion of targeting males as a top priority is misguided and outmoded.
"What we're always told in the industry is the audience you want is men, 18-35," says Lee, noting that men are considered the hardest audience to please "because they are the first ones to say no" and that women are more flexible.
Lee and Jennifer Yuh, who directed "Kung Fu Panda 2," the highest-grossing animated film helmed by a female director, are somewhat rare. Indeed, the gender balance is abysmal: Female directors accounted for a mere 9% of jobs on the top 250 domestic films last year, according to a study commissioned by Women in Film.
Women are still an overwhelming minority behind the camera. The same WIF study revealed that women represented only 18% of directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors working on the top 250 domestic films of 2012 -- only a 1% rise since 1998.