Power  Position
Linda Romanello
Issue: Volume 40 Issue 3: (May/Jun 2017)

Power Position

Power PositionWhile women are indeed leaving their mark across all aspects of the film, games, and television industries, they are still in the minority when it comes to power positions. One person who has broken this gender barrier is Victoria Alonso, producer and executive vice president of physical production at Marvel Studios.

Alonso is revered for her cutting-edge work, and the fact that she is a woman in what some would consider a male-dominated sector of this male-dominated industry is just an added footnote. She very much is a person at the top of her game. Earlier this year, she was the recipient of the prestigious Visionary Award from the Visual Effects Society (VES), presented in recognition of her “enormous contributions to visual arts and filmed entertainment, and for her dedication to the industry and advancement of unforget-table storytelling through visual effects.”

Alonso began in the industry as a commercial VFX producer, working closely with leading directors, such as Ridley Scott (Kingdom of Heaven), Tim Burton ( Big Fish), and, in 2008, Jon Favreau on Marvel’s Iron Man. She went on to play a key role in Marvel Studios’ development, serving as executive producer on its string of Hollywood blockbusters, including the Iron Man franchise, Captain America, Thor, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and more. Lately she’s been working on eight Marvel films – having just finished Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, with Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok coming this year, and then next year, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and the Wasp, followed by Captain Marvel in 2019.

Following in the footsteps of such past VES Visionary Award recipients as Ang Lee, JJ Abrams, and Christopher Nolan, this year marks the first time a woman has received the honor. “There’s only been five or six other recipients, and they’re all men – incredible, successful, talented, and creative men. It’s amazing company to be in. It’s humbling and thrilling, and in a way, a big responsibility to hold the banner for all of us women. I feel the responsibility, I’m not going to lie. I feel it every day, and I’m honored to be able to represent.”

Here, Alonso discusses what it’s like to work in a traditionally male-dominated field, her advocacy for the advancement of women in the industry, and her role at Marvel Studios.

What are your thoughts about being a woman in the entertainment/post industry?

I can tell you that I don’t walk into a room, ever, thinking I am the woman. I walk in the room hoping I’m worthy to belong. That’s it. And in every meeting, I hope I performed, and I hope I get invited back. However, I’m incredibly outspoken about equality, inclusiveness, gender parity, equal pay… you name it, I’ll speak about it. I’ll speak loudly about it, and I’ll speak to the press consistently about it.

Power Position

I also think it’s important to say that for me, if I’ve been discriminated [against], it’s been behind my back, so I don’t think I have a very common experience. But don’t get me wrong, when I’m in the room, I do the counting and I’m usually one of two or three women out of 25–30 people. I don’t ever say, ‘Well, you notice I’m the only woman, right?’ I often say, ‘Where are the ladies?’ And it’s as easy as that. And I said it way before I had any real authority, and it’s a style of saying things that I think is a little more conducive to people thinking about it and saying, ‘Well, she is the only woman.’ 

If you look at the statistics, there’s something awfully wrong. There is no 50/50 in production. In postproduction, it’s a little easier. Our roles in post are incredibly balanced – all our movies are. Most of our movies have had one male editor and one female editor, our post supervisors are mostly women, and our visual effects producers are mostly women. Our visual effects supervisors are not, and that’s a quandary I’m trying to crack.

When I went to the Academy for the bake-off for visual effects, there were 40 people presenting, and of those 40 people, they were all white men. It’s in your face, and I’m aware of it. I look and go, ‘Where are the women?’ It all leads you to believe that either there isn’t a path for women or there’s a path that is incredibly difficult for [women] to get there. And it’s twofold – it’s a choice we make as women not to take the job, and it’s the fact that they don’t open the doors for women to take the job. It’s not one or the other, it’s both.

Power Position

Who are some of your early role models? I understand producer Kathleen Kennedy inspired you.

My mother is probably my biggest role model. She was one of those people who never gave up and was incredibly smart and able to provide everything we needed for my sister and me when my father died and we were in the middle of a military dictatorship in Argentina. So that was not easy. Talk about strength and courage! I saw that on a daily basis my entire life. 

But later, I would look at posters when I was in Argentina, and I would look at all the names and who the producers were, and they would say ‘Kathleen Kennedy.’ I would consistently say, ‘I want to be what Kathleen Kennedy is to Steven Spielberg,’ and, in a way, I think I got that with Marvel.

Marvel films rely heavily on visual effects – Doctor Strange was one of the most complex films yet. What are your thoughts about the role of visual effects in Marvel films?

All we make are visual effects movies. Out of 2,500 or 2,800 cuts, all but 20 shots are not being touched or worked on. We don’t have two hours and 10 minutes of spectacle; we have a bunch of other things. So we have designed a creative way to express what we can do in technology and what we can do in the visual arts that combines all of our creative visual effects departments across the world. We can aid the story, lift the story, and combine it in different ways. 

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For us, the most important thing is the story. So, if the craft of visual effects can help us lift it and aid it and push it along, we will use them. And if we can’t, we won’t use them. We don’t ever want to create shots that are unnecessary just for the hell of it. We have too many already. The story is king, and queen, and consistently we serve it, the story, and serve the franchise.

Doctor Strange was technically one of the most difficult [films] to date. It was not only difficult in how to attack it, but the volume of difficulty was large and we had to create things we hadn’t before. We also had to create magic in a photoreal way because we wouldn’t dare go near the Harry Potters of the world – they’ve done it, they’ve done it well, and they’ve done it for eight movies, so what’s the point? You have to do it in a different way or just don’t even step on that area. 

What do you think makes Marvel such an innovative and cutting-edge studio?

I’ve been here for 12 years, and it’s the same people. I think one of the key things is that we service the story and there’s healthy ego. Don’t get me wrong, the ego is the story, the ego is the character, the ego is the franchise, and because nothing else gets in the way, except for hard work, to ensure the best story is told. That is hermetically sealed as what people call ‘the secret sauce’ or ‘the formula.’ Everyone who is there is striving for the same thing. Sometimes what you see in other places are people positioning themselves for the next job. But we have people here who are very happy doing what they’re doing. Of course they want to grow, but not at the expense of the relationship or harming the story. 

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I think it stems from the top – Lou (D’Esposito, co-president), Kevin (Feige, president), and I have not changed. We continue to be the same people we have been. There’s a great deal of respect, love, and admiration for one another, and we’re very kind. We’re definitely like a Latin/Italian family. We’re loud, and we don’t always agree – and that’s the healthy part. We do disagree, and what happens is, because we do have such respect for one another, when we disagree, we know there’s a reason why there’s the other voice. 

Even though the other person may not come to the same conclusion, we listen to each other and go, ‘Why does he have that feeling, ‘cause he’s pretty smart, so maybe I need to look at that.’ So maybe the outcome isn’t exactly what I was pitching, or Lou was pitching, or Kevin was pitching, but it sure is a different outcome than where we were going before, and that’s through communication, conversation, disagreements, and, most importantly, from listening. We have always said the best idea wins, it doesn’t matter who said it.

What are your thoughts about technology and its role in Marvel films?

Without technology, we couldn’t do these movies. Technology has a starring role. I have an incredible amount of respect for it, for what it does for us, and for what it enables us to do. As anyone who has ever worked for me knows, I get into the micro of things so that I can understand it, and when I understand it, it’s mostly so I can break it. Usually what happens is, I’m going to push hard fighting time. That’s what my biggest struggle is with these movies, we don’t ever have enough time. It doesn’t matter how we do it. 

So I get into the minutia of the detail

of the process, and everyone who works with me is the same way. We try to figure out, ‘Okay, if we do that there and do this here, you can move that here. Hang on, the last time we did that, it took two hours, and yesterday it took three; something’s wrong. You’re cheating me an

hour. Tell me what you’re doing….’

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I am also incredibly in touch with the latest and greatest, and if we don’t have it, I want it, because if it’s better and more efficient and it saves me time or buys me time, it will make the movie better. 

What do you feel like you still want to accomplish, either with Marvel or beyond?

I will not stop until I see some sort of gender parity. So I will continue to speak up and create roles with 50/50 balance of men and women, and make sure we are as inclusive a group as we can be because it reflects the world we have. I figure if we can try and do it for this generation, maybe they’ll be the ones who carry the torch. It is my undying dedication to create a better world for young women. 

Linda Romanello (lromanello) is chief editor of Post, CGW’s sister publication.