Elizabeth Banks talks ‘Shrill’, production company at SXSW

Jordyn Zitman

Passionate fans and filmmakers gathered to see Elizabeth Bank’s featured session, moderated by actress Aidy Bryant.

The two recently created “Shrill,” a show on Hulu, which will premiere at SXSW tonight. Both women are executive producers, under Banks’ company Brownstone Productions. Bryant talked to Banks about her career, transitioning to production and inspiring other women to do the same.

Banks said her first television role was in college, with a guest role reenacting criminal cases.

“I think I played a prostitute, I’ve played a couple in my time,” Banks said. “Those roles were always great for women.”

Early in her career, Banks said a respected mentor sat her down to offer advice. She told Banks she would not get picked for jobs because she had more ideas and opinions than the average male director could tolerate.

“I just realized that the people I was working with did want my ideas,” Banks said. “The people who want me to do a great job, those are the people who will be drawn to working with me and those are the people i want to work with anyway!”

Banks talked about starting her own production company with her husband of 27 years, Max Handelman. She said pursuing careers in production would allow them to spend more time together and start a family.

“He was looking at 9-to-5 jobs, I was traveling a lot for work, but I thought he would really make a good producer,” Banks said. “We were very encouraging of each other.”

Bryant said “Pitch Perfect 2,” which was produced by Banks’ production company, is the highest grossing musical comedy film of all time. Banks said she loved the idea of looking at a societal subset like acapella.

“We love investigating subcultures, especially in comedy,” Banks said. “(The film) had a very basic structure, similar to a sports movie. We thought we could make acapella into baseball and we did and it worked.”

Banks is notorious for her direct tone on set, which can cause tension when offered sugestions or feedback. Banks said she navigates these situations case-by-case.

“Every situation requires a different tool,” Banks said. “Some people or situations require a lot of attention and loving care, others require a hammer. I’d rather be direct all the time, I get places faster.”

Developing confidence in Hollywood, Banks said, is a long process.

“I’m a woman in Hollywood, so I’ve spent a lot of time cajoling and apologizing,” Banks said. “It takes a lot of time to develop that confidence, but now I’ve got it and no one’s taking it away from me now!”

Banks recently wrapped filming an adaption of “Charlie’s Angels” with Kristen Stewart. She said it is one of the most amazing female empowerment stories she’s seen.

“I loved the idea of being able to tell a female empowerment story with three female leads, you don’t see many of those,” Banks said. “I thought I could do it because I did with ‘Pitch Perfect.’”

For “Shrill”, Banks said she was drawn to the story because of its important message. The show features an overweight girl, played by Bryant, who wants to change her life but not her body. Bryant said she has always wanted to see a story like this.  

“Elizabeth has legitimately changed my life,” Bryant said. When I heard about (“Shrill”), I said ‘this a story I’ve always wanted to see on TV.’”

Bryant said she admires Banks as a mentor and promoter of women in film, giving women opportunities they may not have otherwise had.

“I’m here for the revolution that is women making more content,” Banks said. “I didn’t start it, but I’m a big champion of it.”