Exceptional performances are a hallmark of Martha Coolidge’s work from her first documentaries to her remarkable pioneering achievements in feature films and television. Considered a consummate filmmaker with a unique eye for casting and attention to detail, Coolidge has created a diverse, some say eclectic, filmography of both comedies and dramas in a wide variety of genres and settings from historic to futuristic.
In her latest project Coolidge continues to explore new formats as her interest in the “future of entertainment” brings her to the web. In mid July Sony Crackle releases a new anthology series of half hour shows titled THE UNKNOWN, with four of the six episodes directed and produced by Coolidge. The series represents a breakthrough for Crackle with the longest original productions for the internet yet, in a Twilight Zone-like series with prime time stars, writers and production values. For Ms. Coolidge it is her first venture into Horror. All the shows feature Dominic Monaghan (Lord of the Rings and Lost) as an eccentric blogger who seeks out and becomes a lighting rod for stories of paranormal or terrifying circumstances. Coolidge’s shows YESTERDAY starring Brian Krause and William Atherton, LIFE SENTENCE starring Gbenga Akinabe and Chris Marquette, SPARE THE CHILD, starring Tony Goldwyn and PRIVACY SETTINGS starring Taryn Manning, with Jeff Newburg and Frances Fisher, are quite different from each other but share the deft hand of a director in control of her craft.
For the last couple years Coolidge has been developing projects and writing her own scripts while directing select TV shows like Psych, Drop Dead Diva and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. One of her CSI episode, FRACKED, won the EMA (Environmental Media Awards) for best Television Drama of 2011 exposing the dangers of fracking for natural gas.
Her last feature length film for HBO was American Girl: CHRISSA STANDS STRONG, a powerful drama about a girl coping with a school bully with Sammi Hanratty, Adair Tishler, Annabeth Gish, Jennifer Tilly and Timothy Bottoms. The film premiered on HBO and like all American Girl movies it screened theatrically and has been widely distributed through their website and to schools. It garnered a Best Director nomination for Ms. Coolidge by the Directors Guild of America and won the National Parenting Publications Gold Award, by the NAPPA, their highest honor.
In 2009 Coolidge directed Nora Robert’s TRIBUTE, from her bestselling thriller of the same name, starring Brittany Murphy, Jason Lewis, Tippi Hedren and Diana Scarwid for Lifetime. Set in rural Virginia Coolidge vividly creates Ms. Roberts’ character Cilla, a former child star looking for a new life while renovating her famous grandmother’s Victorian house, when she accidentally uncovers a murder. Jason Lewis, plays a famous graphic novelist whose art was created by the graphic novelist Christian Gossett. The film was accepted as a theatrical entry into the Shanghai Film Festival and and was one of Brittany’s very last performances.
Coolidge’s satirical comedy MATERIAL GIRLS stars Hilary and Haylie Duff, Anjelica Huston, Lukas Haas and Brent Spiner. This mystery romp follows two self obsessed “celebrity” sisters who inherit their fathers make-up company and loose it in a corporate swindle, falling from “Riches to rags in a single day.” Smart and funny it spoofs the cult of the “Celebritant” and features talented actors like Ty Hodges, Maria Conchita Alonzo, Obba Babatunde and Faith Prince.
In her hit romantic comedy from Paramount, THE PRINCE & ME, with Julia Stiles, Luke Mably and Miranda Richardson, Ms. Coolidge welcomed the opportunity to contrast the culture of the rural mid-west with the glamorous life of Danish royalty. Featuring Lawn Mower racing and milking cows, to race cars and coronation balls the two worlds are beautifully realized by Production Designer James Spencer, Coolidge’s husband and frequent collaborator. “Our cast and crew came from the U.S., Canada, England, Ireland, Denmark, Germany and the Czech Republic and we shot in three countries. It was an adventure in differing working styles to say nothing of communication! I learned that the language of human behavior may be universal, but translating requires a lot of time and patience.”
When questioned about the wide range of her projects Ms. Coolidge says, “I like to stretch. I’d get bored doing one thing over and over. I certainly enjoy the action and hardware as much as the next guy, and I love making people laugh, but my greatest joy comes from being able to work with talented actors.” Her films have featured actors like Halle Berry, Robert Duvall, Chloe Sevigny, Michelle Williams, Julia Stiles, Richard Dreyfus, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, Brent Spiner, Mercedes Ruehl, Patrick Swayze, Geena Davis, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Obba Babatunde, Holly Hunter, Gena Rowlands, Frances McDormand, William Hurt, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. She has discovered great talents by giving them leading roles including Nicolas Cage (VALLEY GIRL), Val Kilmer (REAL GENIUS) and James Gandolfini (ANGIE).
In television she has done equally well. The multiple award winning HBO film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge starring Halle Berry, won five Emmy’s out of 11 nominations, a Golden Globe for Ms. Berry plus the SAG award, several NAACP awards and many others. Ms. Coolidge received Best Director nominations from the Director’s Guild of America and by the Emmys. For another HBO hit, If These Walls Could Talk II, 1972, Coolidge won her second DGA nomination for Best Director.
In The Prince & Me, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge and many others Ms. Coolidge teaned up with her husband, Production Designer James Spencer (POLTERGEIST, LOST & THE LAST RESORT. Since they met on OUT TO SEA she says they enjoy their partnership on and off screen. “Our shorthand is always helpful and we compliment each other’s talent. It can be a very lonely business if you don’t work with friends, and it’s especially supportive to have an artistic and personal collaboration like we do. We push each other farther.
For the last few years Coolidge regularly directs episodes of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and has enjoyed working with starts like Roger Daltrey, Liev Schreiber, Ted Danson and Lawrence Fishburne. She also directed PSYCH with James Roday and Dule Hill, SHARK with James Woods and WEEDS with Mary Louise Parker and Elizabeth Perkins. She loved directing the Season Four final two episodes of Sex and the City (A VOGUE IDEA and I (HEART) NEW YORK). For television aficionados Coolidge also directed the pilot episode of the cult hit Sledge Hammer, re-released recently on DVD.
In l993 Coolidge helmed LOST IN YONKERS, starring Oscar and Tony winner Mercedes Ruehl, Oscar winner Richard Dreyfuss and theatrical legend, Irene Worth. Coolidge said working with the great writer Neil Simon from his Pulitzer Prize winning play and the legendary producer Ray Stark was one of the great experiences of her career. Following that came ANGIE, starring Oscar winners Geena Davis and Steven Rea. Coolidge gave James Gandolfini, his first leading role and predicted he would be a star.
RAMBLING ROSE took Coolidge and her partner Laura Dern five years to make. The script by Calder Willingham attracted her “dream cast” of Robert Duvall, Laura Dern, Diane Ladd and young Lukas Haas. Along with many other nominations the film was universally well reviewed and received two Oscar and two Golden Globe nomninations for “Best Actress” and “Best Supporting Actress,” and won three “Spirit” Awards (out of five nominations) from the Independent Feature Project West: “Best Director,” for Ms. Coolidge, “Best Picture” and “Best Supporting Actress” for Ms. Ladd.
Her classic comedy REAL GENIUS not only launched Val Kilmer’s career it won the Audience Award at the Paris Film Festival and became one of HBO’s greatest hits. CRAZY IN LOVE with Holly Hunter, Gena Rowlands, Bill Pullman and Francis McDormand won a Cable ACE award for “Best Supporting Actress”, a Golden Globe nomination and was released theatrically overseas.
Great music has marked Coolidge’s films since her breakout hit VALLEY GIRL with its hugely popular soundtrack. Coolidge assembled the songs with the help of Michael Pappale “a man with the greatest ears!” She has repeatedly worked with wonderful composers like Elmer Bernstein, Tom Newman, David Newman, Basil Poledouris, Jerry Goldsmith and Jennie Muskett. “Music is the soul and the heartbeat of a film. It can add much more than what the actors can do alone and help transport and audience.”
Coolidge has been honored with many more awards: The Crystal Award – Women in Film; the Maverick Award – the LeFemme Film Festival; the Robert Aldrich Award for distinguished service to the Directors Guild of America; the Breakthrough Award – Women, Men & Media; and Lifetime Achievement Awards – Methodfest, The Dallas Film Festival and NYU Tisch School of the Arts; a “Big Bear” – the Big Bear Film Festival: the “Award for Artist Excellence in Film” – Rhode Island School of Design are a few. She was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame and the Museum of Television and Radio and is a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures.
Coolidge has enjoyed “giving back” to the film community. For two years she has enjoyed teaching directing as a Professor at Chapman University. After years of serving on committees and the National Board Coolidge was elected President of the Directors guild in 2001, the first woman to serve in that position in 66 years.
Coolidge, a daughter of Bauhaus architects and a cousin of Calvin Coolidge, was born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut. After singing in many venues around Yale, she began acting and directing on stage in high school. She made short films while earning her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and became RISD’s first film major. In New York City she worked on commercials and continued her film studies at Columbia Grad school and then New York University Institute of Film and Television (Tisch) earning her MFA in 1974. The many awards and honors for her early documentaries and shorts brought attention to her early films like OLD FASHIONED WOMAN, and her feature-length NOT A PRETTY PICTURE. She also helped found the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, Inc. and the IFP.
An avid rider Coolidge breeds and shows Paso Fino horses and holds several National Championship titles. She has one son, Preston, named in honor of one of her idols, the first triple threat, producer/ writer/ director, Preston Sturges.