Illuminating the struggle of characters whether seen through a comedic or a serious lens is a hallmark of Martha Coolidge's work from her first documentaries to her remarkable pioneering achievements in feature and television films. Considered a consummate filmmaker she is also known as an "Actor's Director" due to her knack to inspire actors like Robert Duvall, Halley Berry, Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage to give very special performances. With an excellent eye for casting and her attention to detail Coolidge has brought stories to life in historic, contemporary and futuristic settings.
Early in 2009 American Girl released their first contemporary film American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong directed by Ms. Coolidge that premiered on HBO. Just recently this powerful and very honest drama on school bullying was awarded the National Parenting Publications (NAPPA) Gold Award, their highest honor. The film stars Sammi Hanratty, Adair Tishler, Annabeth Gish, Jennifer Tilly and Timothy Bottoms . The film realistically portrays the escalation of bullying behavior and through story development helps empower its young female characters to learn what to do to stop it.
While making CHRISSA STANDS STRONG Ms. Coolidge paired up for the eighth time with her husband, Production Designer James Spencer (Rocky, Leathal Weapon 3, POLTERGEIST & Introducing Dorothy Dandridge - for which he won an Emmy and an Art Director's Guild Award.) They enjoy their partnership on and off screen. "Our shorthand is always helpful and we compliment each other's talent."
In April Ms. Coolidge's thriller TRIBUTE adapted from Nora Robert's current bestseller, was aired on Lifetime. In TRIBUTE, Brittany Murphy plays Cilla, as she searches for a new life. She renovates her famous grandmother's country home in Virginia and uncovers a mystery regarding her grandmother's death becoming the next target of the murderer. With Jason Lewis, Tippi Hedren and Diana Scarwid the atmosphere is lush, the characters well developed and the action intense. The film was invited as a theatrical entry into the Shanghai Film Festival.
Coolidge's delightful comedy-mystery MATERIAL GIRLS starred Hilary and Haylie Duff, Anjelica Huston and Lukas Haas. The film tells the story of two silly "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." Funny and smart it spoofs the cult of the "Celebritant" with talented actors like Ty Hodges, Brent Spiner, Obba Babatunde and Faith Prince.
For her hit romantic comedy from Paramount, THE PRINCE & ME, starring Julia Stiles, Luke Mably and Miranda Richardson, Ms. Coolidge leapt at the opportunity to create and contrast the rural and academic US mid-west with the exotic European lifestyle of Danish royalty. "The cast and crew came from the U.S., Canada, England, Ireland, Denmark, Germany and the Czech Republic and we shot in three different countries. It was an adventure in differing working styles to say nothing of communication! I learned that the language of human behavior is universal, but translating everything requires time and patience."
Ms. Coolidge's diverse range of projects has caused some to call her taste eclectic. She says, "I like to stretch. I certainly enjoy the action and hardware as much as the next guy, but my films all center on strong characters overcoming personal challenges in their lives. My greatest joy comes from working with so many talented actors." This includes Halle Berry, Robert Duvall, Chloe Sevigny, Richard Dreyfus, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, 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 also discovered great talents like Nicolas Cage (Valley Girl), Val Kilmer (Real Genius) and James Gandolfini (Angie).
"Comedy is a uniquely serious business." Says Ms. Coolidge. "On, OUT TO SEA Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Dyan Cannon, Donald O'Connor and Elaine Stritch not only danced up a storm but their irreverence kept us all laughing. I enjoy tackling different styles of comedy but my basic approach is to make the characters very believable and root their personalities. They can react very inappropriately to events but it has to come from somewhere real. What's funny to me is always the surprise of unexpected truth."
Her television projects have included the multiple Emmy winning Introducing Dorothy Dandridge with Halle Berry, and If These Walls Could Talk II, 1972. Both projects from HBO received nominations for Ms. Coolidge from the Director's Guild of America and an Emmy nod as well and won multiple Emmy's, a Golden Globe, the SAG award and many others for Ms. Berry. Ms. Coolidge directed two episodes of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation working with Roger Daltrey and Liev Schreiber. She also directed PSYCH with James Roday and Dule Hill, SHARK with James Woods and WEEDS with Mary Louise Parker and Elizabeth Perkins. She enjoyed directing the Season Four final two episodes of Sex and the City (A VOGUE IDEA and I (HEART) NEW YORK). For television aficionados Ms. Coolidge also directed the pilot episode of the cult hit series 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, adapted by Neil Simon from his Pulitzer Prize winning play. Following that came ANGIE, starring Oscar winners Geena Davis and Steven Rea. Ms. Coolidge also gave a new leading man, James Gandolfini, his first leading role and predicted he would be a star.
RAMBLING ROSE starring Robert Duvall, Laura Dern and Diane Ladd, earned two Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for "Best Actress" and "Best Supporting Actress," as well as winning three "Spirit" Awards from the Independent Feature Project West for "Best Director," for Ms. Coolidge, "Best Picture" and "Best Supporting Actress." 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. It remains a popular crowd pleaser to this day. CRAZY IN LOVE starred Holly Hunter, Gena Rowlands, Bill Pullman and Francis McDormand and won a Cable ACE award for "Best Supporting Actress" and a Golden Globe nomination. Coolidge has received the "Crystal Award" from Women in Film, the Maverick Award from the LeFemme Film Festival, the distinguished "Robert Aldrich Award" from the Directors Guild of America, the "Breakthrough Award" from Women, Men & Media, and "Lifetime Achievement Awards" from Methodfest, the Dallas Film Festival, a "Big Bear" from the Big Bear Film Festival and the "Award for Artist Excellence in Film" from Rhode Island School of Design. She has been inducted into the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame and the Museum of Television and Radio.
Great music has marked Coolidge's films from the beginning, starting with VALLEY GIRL with it's a hugely popular and history making soundtrack. She's repeatedly worked with wonderful composers such as Elmer Bernstein, Tom Newman, David Newman, Basil Poledouris, Jerry Goldsmith and Jennie Muskett. "Music is the soul and the heartbeat of a film. It says so much more than what the actors or the scene can say alone."
Coolidge, a cousin of Calvin Coolidge and a daughter of two architects, was born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut. After singing professionally and acting and directing on stage she started making short films while earning her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. In New York she worked on commercials and continued her film studies at New York University Institute of Film and Television earning her MFA in 1974. Her many awards and honors for her early work brought attention to important 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 horsewoman Ms. Coolidge breeds and shows Paso Fino horses and holds several National Championship titles. She is married to the Award winning Production Designer James Spencer and has one son, Preston, named in honor of one of her idols, producer/ writer/ director Preston Sturges.