“I’m interested in subjects like this, the power dynamics and how trends begin,” enthused Brian Grazer, one of Hollywood’s most prolific producers and the co-founder of Imagine Entertainment, the production company behind new four-part docuseries The Super Models. “This was a tipping point where the power dynamics in fashion changed from where it was about the designers, but then the invisible and almost anonymous models were able to become seen for the first time.”
The iconic models turned influential businesswomen in question are Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington.
He added, “The beautiful thing about this is that it was unifying these four girls. They were all separately very successful with this trajectory of huge success, but together, they were a moment in our global culture.”
Grazer met Campbell in 1989 when he was producing the movie Boomerang and Crawford just before that. “At the time, I wasn’t aware of Naomi as someone who was maybe the world’s most famous model or was going to be, but I knew who Cindy was, and I just thought she was so sharp, really smart, and that was impressive to me,” Grazer continued. “I later got to know Naomi well and became great friends. We still are today, and basically, the two of us hatched this idea.”
The friendship was vital in the four women, all executive producers on the Apple TV+ series, trusting Grazer and Imagine’s documentary team to tell their story honestly, fairly, and accurately but also unguardedly.
“The best version of these kinds of projects is when there’s a perfect storm of a shared agenda that everyone has,” explained Justin Wilkes, Imagine’s President. “For these four very strong-minded, individualistic women, this was a catalyst moment for them because I think they’ve all felt in one way, shape, or form that there was going to be a time that they wanted to tell their story.”
“We’re a culture that’s so obsessed with how we look, and who likes us and doesn’t like us, and how we put ourselves out there more often than not on social media, and as a face, you can become a brand without seemingly having anything else other than your face or your name,” he continued. “You trace back the roots of where all that began, and it starts with these four women. This was the first time a model had a name bigger than that of the clothing she wore.”
“Cindy had a book that had come out, Naomi later worked on a photo book, so they’ve dabbled with their own versions of their story, but they’ve never told the story of the four of them together,” Wilkes continued. “They were going to be the authors of their own story. As a result, there’s a candidness and an honesty that comes across, and there are many things in here that they’ve never talked about, both related to themselves and each other.”
Sara Bernstein, President of Imagine Documentaries, added, “We were so lucky that Brian had such a good relationship with them already, but trust is something you continuously build, and I think a lot of that had to do with their comfort with our filmmakers Roger Ross Williams and Larissa Bills. I think it also had a lot to do with who they are today, their comfort with being themselves and being honest about that.”
Did Grazer et al. have a Plan B in case their subjects weren’t as on board?
“We were wholly committed to plan A,” Bernstein confirmed, laughing. “You try not to plan for a Plan B, but we’re producers, so we’re good at Plan Bs if we need one. I think the only reason to do it was if they were really going to do it. We were all very clear about that.”
She continued, “The best version of this is really from their perspectives, but collaborate on that, to bring it to life, and to have some objectivity. They trusted us with editorial control, which was important to the process for it to be honest.”
“Once they got together, you could tell that they had committed to it, even in that moment,” Wilkes added. “By committing to it, they had a lot to say, and they were going to say it.”
While directors Roger Ross Williams and Larissa Bills ultimately had, and nailed, the job of capturing the stories of all four women, collectively and individually, they weren’t the first to try to capture these stories.
“We started with somebody else,” Grazer revealed. “She a director that’s very esteemed and someone that I’ve known for quite a long time, and I think both Sarah and Justin had known her for quite a long time too, but that chemistry ultimately just didn’t work out.”
“It became clearer to us that trust is the most essential ingredient. We had to find somebody who would be fluid within the language of modeling and this art form. That’s how we ended up with these two directors.”
“Justin and I have been in this business a long time doing documentaries, and I had the pleasure of working with Roger on his first documentary, which won an Oscar,” Bernstein added. “Something we try to do well as producers is look at people’s strengths and talents, how they would work together, and we had a sense that Larissa and Roger would be very strong collaborators, based on their bodies of work.”
As well as finding the right people to direct, collecting the footage was a Herculean task.
“A big part of our schedule upfront was scouring the world’s archives to find out what material was out there,” Wilkes said, sounding exhausted recalling the process. “These are some of the most photographed women in the world, but they’re also photographed primarily at a time we’re focusing on, the mid-80s to the early 90s, and a lot of that material hasn’t even been digitized yet. It was a real hats off to our archivists because it took a long time to get all that, not to mention the personal archives each of the women have, which in some cases were in shoe boxes.”
“Linda had tapes that she just kept. We found Super 8 and 16mm footage that had never been seen before. Cindy had all these Polaroids, Linda had family photos that are in the show, and a lot of that came in within the last couple of months. That’s partly why it took this long.”
Wilkes and Bernstein admit the four-part series gave them a new perspective on the industry and the women themselves, especially how much influence they had and continue to have.
“Modeling is an art form; it’s also a shit ton of work,” he explained. “When you see how hard these women have worked, and still work, around the clock, how many shoots they would do over the course of a year, how many flights they would take, yes, they get paid a lot, and there’s a glamorous lifestyle that goes along with it, but it’s also a real grind. I think that does come across in the storytelling here.”
“Anyone at the top of their game, an athlete, musician, or filmmaker, it’s hard work. And at a certain point, it does come down to who is going to put in the time, the energy, build the relationships, and then who is going just to keep delivering over and over again, and that’s a big part of demystifying this idea of just perhaps what a model does.”
Bernstein concluded, “There’s also even the idea of feminism and beauty being able to coexist. These women changed the scope for future models in terms of what kind of salaries they could command and how they could control their image and careers. Women don’t always think of beauty and modeling as being feminist, but I think these women are ultra-feminist, and I think that is something to demystify here.”
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