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Lisa Cholodenko

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Lisa Cholodenko
Born (1964-06-05) June 5, 1964 (age 50)
Los Angeles, California, US
Alma mater San Francisco State University
Columbia University
Occupation Writer/director
Years active 1994–present
Partner(s) Wendy Melvoin
Children 1

Lisa Cholodenko (born June 5, 1964)[1] is an American film and television writer/director. She is best known for making the films High Art, Laurel Canyon and The Kids Are All Right.[2][3]

Early life

Cholodenko was born in the San Fernando Valley of California, the daughter of Marcia Cholodenko (née Elins)[1] and Paul Cholodenko.[4] She is the middle daughter of three sisters: her older sister is Karen Kardan,[5] her younger sister is Laura Cholodenko.[6][7]

Cholodenko is from a "liberal Jewish" family.[8][9] Her paternal grandparents emigrated from Ukraine.[10] Cholodenko's paternal great grandfather was from Kiev, Ukraine. Cholodenko said she grew up being told she was a Russian Jew, as Kiev was in Russia when her grandfather emigrated to the United States.[4][11]

Cholodenko went to San Francisco State University for college, graduating with an integrated major that included ethnic studies, women's studies and anthropology. She was a teaching assistant to Angela Davis, the activist and academic. After college, Cholodenko travelled to India and Nepal before spending 18 months in Jerusalem, where she worked for a lawyer in the justice department there.[7]

She then enrolled at Columbia University School of the Arts in 1992, earning an MFA in screenwriting and directing in 1997,[12] where James Schamus was one of her professors, who would later become the CEO of Focus Features.[13]


She got her start in the film industry in New York in the early 1990s.[14] She worked as an apprentice editor on John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood[8] and as an assistant editor on Beeban Kidron's Used People.


While at Columbia, Cholodenko wrote and directed a number of short films, including Souvenir (1994), which screened at numerous international film festivals and Dinner Party (1997), which aired on UK, French, and Swiss television, and was a winner of the British Film Institute’s Channel 4 TX prize.[15]

Miloš Forman provided mentorship and encouragement as Cholodenko made her feature film debut with High Art.[7] High Art won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film Festival as well as the National Society of Film Critics award for Ally Sheedy's performance. Both High Art and her next film, Laurel Canyon, premiered at Cannes Director's Fortnight. The Joni Mitchell record Ladies of the Canyon was the catalyst for Laurel Canyon, which was set and filmed in the heart of the Hollywood Hills.[15]

In 2010, she was awarded the Women in Film Dorothy Arzner Directors Award.[16]

After completing Laurel Canyon, Cholodenko decided to move to LA permanently. While in the process of trying to conceive a child via anonymous sperm donor, she met with screenwriter Stuart Blumberg, who was a sperm donor in college.[17] Together, they decided to write a screenplay, which would eventually become The Kids Are All Right. However, the project took five years to get to production.[18] Filmed in 23 days, Cholodenko directed the film on a $3.5 million budget, a much smaller amount than her fellow 2011 Oscar nominees. The film was made with three different sources of equity financing, with Focus Features picking up the film for distribution.[13]

The Kids Are All Right received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, a BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay nomination, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay nomination. The film won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. The film was also named best screenplay by the New York Film Critics Circle and won the Independent Spirit Award for best screenplay.[19]

Cholodenko was a 2012-2013 member of the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.[20]

In June 2014, Cholodenko was the guest director of the 20th annual Los Angeles Film Festival.[21]


Cholodenko has also worked in television, with her adaptation of the novel Cavedweller for Showtime earning Independent Spirit Award nominations for Kyra Sedgwick and Aidan Quinn. She also directed episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street, Six Feet Under, The L Word, and Hung.

In 2014, Cholodenko directed an HBO mini-series Olive Kitteridge starring Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins. Olive Kitteridge is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Elizabeth Strout. Playwright Jane Anderson has adapted the collection of short stories into a four-hour mini-series. McDormand produced the project alongside Tom Hanks and his Playtone producer partner Gary Goetzman.[22] Bill Murray, Jesse Plemons, Zoe Kazan, and John Gallagher, Jr. co-starred.[23]

The four-part mini-series Olive Kitteridge premiered at the 2014 Venice Film Festival to overwhelmingly positive reviews.[24][25] The show received widespread critical acclaim when it premiered on television in November and it received three Golden Globe nominations.

Cholodenko has signed to direct the first episode and executive produce NBC's eight episode miniseries called The Slap, which is based on an Australian show of the same name, The Slap.[26]


Cholodenko has written all of three of her films, and there are some thematic similarities as a result. Each of them are psychological character studies, revolving around a small cast of characters, and as the films progress the audience observes how the characters interact amongst each other. Her films address the fluidity of human sexuality and desire, and Cholodenko's work has helped give the LGBTQ community visibility in mainstream culture.[27]

When asked what was interesting to her about filmmaking, Cholodenko said that "it’s the observation of human behavior and the plumbing of emotional and psychological experiences. Those are the films I’ve always personally been drawn to."[19][28]

Cholodenko said, "For me it doesn't come down to female-centered film or male-centered or genre. It comes down to tone. And if the characters are interesting to me."[28]

Directorial style

Mark Ruffalo describes how working with Cholodenko was quite rewarding.

It takes a special kind of director to trust an actor, and to open themselves up to having an actor bring something that maybe wasn't what they saw or thought. Lisa is a rare director that knows actors, by the time you've finished your first week of shooting, probably know the characters better than the writer or the director. She creates a safe environment, and she casts well. She knows what to bring out of people.
Because of that, you feel free to move and live between the lines. She lingers on a scene. She loves behavior. She's not afraid to explore. You're not getting, "Well, the line is actually... I really just want you to say the line like it is." It's not that formal. You get a chance to stretch yourself out. That's a fun way of working.[29]


Though The Kids Are All Right was generally applauded by critics and audiences alike, garnering a Metacritic score of 86[30] and a Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics score of 95%,[31] the film received differing opinions from the LGBTQ community, particularly for the plot device of a homosexual woman truly enjoying heterosexuality. Some critics[32] saw this as a trope used in mainstream Hollywood,[33] citing films like Kissing Jessica Stein and Chasing Amy. However, other critics[34] defended Cholodenko's artistic choice, and found her approach realistic and well-handled.[33]

Cholodenko has described the conflict in The Kids Are All Right as: “It’s more like, Oh, my God! You’re the father, we have a child together, and there’s something sexy and confusing about that!” In this same article, The Advocate described the film as "the subversive territory the filmmaker has explored in the past—in which characters pay no attention to proscribed societal bounds of a given sexuality and jumbled feelings arise."[7][35]

Personal life

Cholodenko is in a relationship with musician Wendy Melvoin.[36][37] Melvoin is a guitarist and singer who has played with Prince as part of his band The Revolution. She later became famous as part of the duo Wendy & Lisa. Wendy Melvoin now writes musical scores for TV shows such as Showtime's Nurse Jackie.[35][38] Cholodenko gave birth to their son, Calder,[39] by way of an anonymous sperm donor.[14]

On coming out: "I came out in 11th grade, so I must have been 17. So that's quite a long time ago, and the temperature and the culture was different. And I was young. So it was fraught for me in the sense that I was in high school, and there weren't other people who were gay that I knew. So I felt different and confused about that. But I had a great love affair in high school, and let myself have that love affair and tried to keep it to myself."[8]

Cholodenko lives in the Beachwood Canyon area of Los Angeles.[40]


Feature films



  • Souvenir (1994)
  • Dinner Party (1997)

Production work


  1. ^ a b "Lisa Cholodenko - California, Birth Index, 1905-1995". FamilySearch. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 
  2. ^ Tabach-Bank, Lauren (13 August 2014). "Flipping the Script: Lisa Cholodenko". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  3. ^ Olozia, Jeff (13 August 2014). "Sam Taylor-Johnson, Lisa Cholodenko, Sarah Polley and Other Female Directors on the Movies That Influenced Them". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "Paul Cholodenko in household of Hyman Cholodenko - United States Census, 1940". FamilySearch. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  5. ^ "Karen Cholodenko - California, Birth Index, 1905-1995". FamilySearch. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  6. ^ "Laura Cholodenko - California, Birth Index, 1905-1995". FamilySearch. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d Cooke, Rachel (2 October 2010). "Lisa Cholodenko: 'I wanted to make a film that was not sanctimonious or sentimental'". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  8. ^ a b c Gross, Terry (8 July 2010). "Director Lisa Cholodenko On Conceiving 'The Kids'". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved 17 September 2010. 
  9. ^ Greenberg, Brad A. (3 June 2009). "State Senate Hearing on Madoff Losses". Jewish Journal. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  10. ^ "Dateline New York: New Yorkers bring culture to Catskills by Helen Smindak". The Ukrainian Weekly (Press release). 13 September 1998. 
  11. ^ "CoverItLive: Lisa Cholodenko live chat" (LIVE CHAT). Los Angeles Times. 23 July 2010. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  12. ^ "Lisa Cholodenko". Columbia University School of the Arts: Film. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  13. ^ a b Simpson, David (20 December 2010). "Awards Watch Roundtable: The Directors (full video)" (VIDEO). Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  14. ^ a b Toumarkine, Doris (28 June 2010). "Family dynamic: Lisa Cholodenko explores modern parenthood in 'The Kids Are All Right'". Film Journal International. Retrieved 29 June 2010. 
  15. ^ a b "Cast & Crew: Lisa Cholodenko, Director/Screenplay". The Kids Are Alright. Focus Features. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  16. ^ "Past Recipients: Crystal Award". Women in Film. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  17. ^ Rabin, Nathan (6 July 2010). "Interview: Lisa Cholodenko". A.V. Club. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  18. ^ Hill, Logan (7 July 2010). "Director Lisa Cholodenko on The Kids Are All Right and Making a Funny Movie About Lesbians". Vulture. New York Magazine. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  19. ^ a b Smith, Damon (7 July 2010). "Lisa Cholodenko, "The Kids Are All Right"". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  20. ^ Curtis, Tarrah Lee (17 July 2012). "Academy Elects 2012 – 2013 Board Of Governors". The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  21. ^ McNary, Dave (8 April 2014). "Lisa Cholodenko Set as Guest Director for L.A. Film Festival". Variety. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  22. ^ Guidry, Ken (2 May 2013). "Lisa Cholodenko To Direct HBO Miniseries 'Olive Kitteridge' Starring Frances McDormand & Richard Jenkins". Indiewire. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  23. ^ Dionne, Zach (15 August 2013). "HBO’s Olive Kitteridge Adds Jesse Plemons". Vulture. New York Magazine. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  24. ^ Bray, Catherine (2 September 2014). "Review: Frances McDormand's new mini-series 'Olive Kitteridge' is a perfect storm of talent". HitFix. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  25. ^ Christie, Tom (1 September 2014). "Lisa Cholodenko & Frances McDormand's 'Olive Kitteridge' Impresses in Venice". Indiewire. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  26. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (19 May 2014). "‘The Slap’". Deadline. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  27. ^ Anderson, Jeffrey M. "Interview: Lisa Cholodenko: Feelin' All Right". Combustible Celluloid. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  28. ^ a b "What Glass Ceiling? The Remarkable Success of Columbia's Women Filmmakers" (PANEL DISCUSSION). 25th Annual Columbia University Film Festival and The Film Society of Lincoln Center. Columbia University. 9 May 2012. Retrieved 29 October 2013. Featuring Lisa Cholodenko ('97), Nicole Holofcener ('88), Shari Springer Berman ('95) and Cherien Dabis ('04) 
  29. ^ Hillis, Aaron (6 July 2010). "Mark Ruffalo is Doing "All Right"". IFC. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  30. ^ "The Kids Are All Right Reviews - Metacritic". Metacritic. Retrieved 24 November 2013. 
  31. ^ "The Kids Are All Right - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 24 November 2013. 
  32. ^ "It’s a Family Affair". Lesbian Dad. 8 July 2010. Retrieved 24 November 2013. 
  33. ^ a b Sexsmith, Sinclair (21 July 2010). "Sugarbutch Says: The "Lesbian Who Sleeps With a Man" Trope in "The Kids Are All Right"". Archived from the original on 2 December 2012. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  34. ^ Snarker, Dorothy (10 July 2010). "All Right Now". Dorothy Surrenders. Retrieved 24 November 2013. 
  35. ^ a b Karpel, Ari (7 July 2010). "Parenting: This Is to Mother You". The Advocate. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  36. ^ Puente, Maria (24 August 2010). "Hollywood now opening arms to gay characters, families". USA Today. 
  37. ^ O'Hehir, Andrew (29 July 2010). "Sundance: Guy-sex and the modern lesbian". Salon. Retrieved 27 April 2010. 
  38. ^ Belge, Kathy. "Lisa Cholodenko and Wendy Melvoin: Lesbian Entertainers and Lovers". Lesbian Life. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  39. ^ Hirschberg, Lynn (1 December 2010). "The Family Issue". W Magazine. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  40. ^ Ross, Matthew (27 February 2003). "The Mystique of The Hollywood Hills; Lisa Cholodenko on "Laurel Canyon"". Indiewire. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 

External links