June 5, 1964 |
Los Angeles, California, US
|Alma mater||San Francisco State University
Cholodenko was born in the San Fernando Valley of California, the daughter of Marcia Cholodenko (née Elins) and Paul Cholodenko. She is the middle daughter of three sisters: her older sister is Karen Kardan, her younger sister is Laura Cholodenko.
Cholodenko is from a "liberal Jewish" family. Her paternal grandparents emigrated from Ukraine. 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.
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.
She then enrolled at Columbia University School of the Arts in 1992, earning an MFA in screenwriting and directing in 1997, where James Schamus was one of her professors, who would later become the CEO of Focus Features.
She got her start in the film industry in New York in the early 1990s. She worked as an apprentice editor on John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood 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.
Miloš Forman provided mentorship and encouragement as Cholodenko made her feature film debut with High Art. 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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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. Bill Murray, Jesse Plemons, Zoe Kazan, and John Gallagher, Jr. co-starred.
The four-part mini-series Olive Kitteridge premiered at the 2014 Venice Film Festival to overwhelmingly positive reviews. The show received widespread critical acclaim when it premiered on television in November and it received three Golden Globe nominations.
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.
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."
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."
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.
Though The Kids Are All Right was generally applauded by critics and audiences alike, garnering a Metacritic score of 86 and a Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics score of 95%, the film received differing opinions from the LGBTQ community, particularly for the plot device of a homosexual woman truly enjoying heterosexuality. Some critics saw this as a trope used in mainstream Hollywood, citing films like Kissing Jessica Stein and Chasing Amy. However, other critics defended Cholodenko's artistic choice, and found her approach realistic and well-handled.
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."
Cholodenko is in a relationship with musician Wendy Melvoin. 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. Cholodenko gave birth to their son, Calder, by way of an anonymous sperm donor.
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."
- Homicide: Life on the Street (episode: "The Same Coin") (1999)
- Six Feet Under (episode: "Familia") (2001)
- Push, Nevada (episode: "The Letter of the Law") (2002)
- The L Word (episode: "Lynch Pin") (2005)
- Hung (episode: "Beaverland") (2010)
- Olive Kitteridge (four part miniseries) (2014)
- The Slap (episode: "Hector") (2015)
- Souvenir (1994)
- Dinner Party (1997)
- Boyz n the Hood (1991) (apprentice editor)
- Lawnmower Man (1992) (assistant editor)
- Used People (1992) (second assistant editor: Los Angeles)
- The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love (1995) (third grip)
- Some of These Days (1996) (first assistant director)
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Featuring Lisa Cholodenko ('97), Nicole Holofcener ('88), Shari Springer Berman ('95) and Cherien Dabis ('04)
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