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Making it as a female movie mogul in Hollywood

From Felicia Taylor, CNN
updated 7:10 AM EDT, Tue October 9, 2012
  • Donna Langley is Co-Chairman of Universal Pictures
  • She works on Universal's business and production strategies
  • Driving force behind a slate of films that led to studio's two most profitable years at the global box office
  • Langley received the 2010 Crystal Award for Excellence in Film

(CNN) -- As Co-Chairman of Universal Pictures, Donna Langley is one of an elite club: A female movie mogul in Hollywood.

And holding one of the most sought-after jobs in the industry comes with responsibility, in Langley's eyes.

Part of her role, she says, is mentoring the next generation of young women who've set their sights on working in the movies -- helping them to set realistic expectations in an industry built on bringing fantasies to life.

That way, they "don't waste a lot of time on ... dreaming about doing something that is not realistic or doesn't exist," said Langley, adding that she directs them "toward some of the real opportunities that are actually there in the business."

Langley joined Universal Pictures in 2001 as Senior Vice President of Production, then became President of Production where she oversaw hits including "It's Complicated" and "Mamma Mia."

You are never going to get validation ... from other people. And even though you may get it, you can't rely upon it
Donna Langley, Co-Chairman of Universal Pictures

In 2009 she was promoted to Co-Chairman and now works with Chairman Adam Fogelson on the studio's business and production strategies.

A large part of her job is "running a business" and mitigating problems such as the decline of the DVD market in the face of Netflix and video on demand.

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But what really fills her with passion is the creative part of the job.

"I just love being at the heart of the creative process. You know being somebody who facilitates a creative vision and a dream and creating movies, stories for people all around the world," she said.

Here she talks to CNN's Leading Women about being adopted, holding down her demanding job as a mother of two, and what it's really like in Hollywood.

On self-belief ...

I am the only one in my family who is adopted.

It always made me feel really special. I felt like I was chosen.

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I think it made me have a sense of sort of being able to deal with any situation. I think dealing with something like that at a very young age and having an understanding that those kinds of things happen in the world made me ... believe in myself and believe that anything is possible.

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On rising through the ranks in a male-dominated business ...

I think women have a unique way of multi-tasking and being sort of the ultimate diplomats and those are two skills that come in really handy in our business.

We are dealing with different situations and artistic and creative people ... who need some real TLC sometimes.

It doesn't (feel like a man's world) to me. I think it's because I am surrounded by great and fabulous women.

You are never going to get validation, the amount of validation that you sometimes need from other people. And even though you may get it, you can't rely upon it. You have to have that inner strength.

On putting off a family until after 40 ...

I think I am a better mother having done it a little bit later in life and having got to a point where my career was really on solid footing.

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On juggling work and family life ...

It's difficult. I think as women we carry a huge amount of guilt every second of every day we are not with our children
Donna Langley, Co-Chairman of Universal Pictures

I had to figure out how to leave my work at work. I realized that all of the experience that I had and all of the expertise that I brought to the table every day gave me a certain confidence to just kind of let go and not sweat the small stuff and really just ... be able to look at the big picture and manage.

It is difficult. I think as women we carry a huge amount of guilt every second of every day we are not with our children.

I hope ultimately that they would have pride in the fact that they have a mother who loves what she does and goes to work every day happy.

But ... it does it requires a huge amount of organization and prioritization. And you know I am very fortunate that I have an incredibly supportive husband.

On commercial movies ...

I think that there is ... a conception out there that those films -- because they are so commercial and because they are required to be commercial -- can't be creative. But I actually disagree with that.

Their reach is really worldwide. The ... visual effects component of those films is exciting to moviegoers all over the world.

So, that's definitely a kind of movie making that is absolutely imperative to the studios.

On Hollywood ...

There is a superficial side to it ... We are all creating a fantasy after all, every day. That is what we do. But the people behind the scenes, they are people who are going to work every day ... these are all people who are so passionate about what they are doing.

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