Lisa Cholodenko

Lisa Cholodenko (born June 5th, 1964) is an American screenwriter and director. Cholodenko wrote and directed the films High Art (1998), Laurel Canyon (2002), and The Kids Are All Right (2010).[1][2] She has also directed television, including the miniseries Olive Kitteridge (2014) and Unbelievable (2019).[3] She primarily directs New Queer Cinema style films and television, with large themes surrounding feminism and the LGBTQIA+ community.

Lisa Cholodenko
BornJune 5th, 1964
California, USA
EducationSan Francisco State University
Columbia University
OccupationFilmmaker, screenwriter
Years active1994–present
Notable work
High Art
Laurel Canyon
The Kids Are All Right
Olive Kitteridge
Partner(s)Wendy Melvoin

Early life and education

Cholodenko is from Los Angeles, and grew up in a liberal Jewish family.[4][5] Her paternal grandparents emigrated from Ukraine.[6] Cholodenko's paternal great grandfather was from Kyiv, Ukraine.[7] She came out at age 17, allowing her life experiences to influence her queer cinema films.

Cholodenko received a BA from San Francisco State University, where she studied anthropology, ethnic studies, and women's studies. After graduation, she travelled to India and Nepal and spent 18 months in Jerusalem.[8]

Cholodenko received a Bachelor of Arts in gender studies from San Francisco University. In 1997, Cholodenko received an MFA from Columbia University School of the Arts in screenwriting and directing.[9][10]


She got her start in the film industry in New York in the early 1990s.[11] She worked as an apprentice editor on John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood[4] and as an assistant editor on Beeban Kidron's Used People. Upon entering the film and television industry, Cholodenko was automatically faced with the label of a 'lesbian director', bringing her many challenges in the industry. This label expected her to create only specialized queer and gay projects, however, she was able to move towards creating more mainstream projects as well.[12]


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.[13]

Miloš Forman provided mentorship and encouragement as Cholodenko made her feature film debut with High Art.[8] 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.[13]

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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[10][16]

In June 2014, Cholodenko was the guest director of the 20th annual Los Angeles Film Festival.[17]


Cholodenko directed the 2004 film Cavedweller for Showtime; it earned Independent Spirit Award nominations for cast members Kyra Sedgwick and Aidan Quinn. She has directed episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street, Six Feet Under, The L Word, and Hung.

In 2014, Cholodenko directed the HBO four-part mini-series Olive Kitteridge starring Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins. Olive Kitteridge is based on the novel of the same name by Elizabeth Strout.[18] Bill Murray, Jesse Plemons, Zoe Kazan, and John Gallagher, Jr. co-starred.[19] Olive Kitteridge premiered at the 2014 Venice Film Festival to overwhelmingly positive reviews.[20][21] The show received widespread critical acclaim when it premiered on television in November. It received three Golden Globe nominations, and Cholodenko received a Directors Guild Award and a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for her work on the miniseries.[22][23]

Cholodenko was an executive producer, and directed the first episode, of the 2015 eight-part NBC miniseries The Slap, which was based on the Australian miniseries of the same name.[24]

In her more recent works Olive Kitteridge and The Slap, Cholodenko challenges political devaluation that has been associated with these recent projects, by encouraging the work of other women and queer artists and filmmakers.[12]

The Kids Are All Right

Lisa Cholodenko examines family values along with domestic-romantic relationships in this feminist romantic comedy, with a same-sex twist.[25] The film explores the challenges between the same sex couple, as well as the newly developing relationship between their children and their sperm donor. Cholodenko followed a non-heterosexual plot, as well as a non-normative plot.[25] For this production, Cholodenko used a more conservative Hollywood film industry so it would be able to reach a larger audience; as films with same sex scenes automatically receive a restricted rating.[25] Though the film has a non-heterosexual plot, Cholodenko has admitted in interviews that a portion of the films budget was put towards finding a strong male lead that would attract and appeal to the male viewers of the film.[26]

Personal life

Cholodenko gave birth to a son, Calder,[27] by way of an anonymous sperm donor, while in a relationship with musician Wendy Melvoin.[11]

Cholodenko moved her way back to California in order to 'orient herself towards a world where having a family could happen.'[25] Cholodenko lives in Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles.[28]

Cholodenko received inspiration for her film The Kids Are Alright through her own personal experiences. She created the plot for the film when she and her girlfriend had decided to have a baby through a sperm donor.[29] The co-writer of The Kids Are Alright, Stuart Blumberg, was a previous sperm donor, allowing the two to provide both point of views for the film.

Selected membership/leadership

Awards and Nominations

Cholodenko has headlined the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (LLGFF), as well as the London Film Festival.[25] Cholodenko has been nominated for a Golden Globe award for best screenplay for her film The Kids Are Alright, and won Best Screenplay for The Kids Are Alright at the Independent Spirit Awards.[31] She has received the Waldo Sat Screenwriting award for her first work High Art at the Sundance Film Festival. She also received the Best First screenplay award for High Art at the Independent Spirit Awards.

Cholodenko’s television career has also provided her with some awards in return, including a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series for the HBO limited series Olive Kitteridge.

Selected awards



Year Title Role
1991 Boyz n the Hood Apprentice Editor
1992 The Lawnmower Man Assistant Editor
1992 Used People Second Assistant Editor: Los Angeles
1994 Crawl short film Director, Producer
1994 Souvenir short film Director, Writer, Producer
1995 The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love Third Grip
1996 Some of These Days First Assistant Director
1997 Dinner Party short film Director, Writer, Editor
1998 High Art Director, Writer
2002 Laurel Canyon Director, Writer
2004 Cavedweller Director
2010 The Kids Are All Right Director, Writer
Upcoming Toni Erdmann Director, Writer


Year Title Role Episode
1999 Homicide: Life on the Street Director "The Same Coin"
2001 Six Feet Under Director "Familia"
2002 Push, Nevada Director "The Letter of the Law"
2005 The L Word Director "Lynch Pin"
2010 Hung Director "Beaverland"
2014 Oliver Kitteridge miniseries Director "Pharmacy", "Incoming Tide", "A Different Road", "Security"
2015 The Slap Director, Executive Producer "Hector"; Executive Producer 8 episodes
2018 Here and Now Director "Fight, Death", "Wake"
2019 Unbelievable miniseries Director, Executive Producer "1.1", "1.2", "1.3"; Executive Producer 8 episodes


  1. Tabach-Bank, Lauren (13 August 2014). "Flipping the Script: Lisa Cholodenko". The New York Times.
  2. 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.
  3. Li, Shirley (13 September 2019). "Netflix's Unbelievable Is a Different Sort of Drama About Sexual Assault". The Atlantic.
  4. Gross, Terry (July 8, 2010). "Director Lisa Cholodenko On Conceiving 'The Kids'". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved September 17, 2010.
  5. Greenberg, Brad A. (June 3, 2009). "State Senate Hearing on Madoff Losses". Jewish Journal. Retrieved September 3, 2014.
  6. "Dateline New York: New Yorkers bring culture to Catskills by Helen Smindak". The Ukrainian Weekly (Press release). September 13, 1998.
  7. "CoverItLive: Lisa Cholodenko live chat" (Live Chat). Los Angeles Times. July 23, 2010. Retrieved October 29, 2013.
  8. Cooke, Rachel (October 2, 2010). "Lisa Cholodenko: 'I wanted to make a film that was not sanctimonious or sentimental'". The Guardian. Retrieved October 29, 2013.
  9. "Lisa Cholodenko". Columbia University School of the Arts: Film. Archived from the original on 11 December 2013. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
  10. Simpson, David (20 December 2010). "Awards Watch Roundtable: The Directors (full video)" (video interview). The Hollywood Reporter.
  11. Toumarkine, Doris (28 June 2010). "Family dynamic: Lisa Cholodenko explores modern parenthood in 'The Kids Are All Right'". Film Journal International.
  12. Badley, Linda (2017). Indie Reframed: Womenas Filmmaking and Contemporary American Independent Cinema. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 221–237.
  13. "Cast & Crew: Lisa Cholodenko, Director/Screenplay". The Kids Are Alright. Focus Features. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
  14. Rabin, Nathan (July 6, 2010). "Interview: Lisa Cholodenko". The A.V. Club. Retrieved October 29, 2013.
  15. Hill, Logan (July 7, 2010). "Director Lisa Cholodenko on The Kids Are All Right and Making a Funny Movie About Lesbians". Vulture. New York Magazine. Retrieved October 29, 2013.
  16. Anderson, Jeffrey M. "Interview: Lisa Cholodenko: Feelin' All Right". Combustible Celluloid. Retrieved October 29, 2013.
  17. McNary, Dave (April 8, 2014). "Lisa Cholodenko Set as Guest Director for L.A. Film Festival". Variety. Retrieved September 3, 2014.
  18. Guidry, Ken (May 2, 2013). "Lisa Cholodenko To Direct HBO Miniseries 'Olive Kitteridge' Starring Frances McDormand & Richard Jenkins". Indiewire. Retrieved October 29, 2013.
  19. Dionne, Zach (August 15, 2013). "HBO's Olive Kitteridge Adds Jesse Plemons". Vulture. New York Magazine. Retrieved October 29, 2013.
  20. Bray, Catherine (September 2, 2014). "Review: Frances McDormand's new mini-series 'Olive Kitteridge' is a perfect storm of talent". HitFix. Retrieved September 3, 2014.
  21. Christie, Tom (September 1, 2014). "Lisa Cholodenko & Frances McDormand's 'Olive Kitteridge' Impresses in Venice". Indiewire. Retrieved September 3, 2014.
  22. "Directors Guild Award Winners 2015". Deadline Hollywood. February 7, 2015. Retrieved September 21, 2015.
  23. "Emmy Awards 2015: The complete winners list". CNN. September 21, 2015. Retrieved September 21, 2015.
  24. Andreeva, Nellie (May 19, 2014). "'The Slap'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved September 3, 2014.
  25. Bradbury-Rance C. (2013) Querying Postfeminism in Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right. In: Gwynne J., Muller N. (eds) Postfeminism and Contemporary Hollywood Cinema. Palgrave Macmillan, London
  26. Merete, Lie; Lykke, Nina (2016). Assisted Reproduction Across Borders: Feminist Perspectives on Normalizations, Disruptions and Transmissions. Routledge. ISBN 9781317200673.
  27. Hirschberg, Lynn (1 December 2010). "The Family Issue". W Magazine.
  28. Ross, Matthew (27 February 2003). "The Mystique of The Hollywood Hills; Lisa Cholodenko on "Laurel Canyon"". Indiewire.
  29. "Director Lisa Cholodenko On Conceiving 'The Kids'". Retrieved 2019-11-06.
  30. Curtis, Tarrah Lee (17 July 2012). "Academy Elects 2012 – 2013 Board Of Governors". The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
  31. "Lisa Cholodenko". Retrieved 2019-10-12.
  32. "Past Recipients: Crystal Award". Women in Film. Archived from the original on 30 June 2011. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
  33. Smith, Damon (7 July 2010). "Lisa Cholodenko, "The Kids Are All Right"". Filmmaker Magazine.
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