Tribeca Film Festival: EVERY SECRET THING, MISS MEADOWS, NIGHT MOVES

The Tribeca Film Festival, in New York City , happens  April 16th – 27th 2014, and screens literally dozens of features. Among them, this year, there are three flicks directed by women that look particularly interesting to me.

EVERY SECRET THING, directed by Amy Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener based on Laura Lippman's 1994 novel, seems to be a mystery/thriller about a kidnapping and an unsolved crime. From the 2012 announcement of the film, the story "revolves around Ronnie and Alice, who at the age of 11 were convicted of the murder of a baby and were incarcerated until they turned 18. Now released and replete with psychological problems, each attempts to adjust to life outside juvenile detention when children start to go missing. As the police turn their attention to Ronnie and Alice, the mystery surrounding the original murder and their roles in it takes the fore."

One clear summer day in a Baltimore suburb, a baby goes missing from her front porch. Two young girls serve seven years for the crime and are released into a town that hasn’t fully forgiven or forgotten. Soon, another child is missing, and two detectives are called in to investigate the mystery in a community where everyone seems to have a secret. An ensemble cast, including Elizabeth Banks, Diane Lane, Dakota Fanning, and Nate Parker, brings to life Laura Lippman’s acclaimed novel of love, loss, and murder.

MISS MEADOWS is directed and written by Karen Leigh Hopkins and starring Katie Holmes as a gun-toting vigilante.

Prim schoolteacher Miss Meadows (Katie Holmes) is not entirely what she appears. Well-mannered, sweet, and caring, yes, but underneath the candy-sweet exterior hides the soul of a vigilante, taking it upon herself to right the wrongs in this cruel world by whatever means necessary. Things get complicated, however, when Miss Meadows gets romantically entangled with the town sheriff (James Badge Dale) and her steadfast moral compass is thrown off, begging the question: “Who is the real Miss Meadows and what is she hiding?”

NIGHT MOVES, Kelly Reichardt's new flick, previously screened at Toronto 2013, but is screening for the first time in the United States at Tribeca. Basically, it's a sort-of rip-off of that novel THE MONKEY WRENCH GANG, about environmental terrorism, except with what I consider a pretty annoying cast.

 Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard star as radical activists surreptitiously plotting to blow up Oregon’s Green Peter Dam in an act of environmental sabotage. As their plan marches inexorably towards fruition, they soon discover that small steps have enormous consequences. Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy director Kelly Reichardt crafts another graceful and absorbing film about outsiders searching for a meaningful place on the edges of the system in this atmospheric environmental thriller. 

No trailers for any of these yet; but I expect we'll see some shortly as they roll out the red carpet for Tribeca. There will be a number of short films screening as well, so I'll be going through those and letting you know who's screening in the shorts competition as soon as those titles are released.

Celluloid Ceiling, Lexi Alexander, and Etheria Film Night

I've missed out on posting a lot of really cool news about women directors lately. I took a huge imaginary trip to Iceland and Spain and have been gone for 6 weeks, which has prevented me from blogging. But since blogging is my full-time, lucrative job, I felt I needed a mini-vacation to the realms of frost giants and Gaudi.

In the past two months, some amazing things have happened that I need to catch up on, and catch you up on. First, did you hear the amazing quotes from director Lexi Alexander (PUNISHER: WARZONE) about sexism in Hollywood? Her statements were re-posted on Indiewire's Women and Hollywood blog in January 2013:

There is no lack of female directors. Repeat after me: THERE IS NO LACK OF FEMALE DIRECTORS. But there is a huge lack of people willing to give female directors opportunities. I swear, if anyone near me even so much as whispers the sentence "Women probably don't want to direct," my fist will fly as a reflex action.

Side note: The previous statement labels me as "difficult".

Alexander's statement was prompted in part by the baffling treatment she had received earlier in 2013 when fans overwhelmingly supported her as the choice for the director of the all-female EXPENDABLES film. But partly she represents numerous women in the Director's Guild of America that feel they are given unequal treatment when it comes to hiring practices based solely on the basis of their sex. Alexander now self-deprecatingly jokes that she is the new "Gertrude Stein of filmmaking," but largely due to her outspoken attitude recently, and the diligent efforts and research of director Maria Giese and the Women Directors in Hollywood Blog, the ACLU is now conducting its own investigation into any sexism that women directors may face in Hollywood. Get ready for a lawsuit, sexists!

The ACLU's announcement was followed shortly thereafter by comedian Will Ferrell (I know, right? Who knew?)  launching a brand new division of his production company called Gloria Sanchez Productions to spearhead female-led film projects.  Now I have a reason to like Will Ferrell, which is really my one big take-away from this entire thing.

February 2014 was Women in Horror Month, and there were many awesome new film projects, film festivals, articles, exchanges, and artwork created in celebration. But since December 2013, I have been in the process of creating a new film festival (sort of). The Viscera Organization and the Viscera Film Festival officially disbanded in December 2013, with creator Shannon Lark and board member Lori Bowen finishing, screening, and promoting their new psychological-yet-gory horror film I AM MONSTER (you can check it out here at the official website: www.iammonstermovie.com). In January 2014, I decided to revamp the Etheria Film Festival, the science fiction and fantasy film festival that I had put together under the Viscera banner in Boston, Massachusetts, and move it to Hollywood, CA. The new Etheria Film Night will screen not only new science fiction and fantasy, but also horror, thriller, action, and even some comedy and drama – all directed by women. You can check out our official website here: www.etheriafilmnight.com. We'll be screening the selections at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California on July 12th, 2014 with the support of the American Cinematheque.

I also took that 6 weeks off to write a chapter in the film journal Celluloid Ceiling Spring 2014, thanks to the patience of my editor Professor Gabrielle Kelly, of NYU Tisch Singapore. It was fun. I wrote a lot about lesbians and feminism in European film history.

Hard at work on my book about women directors of horror films, I plan to finish that sometime before my 80th birthday. And no I continue blogging about stuff other women are doing. Carry on.

Mark Gill Won't Hire Lexi Alexander For EXPENDABLES

Lately, we've been seeing a lot of fans excited about the all-female EXPENDABLES movie (AKA EXPENDABELLES). Many fans and geeks and film writers have suggested Lexi Alexander as the natural choice for a female action film director, since the producers announced they'd definitely be hiring a female director for the project. Alexander has read the script and was waiting to take meetings.

What people don't know is that this last week Alexander was denied a meeting with Mark Gill, the executive in charge of the new EXPENDABLES film. Alexander  posted on her personal blog about what happened when her manager tried to get her a meeting with Mark Gill. Gill, I might add, has a reputation for not being friendly towards women directors. That's only a rumor I have heard from other directors, but it seems cosistent with the conversation below if what Alexander says is true. This is from Alexander's blog and recounts her experience trying to get a meeting about EXPENDABELLES:

When people alerted me to all the blogs and articles out there naming me as their favorite director for the flick, I was really touched and thought that I should at least read the script, maybe meet and show my appreciation for the folks who are championing me.  I called my manager and she happily called Millennium that day (the fact that I rarely meet on that size movie any more is a bit of a sore subject between us, which is why this made her happy).

We don't get a call back for three days, so my manager calls again. This time the executive in charge of Expendabelles, Mark Gill, takes her call.

This is how the conversation went:

Mark Gill: I know who you're calling about and it's not going to happen.

Manager: Who am I calling about?

Gill: Lexi Alexander.

Manager: Have you seen all the stuff on the internet?  The whole world thinks she's perfect for this.

Gill: I don't give a fuck what the whole world thinks. Sly brought her up as well and I talked him out of it.

Manager: But why?

Gill: I don't think she knows anything about women kicking ass.

Manager: Are you serious?

Gill: Yeah. I don't buy into all the buzz.

Manager: Don't you think you should at least meet her in person and find out what she knows ? You've never met her in person, correct?

Gill: I have not and I don't want to. Unless she wants to step in the ring with me.

Manager: Excuse me?

Gill: The ring as in "boxing ring". Three 2-minute rounds, full-contact, any style she wants. If she gets through it without crying I'll be a little more convinced that she knows something about strong women and I may grant her a meeting. Maybe.

Manager: Do you know she was-

Gill: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I heard the whole spiel, World Kickboxing-Champion, whatever degree black belt-

Manager: Third degree.

Gill: Pfft, my gardner's ten-year-old son is an 8th degree black belt. I told you she's an incompetent underachiever.

Manager: She was a Martial Arts instructor for the Marines Corps.

Gill: Then you don't have anything to worry about if she gets in the ring with me, do you?

Manager: Trust me, that's not what I am worried about.

Gill: I have to go, Sly wants to play nine holes and I don't want to be one of them. You know the deal, either she proves herself  to me or I don't ever want to hear her name again.

CLICK!

Ring….ring….ring (this is my phone ringing now, although my ringtone is the tune from the Muppets – ma-nam-a-na bee-bee bi-bi-bi, but that would be weird to write)

Me:   Hello?

Manager: Hey, ah, I — I — just got off the phone with Mark Gill.

Me: (laughing) That bad, huh? I told you he is not a fan.

Manager: You're not kidding. You really never met him? Ever?

Me:  I may have been introduced to him at some event over the years,  but I doubt even that happened.

Manager: How do you know he doesn't like you?

Me:  I guess this new level of hate I have Lionsgate to thank for. But his dislike for me goes back all the way to Johnny Flynton.

Manager: What happened with Johnny Flynton?

Me: Nothing. He just didn't like it. After it was nominated for an Oscar they set me up with all these general meetings. Mark Gill was the only exec who didn't want to meet me, 'said he didn't get the film.

Manager: Who the fuck doesn't get Johnny Flynton?

Me:   Mark Gill and one other person on the internet.

Manager: (Laughing)

Me:   I take it I won't be meeting on Expendabelles then, huh?

Manager: Actually, he does want to meet you….

Me:   He does?

Manager:  Yeah, but…this is going to sound crazy…he wants to have some kind of boxing match with you, to see how much you really know about women kicking ass.

Me:   Ha, ha. Very funny.

Manager:  I swear. I'm not kidding, that's what he said and he didn't sound drunk.

Me:   Mark Gill? March of the Penguins' Mark Gill wants to fight me?

Manager: Yes. He said something like — "Hey Richy, are you on the line?"

(Richy: My manager's assistant. Always on the line, always takes notes)

Richy:  I'm here.

Manager:  What did he say exactly?

Richy: He wants you to fight three 2-minute rounds, full- contact, any style.

(Pause)

Me:   Are you guys fucking with me?

Manager & Richy: No!

Me:   Penguin guy wants to fight me ? Are you sure he was talking about himself, not Sly?

Manager: I'm sure.

Me:   Under what conditions? Me blindfolded with one arm tied behind my back?

Manager: He didn't mention that.

Me:   Does he know about my back–

Manager: He knows all about you.

Me:   I can't do it.

Manager: Why not? He's asking for it.

Me:   I can't fight Penguin guy, I'll murder him and clearly he's already suffering from brain damage.

Manager: How many times do I have to tell you Lexi, you gotta swim with the sharks if you wanna make it in this town. Fuck his brain damage. If he'd rather get punched in the face than sit through another director's power point presentation, then punch him in the face and get the job.

Me:   Huh.

Manager: Light-bulb moment?

Me: Yeah. I'm starting to think that for someone like…say…God or Santa Clause,  a person who's considered "difficult" in Hollywood is actually a saint.

Manager: I'm not sure I understand and unfortunately I have a staff meeting now. You're doing this, right?

Me:  Sure. Set a date.

Okay, okay…that's not really what happened…but a girl can dream right?

Actually, the only thing I made up is the fight challenge, everything else is pretty much how it went down. But the way I see it, if someone makes a clear-cut judgment about you without ever meeting you in person…that only defines them.

I hope you will all support the movie anyway, because they will definitely hire a female director (I don't think they can go back on that and pretend they tried, given that there are 1400 female directors in the DGA alone and I don't know how many qualified women worldwide) and whoever she is, she'll need all the help she can get.

My personal vote goes to Lynne Ramsay because she's amazing and I'm not only talking about Kevin (see what I did there). Watch Ratcatcher or Morvern Callar and tell me she's not one bad-ass director. And yes I heard the rumors, but that's all they are: rumors. My friend Des Hamilton (Greenstreet casting director) has worked with her many times and has nothing but great things to say about her. Calum Marsh of film.com wrote an excellent article on this.

While Alexander embellishes a bit about Gill wanting to get in a kickboxing ring with her and have her prove herself to him as an ass-kicking woman (Gill did not really suggest that), it's clear that he does not want to use Alexander for the film, dislikes her, and refuses to meet with her. I know Alexander may be paraphrasing some of Gill's statements as well, as I have not spoken with Gill or with Alexander's manager about this. Alexander, and I, and probably many fans, don't really understand why Gill won't meet with her, at the very least, since she's the first choice of so many fans for the franchise sequel. I would love to know who Gill is considering, though. Wouldn't you?

LEGEND OF THE RED REAPER Interview With Tara Cardinal

Tara Cardinal's LEGEND OF THE RED REAPER has been a topic of discussion on this blog for some time. The fantasy film's long and arduous uphill battle is documented in this interview with director Cardinal, as well as the trials, tribulations, and personal tenacity of Cardinal and her production team over six years. Not many people would work this hard, this long, and in this way for a film project that seemed to face hurdle after hurdle. The sword-and-sorcery flick is finally screening at film festivals, so I wanted to get the nitty-gritty story of LEGEND OF THE RED REAPER down for posterity (and for my own personal interest) as it is quite a story (both literally and figuratively). Originally directed by one Jose Casella in 2009, then by Kristen Barron-Stewart (not that Kristen Stewart, a different one), this final incarnation of the film stars Cardinal herself and is directed by Cardinal herself with Uwe Boll (with whom Cardinal worked on the films ZOMBIE MASSACRE and THE PROFANE EXHIBIT) instrumental in getting the film completed. Cardinal's next film, SCARLET SAMURAI (co-directed with David Williams) is also finally screening at festivals and it, too, has a tangled history.

LEGEND OF THE RED REAPER TRAILER:

Can you describe LEGEND OF THE RED REAPER's long production period to us? 

legend of the red reaper tara cardinalThe fact is, when I transitioned from the real world into acting, there just weren't that many exciting roles for women. Not at the studio level, and not at the independent level. Searching through the breakdowns was boring, even degrading at times. Outside of (some) horror there was little that required anywhere near the full complement of my abilities or even desire to give myself to my craft in a meaningful way.

I came up with RED REAPER while working on an action film. I wrote a treatment for it, thinking that this fresh new approach to action/fantasy would pique some Hollywood interest. I pitched it around – but the Hollywood system wasn't looking for female heroines.  Undeterred, I shot a trailer for it in my backyard and screened at the first convention I could find. The response was overwhelmingly positive. People WANTED to see this movie! Spirits renewed, I pulled together a team to help me write, produce, direct and crew this beast.

Inexperience is a hard mistress, and I placed my trust (and my money) with too many fast talkers. Within months a significant amount of money was removed from the production budget and removers went with it. Within weeks the production was dissolved and the something strange happened. Some people left, never to be heard from again, but the ones who stayed all donned another hat, pitching in at extraordinary lengths and volunteering enormous amounts of time, resources, even money, to keep the project alive. The people who knew me, the people who worked side by side with me, they NEEDED me to finish this for them. For us. It was a responsibly that haunted me daily until the premiere.

I had some great action scenes filmed, but there was no story, plot nor any character development. As the months dragged on our [US] economy collapsed. No one had any cash flow. My team got even smaller. It became clear that I had to re-write the movie. I couldn't make a film out of the footage I had and to make matters worse; the movie was supposed to star one of the thieves that took my money. Now THAT would have been a fight scene for the history books. Alas, I decided against that, but used my complicated and complex feelings and circumstances to write a very personal version of this fantasy film, reimagining  many of the elements that had already been shot.

16 months, and 12 re-writes and ONE note from screenwriter (and dear friend) Rolfe Kanefsky – I had a new script with a strong plot and lots of character development. While I was writing, I was also out raising the money. First, a medical study for a phase 1 experimental drug (Phase 1 = never been tested on humans). Then, working as a "jobber": someone who gets paid to lose wrestling matches. It turns out, with all my martial arts and stunt training, I can (and did!) take a solid beating. So, I got in the ring with girls twice my size and let them throw me around to raise the money to finish RED REAPER. I worked freelance for a production company doing instructional videos and I took acting roles in other people's movies, happily swiping cast and crew in preparation for finishing RED REAPER. And it worked! At the end of my 16 months I had a full plan, cast,  crew, locations, equipment, new script and the money to make it all happen. I flew back to Florida, and shot 7 days (the only days the studio was available) and then came back 3 months later to shoot the remaining 4 days.

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Tara Cardinal as "Aella" in LEGEND OF THE RED REAPER

I know there is a lot of footage that you shot for the film that ended up "lost." What did you shoot, and what happened to it?

I'd hoped to put a waterfall fight scene in the movie, so a few months after that I'd commissioned an exquisite waterfall, and flew (former WWE wrestler) Al Snow out to do the scene with me. For hours we shivered our way through the most intense fight choreography: flips, throws, acrobatics like nothing else in the movie, all done in 55 degree water. But alas, only a few shots made it to me. The rest were deleted by a careless editor. I have behind-the-scenes  footage, but you can't put handy cam shots in a real movie.  I was able to save a couple of shots and wedge them into a flashback sequence. Of all of the footage that went missing in the end, it will forever sadden me that the HARD work of my construction crew, or Al Snow's amazing fight choreography won't ever be seen.

At that point I'd hired an editor who pretended to work on the movie. Six months later he admitted he wasn't doing anything, and suggested I find another editor. I spent the next 3 months trying to track down my footage, which I'd found out he'd placed with a shady post production house in NY, and they'd lost two of my reels (about 100 minutes of footage). Suddenly, a whole year had gone by.

By that point I'd hired another editor; this one worked for the studios, so I figured he knew what he was doing. He took my script and the footage and did the best he could, taking nine months more, but with so much missing footage it was a struggle. He was able to propose a deal with a sales agent, and they looked into re-shooting the movie with a major male action star, but the star and the sales agent never seemed to agree on a price. Ultimately, for a variety of reasons I can't go into, I had to pull the deal and move forward with the project as-is. And I'm happier for that. This put me 18 months past my wrap date, with almost nothing to show for it. It was soul crushing, but I kept moving forward, gaining skill and knowledge as I progressed.

How did producer Uwe Boll get on board?

I'm a planner. I'd been going to the American Film Market every year to meet sales agents even before there was any footage to show anyone. I never pitched, only networked. Most of the sales agents knew me, and many were interested in RED REAPER. Uwe Boll was always at the top of my list because of his great reputation for being one of the few sales agents that actually pays the film maker. I showed him the cut that my editor did, and he passed – he hated the rough cut. He wasn't interested in it.

As you might have guessed by now, "No" isn't an answer I'm fond of. He had been interested in the trailer, but the cut fell short, and I knew it. I should have never showed it to him to begin with, it was a rookie mistake. Fortunately, he gave me another chance. I learned final cut pro and re-cut the movie myself. Uwe flew into town to shoot THE PROFANE EXHIBIT with myself, Clint Howard, and Caroline Williams, and took a few hours to sit down and watch the movie with me and he liked my cut! He immediately brought in Ho-Sung Pak's team to picture edit and his own team in Vancouver to edit the audio. It STILL took another 19 months for the post teams to complete all the work necessary to make it a viable, distributable product. In the mean time, Uwe pre-sold the movie to the foreign markets, many of which are much more amicable to my style of storytelling. Uwe is without a doubt the hero of the making-of-the-RED-REAPER-saga. He's a hero of indie film in general, and a great friend to indie film makers. Most importantly to me, he always stood by my vision where ever possible, and demanded the team finish the movie as close to my original ideas as possible, and that's a rare thing! Most sales agents only care about the bottom line, but Uwe also cared deeply about my story. And for that he'll always have a strong supporter in me.

In the mean time, I was responsible for editing the action sequences, bringing in a composer and making sure the creative edits matched my vision.  I only had 5 days to cut the action sequences! Fortunately for us all, my SCARLET SAMURAI producing partner Sean Wyn dropped everything, and my dear friend (and one of my favorite directors) Josh Eisenstadt opened his edit studio to us, and Sean and I tag teamed a re-cut of about 1/3 of the movie, redoing all the action sequences from a martial artist's view point. And that was how I spent my Thanksgiving weekend!

The missing footage required an extremely creative re-cut, adding in new story elements that were never intended to be there. I must credit my editor for those exciting changes. It did require  a final re-write on the movie so the new elements would be clear. I organized a test screening to get feedback on the adjusted story line. It took me 2 more months, but I had a re-write SO tight that the added dialogue and voice over fit exactly in the edit as-is, because the picture was "locked", and my sound team was already starting on the sound design.

My sound department requested a total of 310 lines of additional dialogue recording. Some of which was due to extra noises on set, but most was due to the story re-write. I was responsible for rounding up my actors and getting them back into the studio – but this was now almost 2 years after we'd wrapped. Some of my actors refused. They figured if I hadn't pulled it to the finish line by then, I was going to. So I hired voice doubles to dub them. One was a fan. One was my roommate. Fortunately, most of my cast were totally pros. One of my stunt guys, Rob Ray, happened to have access to a studio which he opened up for my Orlando actors.  Thanks to Sean Wyn, I had access to the Black Eyed Peas recording studio to record my Los Angeles-based actors.  I certainly wasn't going to let something as trivial as missing dialogue stop me! I recorded 3-10 takes of every line which left me with about 2,500 lines to go through. I chose the best ones based on performance and syncing ability (it had to be the right speed or it just didn't work!).   I cut the takes I wanted to use, and dropped them into a temp timeline, rendered them out, and delivered to my departments. The entire audio post took me 6 months of nonstop work.

That 6 months cost me my composer. Joshua Parish Gomez (Taboo's son from the Black Eyed Peas) was only able to compose the first 40 minutes of the movie before being called to do another project. Fortunately, two of my Italian composer friends from ZOMBIE MASSACRE had epic music they were able to give me to fill out the battle sequences, and my producing partner, Sean Wyn, was able to adjust them to fit, and composed several segments himself – my FAVORITE being the George Perez scene (just watch the movie – you'll see!) – all with only two days left to turn in my final sound!

The post production work was daily for me, even when I wasn't doing the actual work. I honestly thought after having shot a feature film more than half of my work was done. In actuality, it's about 10 percent.

Aella has been referred to as a "feminist' character by some reviewers. Is she, and is it a feminist story?

I didn't write the role for a woman or man, I wrote it for myself. And since I don't think of myself as a woman, but just a human, with the same set of complexities, faults and flaws as anyone – woman or man, it became unique. The character is based on me. And I think any thinking, feeling person, regardless of their chromosomal make up could have played the role.

Sadly, because our market is so grossly over saturated with male heroes and plastic female heroines written, directed, and produced by men, Red Reaper stands out as being something greater than it is. It's just a fleshed out character that happens to be a woman. This isn't special. This should be the norm, but this is just happens to be the first time most people have seen it. And that's not to say that men can't write women. But it's hard to find a solid female hero that hasn't been fluffed into a male-oriented fantasy (like SUCKER PUNCH) or masculinized into a caricature. Most men don't understand their own wives! How are they going to make a whole movie about a woman??  I believe our grandchildren will look back on Hollywood's objectification of women with the same horror that we look back on American segregation. The majority of movies don't even factor in women as people – just accessories to the point. Some movies don't have women at all. Some movies have women that ONLY appear as someone's wife or girlfriend. Many movies don't feature women SPEAKING to each other. Many movies have women speaking to each other, but only about what they should be doing about the men in their lives. This is what our contemporaries are being trained to believe about women. And this is proof that the Hollywood studios hold these beliefs about women; if they didn't, why would they churn out movie after movie of the same dribble? Why do they exclude women from the director's chair at the rate of 93%? The writers' room at 87%? The producers' lounge at 80%? And many of those women that ARE allowed on Hollywood sets are part of James Cameron's ex-wives club! (Translation: without a powerful MALE Hollywood connection good luck getting your membership card to the boys club, no disrespect meant to James Cameron).  It terrifies me that our mass media is raising generation after generation of "men" who don't see women as people and I'm proud to be one of the pioneers of change.

RED REAPER blends horror, action, and fantasy together so that it is all and none at the same time. How did this help you avoid sword-and-sorcery cliches?

I think genre is really a product of marketing, which is very impersonal, and I believe will become outdated. One of the few ways left to freshen a story (and they've all been told) is to molest it's genre. Genres are clichéd, tired, and mostly flat. Romantic comedies are ALL the same. Action movies are all the same. But as viewers, consumers, we need to be taken on a journey, touched on a personal level!  RED REAPER is a very personal story to me, and as a result it dips in and out of genres rather casually. My first love is fantasy, and all my stories will originate from that. Action is a natural extension of fantasy. If one has a sword, why not use it? And if one uses a sword, well then, one can expect a little blood, can't they? As long as the progression is organic, then it blends itself. And I believe it SHOULD be blended.

legend of the red reaper tara cardinal
A fight sequence in LEGEND OF THE RED REAPER

Can you tell me about the fight scene choreography?

You noticed my signature crucifix move in there, didn't you? I love to do that in the wrestling ring, and was thrilled to be able to find a way to work the choreography into a sword fight! You can also find me doing the same move in SCARLET SAMURAI. I did do some of my own choreography, and also much of the credit goes to  Justice Maynard, Rob Ray, Calvin Simmons,  Jason McNeil and Al Snow. I never get tired of learning and training, and my fondest memories on set are those of being trained to do things I never thought I could do by Justice and Rob. Those men in particular have a rare gift for training and performing!

It's worth noting that we rarely had use of wires, minitramps, rachets or any of the other equipment afforded to higher budget productions. We had to "Jackie Chan" most of the movie! My stunt guys can all throw themselves through the air, and taught me to do the same. It's Rob Ray's back I leap off of to take out Justice Maynard when I save Eris from certain doom. You'll see me launch myself from across the battlefield and onto the back of Charles Cardwell and do a whole sword fight from his back. When Al Snow picks me up over his head and throws me into the waterfall, there are no pads, no mats, nothing but 3 feet of chilling water between me and the hard cold ground. When Cal Simmons tosses me to the ground 3 times in my fight scene with him, you can watch me land without pads or mats. During the rampage scene I got kicked in the head, kicked in the chest and stepped on. And if you think I had it bad – my stunt guys had it MUCH worse!

 How does RED REAPER pay homage to classic sword-and-sorcery films and comics like RED SONJA and THE BEASTMASTER? 

And what an honor to join the ranks of RED SONJA and THE BEASTMASTER even! Of course, just having George Perez in the movie is a nod to the comic universes.

RED REAPER might be compared to those classic 80s movies because of the lack of CGI and other storytelling tricks and gimmicks. My style of storytelling is personal. I would rather see what a character is feeling, how they struggle through a particular moment. I'm not so interested in big explosions and CGI. Now, don't get me wrong – I do HAVE CGI in the movie. But only shots, not entire scenes like most superhero and fantasy movies of today have. I do feel quite strongly that too many films have relied on pretty pictures – be they CGI monsters or gratuitous skin shots to interest an audience. And while you can earn a quick buck from that, you'll never earn the audience's respect. Classic films of the 80s were respectable.

scarlet samurai
Tara Cardinal in SCARLET SAMURAI

You and Sean Wyn (of RED REAPER) have another action film out now in festivals called SCARLET SAMURAI. This film, too has a harrowing history and was literally plucked from ashes and polished by you and Sean. Can you tell me how that happened

I was hired as an actress to play the lead role of Ikari, a mixed race Asian American with a penchant for dropping the "F" bomb. The script was all improv (which means there wasn't one!), and David Williams was directing us based on his outline. There was much to be excited about in that project, so I was surprised and disappointed when 3 years later there was no finished movie. I bought the rights, the powers that be sent me the footage and I hired Sean Wyn to edit while I went off to film ZOMBIE MASSACRE in Italy. When I returned, he'd cut together one heck of a movie, but it wasn't "great". It was missing a strong story and the character introductions were weak. I noticed missing camera angles, and quickly discovered ALL the B cam footage was missing. Williams tracked it down and sent it to me, but Fed Ex put it through their x-ray machine and wiped the footage clean – sending us back into a tail spin (and a freak out the likes of which I could never describe!). At that point Boll had already agreed to sell it at AFM, all we had to do was finish it. So, while I was re-writing, recasting, scouting locations, and gathering my forces, I was also hitting up Fed Ex for that insurance money. They wouldn't even return my phone calls until Planet Fury ran an article about it! Fortunately, we won the battle, but couldn't start filming until October (AFM started November 1st). We tried! But we couldn't get the whole movie edited and filmed in a month. We ended up re-shooting 10 more days, 7 in New York and 3 in Hollywood. It was more than half the film.

SCARLET SAMURAI was originally a horror film [called TERMINAL DESCENT] about a group of people who explore the depths of the Buffalo Central Terminal and get attacked by mutants. Given my character was part Asian, and another female lead was Asian, and I'd just spent the last 6 months studying the art of the Samurai sword for ZOMBIE MASSACRE (none of which was used in the movie, but I had it for reference in case), I had all of these ideas that we just didn't have time for on ZOMBIE MASSACRE. So, I created this character based on my martial arts trainer, Sean Wyn. Sean's abilities exceed his physical strength – so where does that come from? How is that possible? What is the true magic behind martial arts? What I learned in studying martial arts and Buddhism is that martial arts has little to do with fighting, but everything to do with inner strength. So I imagined this character who had superpowers through her development of Chi and connection to Buddha. Someone who had mastered what I was just learning.  With her chi she could kill, but also heal as is common amongst many chi masters. As I thought about it more, what could be a better foe for such a hero than a monster that FEEDS on Chi? And of course in Chinese mythology there is such a creature. So I did my research, and created my own version (with the help of Jeff Farley!) of a Jiang Shi: a monster that has fallen out of favor in Chinese cinema.

It was clear to me that it would be difficult to re-shoot my character after the years had passed. We shot the first round of Scarlet Samurai right after RED REAPER, and now I'd just gotten back from ZOMBIE MASSACRE, and I looked VERY different. So that's why I made myself twins. I still looked like me, but not the same. Twins was more believable than the continuity issues it would cause to assume the character was the same.

As I've gotten into post on this, Sean and I have tag teamed the edit, getting closer and closer to a tighter cut. Sean did the visual effects, and I did the color grading and a fair amount of the audio work. It's just been the two of us on post production until very recently. As of this interview, we're putting the final touches on the audio files and we've just received the score – a combination of synthesized orchestra and live drums and flutes, all composed by the amazing Greg Simmonds.

SCARLET SAMURAI Trailer:

Throughout the trials and tribulations you have faced in the quest for completion of RED REAPER and SCARLET SAMURAI, what challenges were the most difficult to overcome?

I think the same thing any entrepreneur experiences trying to launch their business. Shady people smelled money and passion and dug in with both fists. I have been lied to, stolen from, betrayed. Three of my cast or crew passed away. My director of photography just didn't get on the plane to come to the New York shoot with no notice. Footage was lost and intentionally withheld in the hopes of getting me to sign away rights. I was legally tricked, and now forced to give bogus credits to a person who stole money from the project. A significant number of my post production team attempted to impose their male-fantasy version of Red Reaper on me, and I fought HARD to maintain my vision. I sent finished work back to be redone entirely when it creatively conflicted with my vision. When I wanted a different color scheme for one block, I had to learn how to color grade so I could show my colorist what I wanted. The biggest challenge was that no one saw what I was going for, because these kinds of characters don't helm action movies – so no one knew how to give me what I wanted. Fortunately my vision was strong, and the key people I needed to make this happen trusted me, even when they didn't "get" me. And that kind of trust and dedication from so many people made it all worth it!

 

20 Women Directors For The New EXPENDABLES Movie

Recently, it was announced that the producers behind the new EXPENDABLES movie are seeking a female director to helm the project. I decided to make a list of 20 women directors for the new EXPENDABLES movie because, frankly, I haven't seen that many suggested aside from Lexi Alexander (PUNISHER: WARZONE) and Kathryn Bigelow (Do I need to tell you?).

I am always surprised when people say “there aren’t that many women action film directors.” I mean, I guess I’m not surprised, really, because overall there are way more men directing, in general, than women, so it will always appear that there are fewer women directing films of all genres.

But there is a really long legacy of women directing action and thriller films on our planet. Even Alice Guy Blache, the first female filmmaker, (I know you're all sick of hearing about her, whatevs) directed several one-reel action sequences, like these:

A heist flick:

And this one, titled SURPISE ATTACK ON A HOUSE AT DAYBREAK:

And those are free to watch, public domain, on the Internet.

Guy Blache aside, I’m looking at a stack of movies on my desk, like the recent DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK from Jen and Sylvia Soska, AIR COLLISION by Liz Adams, the AGENT 15 series by Paget Brewster, Rachel Lee Goldenberg’s Asylumspoitation SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE’S SHERLOCK HOLMES, Katrina del Mar’s SURF GANG, Nikka Kalashkinova’s high-octane JUPITER LOVE…And those are just random, lesser-known indies from the last ten years.

I also have a stack of flicks that I’m surprised no one mentions when they talk about action directed by women, like Roberta Findlay’s 1985 THE TENEMANT:

Barbara Peeter’s 1971 biker flick BURY ME AN ANGEL:

Dorothy Ann Puzo’s COLD STEEL, and Czinzia Th Torrini’s HOTEL COLONIAL from 1988:

and Virginia Stone’s 1975 adventure TREASURE OF THE JAMAICA REEF (AKA EVIL IN THE DEEP) starring Cheryl Ladd:

And these are all before mentioning that really iconic 1970s exploitation/action flick TERMINAL ISLAND directed by the first woman Roger Corman ever hired to direct a film, Stephanie Rothman:

And, folks, I haven’t even started talking about the mainstream movies by Kathryn Bigelow and Mimi Leder yet! But let’s get to the point. This is supposed to be an article about women who have what it takes to direct the new EXPENDABLES sequel, insultingly titled EXPENDABELLES (which, director Lori Bowen points out, means they should retitle the first two films “EXPENDABALLS”). These directors have the career backgrounds and necessary experience to direct this movie. Of course they all have different styles and would bring completely different sets of skills, personalities, and style to the movies, so it is a matter of personal taste and preference as to whom would be the best woman for the job.

1) Lexi Alexander

Alexander is my first choice simply because I know she has a large fan base from her PUNISHER: WARZONE days and is actually able to choreograph her own fight sequences if need be. Her previous film GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS was what got her that job, actually, and it has numerous action sequences, tension, and won, like, 5,000,00000 awards. She also has a svelte sense of humor and doesn’t take herself too seriously, which I think is a prerequisite for directing something as stupid as THE EXPENDABELLES, right?

You can hear Lexi describe her experiences making PUNISHER: WARZONE on the great podcast HOW DID THIS GET MADE? which has endeared her to many a new fan.

2) Mimi Leder

Leder, you may or may not remember, directed the action/sci-fi blockbuster DEEP IMPACT and the action/thriller THE PEACEMAKER in the late 1990s. Leder also has a slew of crime/action TV series under her belt. Since then, she’s been considered for a few other action films like the remake of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, but so far has stuck to TV like recent episodes of SHAMELESS.

3) Lana Wachowski

Wachowski, as one of “the” Wachowskis, was one of the creators of the original MATRIX series. With SPEED RACER and CLOUD ATLAS also under her belt, and the new sci-fi extravaganza JUpITER ASCENDING in post production, Wachowski may be the perfect choice to direct EXPENDABELLES. Though she’s never directed ANYTHING alone without brother Andy. Is this even something she’d consider/be capable of doing alone?

4) Betty Thomas

No one ever mentions Betty Thomas when talking about potential directors for genre films and I am not sure why. Thomas mostly directs comedies, but her 2002 action/comedy I SPY teamed Owen Wilson with Eddie Murphy in a dynamic, if generic and predictable, black cop/white cop classic Hollywood action fest that was actually quite financially successful.

5) Catherine Hardwicke

Before she was TWILIGHT-ING and RED RIDING-it around Hollywood, Hardwicke impressed everyone with LORDS OF DOGTOWN, a gritty surfing-and-skateboarding action/thriller movie set in Santa Monica, California. She’s still one of the most sought-after directors around right now.

6) Michelle MacLaren

Michelle Maxwell McLaren first came on my radar with her horror/thriller feature POPULATION 436 in around 2006 or so. Since then, she’s directed some of the best episodes of BREAKING BAD, THE WALKING DEAD, and GAME OF THRONES.

In a recent article from Sept 13th, 2013 on ThinkProgress.org, writer Alyssa Rosenberg points out how weird it is that McLaren hasn’t been asked to direct a big-budget action feature for a studio:

That success has some writers, me among them, hoping that more mediums might have their shot at getting MacLaren-ified. As Alan Sepinwall wrote in his Breaking Bad recap on Sunday, “If Alan Taylor can use his work on ‘Sopranos,’ ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Game of Thrones to land a blockbuster movie job like the ‘Thor’ sequel, why can’t MacLaren (who’s also done impressive “Thrones” work) pull off the same jump? Tell me she’s directing a big-budget action movie, and my ticket is purchased within seconds. Hey, Hollywood: please watch the last 20 minutes of this episode — at the way she composes her shots, at the way she squeezes every possible bit of tension and emotion and despair out of the circumstances and her actors—and tell me she doesn’t have the chops.”

BuzzFeed’s Kate Aurthur asked MacLaren yesterday if she’d be interested, and her answer says a great deal about the rise of television in relation to film.

"Would I like to? If the right thing came along, absolutely,” she said. “I love television. Television is a great medium; I’m fortunate enough to direct amazing television. Would I like to do a feature? Absolutely. I will never leave television. Am I looking? Yes. I’m looking. Have I found anything? Not yet. I haven’t yet. I’d like to do both.”

That no movie studio has approached MacLaren for a project she’d be interested in, or expressed interest in her after she’s identified a project she’d like to work on, while more and more of television’s best shows are bringing her on board, is revealing. It’s not as if the television industry is vastly superior to movies when it comes to the employment of women behind the camera, but you’d think that someone with MacLaren’s resume would have found a high-profile movie project right now if she wants one. This isn’t even a case where Kathryn Bigelow could plausibly be treated as an exception to a rule, the one woman who can direct a compelling action sequence, much in the same way that Will Smith is treated like one of only a few black men who can open an action picture. If MacLaren can provide the visual grammar for television shows that draw millions of viewers, it would take some exceptional logic to argue that she suddenly wouldn’t be effective on a bigger screen.

 

6) Gwyneth Horder-Payton

SONS OF ANARCHY, THE WALKING DEAD, JUSTIFIED, THE SHIELD, and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA are just a few of the action TV series on which Horder-Payton has worked as a director. Alyssa Rosenberg, again, interviewed Horder-Payton for Indiewire, and it’s clear she has a passion for action and fight-scene choreography:

"I studied fight after fight after fight, famous movie fights, famous television fights, across the board, I went to YouTube and I looked at street fights," she explained. "And what's so interesting is that in 95 percent of the fights on-screen, the men barely sweat, or feel pain, or even feel anger. It's so interesting. They're so macho that it's all about landing the blows, selling the hit to the camera. You don't see the progression. And they never show fatigue. It's rare…So I thought, you know, as a woman, you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to bring sweat and progression of blood, and pain, and vulnerability."

7) Lesli Linka Glatter

Another prominent TV director, Linka Glatter’s recent work on THE WALKING DEAD (noticing a theme?), TRUE BLOOD, and HOMELAND make her a perfect candidate for a big-budget theatrical action movie. Seriously, if Tommy Wirkola can get one simply by making a low budget movie about zombies, surely directing big-budget high-profile TV series is a way to get on that list as well, right?

8) Lynne Ramsay

Ramsays’ recent walking out on the action western JANE GOT A GUN caused a slew of uproar in the entertainment media. People called her everything from unprofessional to petty to catty to brave when she left the production based on differences. But Ramsay was hired because her feature WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN blew many people away (horror fans hated it because, you know, not horror) with its eerie and emotional violence. The script so impressed star Tilda Swinton that she signed on as a producer long before the film went into production, and Ramsay’s collaboration with a high-profile movie star went swimmingly, to say the least.

9) Vicky Jewson

Jewson is a very young, indie director of whom you might not have heard, but she’s already directed two films, one of which is an action/thriller called BORN OF WAR (which is way better than Dead Snow or Troll Hunter, FYI, studio executives).

10) Tammi Sutton

Having begun in directing low budget horror films (you know, like everyone who once worked for Roger Corman) for Full Moon Productions, Sutton’s most recent movie is a British gangster/action flick called ISLE OF DOGS. The movie has a lot of thrilling twists and turns and some brutal, stylized violence that Guy Ritchie would enjoy.

11) Kelly Reichardt

The director of the solid western MEEK’S CUTOFF just finished her brand new thriller NIGHT MOVES, about environmentalists that blow up a dam in the name of saving the world (if this makes no sense to you, then you never read THE MONKEY WRENCH GANG and you are an uneducated heathen). The movie just screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and should be out in theaters in Spring of 2014. But what’s Reichardt’s next project going to be? If they want to snag her for EXPENDABELLES, now might be a good time.

12) Debra Granik

Granik’s WINTER’S BONE literally made Jennifer Lawrence a ginormous movie star. The grim and gritty modern thriller is about rural crime and violence in the Appalachian mountains of the Eastern United States. It won like 5,000 independent spirit awards. Granik, however, has not made a film since she released WINTER’S BONE, so what gives?

13) Karyn Kusama

Kusama directed the boxing movie GIRLFIGHT, which is what kind of launched her career. Then, she was hired on the AEON FLUX live-action feature, followed shortly thereafter by the Diablo Cody horror movie JENNIFER’S BODY. Now, I’m not putting her on this list because of JENNIFER’S BODY or AEON FLUX because, God Knows, I may as well just replace her with Kimberly Pierce if that’s my reasoning. No, the rationale is that Kusama is good at the action stuff, not the horror stuff, not the sci-fi stuff. The action stuff. Check out what make GIRLFIGHT so freaking good (and also made Michelle Rodriguez a giant action heroine):

14) Kathryn Bigelow

Yes yes, I know. She won’t do it. They’ve probably already begged her to do it. She won’t. Though, if you watch POINT BREAK, you know Bigelow would make a brilliant flick out of EXPENDABELLES. I wish I was Kathryn Bigelow.

15) Patty Jenkins

Jenkins was going to direct the sequel to THOR, but she backed out. Like many women on this list, she started by making a grisly, high-style indie flick (MONSTER with Charlize Theron) that won 9,0000 awards in 2003 when it came out. After backing out of the (probably shitty) THOR film, she’s done some TV (THE KILLING) but her slate looks pretty free at the moment. Time to swoop in?

16) Rachel Talalay

Talalay is best known for directing the 1990s GRRRRL power sci-fi action flick TANK GIRL. She dabbled in horror films, but found her home directing TV up in Canada (like all of them!). Talalay is something of a cult figure when it comes to genre film fans and horror movie aficionados, who often wish she’d direct something super action-y again.

17) Gurinder Chadha

The director of the shockingly popular action/drama/comedy/teen/coming-of-age/British/Indian/whatever film BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM really gets character development and storytelling. She also enjoys a bit of camp as evidenced by her Indian serial kill comedy IT’S A WONDERFUL AFTERLIFE. But this woman who knows how to direct the camera when women’s legs are kicking things is not even being mentioned for the directing role on EXPENDABELLES. Why?

18) Angela Robinson

The director of the all-female action/comedy D.E.B.S.’s first movie was CHICKULA: TEENAGE VAMPIRE, so I’m pretty sure she’s willing to overlook some of the inevitable camp and cheesiness in the script for EXPENDABELLES. She also directed HERBIE: FULLY LOADED and recently worked on the TV series version of CHARLIE’S ANGELS (who knew that was a thing?).

19) Jennifer Lynch

Lynch is working steadily now after a long hiatus after her first movie, BOXING HELENA. However, Lynch’s new films are startling superior to her first flick in tone, sophistication, and subject matter. SURVEILLANCE and CHAINED are just the first two in what appears to be a long line of new thrillers Lynch will be making from now on. Lynch also has quite a sense of humor. And she also has dreadlocks, did you know?

20) Deanne Foley

Deanne Foley, like Vicky Jewson, may not be on anyone’s radar yet. Foley directed the action/comedy BEAT DOWN about female wrestlers last year. Her next film is a Canadian comedy, but I’d hate to see the genre success of BEAT DOWN as an action movie be ignored for its comedic aspects instead, as comedy is something we have plenty of women doing right now.

You’ll notice some omissions from this list, so feel free to complain/suggest in the comments. I mean, I figured 20 was pretty good. I could probably come up with 100, so just be thankful I kept it short. I want to know what YOU think? Agree with my picks? Disagree? Have some more people to add?

All-Female EXPENDABELLES Should Be Directed By Lexi Alexander

So, have you been hearing the news floating around about this new all-female EXPENDABLES film called EXPENDABELLES? Yeah, I hate the name too. Anyway, it's being made as the third in the EXPENDABLES action film trilogy with actresses like Meryl Streep, Cameron Diaz, Milla Jovovich, and an entire roster of possible leading actresses. The script was penned by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith.

Producer Avi Lerner says the film is expected to shoot in 2014 in Bulgaria. The heroines will take on a villain in the small South-East Asian sovereignty of Brunei, one of the wealthiest countries on Earth. Lerner says, "The action movie will be spectacular – and in nothing inferior to the three male movies of the The Expendables."

Unleashthefanboy, Cinemablend, and CinemaJeuxactu all agree with me that the natural choice to direct is Lexi Alexander. Alexander has the action chops (PUNISHER: WARZONE, GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS, AIDANFX) to make this film happen AND, besides, we're using females as the theme, right? Why not have a female director? I mean, WHY NOT? There's Lexi Alexander, right there. Ask her to do it!

The Hollywood News reports that Alexander is already set to direct, but we know she isn't yet. In fact, she's waiting to see what happens next! Will the executives in charge be taking a meeting with her shortly? All the fans seem to be pushing for it! We'll keep you posted!

Rachel Talalay's TANK GIRL Blu-Ray Release

Rachel Talalay's 1995 fantasy/action film TANK GIRL, based on the British comic book of the same name, is getting a long-overdue Blue-Ray release this November, 2013. Starring Lori Petty as the title character and Naomi Watts as her sidekick Jet Girl, they navigate an assortment of post-apocalyptic eclectica (is that a word? Can it be, please?).

The year's 2033 and since a humongous meteor hit earth, the world just hasn't been the same. No Movies, No Cable TV, NO WATER!!! A mega-villain, Kesslee (Malcolm McDowell), the leader of Water & Power, holds the world in his grasp since he controls all the H2O down to the last drop…or so he thinks. Two colossal enemies stand in his way: (1) The Rippers – an army of half-men/half-kangaroo people whose sole purpose is to bring down the W & P, and (2) a chick with a tank and tons of attitude – a.k.a. Tank Girl (Lori Petty). Kesslee had better get a grip on reality and his water jugs because not even a run in her stocking is going to stop her from saving the planet.

TANK GIRL, both as a comic and a film, exemplified that fleeting and daring post Riot Grrl, 1990s-era GIRL POWER sentiment that I nostalgically and passionately miss in this new millennium. Tank Girl was a shit-kicker, a tomboy, a powerful girl, a punk rocker, a misfit, and full of spunk and sass. Perhaps outdone only by The Spice Girls themselves (I'll tell you what I want, what I really really want), Tank Girl was a maverick woman in a sea of Pamela Andersons on Melrose Place: someone teenage girls with brains and dreams could emulate and epitomized 90s feminism and creative empowerment. And also, sci-fi.

No word on the special features except that we are being denied any new official commentary by director Talalay. But hopefully we'll get some behind the scenes stuff that has lain dormant until now.

Also, 2033 is really not that far away, and I'm a bit worried. Is the US government going to do anything about the whole kangaroo-people issue?

Here's some TANK GIRL to enjoy along with the Blu-Ray cover, which director Talalay says is "properly formatted and color-timed" with "no lame sexist tag line."

tank girl blu ray

Legendary Passed On RED REAPER Because It Has "Female Action Hero"

When Tara Cardinal's labor of love and sweat and tears, the fantasy/action feature LEGEND OF THE RED REAPER, was written, it was shopped at various distributors and production studios, as films are wont to be when their creators are seeking distribution or production funds.

A filmmaker is used to rejection, whether male or female, because HEY that's SHOWBIZ! Some films will sell well despite being piles of crap. Brilliant films will be rejected despite having talented people behind them, often because the genre is wrong or the timing is wrong. Sometimes the reasons for rejection make sense; sometimes it's difficult to understand why a film is rejected. I think all filmmakers expect rejection and most handle it with tact (not all, I said most).

But I think something all filmmakers, male, female (and everything in-between), don't expect is for their film to be rejected because of the sex or gender of the main character. Frankly, since we generally have two main accepted genders and sexes (let's not get into graduate-level feminist ideology here, folks, just roll with the "two genders and sexes" thing for my sake), a film is sometimes rejected because the lead character is female.

Don't believe me? Case in point: Cardinal shopped LEGEND OF THE RED REAPER script and concept to Legendary Pictures, offering them the property outright. It was rejected. The reject-or cited his reasons for passing on the film: 1) He found part of the back story confusing.  2) The market is over-saturated with epic fantasy right now. 3) There're no big stars or big directors or writers attached to it. 4) Oh yeah, and Female Action Heroes are a very tough sell because audiences didn't like SUCKER PUNCH.

'Cause, you know, SUCKER PUNCH did badly not because it was a pile of incoherent crap about insane-asylum inmates who have daydreams about being abused prostitutes to escape their insane-asylum world, who then realize they are the worst daydreamers in the world so they have to daydream away from their daydreams that they are slutty action kung-fu martial artists who fight robots. That's not why audiences hated it. They hated it because the leads were female.

Definitely. Audiences hate women leads in action and/or fantasy movies. They hated RESIDENT EVIL and UNDERWORLD and BATMAN RETURNS and TERMINATOR II and the entire ALIEN franchise and LA FEMME NIKITA and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, KILL BILL, and especially THE HUNGER GAMES. They literally will not see any movies that have women in lead action roles.

On the other hand, action films with male stars tend to be far better bets. Like JOHN CARTER and HUDSON HAWK and SPEED RACER and THE 13th WARRIOR and R.I.P.D. and GREEN LANTERN and JACK THE GIANT SLAYER and CONAN THE BARBARIAN (the new one, of course) and THE WOLFMAN (new one. Remember that?).

I just don't buy that audiences prefer male leads to female leads, especially in action films. I have yet to see hard data that mathematically proves that audiences definitely don't see movies with female lead characters. There are plenty of films in the fantasy and action genres with male leads that are total flops, and plenty of films with female leads that are total flops. And plenty with female leads that are hits. And plenty with male leads that are hits. So, why does Legendary Pictures think having a female lead is generally a bad idea? Could it be that it's based on this one guy's personal feelings about watching women in movies rather than any larger truth about women leads being unmarketable to the masses? Yes, it could be about him.

The guy has a right to use his personal preferences when making a decision whether to acquire a film or not for his company; that's not what bothers me. What bothers me is the assumption that films with female leads naturally are not what people want. I want them. If you're reading this blog post, it means you want them (or that you REALLY DON'T in which case you will probably leave a nasty comment).

But I want anyone reading this to consider that making sweeping judgements about the viability of women actors and filmmakers and their potential box office success based not on truth and numbers but instead on personal prejudice has a bad general affect on women's ability to succeed in filmmaking (and in any other profession wherein that same logic is used to hire or fire or promote) , especially because most of these people making these decisions are male, straight, and white.

Here is the email from Legendary, unedited:

"Thank you for letting me take a look at your script this weekend. While I did enjoy the mythology behind the story, I found myself a little confused with regards to the ‘Red Reaper’ world as a whole. While I was not closely familiar with the world before reading, certain aspects felt either unexplained or redundant – most specifically, illuminating Aella’s past, demonic powers, etc. I feel that it would be difficult to bring on another project with our currently saturated slate of epic fantasy fare, especially without any significant cast/director attachments or large-scale brand recognition . Also, while I am personally drawn to the presence of a female action hero, it is currently a tough sell with the less than stellar way SUCKER PUNCH was received. Ultimately, while I don’t think this is for Legendary, I think the property has potential."

His points about story and preference for general genre and big-names are valid concerns for any money-minded film company. If the exec had described the lead character as unappealing because of her actions or her motives or the story itself, I wouldn't be riding his ass. But to dismiss a character because of gender alone is just a little silly and strange and completely out of tune with, you know, the present day. I'd be less surprised if this had happened in 1985.

The executive states that he is drawn to the presence of a female action hero; why does he believe that you're not? Seriously, that's not a rhetorical questions.

LEGEND OF THE RED REAPER was made anyway. I haven't seen RED REAPER and it isn't out yet, so I can't say whether it is good or bad. I can only say that if I don't like the film, it won't be because the lead character is a woman with a sword.

Bad Hat Harry also allegedly passed on the project citing that they don't feel female action leads are bankable.

Vicky Jewson's BORN OF WAR – BOURNE meets RUN LOLA RUN

Vicky Jewson's action/thriller BORN OF WAR  features all kinds of suspenseful s**t beginning with a home invasion and culminating in a woman's "deadly journey into the unknown". I love that.

The mountainous and remote Wakhan corridor, 1988. Daphne, a young English rose finds herself in over her head. Accused of the murder of a young boy from a tribal family at a time of war between the local people and foreign invaders, she must flee for her life and take a new identity.

2011. The halls of an unremarkable University in England. Mina, a female student, is a beautiful misfit living at home as she can’t afford campus fees. One night her everyday life is turned upside down. All that she has assumed about who she is destroyed in a violent invasion on her family home. Her parents are murdered and only herself and her 10 year old sister survive. They are taken into protection, and the real truth is revealed: Mina’s mother, Daphne, had a dark secret. Daphne was not only accused of murder back in 1988, but had an illicit and dangerous affair with the leader of the tribal family with whom she stayed. Mina is his daughter, and he wants her back. She is repulsed by her true identity and tries to understand if her natural instinct to defend herself against her attackers was due to an inherited violent ability. This man, her father, is in hiding, running a rebel group in a far off place and slaughtering many people in the process, now including her family. The only way to protect her sister, all she has left, is to face him and embark upon a deadly journey into the unknown. She must now decide if it is time to fight or flee.

Jewson has already done well with her first feature LADY GODIVA; she's young but clearly has talent and is using it. In her director's statement about BORN OF WAR, she says it will be fast paced, edgy, raw, addictive and beautiful.

It will be unique in the sense that it will provide cinema with one of its first, truly believable and real female heroines: an everyday girl who is thrust into a violent world and has to rely on her instincts, to fight or flee. I wanted to see what happened on screen when you threatened an ordinary woman’s life and how this could translate into an extraordinary course of events and actions. When she gets punched she bleeds, when she tries to fight she makes mistakes, she’s fallible but through being so honest finds her inner strength. This is not a victim’s story by any stretch.

The whole ethos behind Born Of War is to be following our female heroine all the way. We are in her perspective throughout the entire film, and we will shoot it accordingly. The action will happen to us as an audience rather than played out as a large set piece, it will feel immediate and truly gripping, as it would in reality. The drama will be accentuated by the very fact that we ourselves are rooting so much for the lead character. The style will have a beauty to it, harking back to films such as Luc Besson’s ‘Nikita’ or ‘Leon’, with deep colours and beautifully cinematographically composed images. I have made films all my life and action has always been my turn on, it comes to me naturally, the sequencing of images and visuals can be so impactive and compelling, and can give your characters such an emotive backdrop to unfold upon. Born Of War – think a female Jason Bourne meets Run Lola Run.

You can see Jewson talking about the film right here:

And you can actually watch the trailer here (sorry, can't embed) because it has been picked up byArclight for distribution. I'll keep you posted on release dates, etc.!

Born of War Vicky Jewson

Lynne Ramsay Walks Out On 'Jane Got A Gun'?

Deadline just reported that director Lynne Ramsay ("We Need to Talk About Kevin") did not show up to direct the first day of "Jane Got A Gun", the new Natalie Portman action/thriller for which she's been hired on.

No one knows yet why she didn't show up; it could be a dispute with the producers, a money fight, a creative difference, or even something medical that she's not disclosing. There's just no way of knowing. But fans and film viewers and everyone's grandmother who can'st spell seems to keep bring the argument back to a "women filmmakers" issue. How will this effect women filmmakers, how will this make women filmmakers look, how will this impact women's careers in film? Or will it? Women have backed out of movies before, or been forced out for various reasons, (Portman seems cursed with her choices of women directors), but this is a walking-out on-set DAY OF first day of shooting with no prior notice. I wonder how long everyone sat around before they realized they'd been stood up?

Feedback from readers ranging from insults to defenses to just plain bafflement includes many snippets about women directors/filmmakers. Read and probably share their concerns/issues/remarks as we wait to find out why Lynne quit:

If the insanity is on Lynne’s part – yes, it will reflect bad on women directors. Unfortunately. It will be again “I once worked with a female director and it didn’t work out. I’ll never work with a female director again…” Just replace the female with male in this sentence and see if it makes sense.

and

Hey female filmmakers,

You can not EFF UP. Let me repeat myself, YOU. CAN. NOT. EFF. UP.

Let’s all go to the cinema and see all the female names above-the-line… all the Writers. Directors. Producers. Even actresses. It’s… pathetic. It’s never been this bad in contemporary features (and heck, I’ll count the 1930s, at least they had female driven movies). Which means one thing for us females in the industry, YOU CAN DO EFF UP.

and

In the case of this new movie, I expect Lynne Ramsay will never work again after this stunt. What a disgrace. And she makes it that much harder for female directors to get a gig.

and

it SHOULD just be a story about a director leaving a film. But it’s not that simple when dealing with female filmmakers. We struggle enough, so we don’t have room for the rare few who get great opportunities to just walk off set because things aren’t going our way. We have to do our job and do it well, then we’ll be respected. Actually, we still won’t. BUT, we’ll be closer to respect if enough of us do it and do it repeatedly. We’re in an unfortunate situation where we have to prove ourselves. Male directors get chances just by being buddies with people in power. but we have to prove we deserve it and even THEN can have it screwed right out from under us. So, there’s no room for people who take a check and walk off set. That’s just the reality of it.

and

Agree me0w, this should be a story about “a director” walking out on a movie, but it will be remembered as “a difficult female director” walking. While I agree with you on that, it’s slightly unsettling that you take the position of “she’s ruining it for all of us and should behave better because she’s a woman”. So, what you’re saying is we all need to be very, very good girls so we can stay in the club? How’s that equality? I believe everybody in Hollywood should conduct themselves in a professional manner preferably all the time, but it is a creative and emotional job and people get hired based on those skills, which unfortunately sometimes turn in the wrong direction. But for puck’s sake, for all the Michael Bays, David O.russels, James Camerons,Tony Kayes, Roman Polanskis, etc. etc., could we have a Lynn Ramsey and not crucify her till the end of days before we even know what went on? Maybe she lost a battle on a decision she believes will prevent her from making a good film. Then she thought of the consequences…a Hollywood movie with a big star bombs…who are people going to point the finger at? yeah.

and

This idiot just set all of us female filmmakers back ten years. Reason being… now every producer and investor associated with this film will likely associate what happened with the fact that she was a female, and never hire a female director again. I don’t care what the situation was. I don’t care how many creative differences there were. I don’t care the reason. All I see is an unprofessional action being taken by Ramsay. She took her check and skipped out at the last second. Who does that? You do the freaking job you were hired to do. And if you can’t, you bow out with time for the producers to find someone else. She just screwed the producers, Natalie, etc. Natalie is a champion for female filmmakers, and she just left her up crap creek. What a tool.

Jackie Kong's New Action Fantasy Feature 'CoExistence'

Jackie Kong, director of the 1980s cult horror films "Blood Diner" and "The Being" has a new feature film in production: "CoExistence", which she calls " a cold-blooded romance" set in wine country. Apparently, it is based on "Romeo and Juliet"  (in part, at least).

In January, 2013, she started shooting in snowy wine-country, Sonoma California, according to her blog.

It was 27 degrees, and yes WE were freezing cold, shooting in Wine Country over the first week of this new year, but we had a great crew, and started filming the VFX plates , and action sequences for “CoExistence”.

The film will star Nick Krause ( “Descendants”) as the lead and Daryl Hannah as his mom. The lead female love interest, however, is still being sought. In fact, Kong is  holding an open call audition event at the Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks, California on February 12th at 3 PM.

The character description for "Juliet" reveals that this is an action film, if not also a thriller, fantasy and horror film:

A skilled martial artist, she displays uncanny skill and seems to fly effortlessly through the air. She has a strange competition with her cousin Terrence, but easily defeats him when they fight in hand to hand combat. A strong headed modern girl, she protects her love Romeo from danger and marries him secretly foiling her father’s plan to marry her off to a successful wine mogul. She is eventually revealed to be more than human.

This is the elusive Kong's first genre narrative since the 1980s. We'll keep you posted.

Jackie Kong directing "CoExistence"