Thursday, November 29, 2007

Women writing Violence

I'm just finishing a great book called Zen and the Art of Screenwriting: insights and interviews by former UCLA prof Willaim Froug. As the title implies, there are several interviews inside, including one with Callie Khouri, who wrote Thelma & Louise.

Froug asks her about the possibilities for women writers, and her response is very telling:
As long as violence and sex are the hottest-selling ticket, I doubt that women are gonna be making great strides, because we’re not schooled in violence in the same way men are…

There’s a lot of violence specifically directed to a male audience, things that have a certain amount of appeal to their base instincts. But it’s not there for women. There’s not violence that’s specifically directed to a female audience. I think that Thelma and Louise had a kind of violence, even though I don’t think of it as violence. Even blowing up the truck wasn’t really violent. They way they took the driver out of the truck – they didn’t kill him, they didn’t shoot him in the knee. You see those kinds of things in other movies all the time. I was shocked to hear Thelma & Louise referred to as violent.
I decided to do a little research and came up with only a few examples of violent films written by women:

Debra Hill was the Queen of the genre. She co-wrote the original Halloween, Halloween 2, 5, 6, H20 and Resurrection. She also co-wrote The Fog (1980). She was also an impressive producer not only of the Halloween franchise, but in a variety of genres (from Big Top Pee Wee to World Trade Centre.) [Hill died in 2005]

Fran Walsh co-wrote The Frighteners, a horror film, and also Heavenly Creatures, which involves murder by teenage girls. But this is a single act in a film much more interested in the relationship between the girls. (she also co-wrote the Lord of the Rings series, and King Kong 2006).

Patty Jenkins wrote Monster, the true story of a rare female serial killer.

Another writer who has looked at an unusual (fictional) serial killer is Melissa Rosenberg, executive producer of Dexter. She has written a few episodes, as has newcomer Lauren Gussis. In Canadian television, Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik created the violent Durham County after writing on Cold Squad.

Pamela Wallace received the Academy Award for Witness, which contains violence and suspense, but again, the focus of the film is on relationships.

Anyone else got a name to add to the list? Khouri herself has followed up T&L with Something to Talk About, and an adaptation of YaYa Sisterhood.

So I think Khouri is still right, that women are not writing violent films, but these films are not necessarily still the "hottest ticket." If you look at the top 50 grossing films of 2007 so far, only 10 of them are violence/horror -focused:
  • Bourne Ultimatum
  • 300
  • Live Free or Die Hard
  • American Gangster
  • Ghost Rider
  • Disturbia
  • Saw IV
  • Halloween
  • Resident Evil: Extinction
  • Premonition
Of these, the only woman writer involved is Debra Hill, who gets a credit on Halloween, as she co-wrote the original.

What about the other 80%? If comedies and relationships make up the balance, how many women are involved in these? In the next couple of weeks, I'll look at all the top movies of 2007 and let you know how many were penned by women.

[edited Dec 9]


Dave said...

I dunno, I think that you've given a pretty narrow definition of "violence- centered". Certainly Spider-Man 3 (is it really the top grossing movie? That's kind of sad) had violent scenes, as did Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers and even Harry Potter.

I have to say that I disagree with Khouri in that it's not violence that sells but action and spectacle. With the exception of Wild Hogs (again, WTF?) everything in the Top 10 is a major FX movie.

Dave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave said...

I would also disagree with the idea that there is "not violence that's specifically directed to a female audience." Too many romantic comedies, IMHO, rely on the cliche cheap laugh/applause of the wronged woman slugging or kicking the cheating guy. (I'm pretty sure Khouri used something similar to this in Something To Talk About). Yes, this is a very mild form of violence, nothing compared to the stuff in most action movies, let alone horro movies, but it's still a form of violence aimed a specific audience.

Sabine said...

What's interested about the female-penned Monster is that, for me, the violence that sticks out most in my mind is the sexual assault perpetrated against Aileen Warnos (Charlize Theron's character); it is after this particular crime that her character begins her series of murders (starting with the man who rapes her). In other words, the most violent scene in a movie about a serial killer isn't actually a depiction of the serial killer killing someone, but the act of violence committed against her that precipitated her own crimes. I can't help but think that the fact that the scriptwriter was a woman had something to do with this.