Film director Catherine Hardwicke made history when her film adaptation of Twilight raked it in at the box office in 2008, scoring what was at the time the highest grossing opening weekend for a female director. But breaking records with a vampire movie didn’t translate to the kind of breakthrough you might expect. Coming to town March 3-6 as guest of honor at POWFest, Portland’s film festival dedicated to female directors, Hardwicke will be on hand for audience Q&As in conjunction with screenings of her films Miss You Already, Thirteen, and Twilight.
We caught up with Hardwicke ahead of her Portland appearance to get her advice for young women interested in pitching a tent in Tinseltown, and to learn how to translate the words “emotional” or “difficult” in Hollywood.
Congratulations on making history with opening weekend of Twilight. Did that open doors for you? How did things change for you afterwards?
Things changed in an unexpected way. What came along with that opening weekend was good—and bad. There was a crazy article published with typical gender bias slurs, saying I was “difficult” or “emotional”: code for being a woman. In some ways, it was a very tough time.
How would you describe your own experience as a female director in a male-dominated world? Has your gender ever been a positive asset?
No, not necessarily. We are still in this very male-dominated film world—or, I should say, the whole world, to be honest. It’s a tough battle. It’s not because women don’t want to do it. In film studies, it’s pretty 50/50. Women are trying to direct their stories. But even when a woman runs a company, there is still gender bias. We have been programmed for thousands of years to think that all figures of authority are men. We have seen studies that say that our brains have to work harder, use more neurons to undress stereotypes. I was at this big gender bias conference, and a woman [who was a studio head] admitted that she didn’t hire one woman on the job. It was so natural for her to hire men, and she wonders why she did that. Even after all the noise and publicity, people still say, “We tried to hire a woman, but we couldn’t find anybody to direct that TV episode.” They had 15 or 20 men on the list and one woman.
What kind of obstacles do you think stand in the way for female directors? How can they be addressed?
We have to work harder to get diversity in storytelling–and push harder to change the criteria. You know, I’m in this Funny or Die video trying to tackle this issue.
This is 2016 and the world is changing, but let’s get ahead of the curve and be on the right side of history. If the public actually started caring and voting with their dollars and voices, and supported directors’ diverse points of view, they could make a change.
Do you have any advice for women who want to enter the filmmaking business?
You know it’s going to be a challenge: you can see the statistics. You’re going to need to get your film set up. If you make your first movie, you should have worked on other people’s films and should be able to show that you work hard on your ideas—elevating yourself and pushing for excellence. You want your script to be as good as it can be.
Now there are so many fun ways to get out there by making videos that require almost no money. You can use YouTube or so many other pipelines. When I moved out [to LA], it was better to get out here and work, even if it’s volunteering or interning. Don’t sit around—you better be in action mode. Also, going to film school is important! I wish I had done more networking when I was there.
What kinds of scripts attract you most? What kind of female characters do you like to see on screen?
I write my own scripts, but I read others’ scripts too. I feel like you have to be compelled by the story. I personally have to think, “This is some interesting character that I haven’t seen before.” As a director, you are basically going to spend a year or two of your life on that project—you have to defend it and market it.
Many of the most awesome directors don’t take other people’s material. It does happen that somebody comes to you with a great piece of material but you have to make it your own as a director regardless: a rewrite. You ask yourself, “How can I put my fingerprints on it, so I can live with it for two years?” If the script is just about killing a bunch of people, that doesn’t speak to me. We all want to find projects that speak to our hearts. That’s an emotion I want to feel. In the case of Thirteen, I just saw what a friend of my family was going through and it was heartbreaking and interesting, and I felt compelled to tell it. I thought Stephenie Meyer had captured that longing of first love and being obsessed in Twilight. I wondered if I could create that intoxicating feeling on screen.
Which of your own films are you most proud of?
Both Thirteen and Twilight were difficult. We really had to struggle in some ways: the budget didn’t match [the size of the projects]. The Lords of Dogtown was the most fun one in a way—a super positive experience, a very exciting time. Thirteen was about tough times and dealing with those in a destructive way, whereas The Lords of Dogtown was about being constructive.
Miss You Already, which I did in London this year was really positive too. Drew Barrymore and Tony (Collette) were a blast to work with. That was more comedy than I had ever done.
I just got back from Canada, where I’m doing a TV series, the first two episodes. It’s called Eyewitness, and it’s about two young boys who are trying to figure out their own sexuality and in the middle of this turmoil, they are witness to murder. So you’ve got this coming-of-age story and this idea that, “now we’ve seen a murder, and maybe the murderer has seen us.”
I’m working on a rewrite for a project called 2000, based on a novel called Love Letters to the Dead that deals with a lot of unfortunate phenomena. And I have written another script myself that’s really fun. I’ve got many projects that are in the works. You have to have a bunch going on because you never know what will be green lit. And even if something does go, it could take ten years.
Hardwicke will present a master class for POWFest attendees on Sunday morning (March 6), and will be in attendance for all her screenings during the festival, including a special Q&A on Saturday evening (March 5) with Melissa Silverstein, between screenings of Miss You Already and Thirteen.