Diablo Cody's directorial debut, Paradise, is out on October 18th, 2013 in Los Angeles and New York theaters. The story about a young Mormon girl named Lamb who survives a horrific plane crash and loses her faith in God is getting mixed reviews, even from Cody herself, and is a definite departure from her snarkier and less sympathetic characters in Jennifer's Body or Young Adult. It was also a learning experience for Cody, who spent 26 days in what she describes as a crash-course in directing. Cody talks to us about Paradise and being a working mother while trying to direct a Hollywood film.
Women and Hollywood: What was your inspiration for Paradise?
Diablo Cody: As a writer, I feel like I'm known for having characters that are well-versed in pop culture, so I thought, "What if I was to write about a protagonist who has never watched television? Who doesn't have internet access? Who doesn't know ANY of that stuff? And I just dig down into the essence of a person without all that static? That could be challenging and that could be fun."
WaH: Notably, you leave out the plane crash and pick up the story after Lamb has had her accident. Why?
DC: I was a first time director and I did not feel like directing a plane crash. I am always looking for the easy way out. Storyboarding a plane crash was not on my "to do" list, so I thought I'd go with what I knew, which is conversation.
WaH: You're already a successful screenwriter and you've started producing. Why did you decide to direct this film yourself?
DC: Weirdly enough, it was never something I had aspired to do. I had friends who were directors tell me it's a necessary step in my career, and most screenwriters aspire to be directors, but I never felt super motivated to do it, mainly because I had had such great collaborations on features with directors. At the same time I wrote Paradise and, I thought, this is the 4th feature I've worked on and maybe it's time. I'll give it a try. Rather than have this movie sit in development for two years while we look for a director, I could just go do it. And that was appealing to me. It just seemed like the most efficient way to get the film from script to screen, and fortunately enough I was allowed to do it!
WaH: What would you change about Paradise and your directing experience?
DC: Not just as a director, but as a screenwriter, I would rewrite every single script that I've ever worked on. Oh yeah. In my mind I'm still editing. In terms of directing, I could give you a list of 100 things I would do differently. I am never ever satisfied with my work, particularly in this case, my first time doing something, but you learn as you go. I knew this was going to be an on-the-job training because I had never directed anything, not a short, not a video, nothing...then one day I'm on set and directing a feature film with a multi-million dollar budget.
WaH: Will you direct again?
DC: I don't think I'm going to do it again anytime soon because I have really small children, and I learned during the shoot that it's really difficult for me to be present as a mother and a director. So for the sake of my kids and for the sake of cinema, I don't think I'm going to direct for a while.
WaH: You directed this while pregnant with your second child, which the press pointed out numerous times. Did being pregnant affect the business side of directing in any way?
DC: People do treat it like a really big deal. Like it was almost impossible for me to get insured. I thought that was shocking. Because they'll insure an overweight 70-year-old man who is a heart attack risk no problem. But, a healthy, 33-year-old pregnant woman is "super high risk" and that was strange to me. So that surprised me. I didn't think it would be treated as that big of a deal.
Being pregnant wasn't the tough part, cause that baby is on the inside. It was taking care of my first child, who was about 18 months old at the time that was hard. A toddler is extremely demanding. It was really hard for me to relinquish so many of my responsibilities for a month. I found it really difficult.
WaH: Do you think motherhood plays a big role in why women aren't as present in Hollywood as directors?
DC: 100%. I don't think you can generalize it completely, but motherhood has to have some kind of something to do with it. Because like it or not, even when women are the primary breadwinners, even when we work full time, we're still expected in a lot of ways to be the primary parent. And we often want to be the primary parent as well. I had never really made that connection before, I used to say, "Oh, it's so mysterious why there aren't more female directors, I don't get it." I had all these wild theories and now I think that's got to be it. I have a feeling it'll be different when my kids are older. Nancy Meyers told me she felt that directing was a great job for a mom. I think that'd be the case with older kids. But with little ones? That's day in and day out. It's relentless. I'm not comfortable have somebody else raise my kid completely. I need to be there.
I don't know any male directors who have kids who feel guilt about it. Not a single one. Why should I feel guilty about making a movie that's going to last forever? And yet I do. I have tremendous guilt about the whole thing.
WaH: Do you think Hollywood is tougher for women than it is for men?
DC: As a woman you're still expected to constantly prove yourself, whereas men are allowed to have flops without people blaming it on their gender. If a man has a flop, people will blame it on a variety of factors. But if a woman directs a movie and it doesn't do well, suddenly it's because she's a woman. That's aggravating to me.
Heidi Honeycutt is a journalist with a special interest in women directors of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy films. Her most recent work can be found in Fangoria Magazine and on her blog www.PlanetEtheria.com.