A couple of weeks ago I attended "Focus on Female Directors", an evening of short films, surprisingly enough, directed by women. The results were pretty much as could be expected from any evening of short films...in other words, I liked some of them and I thought some of them stunk. None of them qualified as anything remotely resembling horror, so sorry- that's all the reviewing I'm gonna do.
Nevertheless, I've got a point here, I swear. One of the shorts, In the Spotlight, featured screenwriter/actress/director Guinevere Turner, who just so happened to be in attendance that evening. After the films were over, there was a "reception" in the lobby that boasted free lousy wine and mingling. I spotted GT making a beeline for the door and boom, out she went. I was bummed because I wanted to, for lack of a better phrase, pull a Kelly Hu on her...and no, that's not a euphemism. The code for that is "pull a Waylon Flowers and Madame", silly. I just wanted to do the cheesy "Durr, hi, I like your work" thing with Ms Turner.
Luckily enough, she'd only bolted to grab a smoke and she was hanging outside by herself. With a "Let's go say hi!", I grabbed my friend Elissa and made for the door. Elissa, meanwhile, had no idea why I was so eager, so I clued her in. "Oh, you know who she is. She co-wrote American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page...she wrote *cough* uh, BloodRayne...she was in American Psycho..." Each film rang a bell and Elissa followed me outside. After said cheesy "Durr, hi, I like your work" we made some small talk. We mused about what was actually in the "Women's Empowerment Kit" that was raffled off that evening (I opened with "a box of maxi-pads" while Guinevere countered with "a lifetime membership to Curves") and eventually I asked if she'd be up...or down, or whatever...for a chat. She gave me her email address, promised she wouldn't be boring, and I told her that I'd hold her to that promise. What's worse than a boring interview? Anyway, Elissa congratulated me on my "brass ones" (she couldn't muster up much more than the opening "durr..." as we talked) and that was that.
After several emails trying to figure out logistics (should we do this over the phone? in person? where should we meet?), Turner suggested that I accompany her on a little trip a bit out of town so she could replace her cell phone- we could talk in the car. I think we can all agree that there's nothing in the world more exciting than running errands; surely running someone else's errands with them must be like heaven right here on earth! I asked if we could maybe do her grocery shopping as well, or perhaps she had some dry-cleaning to pick up? Yeah, we'd hit it off well enough that we reached an immediate sassing familiarity- the afternoon would be nothing if not a bit of a laugh, so why not go? Her phone needed replacing because of some big chain of events resulting from using it to take pictures of herself in the bathtub...or something like that. See, she's totally self-absorbed in that way I find immensely entertaining, much as I do with my friend Scott who has nothing but pictures of himself hanging on his walls and only wants children because he thinks he'd look really good driving a Land Rover with two children sitting in the backseat. It's oddly endearing to me.
Anyway, off we went in search of a new cell phone. We got lost, stopped for directions three times, had some Subway, and ended up spending most of our hours together talking about our personal lives. I think I asked but two questions that were actually on my list, and even now I have no idea how to cobble together anything resembling a coherent "interview" from several hours worth of taped conversation...so I'm simply going to write down anything I find amusing, and I don't care if you find it dull. It's my blog, I can do whatever I want! You are so not the boss of me! But who knows, maybe you find this type of exchange (sitting in a strip mall parking lot, trying to decide where to ask for directions) as positively scintillating as I do:
GT: I wonder if the ladies at Lingerie Dreams can tell us anything.
SP: Ooh, lingerie "modeling".
GT: Maybe the nail salon...
SP: "Optical Dentist"? I'm confused.
GT: Glasses for your teeth. The sign says it all.
SP: I don't know if I'd trust any of these people for directions.
GT: No...although, what about the Payday Advance people? They tend to know what's up. They're all business. They're not there to shoot girls in lingerie...
SP: Or put glasses on teeth.
Incidentally, the Payday Advance people did not know what was up and we were quickly lost again...
SP: So why screenwriting?
GT: Oh, Jesus.
SP: Dude, I don't know anything about you. I have to ask at least one boring question. Were you into writing as a kid...?
GT: You know what I hate more than anything? People who are like "I've been putting on plays since I was five years old" and "I've been directing films since I was six months old". Like...no. But in actual fact, I have been writing since I was very young.
GT: Not screenplays, though, because I didn't even understand what a screenplay was until I was, like, 20. I never even thought about it. I was an avid journal keeper when I was a kid- the year between when I was 9 and 10, I have something written down for every single day of that year. It is a fascinating thing if you're incredibly self-involved. I studied fiction writing in college...yes, I've always been a writer. It's a sort of natural extension of my being, to write stuff, to have ideas and to make stuff up or write down things that people have said to me, or to do some combination of the two. I decided to write a screenplay because I wanted to write a lesbian movie...
That "lesbian movie", of course, is 1994's Go Fish, the lite drama Turner co-wrote with director Rose Troche. Turner stars as Max, a young lesbian looking for love while spending a lot of time talking with her friends...and that's pretty much the extent of it. Love it or hate it, Go Fish was undeniably groundbreaking as part of that mid-'90s wave (along with Kevin Smith's Clerks) when the word "indie" actually meant something in the movie world. Of course, the Go Fish conversation fell away as we tried to follow the misleading directions from those bastards at Payday Advance...
SP: It just says "to Westurn". "Western" with a T-U-R-N?
GT: No, it's just messy handwriting. I know how to spell "western".
SP: I don't think you do.
GT: No, look! It's an "e". Can I turn here, do you think?
SP: "Do not enter, wrong way"? Probably shouldn't. She lied...Payday Advance lied!
GT: God damn you! I wish I'd looked at her name tag so I could curse her right now. She said we'd just come to it?
SP: This just says "to Western". But she's deceived us once...
GT: Maybe she got scared of me and was like "Just say something so she'll leave- she has the eyes of madness..."
SP: You shouldn't have started threatening her.
GT: Yeah. "Listen, lady, cough it up..."
SP: "You're gonna tell me what I wanna know, see?"
Eventually the conversation got somewhat back on track, although we were still driving around Carson, CA with no clue as to how to get where we wanted to go, which, uh...wasn't in Carson.
GT: I'm often very surprised that screenwriting is what I ended up doing, because it's just sort of a means to an end. I always imagined that I would be a novelist and I still will, it's just been quite a detour. It's been great, I've done a lot of things I didn't think I was capable of. But really, I would just like to make enough money so I can go away to some house in the woods and write books. That's who- well, I can't say that's who I really am because I'm almost 40 years old, this is who I really am, this is what I do. Once I started writing and directing (Turner has written and directed four short films), then I realized I could be a screenwriter if I could also direct because that's different. It's always been hard for me to write a script and then give it over to someone else, even though I did that with Rose and I did that with Mary Harron (director of American Psycho and Bettie Page)- they were very collaborative with me and my input was valued and all that. But writing and directing, it's so satisfying.
SP: I know of screenwriters who are just, "Once I write it, fuck it- I get paid, I hand it over, and I don't really care what they do with it".
GT: To me, that's like being a surrogate mom. Wait, there's a better analogy- like giving a kid up for adoption? Eh, it's not like that either. I guess motherhood and scriptwriting don't have any sort of correlation that I can make sense of.
SP: What else, what else...umm, where do babies come from?
GT: Not from lesbians.
SP: So much of your work centers around...lesbiana...do you ever feel obligated to write lesbian content into your work...? (PS: Guinevere Turner is a lesbian)
GT: Weirdly enough, sometimes I feel responsible to not make lesbian stuff just to prove that even though I can and do make lots of lesbian-related work, that I have a lot more to say than just "I'm gay and here's some gay stuff I want to talk about". I want to prove that I have something to say, regardless.
I counter with some barely-coherent "question" wondering how and/or if this attitude sways reactions to her work within in the gay community which, much like any other fan community (hello, horror fan community, I'm looking at YOU) can be unreasonable, unforgiving, and demanding while also remaining completely devoted...particularly in the online world.
Actually, I made quite a few barely-coherent comments and questions that day, which would eventually prompt Guinevere to analyze my speaking patterns...something about me speaking in fragments and ending sentences with qualifiers. I told her not to fucking analyze me thank you very much- but at least she always managed to figure out what I was trying to say.
GT: The irony of being someone who makes a lot of lesbian-related stuff is that people are at once hyper-critical and hyper-demanding, but they will watch anything. Not everyone, of course, but so many lesbians are willing to sit through stuff that's mediocre to poor because they're starved for anything. That's understandable. But at the same time being hyper-critical...and I always like to say- if this is Western, I'll be so fucking happy...
SP: It's Wilmington.
GT: Dammit! But I always like to say, I wish people would put less energy into complaining and judging, and put more energy into making what you want to see.
SP: Well that's what you did with Go Fish.
GT: Yeah, totally.
SP: So, put up or shut up?
GT: Just follow my lead! No, obviously a lot of people who have opinions aren't necessarily in a position or have the desire to actually make content, I just...umm...
Carson was suddenly looking more and more desolate...
GT: Wow, we're going nowhere fast...
SP: We're going to the end of the earth!
GT: Jesus fucking Christ! I'd be crying right now if you weren't here, I just want you to know that. But talking about myself keeps me sane.
SP: You love yourself.
GT: I love myself so much!
GT: I think American Psycho is so homo on so many levels, I mean it's basically calling a bunch of straight men a bunch of homos...
SP: They're sort of the prototype for the metrosexual.
GT: Right. And Bettie Page has a real kind of homo-sensibility, I think. I don't know, everything is homo to me.
SP: Speaking of homo, I've seen 3 episodes of The L Word, and in one of them...well, there you were.
GT: There I was, playing the lovely Gabby Deveaux.
Gabby Deveaux is, essentially, an unrepentant womanizer...kind of like JR Ewing without the oil and the accent. Or maybe nothing at all like JR; sorry, it's been a while since I've mentioned Dallas around here.
SP: No one likes her.
GT: That's the best! I only worked on the show for two years and I don't watch it, but I think there are a lot more villains now. But that first season, there was no one else like Gabby who was just trouble. She's a bitch, she's unreliable, she's just sort of flippant and self-involved...
SP: Wow, where did they get that? What did you have to tap into...
GT: I had to do a lot of research. No, I'm nicer than Gabby, but let's just say it wasn't a huge stretch for me to embody that kind of person. But playing that character, which is almost campy to me, was so easy and so much fun, it's like "I wanna do this for a living". Banging out a script is sweat and tears- walking around in professional hair and makeup being a bitch is fun.
SP: I read American Psycho when it first came out, and I really resisted the film because the book is so...
GT: So gnarly.
SP: It's really gnarly. But with you and Mary (Harron) attached, I thought, well, those are interesting choices to bring this book to the screen...and I ended up really liking it.
GT: I think that it's one of those movies that a lot of people- women, in particular- didn't see it because the book had such a feminist backlash.
SP: I liked the tone you took with it...I think it's good that you sort of reined in the gnarliness...
GT: It's funny, (in the book) there are all these really elaborate sex scenes, described like a frickin' Penthouse letter, and then it transitions into something really violent in this sexual context...so it's really disturbing, it plays into kind of a snuff film sensibility. That was something that we were like...we can tell this story without having to really play with that dynamic. I think it takes away from some of the intelligence and humor of the story because it's like, dude...you're just being gross now.
SP: It can pull the audience out of the moment, because they're just reacting to the viscera. You're covering your face...
GT: I just had a realization, what the similarities are between American Psycho and Bettie Page- it never occurred to me until this very moment. Certain kinds of fans didn't think American Psycho was violent enough, and certain kinds of fans didn't think that Bettie Page was...you know...
SP: Boobie enough?
GT: Yeah, horny enough. You know those fans are like, "Don't let Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner get a hold of something good because they will water it down!"
Then I got distracted by a donut shop with a giant donut on top.
GT: That's the first time you've seen a big donut in LA?
SP: Yeah...you know, I feel like I live in The Donut Belt now. There are donut shops everywhere here.
GT: You wanna know why? Because when I first moved here I was really amazed by that, too- like, how many fucking donuts can one population eat? It's because a donut shop is the cheapest business you can start that gets you the kind of license in California by which you have the power to bring other people in your family over from wherever they are.
SP: Which is why you see places like "Mom's Chinese Food and Donuts".
GT: Exactly. It's an immigration loophole. I mean, they're real businesses, but that's why there are so many of them. Isn't that a really interesting fact to know?
SP: It is, actually. I'm going to write about it in my diary tonight.
GT: Let's go in this strip mall and see if we can make some friends.
SP: Go to Domino's. They deliver pizza, they have to know where things are. "Bodacious Q"? What's that?
SP: Oh. That's a let down.
Domino's, too, would lead us astray with the directions, and on we drove...
SP: Do you like horror movies?
SP: Ugh, I gotta go...
GT: I can't even watch a horror movie trailer, I'm such a wimp. It's not that I don't like them. I can appreciate them, it's just that I get really, really, really scared and then I have nightmares...I try to force myself to see a scary movie and I'll be sitting in the theatre so scared that it's not fun. I don't like rollercoasters, either. Stuff really sticks with me. I know, it's ridiculous. I'm just not emotionally capable of watching them, and I will tell you that I really hate movies like Hostel and Saw and Turistas...all that. Those, I think, are actually forces of evil in the universe and I do not approve of that kind of horror. Funny? Exploitative? Sure, even though I can't watch it. Or real horror movies that are trying to be scary. But ones that are just trying to push the envelope of human decency, I find it a terrifying trend in films.
SP: I think it's dying off. Hostel II and Captivity tanked...I think the trend is dying. But I understand what you're saying. I like horror movies for exactly the reasons why you don't like them- I wanna be scared. I want that adrenaline rush.
GT: If it was just that, it would be okay, but the stuff sticks with me...I don't understand how people can walk away and not be disturbed. Like, when you're in your bed at night and the lights are off, and you can't sleep...
SP: Yeah, I like that! I've been that way since I was a kid, though.
GT: You're weird.
GT: No, it's not weird. There are more people like you, obviously, because it's a booming genre. It makes me sound like such a wuss.
SP: See, I don't have nightmares. I've had, like, one nightmare.
GT: You're so lucky. I used to watch Twilight Zone a lot when I was a kid, which was really scary to me.
SP: Talky Tina scared the hell outta me.
GT: Yeah! How did it go? "I'm Talky Tina...and I don't like you". Talky Tina scared the crap outta me. It's all her fault.
We stopped again, at a gas station, for directions...but this time I went in to ask and we arrived at our destination fifteen minutes later. Is it coincidence? Or am I simply an awesome directions taker-downer? I'd like to think it's the latter.
SP: I think Bettie Page is probably the least judgmental biopic I've ever seen. Was that the intent?
GT: Well, in real life what happened to her after our movie ends was...she went a little cuckoo and she stabbed someone, and she got arrested, and she had a really hard time. We wrote so many versions of the script. We experimented with trying to tell the bulk of someone's life, and we realized that no matter how we wrote it, it would become a morality tale. You have this character who's a free spirit before the '60s, before feminism really had a name in the way that it did in the '60s and '70s, and who was basically a conservative country Baptist girl who decides to make money off her sexuality because she doesn't want to work in an office. And that's rad- that's rad that she had both of those things in her. She wasn't, like, "Fuck everyone!", she was like "You know, I don't like this work- let me find an alternative", you know? I think it's hard for people to understand that she wasn't really a hero- she was, but not in a way like "This is for all women!" It was "This is what I'm gonna do because I can"- but not in a self-empowering way, more of a matter-of-fact way. So if you add the part where she goes crazy at the end, it felt like we were punishing her for her sexual freedom. But I think people want that- I think people want to believe that because she was molested by her father that she became this exhibitionist. But it's "and", not "because".
SP: I think, too, that sometimes people who are "pioneers", I guess, don't realize it at the time. That's not why they're doing something...like with Bettie, she was just trying to do her job- not strike a blow for women's rights, or get the pornography laws changed or whatever.
GT: See, I think there's a bit of self-deception on her part. She either didn't get or didn't let herself get that these photographs were going to be mass-produced, sold secretly in brown paper, and sent to men who were then going to jerk off to them. I don't think she ever let herself believe she was just filling up the spank bank.
SP: Maybe that's how she rectified it all with her religious beliefs, made it okay.
GT: Yeah. It leads to a larger question, like, if someone takes a photograph of me, that later someone says made them want to kill someone- I mean, it's not Jodie Foster's fault that what's-his-name shot Ronald Reagan, you know?
SP: If you take a picture of yourself in the bathtub, for example...
GT: For example. And you end up lost in fucking Carson because of it...
And that's when we finally reached our destination. Then we sat inside the Device Support Center (which sounds both more 12-steppy and more kinky than it actually is) waiting for her cell phone issues to be resolved and talking about BloodRayne. I had to let her know...it's not a very good movie. She knows it's not a very good movie, and she's not particularly bothered by it. Guinevere was given a copy of the game and a little background info to prepare her to write the script...and according to her, after all was said and done only about 20% of what she wrote ended up on screen. Director Uwe Boll went heavy into pre-production before the script was finished and when it was finished, apparently he handed it around for several rewrites. No wonder Turner wants to get into directing her scripts.
GT: People bring it up and they tend to wince, like they think I'll be like "I won't talk about BloodRayne!" or something. I don't give a shit, it's funny! I have a sense of humor about it. I didn't even do it for the money- I was like, why not give it a shot? It's so out of my usual genre, and I'm open to learning. It was a funny process for me- action doesn't come naturally to me.
SP: Well, you tried something new.
GT: C'mon, there's an underwater girl-on-girl fight scene! Come on. Two hot girls, too.
Guinevere got her new phone and surprisingly enough, we had absolutely no problems finding our way home. After passing a billboard for The Eye, which I had just seen, we talked about it and the PG-13 trend in horror. I gave my theories on the subject ("It all goes back to Titanic..."), which soon led to talking about the Spice Girls and our mutual love of Spice World ("It's so subversive...").
Then we just talked about personal stuff (wouldn't YOU like to know?) and had some grinders, the end.
The lesson here is...wait, there's no lesson here. Although I learned that Guinevere Turner is kind of the knees- I guess there's that. Ooh, and I learned about donut shops in Los Angeles! Awesome day!