Diablo Cody on the Challenge of Directing While Raising a Toddler, and Women in Film (Q&A)

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Diablo Cody is set to have a busy 2013, and she'd like some female companionship at the top.

The Oscar-winning screenwriter has a major glut of work on her calendar, from the April release of the remake of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead, which she wrote, to the premiere of her own directorial debut, a comedy starring Nick Offerman, Julianne Hough and Octavia Spencer. Once known by the working title Lamb of God, the movie now is titled Paradise and marks a major step in her career. The creator and former showrunner of Showtime's United States of Tara, she also is working on a series with ABC.

As the co-chair of the Athena Film Festival, Cody is looking to help other female filmmakers get their work made and noticed. The New York City festival, now in its third year, runs Feb. 7-10 and highlights the work of women in entertainment, with both screenings and conferences focused on women's leadership.

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As select female executives such as Kathleen Kennedy, subject of this week's cover story in The Hollywood Reporter, make strides to the top of the industry, Cody talked with THR about the need for those new power brokers to help their fellow women. She also discussed her own directorial work and that long-brewing film adaptation of Sweet Valley High.

The Hollywood Reporter: A new study showed that only 9 percent of the 250 top-grossing movies last year were directed by women. What do you think are the main obstacles for women who want to be writers and directors?

Diablo Cody: This is a question that I’ve been pondering for years. I don’t really know. First of all, obviously most of the people in leadership positions in Hollywood are male, and they’re the gatekeepers, and that’s why I always say that when the women that do happen to be in positions of power, they need to be advocating for other women. I feel that women are still in the position that one of us gets our foot in the door, we need to let in a bunch of our ladies with us. To me, I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know if it’s just women not helping other women, or if it’s just men who are reluctant to hire women for high-profile positions. I still don’t know exactly what’s holding women back.

I actually have two children now, and sometimes I wonder if that’s it. Because they do make writing and directing more complicated and more difficult, especially now that they’re very young. I had the experience last year of directing my first feature while I had a 1-year-old son and while I was also pregnant, so I am now well aware of the difficulties women who are rearing children face when they’re also trying to make headway in mainstream of film.

On the other hand, promising things are happening in the indie scene. Look at Sundance. Jill Soloway won best director, Lake Bell won the Waldo Salt Award -- that’s very exciting.

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THR: The indie world does have names that are breaking out, like Brit Marling.

Cody: Yeah, and Sarah Polley and Lynn Shelton. It’s incredibly exciting. But at the same time, if you look at the Oscar nominations, it’s incredibly depressing. Not a single woman nominated for best director, and out of the 12 screenwriting nominees, there is one lady. So one out of 12 ain’t great.

THR: Kathryn Bigelow didn't get a best director Oscar nom this year. Do you think it’s more difficult to get nominated as a woman? Or did people concentrate more on the controversy behind her Zero Dark Thirty because she’s a woman?

Cody: I don’t know if there’s a link between her and the controversy, but I do know there are definitely outspoken people who believe that Kathryn Bigelow has only gotten the attention that she’s gotten because she’s a woman, or an attractive woman -- which is lunacy. If being an attractive woman got you attention for directing, then the entire best director category would be comprised of models. To me, that is just the most ludicrous connection that you could make.

THR: You directed your first film last year. How was that experience?

Cody: It’s called Paradise. I directed it in 2012 and it is now 2013, so the movie will be coming out this year. It was an amazing experience. It was scary, very challenging, and it was also just exhilarating. I had a wonderful time. I had a great cast and crew, I won’t lie. They were really amazing and made it really comfortable for me. It was cool to finally be able to take a story I had written and just kind of create the entire world with very little interference.

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THR: As a screenwriter, do you get frustrated about wanting to suggest or say things to the director?

Cody: I think every single screenwriter has had that experience except for me. I’ve been so lucky -- I worked with Jason Reitman twice, who has always been a really strong advocate for my voice, and has always really respected the scripts that I’ve brought him and is just the coolest. Plus, we write together really well, we work together really well. Working with Karyn Kusama on Jennifer’s Body was fantasy. I love that movie so much, I love Karyn so much. That was a mind-meld; it was a fantasy. I definitely can’t speak for other writers; a lot of them don’t feel that way. They feel like their scripts are babies that are abducted from them, but I have not felt that way in filmmaking, and I’m lucky. So directing for me was actually really lonely and scary. It was my first time ever not working with Jason, because he directed Juno and Young Adult and produced Jennifer’s Body. It was my first time without Jason, and that was scary and sad.

THR: What was the most difficult part of directing your first film?

Cody: Difficult for me was balancing my responsibilities as a mother with work. The fact that I couldn’t just come home after a night shoot and crawl into bed, like any other director would do, or prep for the next day. I would come home from the night shoot and my toddler would come at me like a little Tasmanian devil, smacked into my pregnant body, and then I would give him a bath, give him dinner, and it was very exhausting. And then the challenge for me as a filmmaker -- I’m not an actor, I can’t act, and I don’t think I really understood the actors’ process until I directed. And I still don’t fully understand it. For me that was new, understanding how do you motivate people to get to a certain place, to give you a certain performance.

THR: And everyone’s different; it’s not like there’s one way actors work.

Cody: You can get accustomed to a certain way, and then someone else shows up to do their scene and it’s like, "Ugh, it’s all over." Sometimes it was like we were starting from scratch. I don’t know if I’m cut out for it; I’ve got to be honest with you. It was hard.

THR: So back to writing, is your Sweet Valley High film going to happen?

Cody: Yes, yes, yes it is. I feel like I keep telling people it’s going to happen, and now they’re going to stop believing me, but I’m telling the truth. It’s just that the development on a musical is longer, because you’re writing a lot of musical material and you really need to find a qualified director for something like this, so that’s what’s really dragging it out. But I’m telling you: 2013 is the year I’m making it happen.

THR: Do you think women filmmakers have a different perspective that gives them an advantage in some ways over men?

Cody: Yeah, definitely. I know there are people who think every story has been told in film, but I’m telling you it hasn’t, because women have not had their proper say. There are stories out there that can only be told from a woman’s perspective that have not been told yet and are going to be told. And when those movies come out, people are going to go, "Oh, that’s really exciting!" I doubt it’s going to be me, but it’ll be somebody. It’ll be somebody that makes that new story. I think we have the advantage of a different and fresh perspective that has not been represented.

Email: Jordan.Zakarin@THR.com; Twitter: @JordanZakarin

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