MIDNITES FOR MANIACS: Diablo Cody On Jennifer's Body (2009)
As part of his "Sheroes" triple bill on Friday, June 11, 2010, Midnites for Maniacs host Jesse Hawthorne Ficks welcomed Oscar®-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody to the Castro Theatre stage to talk about her script for Jennifer's Body (2009). Before inviting Cody on stage, Ficks reminded his rowdy audience that Midnites for Maniacs "is a film series about underrated and overlooked films and watching them in a neo-sincere way." Ficks defined neo-sincerity as "post-ironic" where "you know you can make fun of something if you want to; but, you don't really need to" and you can--in this hate-free zone--admit geeky love for a film like Jennifer's Body. Sure, Ficks admitted, some people weren't there to see Jennifer's Body because they think they don't like Megan Fox and, yes, it's true, Megan Fox polarizes people; but, usually only those who don't want to admit that they want to have sex with her or become her. Or, as I shouted out, both. At Midnites for Maniacs, Jennifer's Body becomes a film to be celebrated, and what better way to celebrate than with the story's creator? Shockingly, Ficks announced that Jennifer's Body would be shown in HD cinema because--though no less than a year or so after its release--no 35mm prints of the film currently exist, having all been destroyed by the studio. What the....?
On Cody's Expectations of Jennifer's BodyI feel like I need to be honest in this case. I actually had dinner with Karyn Kusama last night, the director of this movie. Neither of us expected the film to be a blockbuster. We were surprised by the studio's expectations. They thought this was going to be this great big Megan Fox movie and we were like, "Have you seen it? It's weird. It's a weird movie and there are a lot of people who are not necessarily going to be loving it." We kind of loved that it was polarizing because we're freaks. I was maybe disappointed [in the box office] but certainly not shocked.
On Whether Jennifer's Body Is A Feminist Horror FilmWe were proud of what we were doing because there aren't a lot of situations where you have a female screenwriter and a female director making a mainstream horror movie that's going to be at the mall. A "feminist horror movie"? Yeah, that was our point, for sure. We were trying to turn the genre on its ear. One thing I'm obsessed with is that I don't think women are allowed to be anti-heroes. They're not allowed to be flawed. The same week, for instance, that Megan got lambasted for talking about Michael Bay, Shia LeBouf--who I also like as an actor--came out and started sassing about another director and he's [seen] as refreshing and honest while Megan is seen as this horrible bimbo who should never work again. That's the way those two stories were interpreted and it had never been more obvious to me how aggravating it is that women are not allowed to be as complicated as men. We get shoved into these little boxes. It's weird. I've experienced it myself.
On Whether We are In A "Post-Gender" EnvironmentNo way. I think we're less post-gender than we were 10 years ago. It's getting worse. It's such a big global thing to discuss that I wouldn't even know how to express it. I work in Hollywood. The Kathryn Bigelow thing was awesome--that was a great thing to happen--but, it's difficult to be a female filmmaker and, believe me, nobody wants you to impress your feminist agenda on their nice clean celluloid. It doesn't sell.
On Whether Jennifer's Body
Isn't Funny Enough or Scary EnoughProbably true on both counts. I do think it's not scary enough; but, you have to understand, ordinarily when you make a movie you have these test screenings, which are horrible. You go to some large shopping mall cinema in Huntington Beach, California, they bring in a bunch of kids, put them in the front--you have to sit in the back so they can't turn back and see you--and at the end of the movie they fill out these little sheets. Most of the time you do that once because it's expensive; but, we had to do it about four or five times because the scores were so horrendous. I kept a lot of the score sheets because they had these incredibly articulate criticisms going on, like one said, "Need more bewbs." They misspelled boobs! The studio's looking at these going, "We need more boobs, lady." What you ultimately see in the movie--and I think it's cool--is a neutered version of what we had originally planned. It's not scary enough but I do think it's pretty funny, though.
Originally, I wanted it to be intense, poignant and dramatic. Then, as I wrote it, I found humor creeping in and it started to become campy. I decided to go with that; but, that was not something that I originally had in mind.
On Whether Her Script Was QuestionedConstantly. Here's the thing: would this movie have been made in this incarnation in this script at an earlier time in my career? Absolutely not. I had just won the award for Juno--and let's not talk about it--but, it was really a strange time. Honestly, for six weeks of my life I had carte blanche. I would say, "This is another script I wrote" and they'd say, "Okay!" I couldn't get away with that now and I couldn't have gotten away with it five years ago. They would have turned it into something a lot more high concept and digestible; but, I was able to do that at that time. It's kind of a miracle that Jennifer's Body exists.
On Whether She Had Actors In Mind Writing the ScriptI did not have any cast in mind. I have the superstition--actually, it's realism--that when I write something I never try to imagine anybody wanting to do this. You'll definitely be let down. So I write with this sort of pre-existing belief that my script will never see the light of day and my career is over. That way I'm pleasantly surprised.
On Whether the Cast Was Behind the Finished FilmThe actors were actually really supportive. Adam Brody loves this movie. I remember the first time he saw it, he came out saying, "This is the most awesome thing I've ever done" and I was like "Bless you." Megan was into it. Megan's mysterious, you can't always tell what she's into, but she'll tell you if she hates something. She didn't hate it, for sure, or I would have heard of it bigtime. I think Megan liked it and Amanda is just an unbelievably sweet person. The actors honestly seemed to be behind the movie, which is nice because that's not always the case.
On Megan FoxPeople really hate Megan, right? I think that's interesting. She's a really nice girl. She really is. She's just outspoken. We all know that will get your ass in hot water real fast. You'd think everyone would be on her side for criticizing Michael Bay, right? I don't understand the whole thing. I felt it was really extreme. Jennifer's Body got made because Megan Fox agreed to do it. There was this moment after Transformers came out where it was like, "Who is this girl?" She was a white hot energy. She read the script and agreed to play Jennifer and it was like--boom!--Fox will make this movie. It wasn't even a situation like she auditioned, she was just cast as Jennifer, which happens occasionally when you get somebody who's so sought after. Honestly, at the time, it was kind of a shock and overwhelming and exciting. I couldn't believe that I was going to get to make my movie. I just thought, "I hope this works out." Then when I saw her acting with Amanda, I was immediately not worried. Maybe I should have been? Because all I had to go by were these scenes of her fixing a car in Transformers, looking hot. But I had this blind faith that she'd be a good lead, and she was.
On the Failure to Market Amanda SeyfriedAmanda, the star of the movie, is not on the poster. I know that the belief was that she was not going to bring anybody in and now she's made three hit movies since then, which is kind of like, "Hmmmmm. Interesting."
On Making A Horror FilmI would like to do this again if I'm ever given the opportunity, which I'm not so sure I will; but, I would like to. I'm not one of these people into totally excessive gore or anything but the original script for this movie had a lot of jump scares. Somebody got eviscerated and it wasn't shown in shadow puppetry. A lot of the scenes in the movie that the female members [in the Huntington Beach preview screening] responded to wound up cut because--for some reason--the focus was on getting 14 to 18-year-old guys to like this movie. I mean, I like 14 to 18-year-old guys, some of you are brilliant, I know this, but you weren't in Huntington Beach.
One tactical error we made that actually turned out to be kind of cool is that nobody who worked on the film had ever done anything pertaining to horror, ever. Karyn had never made a horror movie, I had never written one, and our producers had never been involved. I love Jason Reitman but you don't want to sit with the guy and talk about what's scary. We didn't have anyone on the set who had any input on how to make a horror film. I think that's why the movie is so awesomely weird. We couldn't have adhered to the genre conventions if we tried. We just didn't know enough.
Horror movies have rules, that's what people would say to me. If you've seen Scream, they even parody that. This happens because of this. This movie does not have rules, it doesn't have logic, and so you have to decide why Jennifer is eating boys. So I said, "Okay, I'll think of something a little bit Scooby-doo." That's when I made up that whole concept of, "Oh, she's not actually a virgin so they fucked up the whole ritual." There's something specific about the horror genre where people demand logic. Sometimes I wish I could be European so I could be like, "That's the way it is." In America everyone wants to know why shit happens all the time.
On What Movies Inspired
And/Or Influenced Jennifer's BodyVisually, we looked at a lot of the Italian horror movies, the giallo. I love Dario Argento. Oh my God! I got to talk to him about Jennifer's Body a few months ago and that was an intense experience for me. [Using an Italian accent] He said he liked it! I was in Italy at a film festival and I ran into him in the lobby. It was a thrill. You want to run into Dario Argento in the lobby.
In terms of content, obviously Karyn and I both love Carrie. But in a lot of ways, rather than being an homage, Jennifer's Body is more reactionary. We saw something we didn't like and said, "Let's not do that."
I love The Evil Dead. We have the poster up as a shout-out and then Needy's line when she says, "Is that my Evil Dead t-shirt?", a lot of people interpret that as a wink to The Evil Dead; but, actually, "my" is the operative word in that sentence. It's like, "Oh, she wears her clothes too? What a bitch."
On Whether Buffy, The Vampire Slayer Influenced
The Relationship Between Jennifer and NeedyI've never seen Buffy, though I know I need to. I'm a huge fan of Firefly. I think Josh Whedon is amazing. By the way, what an awesome idea to take the Buffy, the Vampire Slayer movie--which didn't do so hot--and turn it into a totally successful TV show. I wish that could happen to me, if there are any network executives here.
On Whether There Was A Lesbian Relationship
Between Jennifer and NeedyThere was. Honestly, I think that the people in power were not interested in the richness of relationships, sexual or otherwise. I don't think that was a priority. In addition to that, there's a lot of connective tissue that's missing from the movie. There's a reason why Jennifer was fucking a police officer. Because of that, she had protection throughout this entire story; but, that was cut out. It's gone. Chris Pratt was so funny as the cop and now that's not in the film anymore; it's frustrating. I had always believed that Needy loved Jennifer, moreso than Chip (Johnny Simmons). I wanted their relationship to be read as romantic. I hope it comes off that way. That's why it's strange for me when people say, "Oh, there's this random kiss" because there isn't anything random about it. I think if the characters were a boy and a girl, no one would think there was anything random about it. These two people had chemistry leading up to that. I'd always written in that they had this girly kind of Sixth Sense connection, which was another argument I made: why can't they just be connected in that way?
On Courtney Love's Theme SongI don't know what happened but Courtney didn't write the song I thought she would. I can't remember what the complication was. Courtney is a friend of mine and her opinion about the movie has vacillated a bit. She's into it now. Check back next week. It's a creepy song. It's sort of like a horror movie.
On Narrative Similarities to The United States of TaraActually, I feel like many of the things that I've done in my vast decade-long career have dealt with--not just similar things--but, the exact same thing of being female and not being able to decide what kind of female you want to be. In Tara, it's very literal. In Jennifer, it's creepier. Juno was kind of the same thing, but opposite sides of the same coin.
I like the second season of Tara a lot more than the first because before the first season I'd never done any television at all--I was learning and listening--and the second season I kind of turned into a bitch. I was more adamant about what I wanted, which was the kind of show I wanted to watch. We've grown into something that I can be proud of.
On the Naturalness of the Gay Character
in United States of TaraI have to credit Showtime because at other networks that would not have been allowed. They would have had to turn it into the after school special.
On Whether Teenage Girls Are Really CleverI hate that critique. Some people are just idiots. It's so condescending to say that. "Your characters should be less articulate to reflect our youth." What they are saying about teenagers is horrible and the people who are saying that are not spending time with teenagers.
On Her Sweet, Sensitive Male CharactersHonestly, I don't know how to write impressive men because my dad and my brother are both these two sensitive guys who get in fights and cry all the time. That's the model for me. That's all I know.
On Young Adult[Scheduled for production in 2013 according to IMDb, Young Adult] is a weird script about a woman who has a mental break and decides she wants to return to the time in her life when she was happiest, so she ends up stalking her highschool sweetheart in earnest. It's deep. [Laughs.] I hope I can get it made; but, it's difficult because it is a small story. I'm hoping somebody will take a chance.
On Whether She Will Direct In the FutureThe one sort of very strange thing about my career trajectory is, like, I don't direct. I really feel like I wanted Karyn to get her due as the director of this film and I'm sure she has a specific director's vision; but, I just write. I'm sure I have a final draft copy in the computer somewhere that reflects how I would want [a film] to come out; but, definitely not [from the perspective of a director]. I don't know when I'll direct. I'm so scared. It's a completely different skill set from what I do. I'm really solitary. Directing is like you're the coach, you're the captain of the team, and it really intimidates me. It's surprising to me how many writers freely make the jump into directors. In fact, most writers aspire to be directors. I would like to do it; but, I'm really dragging my feet.
Cross-published on The Evening Class.