In the 1990s, Mimi Leder was a formidable name in television. As a producer and director on the military drama China Beach and the smash hit ER, she helped invent a more robust, cinematic form for a medium that had long existed in the shadow of feature films. Landmark ER episodes like “Love’s Labor Lost” and “The Healers” proved that TV could tell compelling stories on a scale that felt dynamic and epic, using long Steadicam shots and hefty effects budgets to pack a visual punch. So it was no surprise when Leder moved on to film, directing the blockbuster action movies The Peacemaker (1997) and Deep Impact (1998).
Barry Sonnenfeld, director:
I’d been a successful cinematographer. I shot the first three Coen brothers movies, Big and When Harry Met Sally. I was in LA finishing up shooting Misery when producer Scott Rudin left me a script to read – The Addams Family. I’d grown up loving Charles Addams’ cartoons in the New Yorker. They were dark and funny. Scott said: “If I can convince Orion Studios to hire you would you be willing to direct it?” I said: “Sure.” You never actually think anything like that’s going to happen – but it did.
Director Catherine Hardwicke was just weeks away from the start of production on Twilight, her 2008 adaptation of the best-selling Y.A. vampire series, when she got an alarming note from the film’s studio, Summit Entertainment. “They came to me and said, ‘You’ve got to find a way to cut $4 million out of the budget in the next four days, or we’re pulling the plug,’” she remembered in recent interview, 10 years after the film’s release.
Hardwicke and her team raced through the script, blotting out action sequences, pulling effects, chopping anything they could from their already relatively slim budget. All told, they would spend about $37 million—including marketing and buying the rights for the book back from Paramount. Hardwicke remained hopeful that once the executives saw what she had to slash in order to meet their demand—big stunts and set pieces, a.k.a. franchise movie magic—they would realize the error of their ways.
Alas: “They did not,” Hardwicke said, laughing. “They said, ‘Great, glad you cut it.’ And then we made the movie.”
A decade later, it’s still miraculous what Hardwicke was able to do on that budget. Twilight, the story of a teen girl who falls in with an impossibly beautiful family of vampires—now being celebrated with a special Blu-ray and 4K release by Lionsgate—made a startling $69 million in its opening weekend. It eventually grossed $393 million worldwide, spawning four more films and catalyzing a Y.A. franchise boom that gave rise to series like The Hunger Games and Divergent, as well as the Fifty Shades franchise (itself based, originally, on Twilight fanfiction) and the post-blockbuster cinematic oeuvre of stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.
Not bad, considering an executive once told Hardwicke that her film might be interesting, at most, to about 400 girls in Salt Lake City.
There are finally a handful of films by and about women in the superhero pipeline, and a team of writers are working to ensure that more are on the way. Lindsey Beer (“Chaos Walking”), Geneva Robertson-Dworet (“Tomb Raider”) and Nicole Perlman (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) have launched Known Universe, a production company that aims to “open doors to genre work,” The Hollywood Reporter confirms.
Beer and Robertson-Dworet first met when they were up for the same studio writing gig. “We found out it was down to the two of us, so we said, ‘Why don’t we just write it together?’” Robertson-Dworet recalls. The studio agreed. “People may think that we have a standing competition with each other but the reality is that, no, we have always been very collaborative,” she emphasizes. To encourage more collaboration, the pair, along with Perlman, decided to go into business together.
Meet Melody Cooper, multiple ScreenCraft Finalist. She placed in the 2018 ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship, the 2017 Fall ScreenCraft Film Fund and 2016 ScreenCraft Horror Screenplay Competition.
She recently won the 2018 Urbanworld Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for Best Screenplay for her thriller screenplay Northern Cross. She was one of 10 Women Horror Directors listed in a 2018 A.V. Club article on who producer Jason Blum should consider. In March 2018, she was selected for a month-long writer’s residency in the south of France by La Napoule Arts Foundation to develop her horror TV pilot Sundown, which is set in LA in 1938 and features folklore monsters. Sundown was also a semi-finalist for 2018 Sundance Episodic Lab and Showtime’s Tony Cox Television Pilot Competition at the Nantucket Film Festival.
Her supernatural thriller The Sound of Darkness is a 2018 Athena List Finalist and was also selected for AMC Networks Shudder Labs, NY Stage & Film Filmmaking Workshop (mentored by It Follows producer Joshua Astrachan), the Writer’s Lab, and the Tangerine Entertainment Fellowship at Stowe Story Lab.
Beyond being a finalist in multiple ScreenCraft competitions, Melody’s work has placed in top 10% of the Nicholl competition, won the Woods Hole Film Festival, and has been a Finalist for Creative World Awards, Shriekfest and the International Sci-fi and Horror Film Festival. Her screenplay Monstrous was Winner of the Women in Cinema International Screenplay Competition, and took Third Place at Slamdance.
With a grant from AMC Shudder Labs, Melody directed a short based on The Sound of Darkness. She also directed a short documentary Detained, that won a 2018 Award of Excellence at Docs without Borders. Born in NY, Melody is also a produced playwright who won the Jane Chambers Award and was nominated for an Off Broadway Alliance Award. Her play Sweet Mercy was developed by NY Stage & Film (starring Danai Gurira). Currently, she’s writing a horror film with director Sebastian Silva, and developing a genre film project with producer Adi Shankar.
We had a chance to sit down with Melody and discuss the craft of genre screenwriting and what it’s like to be an up-and-coming writer/director.