ARTIST SPOTLIGHT - WOMEN IN HORROR
Interview by Nate Ludwig
NL: Your screenplay The Finicky Cat has a very Tales from the Crypt vibe to it. Was that intentional or just a happy accident?
GP: It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I grew up watching the show so it must’ve trickled in. I love that GenreBlast nominated it for the Best Crypt Keeper award! I think it would work well in some sort of anthology.
NL: One of the things I love about The Finicky Cat is that it’s not afraid to go over-the-top with the absurdity of the situation of a cat who craves brains, but it also manages to paint a gruesome picture of sympathy and hopelessness for the owners of the cat. Anyone who has ever owned a pet can relate to wanting to make your pet happy. Was that one of the ideas behind the script, or was it just a chance to have some good, grisly fun?
GP: It was sort of based on a true story. Years ago I had a cat named Mimi and she would only eat dry cat food—not canned food, not human food. So one day I thought, what if she liked something random like human brains? That’s where the story started. The script began as 10 pages but then I kept adding to it. Six years ago, I adopted a cat named Diablo, and his personality influenced the story. It’s this idea of how manipulative cats are. I read that cats evolved to mimic baby cries, so when Diablo sits in front of the fridge and whines, I can’t say no. There’s a transactional element to the relationship. I think cats can also be applied to children, in that parents are willing to kill for their child. I know I would kill for my cat. Ha. There’s a lot of psychological stuff happening between the couple in the script, and it comes down to being caught between a rock and a hard place. Inevitably, it’s a love story between a woman and her cat, which is based on myself. If you noticed, a lot of the men in the script die, but the woman and her evil cat prevail.
NL: What other scripts have you worked on? Care to share some details?
GP: I went to film school and have a degree in screenwriting, so I’ve written a lot of things. At California State University at Northridge (CSUN), I took a comedy writing class and wrote a 40-page sequel to Ferris Bueller called Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 2: Leisure Still Rules. I don’t think Paramount would approve. Last year I wrote an eight-page horror script called Friday the 14th, a parody of, well, you get it. It was a finalist at Nightmares Film Festival.
NL: Have you made any of your scripts into short films yet or are you working toward making them into film at all soon?
GP: Yes. In 2000 I wrote and directed my first short. It’s called The Interns and is a Hollywood satire. At the time, I had interned at The Howie Mandel Show, Mutual Film Company (they produced Saving Private Ryan), and October Films (eventually they got absorbed into Focus Features), so it’s about a group of interns who are treated so poorly that they overthrow the production company they work at. I shot it on Hi8 video, so the quality isn’t great. It was real low-budget. It got into a couple of fests but then nothing happened with it. Though, last year filmmaker/actor Robert Townsend (Hollywood Shuffle, Eddie Murphy’s Raw), came across it and told me he loved it. He also called me “a sick puppy.” So, finally some long overdue approval. I still think it’s funny. I love comedy and everything I write has some sort of dark comedic element to it. In the summer of 2001, I wrote a feature called Book of Days, a college experience story based on the three years I spent at Ohio University before transferring to CSUN. [Note: Vanessa Wright and I attended O.U. at the same time and had some film classes together. We lost touch until last year, when we reunited at her and Sam Kolesnik’s Women in Horror Film Fest. The horror world is small!] I was going to direct it. I cast the whole thing, was ready to film it, but then realized I didn’t have the money or resources, so it fell apart. I ended up filming a few scenes and editing them together with two VCRs in hoping to show it to investors, but it didn’t pan out. I was a little over my head. At that point I realized I wasn’t a great director, and that focusing on writing made more sense for me.
I’ve also done some smaller film projects. I directed a one-minute teaser for Finicky Cat, and I did an improvised short called Outside the Actors Studio, a parody of Inside the Actors Studio, with an actor friend. And I did a travelogue thing about my first visit to NYC, in 2000.
NL: Are there certain scripts of yours you feel you would rather direct and others you’d let others produce, or are you comfortable with remaining a writer primarily?
GP: I’m such a control freak that I would have a difficult time handing over my script to someone else. However, I wouldn’t want to be the sole director. I would at least like to still be involved with the production, either as a co-director or producer. I would want it to be collaborative.
NL: What’s one of the major challenges for a screenwriter to get their material read when it comes to attending festivals and entering competitions? Do you attend a lot of festivals in person?
GP: I do attend a lot of fests in person. I think it’s important to be there to network and represent your project. The Finicky Cat has won nine awards and been a finalist in many more fests and contests, but I realized awards don’t mean much. People tell me they like the script, but it still hasn’t been made. Maybe working with an actual cat deters them, or maybe they think 25 pages is too long for a short. I’ve had this conversation with other screenwriters in that just because you’re nominated or win awards, it doesn’t mean the project will be produced. In 2016, Finicky Cat won second place at the 13Horror.com script contest, and my prize was the script got posted on Amazon for sale. But hardly any promotion was done for it, so no one has bought it. I think festivals need more of a balance between the films and screenplays. The scripts have a tendency to get buried. I do like that GenreBlast has a myriad of script award categories, but more fests need live readings, and it would be great if they had a table set out for writers to display their scripts.
NL: What are the pros and cons of writing short scripts versus feature scripts? Do you feel like short scripts give you more freedom versus features or vice versa?
GP: Features take longer to write and I find a lot of feature scripts fall apart after the second act. Short scripts are easier to write in that sense, but then there’s the stigma of what are you going to do with a short script? A lot of production companies want to produce features, not shorts, because shorts are more limiting in terms of distribution. But a lot of features begin as shorts. In some ways, writing a short can be more challenging than a 90-page feature, because you’re trying to tell a fully developed story in anywhere between 10 and 20 pages. Also, people today have such short attention spans. It seems people—like myself—are more likely to read something that’s short than something that’s long.
NL: Do you outline your scripts or do you just do a first draft and see where it takes you? As a writer myself, I tend to end up overwriting everything I do. Do you have the same problem with overwriting you screenplays, or underwriting? Or neither?
GP: I don’t outline. I do have a general idea in my head where I want the story to go and then I jot down ideas I know I want to integrate. Yeah, I overwrite, too, then I start chopping it down and structuring it more. Like I mentioned before, The Finicky Cat started out as 10 pages then ballooned to 25 pages because I kept adding stuff and reworking it. I’m constantly rewriting my scripts. I’m never satisfied! But there comes a point where you have to say “it’s done.”
NL: Do you think it’s important for women to have a strong voice when it comes to writing screenplays that gives them their own creative identities or do you feel that all that matters is the final draft of the script and how well it's written, regardless of gender? Are there certain genres of screenplays women are better at than men or is it all a toss up?
GP: This is a complicated question. Today there’s more of a focus on women voices than maybe 15 years ago. We’re more aware if a woman wrote something or not. For instance, Lady Bird—would it have been as good if a man had written it? Probably not. Quality is important but so is telling stories from different points of views. I think women can write any genre as well as men, but they’re not given the same opportunities. Like how only one woman has contributed to writing a Star Wars film—that’s ridiculous. No woman has been given the opportunity to direct one. Same thing with superhero films. Women certainly can write action and sci-fi well. I do think there’s a gulf of difference between women written/directed films and men, and it has a lot to do with the male gaze vs. the female gaze. It would be nice to get to the point when we’re not dividing genders and categorizing women as “women writers” or “women cinematographers” and instead referring to them as “writers” or “directors,” but we’re not quite there yet. In the meantime, it’s good to highlight strong female voices.
NL: Seen any good movies lately?
GP: I’ve been watching a lot of the Oscar-nominees: The Post, Strong Island, I, Tonya, The Shape of Water, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, The Florida Project. I recently re-watched Desperately Seeking Susan for the hundredth time. It has a female director, female writer, female producers, and two strong female leads. Who knew Madonna could act? And Laurie Metcalf is hilarious in it. It was ahead of its time. I’m not sure if I should admit this, but I watched and liked Why Him?, the Bryan Cranston/James Franco film. It was better than I thought it’d be. I also watched The Panic at Needle Park, starring Al Pacino in his first big film role. Though it came out in 1971, it parallels today’s opioid epidemic, except now it’s spread from the urban centers to the suburbs. And, this will be a divisive statement, but I watched The Ritual and didn’t love it like everyone else did. Maybe I’m just jaded.