On Working With Excellent Women (Cuz why the hell wouldn’t you?)
by John Skipp
This Sunday, July 17, I’ll be a sort of special guest at the Viscera Film Festival in Hollywood. It’s an event featuring short horror films from around the world that were written, produced, and/or directed by women.
This, to me, is extremely exciting. Why? Because I hardly ever get to see horror movies created by women.
And neither does anyone else.
I’m one of a handful of “industry” guys who were invited to attend: not as judges or anything, but as enthusiasts who might happily help spread the word.
Not sure why I was chosen, but I’m guessing it’s because I always make a point of deliberately seeking out talented, kickass women to work with (whether in books or movies or music or any other creative enterprise I might undertake).
I don’t point this out to make myself look all fancy. I point it out because it just makes sense to me that you would want as many awesome, smart, capable women on your team as possible.
Not just for parity’s sake. But to broaden the perspective. Balance the interpersonal dynamics. And, flat out, to winnow down the sweaty adolescent boy’s locker room jockstrap mentality as much as possible.
Which – in film, particularly – strikes me as incredibly important.
Historically, on a lot of horror sets, women have mostly been there to do makeup or show their tits and die. If they were “too old” to undress, there were always moms, teachers, grandmas, unpleasant next-door-neighbors, and so forth.
It’s been a real pleasure to watch this change. Albeit slowly, and by degrees.
The 70s evolution of the “Final Girl” – wherein the (oft-times virginal) female lead is the sole survivor, largely by virtue of her pluck and, well, virtue – was the first big nod toward horror egalitarianism.
Indeed, much horror sort of bent over backwards to put women in the narrative driver’s seat, as a sort of backhanded apologia for disempowering and killing them, all these years.
Yes, it still played the whole Madonna/whore thing. But at least the Madonna got to stab the monster in the eye, or shoot it out of the airlock, by movie’s end.
She wasn’t waiting for a man to save her. Or if she was, that just didn’t work out.
And she was forced to save herself. Which was a good thing.
I honestly think that these weird female empowerment fantasies helped raise oodles of young women who barely even question their power or capability, when push comes to shove. As my daughter Melanie might say, “FUCK YEAH, I’d stab him in the eye! If I had to? Are you kidding?”
But as for women in the actual driver’s seat – making the creative decisions, and running the show – we’ve still got a long way to go.
The sheer number of women who have put themselves through film school, business school, or the School of Hard Knocks hasn’t remotely leveled the playing field. But it has definitely brought more highly-skilled, highly-motivated women to the table.
The question is: do they get a shot or not?
On ROSE: THE BIZARRO ZOMBIE MUSICAL, I’m the writer and director, as well as a producer. And, yes, I’m a guy.
But ROSE is a total She-Power production, with an eponymous character so iconic that little girls already want to dress like her on Halloween.
She’s Auntie Mame meets Maude from Harold and Maude meets Angelina Jolie from Tomb Raider, without the super powers.
Can you imagine the party those three would throw?
That’s pretty much who ROSE is to me.
Past that, and down to brass tacks…
My production partner is Jane Hamilton, who’s got waaaay more hands-on experience than I have, and to whom I defer on most nuts-and-bolts issues. She is the Reality Check Queen, straightening me out not just on logistical matters, but on creative and emotional ones as well. As such, I trust her 1,000 percent.
The unquestionable star of the movie is Chase McKenna, who will spend easily 90% of the picture holding up the screen as Rose herself. It’s a spectacular collaboration, I gotta tell ya. One of the most joyous and productive of my life.
I created the character, but she completely embodies it; and together, we have shaped Rose into someone neither of us could never have brought to such vivid life alone. So full of heart. So full of surprises. And so utterly throw-down cool.
Also on the team are Rachel Arieff (original songs and inspiration), Mary Robinette Kowal (puppet set design), Leah Mann (puppet design), Marianne Walter (makeup), Jairlyn Mason (wardrobe), Sarah Nutt (art director), Rebecca Larson (lead vocals), Lisa Wimberger (percussion), my daughters Melanie and Mykey Skipp (both singing and acting).
Plus a ton of female zombies, puppets, and survivors.
It’s not quite 50-50 in the male/female ratio, but it’s pretty damn close. And the power spread is fairly close to even as well.
Not to mention Esther Chilcutt (Seattle, WA), Kenyetta Todd and Constance Fitzgerald (Petaluma, CA), and Brandi Jording (Raleigh, NC), all of whom have brought or are bringing the grassroots Zombie Walk action to ROSE. Getting their friends to kick in like crazy. Taking the reins, and the coolness, upon themselves.
All of which helps account for why this project is so special, and means so very much to me.
But it’s not just about the movies.
In the course of putting together this piece, I went back through every anthology I ever edited, and alphabetized all the amazing women I have ever had the honor to edit and/or publish.
Many of whom were full-fledged literary goddesses before I got there. Many of whom I was lucky enough to give their first pro credit, or help them upon their way.
1 Anne Abrams
2 Laura Lee Bahr
3 Amelia Beamer
4 Francesca Lia Block
5 Poppy Z. Brite
6 Angela Carter
7 Nancy Collins
8 A.C. Crispin
9 Nicole Cushing
10 Dana Fredsti
11 Violet Glaze (recently renamed Violet LeVoit)
12 Tessa Gratton
13 Charlaine Harris
14 Kim Harrison
15 Alice Henderson
16 Nancy Holder
17 Margaret Irwin
18 Marcy Italiano
19 Caitlin R. Kiernan
20 Nancy Kilpatrick
21 K.H. Kohler
22 Kathe Koja
23 Alethea Kontis
24 Roberta Lannes
25 Livia Llewelyn
26 Elizabeth Massie
27 Lisa Morton
28 Justine Musk
29 Yvonne Navarro
30 Kathleen O’Malley
31 Melanie Skipp
32 Maggie Stiefvater
33 Lucy Taylor
34 Melanie Tem
35 Danielle Trussoni
36 Athena Villaverde
37 Leslianne Wilder
38 Mehitobel Wilson
39 Mercedes M. Yardley
Admittedly, I’ve probably edited and/or published a hundred guys. But easily 50 of them were reprints, from a past wherein easily 95% of published authors were men.
We can’t change the past, but we can change the present.
And in the present, a lot of women are kicking ass.
As the brilliant Justine Musk (see above) recently pointed out in Twitter form:
I look forward to when people don’t feel the need to refer to a woman as “strong” but take female strength as a given
To which I say: I don’t take anyone’s strength as a given.
But I know it when I see it.
And so, in conclusion, here’s a little piece of ROSE, which spells shit out as clearly as I could possibly hope.
And if you’re in L.A., please catch the Viscera Film Festival. Cuz it’s gonna be amazing.