I find it unlikely that Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman, would get up every morning and tell her mirror, "I'm a woman and I'll fight over it." The DC Comics superhero, created by psychologist, writer, and protofeminist William Moulton Marston, probably has a mantra closer to, "I'm strong, I'm competent, I'm smart, and I'm excellent at what I do. Now let's kick a bum! "
Something similar can be deduced from the conversation with Patty Jenkins, co-writer and director of Wonder Woman 1984. Prior to Wonder Woman 2017, which broke box office records worldwide, Jenkins was best known for her debut feature Monster. Four years outside the American Film Institute, Jenkins wrote and directed the dark drama that swept the film festival and awards ceremony with around eight short films in his pocket, and was named Best Picture of the Year (2003) and number three of the best by Roger Ebert Movies of the Decade.
Jenkins has also made dozen of commercials and TV shows, including the pilot and the final episode of AMC's The Killing, for which she won a DGA Award. Fox & # 39; arrested development; and the pilot episodes for ABC's Betrayal and Exposed. Most of all, the 600 local crews will remember their careers as guild camera assistants and focus pullers. For over eight years, Jenkins has improved her cinematic skills and steadfast work ethic on mostly music videos and commercials. I spoke to the "real wonder woman" of the film industry about how she believes more women can get into the seat she sits in and how being a Union camera assistant was the basis of her success.
ICG Magazine: From camera assistant to director – despite AFI – is a big leap. How daunting was it? Patty Jenkins: That was all I ever wanted. I had been a painter and wanted to make films. But I never wanted to be a cameraman – it just wasn't anything I ever thought about, so I felt like I had no choice but to switch. I loved being a cameraman and I learned so much. But I got to a point where I knew my ultimate goal was to make my films, and I was so busy as a cameraman that I never got any closer to that goal. Going from high-end commercials as an assistant to small shorts as a director wasn't daunting – when I was making a feature film, I had made about eight shorts. Interestingly, when I made monsters, people kept commenting that they were surprised that I never seemed to get tired. I was so confused about what they meant and then I realized that shooting daily for over 10 years was incredibly helpful in making the transition to directing. In the camera department, it's not unheard of to work really hard hours a day. (Laughs) Working in the camera has been a huge advantage for me.
What were the obstacles in this transition? There was every barrier you can think of. I was really lucky to get into a situation where I was writing monsters. If that hadn't happened, if I hadn't had this script and Charlize Theron didn't want to be in it, I don't know how I would have done it. Every other option I looked at – television or internship – just wasn't available. So it was very lucky that I just had the script that people wanted to do.
What were the barriers to running a franchise project like Wonder Woman? My pilots had gotten bigger and bigger, so I was used to working on a larger scale. And I've worked as a cameraman in those high-end commercials. But there was still a transition. The most complex thing about a great film – a superhero film that is almost always very effects-heavy – is that you have to direct it every day to get it done. From preproduction, you already lead it, and you still lead it into the post office. The biggest thing for me was learning how to schedule special and visual effect shots. I needed to know when to make this decision and how far in advance to plan because all of these shots begin before the shoot. It will be a very long and complex directing exercise.
Do you now see similar barriers in the industry compared to your first film? It's a radically different world, and that's exciting. And I hope it will last. I'll say, just as I was lucky enough to write Monster, I was also very lucky that (Monster) happened to be a sensational B-movie subject – that's one reason it was done. It would have been almost impossible to tell a woman's point of view. But it happened to be about a serial killer and a lesbian, and you could cast two famous women to play something that would be marketable, at least right on video. Why are there still clear barriers to seeing women as directors? I dont know. You could be a producer, that's kind of acceptable, but not a director. People just don't associate the two things for some reason. And honestly, even after Monster's success, nobody wanted to make the films I wanted to make. They all wanted me to make their films, all of which were made from the same stereotypical point of view that I didn't sync with. When I got the script of something I wanted to do, they weren't even interested in reading it! I felt a real distrust of women's creative impulses, as if they were somehow alien. Fortunately, a lot has changed – there is more accountability. People are now saying that not only do we need different directors, we also need different points of view.
You've worked with a lot of cameramen – both as assistants and directors on commercials – and most of them were men. Do you think there is an absolute need for female directors to hire female DPs? In theory, of course, because we want gender equality in this industry. But I also think it's a complicated conversation because you're always looking for the right person for this project. And because I hire so many women anyway, I don't feel like I have to hire anyone in a specific department. I hooked up with Matt Jensen (ASC) (Director of Photography) by chance, and he and I have the kind of working relationship that I love and I love these results. In our case, we happened to have a good thing, but certainly I've considered and loved other female DPs and think this would be a great phrase.
Wonder woman broke box office records. Was that your "I did it!" Moment? I've had these moments where I stepped back and said, "Wow, I can't believe this is happening." Interestingly, as the first woman to make a film of this size, it went without saying that the film would make more money. But it exceeded those expectations and that was a surreal and magical moment.
Was Wonder Woman 1984 always a matter of course or was that straightforward because the first one was so successful? Both. I had already planned it in my head and worked on what I thought was the idea. Of course the studio wouldn't have done a second if the first had done badly, so … (laughs).
(Laughs) Certainly not if you are a woman … I agree. And often women are not asked to follow up, even if they have made a successful movie in the first place. someone else would come in and do the sequel. So it wasn't a given, but I was convinced it would happen.
In addition to having a story and co-script for WW84, you are a named producer (as does Gal Gadot). Neither of you were producers for the first film. Is this important for directors when signing up for projects? It depends on whether. In my case, I'm very involved in every production step, so it makes sense. Some directors aren't interested in all of these other, sometimes non-creative details, and I think either way is valid. I enjoyed not being a producer of things where you can only focus on what you're doing, but in the case of Wonder Woman 1984, I did the job anyway. That's why it was important to me to get this loan.
Was there one challenging VFX moment for you on this show? It's actually one I can't talk about until the movie comes out, but there are two scenes that required completely VFX environments that were super interactive. That was both an incredible challenge to take photos and see through to the end, as you have to adjust the lighting of the action via LED screens around the actors and then create the appropriate environments. And make them look great! For other sequences, Matt and (VFX Supervisor) John Moffatt and I had to be in sync every step of the way. You all have to be on the same page to get things like this done.
Do you use pre-visualization for the most complex VFX scenes? We provide for almost everything that is complex or have very clear storyboards, if not. That doesn't mean that not much happens that day. Non-CG and real in-camera effects change things, and you have to work the other way around. But having a clear plan is the best bet for making things look great. Also, VFX has most of the time to work on recordings, as they can do much of the research and development on components and methodologies before you even record the scene or record. Some people come to these films to give it a boost and have no prior knowledge, but I strongly recommend that they reconsider this model because with these films it is the opposite of what you might think. Previs doesn't lock you up and keep you from directing. It's your only shot that's beautifully staged and takes the time to make things look great.
There are still very few women who are entrusted with blockbuster franchises. What's your best advice for women to break through that glass ceiling and make big budget movies? Having a strict technical background like in the camera is a huge plus. And I think that goes for everyone, man or woman, but I definitely think it made all the difference in my career. This is such a technical art form, and I've seen a lot of women directors get discounted for believing that they don't handle all of the technology. It's absurd, but it's just there. The truth is, I'm just as concerned about male directors getting an (undeserved) shot; like writers directing a first project and it's a tentpole film. That confuses me because it's such a technical job. You need to understand so much about filmmaking in order to maintain some level of control on the set and create a smooth experience for everyone in these films. My advice would be to turn the sex off and transform yourself into a perfectly competent technical director who understands as much as possible about how everything works. I've seen that with most of the directors who make such films. They have a long education and are familiar with all the different aspects of filmmaking. Be strict about it.
by Valentina Valentini / photos by Clay Enos