Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tuesday Talkback: A follow up to the VHS post

I have an interesting post-script to yesterday's "challenge." V/H/S producer Brad Miska actually got in touch with me via Twitter yesterday, reaching out to reply. Those of you who follow both of us may have seen this go down. As this was a public Twitter conversation, I don't think he'd have much issue with me sharing some of his reaction:

"One response: should we add female directors just because people demand it? That would be like saying happy birthday to someone after they reminded you that you forgot. It has to be genuine and from heart. We didn't avoid female directors, and adding a woman "just because" is insulting to females." 

That is a valid concern to raise, and I understand other points made about not wanting it to feel like a woman was brought in to fill a quota. That sort of thinking rarely leads to rewarding creative work. However, the way I approach the situation is that the first batch of filmmakers was recruited seemingly because their work suggested a diverse range of strengths and the first V/H/S also set a precedent by including up-and-comers Radio Silence.

Let me be clear, I don't think it was sexist that all the directors on the first V/H/S were male. For all Bloody Disgusting knew, this was a one-time experiment that might disappear into bargain DVD bins almost immediately. I don't blame them for bringing in mostly directors with whom they had an existing relationship. However, now that it's certain that V/H/S is an ongoing franchise that has diverse filmmaking points of view hard-wired into its DNA, I don't see anything hinky about seeking out a female point-of-view to add a different voice to the chorus.

If I understand Brad correctly, he's already working on that, as he further tweeted, "I've been incredibly open to press as to which female directors I want to be included. And it's not because they're female. I want these specific female directors to be involved because they're supremely talented, not because it need[s] [to] fill [a] quota. Again, we don't have a clubhouse with a giant sign that says 'no girls allow[ed].'"

I got the sense that Brad had gotten some drubbing over this issue before, and I noted that it was hard to ignore certain themes that arose (albiet mostly unintentionally) from the first film. Even though each segment was produced in isolation from the others, when you put them together leads to certain connections in the viewer's mind. When certain tropes recur within minutes of each other (the "obligatory tit shot," for one), the audience is likely to become more aware and more sensitive to some of the more uncomfortable meanings.

The point I'm trying to eventually reach is, the whole takes on a deeper resonance than the individual parts. It's basically the difference between listening to a great song as a single and then appreciating it in context on the full album. Putting those six shorts together causes their meaning to undergo a transformative experience. Things that weren't designed to connect end up reinforcing each other.

I tweeted a distilled version of this reaction, which Brad seemed to understand, "Oh, for sure. Although, nearly every female in VHS is secretly the protagonist and gives the men what they deserve. If anything, to me, VHS is about the male gaze and how WE act."

I agree with that to a point, but I'll only go so far as to say that couldn't have been the intended theme from the start, for each of the directors worked in isolation.  However, I can accept that that is what the film itself says about the people behind the camera.

But I'll throw it to you guys.  Is Brad right that can be construed as sexist to seek out female directors specifically for their gender? For those of you who have seen the film, does it make a difference if you approach it the way Brad does, as a commentary on the male gaze?

Let me also say this - Brad made a point of saying that he listens to his critics, and one area in which we were in agreement is that you can't shut out critical reaction entirely.  A film is a conversation with its audience.  I think it's important to be receptive to that sort of dialogue.  That doesn't mean every critic is going to be right, or that one needs to bend over backwards to please those critics.  Make the film you want to make, but if your creation provokes a reaction, engage it.

So whatever you think of Brad's position, at least respect that he was open to the dialogue.  (That's my way of saying engage this debate as you see fit, but let's try not to get too personal here.)


  1. I am a girl and I agree with Brad. If there's a female director they're "feeling" and who fits, so be it. But they shouldn't make a female director fit just because. As far as I'm concerned, we should hardly care about the gender. It's the individual vision that matters - this can include not only the gender but also the social background, the generation, the nationality etc.

  2. So hire someone with tits because tits are the problem? Not an optimal solution.

    My sampling is small (not big on horror unless I hear good things), but two films that come immediately to mind (scared the bejeezus out of me) are Midnight Meat Train and The Descent. No tit trope to be found, and damn fine fresh entertainment. And both filmmakers were men.

    Ain't no revolution happening in horror films while the same old tropes comprise them. And we get new tropes from fresh filmmakers (men, women, tall, short, polka-dotted, and striped, as much variety as possible, and loaded with talent).

    Brad's been doing Bloody Disgusting since 2002, and he asked directors he knows to join this project:

    “We did it in reverse — we did the wraparound first.” With the bridging segments already shot by Adam Wingard and [writer and segment producer] Simon Barrett, “we went to other directors [David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Nicholas Tecosky and Ti West] we had relationships and asked them if they’d like to shoot 20 minutes of footage. The directors came back to us with treatments and pitched their ideas. Then each director did his own thing, and eventually we stepped back and assembled the movie. The only thing we got heavily involved with was time. It originally ended up being over two hours long, and we had to work with the filmmakers to whittle it down."

    (from: http://filmmakermagazine.com/38865-bloody-disgusting-founder-brad-miska-on-sundance-horror-pic-vhs/ )

    Whittle the tits or make more friends, and the latter should be easy for Brad (personable, talented, makes interesting work, moves in creative circles).

  3. We should add female directors because there are great and talented female directors out there. Let's not discuss this as if it's hard to find talented females. I think film is definitely one arena that benefits the most from diversity. If you believe film is an art form, then it's an expression and last I checked, females are just as expressive as any man-- some would even say more so.

  4. I don't think they should hire female directors as quota fillers, but if you are actively thinking 'it would be great if we could get more female directors and writers on board' then you're are going to be actively looking at work from female filmmakers, which then makes it a lot more likely that you'll discover female filmmakers who are 'supremely talented'. Because female filmmakers are so unrepresented at this point in time, you DO have to be actively conscious and seek them out to be really seeing the best of everything that's around right now, from everybody.

  5. Caveat: I dislike affirmative action across the board, and that's what a gender quota for a quota's sake would be. But I see BSR's proposition re: V/H/S as having nothing to do with an oversimplified quota and everything to do with art and culture. Let us not write off any suggestion as as any kind of "-ist" for the mere fact that it's open to exploring the perspective of an underrepresented group where some element of that group's collective life experience within a culture might shed light on a subject in a way that only art can. Especially in genres in which a certain group is underrepresented or so often disgustingly malrepresented and reduced to functions separate from their personhood.