At the risk of being just another person who’s adding a few droplets to the so-called “tsunami of hate” directed at Richard Dawkins for his rape-tweet two days ago … I couldn’t resist. Dawkins is a respected scientist, and while he’s had his run-ins with feminists in the past, he’s basically a smart person, right? In this case, he was wrong, stubborn, needlessly defensive (although I understand how one might get that way when the ire of Twitter is focused on them) and surprisingly illogical.
Here’s what happened. On July 29, Dawkins tweeted the following:
Then, Twitter got really angry with him, and he wrote a response/explanation, which can be found here. I wasn’t so upset by his initial tweets as I was frustrated by the non-explanation that followed. And so, here I am, writing about it, much like I did about the Emily Yoffe incident of a few months ago.
Let’s start with the tweets. I get the point about logic that he was trying to make. Nobody actually misunderstands the “x is bad, y is worse, that is not an endorsement of x” concept. It is an obvious and easy logical concept to comprehend and we all get it.
What’s unfortunate is the example Dawkins chose. Not because rape is a taboo subject that should never be touched, but because the X and Y of his rape example are totally subjective statements. They’re not facts, or even the next best thing to facts – non-factual opinions that we can all agree on, like “Gigli is bad, but Showgirls is worse”. Just kidding, Showgirls is actually brilliant (even though it’s pretty rape-y). See how tough this is?!
My point is this: Dawkins chose a bad example to prove his point about logic, and then refused to back down.
If your goal is to enlighten the layman on Twitter about logic, use an example that is clear and will not be misunderstood or derail the conversation into something totally unrelated to your original point, such as the relative badness of rape. If the example you chose for your “x is bad, y is worse” statement could just as easily be flipped to “y is bad, x is worse”, then you’ve chosen poorly.
It’s not a poor example because it’s logically impossible for it to work both ways (which do you think is worse, really, being raped by a stranger or a trusted friend? Ok, but what if the stranger had a knife? Wait, what are we talking about? Oh yeah … logic). Nor is it poor because people are simply too dumb and emotional to understand the point. It’s poor because it took the conversation in a different direction than Dawkins intended, and he (for all his later insistence that he chose the example of rape intentionally), was not adequately prepared to respond.
Dawkins could have chosen a fact as his example. Instead, he chose a contentious opinion that was offensive to many. Everyone forgot it was supposed to be about logic. Then it turned out to maybe not be about logic after all. More on that in a moment.
People weren’t angry with Dawkins because he used rape as an example, but because by saying “one type of rape is worse than another” he was, intentionally or not, implying that the suffering of some victims is not as big a deal as the suffering of other victims. In his subsequent longer response article, Dawkins claims that he “didn’t care whether we chose to say date rape was worse than dark alley stranger rape, or vice versa” and that he “deliberately wanted to challenge the taboo against rational discussion of sensitive issues”.
Aha! Okay, so it was not just about logic. He chose a contentious opinion on purpose, in order to challenge taboos. I’m all for that! But if that’s the case, then what was his hoped-for outcome? Did he want to invite intelligent discussion on this subject – something about the way our society actually views rape, perhaps? Or was he just trying to say something taboo-bustingly controversial (which, frankly, is a bit like kids yelling swear-words because they know they’re not supposed to)?
If the whole point was to use rape as his example in order to make a larger point about a “sensitive issue”, then what was that larger point? That we should be allowed to say whatever we want without everyone getting sniffy about it on the internet? I was hoping for a smarter point from someone like Dawkins, but it does not come across clearly in his article.
My even bigger problem is with the leap Dawkins takes next:
“Rape is rape is rape.” You cannot discuss whether one kind of rape (say by a ‘friend’) is worse than another kind of rape (say by a stranger). Rape is rape and you are not allowed even to contemplate the question of whether some rape is bad but other rape is worse … There is no allowable distinction between one kind of rape and another. If that were really right, judges shouldn’t be allowed to impose harsher sentences for some rapes than for others.
For a man who started this whole storm because he was making a simple point about logic, this statement seems really illogical. Sure, you should be “allowed to contemplate” what kind of rape is worse. Personally, I think that kind of contemplation is a mug’s game, and serves no purpose – either in un-tabooing the topic or in somehow improving the discourse around it – but that’s beside the point. What I really don’t understand is why the subjective opinion that “all rapes are equally bad” should mean that courts can’t take individual circumstances into account while meting out totally different sentences for different rapists? For the record, courts don’t distinguish between assaults by a “friend” or “stranger” but since every assault is different, countless questions go into piecing together what happened and delivering a just punishment.
None of these questions affect my emotion-based opinion that all rapes are “equally bad”. “Equally bad” does not mean “equally punishable by the law” and I’m not sure how or why Dawkins justifies that leap – especially when he himself leaves the definition of “bad” vague (I assume, intentionally). There are lots of different kinds of “bad” – moral, emotional, and so on. They coexist without compromising our legal system’s ability to function.
Dawkins concludes his rebuttal to the “tsunami of hate” by saying this:
Nothing should be off limits to discussion. No, let me amend that. If you think some things should be off limits, let’s sit down together and discuss that proposition itself. Let’s not just insult each other and cut off all discussion because we rationalists have somehow wandered into a land where emotion is king.
I agree. But in this case, I don’t think the problem is actually that rape is too taboo a subject to discuss, or that we are too emotional to do so. The problem is that Dawkins chose a poor example for his logic statement, refused to back down when the Twittersphere responded emotionally, got defensive and said he did it on purpose, all without ever actually trying to start the kind of rational discussion he claims he wants. I’d love an intelligent, controversial article from Richard Dawkins on rape, and rape culture and why we should not be afraid to talk about it. But this sure wasn’t it.
This past weekend at Fantasia, we got some valuable script feedback and advice from a couple of the market consultants on Rite of the Witch Goddess. Our script is “done” but not “done done”. We handed in a good version and got into Frontières on the basis of it, and we’ve made some tweaks since. But we’re humble enough to know that we won’t really be done until we’d put it through the editing machine a few more times.
One of our consultants, the delightful Brian Udovich, used an example of a film I saw and loved at TIFF a few years ago, but never would have thought of as having anything in common with the Rite of the Witch Goddess (other than, to a very small degree, the ending), Ben Wheatley’s Kill List. The film isn’t supernatural, the protagonist certainly isn’t a 17-year-old girl, and it has a very gritty, “present-day” tone. And yet! And yet…
**If you haven’t seen Kill List, stop reading this blog post immediately because it will be full of spoilers, and this is a film that really packs a lot of punch in its surprises.**
I can’t recommend it enough, though. It’s on Canadian Netflix. Go watch it right now.
Here’s a surprisingly un-spoiler-y trailer. But honestly you’d be better off not even watching that. Go in blind!
So, onto the spoilers. If you’re still reading, consider yourself fairly warned.
The reason Brian brought up Kill List had a lot to do with the fact that the film drops you into its story without explanation, and without giving you much of a chance to catch up. Of course, most good films should do that, but this one actually does so in a way that’s subtle, effective and worth a re-watch for analysis.
The first 20 minutes are a bit of a slow burn. Jay and Shel are having a rough time in their marriage. He’s unemployed, their savings are depleted, they fight in front of their kid too often. The ordinary world is well established and clear, even though you still don’t know a lot of crucial details – like, say, what Jay does for a living.
But even during this languidly paced first act, there are a few really beautiful nods at what’s to come. I did not notice, for example, that at exactly the five-minute mark, Jay and his family play fight in the yard in a way that perfectly foreshadows (echoes?) the film’s finale. This is hard to miss on the re-watch, but the first time I saw it, I absolutely did not take it in.
There’s also a pretty good LOL moment at around 11 minutes, when dinner guest Fiona tells the group that she’s in “human resources”, which according to her is “not personal”, even though there’s “a lot of dirty work to be done”. Knowing the role she plays in the story, this awkward dinner moment is hilarious.
At 20 minutes, Fiona carves the strange symbol into the back of Jay and Shel’s bathroom mirror, marking him as the “chosen one”. From that moment on, the film never lets more than three minutes pass without delivering something crucial – either an important plot point for an important bit of foreshadowing. The pacing is meticulous and deftly hidden in a great story so that you are never aware of just how tightly structured it is.
Now, I noticed a lot of the tiny moments when I first watched the film, it’s just that I didn’t figure out what they meant until it was over, which is why Kill List is so smart. Don’t we usually feel a couple of steps ahead of the films we watch?
All of the tiny moments that eventually add up to a kind of “explanation” of the ending are subtle and easily missed – and even if you do spot them, the puzzle is tough to piece together. The dead rabbit on the lawn (which Jay and Shel assume was killed by their cat – and maybe it was?), the client’s strange move to “sign the deal” in blood, the fact that the victims all thank Jay (because of course, it’s an honour to be killed by him), it’s all noticeable, but what does it mean? Clearly these are clues to something – but what?
Watching it again, I was struck by even more tiny moments. Even Gal (gutted in the tunnels, like the rabbit in Jay’s garden) says thank you after asking Jay to kill him. Is this an ironic joke for the viewer? Is he in on it, or is he still the only one Jay can trust? When his wife smiles after it’s revealed that she and their son are “the hunchback”, what does that mean? Was she somehow in on it too, or is she just laughing at the horrible, terrible absurdity of it?
As a first-time watcher, if you go into the film without knowing exactly what it’s about, it’s unlikely that you’re ahead of the mystery that the superhuman duo of Wheatley and Amy Jump (I swear, that woman is my hero) are setting up. More likely, you’re on the edge of your seat wondering what the hell is going on until about 15 minutes from the end, when the first glimpses of the pagan procession are seen. And even then, as a horrible realization creeps upon you, can you honestly say you figured it all out before the final moments?
I mean, maybe you did, and you’re a smarter and more observant viewer than I. But you have to admit it was cleverly done.
How does this relate to Rite of the Witch Goddess, you might ask? Well, Brian’s advice was not that we should make a gritty British crime thriller, but that we should consider dropping our audience into the story in a similar way.
Right now, our script sets up what will eventually be the climax, right at the beginning. The film opens with a ritual that is so epic, it might leave audiences waiting for the spectacular grand finale for the duration of our 90 minute running time. And it might leave them frustrated and wondering why we started off with a bang and waited so long to get to the next bang. If we start the story differently, it might give us more of a chance to build the tension, the action, and the wild special-effects. Not to mention the sense of mystery and suspense. In other words, it might give us an edge on the audience.
As Brian wisely pointed out, we – modern genre audiences – have all seen 7000 movies, and we don’t need stories to be set up for us the way an audience 40 years ago might have. We like the challenge of working to figure out what’s going on, and we like to feel as though characters are never speaking just for our benefit.
Everybody hates obvious exposition when they’re watching a movie. Why on earth would a character say “yeah, I’m sad because my mom died” instead of just crying or shrugging angrily, as they probably would in real life. But it can be surprisingly difficult to avoid expository writing. “How will anyone know what’s going on?” you ask yourself. “How will they unravel the brilliant back story that I created?” Just let it go. The audience is smarter than you, and they don’t want to hear your whole back story, and moreover, it’s probably not going to make the movie any better.
In the case of Kill List, there are plenty of things that never get explained. What exactly happened on their botched job in Kiev? Who knows? It went sour, and that’s all we need to know. It forms the background for the story we’re watching but it’s not an active part of it, so nobody is going to pause the action to explain it all to us. And that is as it should be.
I haven’t at all figured out how the rewrite of our script is going to be structured, but if any of you have other viewing recommendations for me, bring them on. Anything that’s worth a first or second time watch for brilliant story structuring purposes would be most welcome.
Sunday July 27, 2014
By Sunday the meetings have mostly dried up and I can have a blissful few extra hours of sleep before heading to a lunch meeting with some pals. I spend a bit of time catching up on the press Frontières and Fantasia have been getting. I am delighted to discover that the lovely Andrew Mack selected Rite of the Witch Goddess as one of his top pitches, in an article on Twitch.
My favourite quote from the article?
The old school film geek in me says stay. The Jesus in me says ‘RUN AWAY!’
That’s exactly what we were going for!
In the afternoon I hop over to the panel on works in progress to catch clips of some pretty cool upcoming movies, including one Ultra 8 Pictures joint, the upcoming doc WHY Horror? Tal Zimmerman showed some clips and was super funny, as usual. It’s great to see clips of other films by awesome pals, as well, including Ted Geoghegan’s hotly-anticipated-by-me horror film We Are Still Here, and the Moorehead & Benson joint Spring. The whole idea of showing and talking about works in progress is a smart one, and builds buzz for the films while also providing a bit of insight into the process of filmmaking. Probably one of the most useful lessons in that regard is just about how damn long the process can take. Hint: longer than you think, plus another year.
In the evening I do dinner double duty with Tim Reis, first attending the end-of-Frontières dinner for producers. I have half of an amazing plate of lobster mac & cheese (Tim had the lobster roll, both were insanely full of lobster) and chat with a couple of Canadian producers whose proof of concept (for a film called To Be Continued…) in yesterday’s panel was pretty memorable, and Julianne Forde, the charming irish producer of Stitches, my favourite horror comedy of 2012.
Then Tim and I jet across town to Aux Vivre, James Sizemore’s favourite Montreal vegan joint, where we join James, his wife Ashleigh, Colin, and Tal, for dinner part deux. I eat half of a “dragon bowl”. The dragon sauce is as mysteriously delicious as promised. I regret not buying a bottle.
Last up, the market closing party, a karaoke shindig at a place close to the hotel & festival centre that’s so full and loud and crazy and sweaty that my food-stuffed-and-exhausted response is to spend almost the entire party outside on the front patio with the smokers and similarly overheated others. I meet the guys behind The Creeping Garden, one of my most anticipated documentaries of the year, and am delighted to hear that their premiere went well. It’s about slime moulds, guys! I read an article about how this wacky organism was being used to design the most efficient interstate system. This was years ago and I have wanted to know more ever since.
Four key takeaways from the party:
- SLIME. MOULDS.
- Montreal has a local wrestling league called Battle War, at which men throw each other into piles of thumbtacks and break many tables and chairs.
- Next time I’m in Montreal, I gotta go to Battle War.
- Battle War is a great name. For anything.
In spite of my desire to party hard, at this point in the market I’m terrified of catching the bug that has kept James in bed for the past few days and seems to also be ruining Colin. So I hug everyone goodbye and go home at the reasonable hour of 1:30am or so, after only one beer. I am such a grownup.
Saturday July 26, 2014
Big day. Meetings, sure. Frontières, of course. But also, the world premieres of two films I’m very excited about. Devil’s Mile, by my dear friend Joe O’Brien, and Goat Witch, the short by Team The Demon’s Rook. The first half of the day very closely resembled the last two days. Meetings, meetings, meetings, an industry panel, and a rooftop networking cocktail party.
The panel was terrific. It was on the importance of creating a proof of concept for your as-yet unmade film. My favourite teaser of the ones shown was for a film called Radius, that Frontières founder and badass babe Stephanie Trepanier is serving as a producer, which is very exciting indeed. The teaser was beautifully made and pulled me into the story (which I won’t reveal because they’re still in the process of pulling it together and I don’t want to spill the beans about anything they’re not ready to go public with).
The purpose of proof of concept trailers is manifold. They can visually illustrate the tone and style you’ll be going for in your film. They can also prove that you’re capable of pulling off something that might otherwise be a question mark in the minds of the people you’re trying to convince. They can be used to attract financing, but also other elements. One team spoke about the fact that in the broadest sense, their project was a “creature feature”. However, it’s also a romance, and the relationship at the heart of it really takes it out of any potentially shlocky monster movie territory. They used their gorgeous teaser to attract cast who might otherwise not go for a “horror” role.
The panel definitely made me feel fantastic about our decision to cut a trailer of original footage for our Rite of the Witch Goddess pitch from the footage shot for Goat Witch. Because one of the key elements we’re trying to sell this on is the practical effects, it was crucial that we show them off and make our audience understand that we are capable of pulling off the ambitious film we have planned.
In the evening, things turned way more film festivally. First, the premiere of Devil’s Mile, which was really fun and which the audience totally dug. Great Q&A afterwards, too. It was awesome to see Joe enjoy (or at least nervously endure) his moment in the spotlight.
We went for post-screening drinks, and everyone seemed pretty relieved and excited and basically in complete shock. An hour or so later we had to race off to the big Concordia theatre for Goat Witch, playing in front of a sold out crowd before Dead Snow 2. James gave a killer intro (so did Joe, actually, but way different vibes in the smart thriller 7pm crowd and the Nazi zombies midnight crowd) and the short played like gangbusters.
After all that, it was back to the Embassy, where I could only manage one drink even though I somehow ended up with five drink tickets. Golden opportunity for drunkenness: missed. The Fantasia fatigue had kicked in and I was ready to sleeeeep.
Friday July 25, 2014
9:30am meetings are a wonderful way to ensure that you’re either (a) very reasonable about your behaviour the night before, or (b) going to be getting sick very shortly.
Thankfully, I fell into camp (a) on the first full post-pitch day of the market. As I mentioned in my last post, the way the meetings at Frontières are structured is kind of speed-dating-esque. Each project has a table assigned to it, at which the team sits.
Every half hour, a bell rings and a new person sits on the other side of that table and you talk. They tell you what they do and you tell them a bit more about the project than you said in the initial presentation. They might be able to help you in the short-term (sales agents, for example, or distributors in a position to pre-buy a film that hasn’t been made yet in order to help you raise some of the cash money you need to actually make it) or they might not (festival programmers who want to track your project but really can’t do anything for you until it’s completed and ready to submit to them).
Either way, it’s very much to your benefit to make these contacts early, so that when your film is done and you set your sights on Sundance, you’re not just one of thousands of unsolicited submissions that they receive but can actually send a personal note to the programmer, who you met at Fantasia. Personal connections make a lot of difference. It’s not like “you have to know someone” but it’s like “it helps to know someone” and actually getting to know someone isn’t difficult at all, and you should probably invest the time and do it.
After the whirlwind day of meetings, another cocktail party on the roof of the Frontières home base, for more tiny snack foods and schmoozing with old and new pals. Sometimes, I feel exhausted and want to skip the social stuff, but I never do. I know that making connections in that setting can be just as important as the meetings, and it’s a huge part of the reason we’re all here. So, I soldier on, drinking free wine and chatting with the best of ’em. Life is so tough.
Well, I guess it can be a chore if you get sick with one of the dreaded festival viruses that often hang around like ominous thunderclouds, as poor James did after an overly raucous thursday night. Can’t blame him too much, though. It was his birthday!
Next up, dinner at Nouveau Palais, an amazing Mile End old timey diner with a deliciously new timey menu. I had a chilled celery soup and salmon with grits + fava beans because I was still too meated out from the night before. Everyone else had the highly recommended burger.
Dinner was followed by – what else? – more drinks at the Irish Embassy. Does it get old? Sure. But it’s also the best place to catch up with everyone at the end of the day and chat about all the movies you haven’t had time to go to. Not even the not-very-good cover band that plays on Fridays and Saturdays can ruin that.
Thursday July 24, 2014
The train ride on Wednesday was productive (I answered so many emails) and uneventful (no emergency calls from anyone I am working with on anything). When we got into town, we went immediately to the printer to get a copy of our poster printed, then to the presentation venue for a tech check (I cannot overstate the value of this part of the process, people. Don’t even wait until someone says “hey do you want to test your PowerPoint on our computer before you go on stage?” Demand it from the outset! Fantasia is, of course, fantastic and well-organized and we met the glorious Maria Reinup at the venue and sorted everything out and then went to the hotel for rehearsals.
We didn’t actually get started on practicing our pitch until around 9 or 10pm, so by the time we were done, it was pretty late. Still, going to bed late is about 100 times better than going to bed drunk, so we all still woke up bright and early on Thursday and ready for a day of pitches.
I kept swinging wildly between the extremes of feeling completely confident and totally terrified all day, but the other presentations kept me balanced. They were a good mix of totally polished and casual, and I could tell that almost everyone was just as nervous as I was. On the whole, I thought everyone did quite well. And it was good to remind myself of this fact before going on stage, because there were certainly moments during some of the other presentations when people flubbed a line or couldn’t get their slide shows or videos to work, and it was still fine. The audience is forgiving. People understand that it’s nerve-wracking and for the most part, they want you to do well.
The pitches were held in a small theatre so any A/V elements looked and sounded great on the big screen. Each team was allotted ten minutes, and both the director and producer(s) were supposed to speak. The presentations were done in three blocks of four, with short breaks. We were in the final block, so by that point the audience was getting a bit tired. The benefit was that we got to see most of the other teams do a wide variety of different kinds of pitches (funny, serious, slick, messy), so by the time we got on stage, we didn’t feel like we might be the only terrible one.
As it turns out, we did great. We were concise, we stuck to the 10 minute time limit, and we had a pretty killer proof of concept video of 100% original footage to show off our (by “our” I mean “James’s”) special effects skills.
I thought my voice was shaking pretty bad but when I got off stage people kept saying “wow, you sounded so confident”, so I guess I’m going to start saying “I was extremely confident and it showed” the next time anyone asks whether I was nervous.
The afternoon of speed-dating style meetings that followed the morning of pitch sessions flew by in a total blur. Every half an hour, a new person would sit down, we’d chat excitedly and then a bell would ring and everyone would play musical chairs. Of the many highlights were our two meetings with super-producers Travis Stevens and Brian Udovich, who did us the incredible courtesy o reading the current draft of our script in advance, so that they were able to release some hardcore real-talk on us about how to improve it. I feel very inspired to spend August working on the next draft.
In the evening, we went to the networking cocktail party to schmooze with pals. Everyone had so much excess adrenaline to burn off that it was really nice to do it over wine on a gorgeous rooftop terrace. We went for post-cocktail drinks at ye olde Irish Embassy because we had some time to kill before the post-birthday present that the world’s greatest husband had planned for me – dinner at Au Pied de Cochon, where I’ve wanted to overstuff myself with meats for yearssssss.
We watched the table next to us get a pig’s head with a lobster coming out of its mouth. It looked impressive. Our own family style meal involved foie gras, tuna tartar, clams in blue cheese sauce, a veal porterhouse steak, a crazy pot of pork belly, sausages and cheesy polenta, and the restaurant’s signature “duck in a can”. Oh yeah, there was also maple bread pudding and a rhubarb pastry that almost killed me.
I was mostly incapacitated after that meal, so a single drink at the Irish had to be followed by almost immediate lying down. Holy. The meat.
I’m on a train catching up on some Birdland casting business (we’re approaching some big names this week) and struggling to type with the insane nails I decided to inflict upon my hands for Fantasia (flashier nails = more confidence, right?) and texting my Rite of the Witch Goddess teammates and generally getting excited about Frontières.
By this time tomorrow, our pitch will probably be over. I keep having to remind myself that the me who is nervous about public speaking is the me of ten years ago and not the me of today. The me of today is at ease with a microphone in any situation except karaoke. And that’s not about confidence, it’s about the particular weird skill-set and personality required to enjoy doing karaoke, which I lack. I like watching other people do it! I can’t wait to see my cute friends sing their hearts out at the Frontières closing party. I hope Nicole raps.
Today is going to be a pretty full day. I arrive in Montreal at 2:30, get to the hotel by 3ish and head straight out to the presentation venue for a tech check with James.
After we test our trailer on the big screen to make sure it looks and sounds amazing tomorrow, I’ll be heading back for a workout at the hotel gym. It will clear my mind for a night of pitch rehearsals. Around 6ish, Tim will arrive in Montreal. We’ll probably get some kind of takeout dinner and hunker down for a couple of hours of going over our presentation until we feel extremely confident.
Then, an early night in. The last thing I want is to feel under-slept or hung over for the presentation. Everyone at Fantasia descends on a bar called the Irish Embassy at the end of each night, where jovial film nerds drink beer on a huge back patio until the wee hours. I will be skipping it tonight in favour of a really solid night’s sleep. But tomorrow? Look out Embassy!
I stole this photo from the excellent Jay Clarke’s excellent blog The Horror Section. This pic is from 2008, but coincidentally, the young lady in the black top pictured here (Serena Whitney) is going to be at Fantasia with me this year, because she’s the co-writer of one of the Off-Frontières projects, Mark of Kane. Check out their poster over on Fangoria.
Ok! Almost in Montreal. Time to get ready to get off this train.