By Susan Kouguell
At the 2016 Athena Film Festival held at Barnard College in New York City, writer and director Karyn Kusama presented a Master Class in directing. Offering honest and often humorous anecdotes about working and surviving in the film industry, (it took her ten years after graduating from NYU film school to find representation), Kusama shared insightful advice to the audience of screenwriters and filmmakers.
Kusama wrote and directed her first feature film, “Girlfight,” in 1999, which won the Director’s Prize and shared the Grand Jury Prize at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. In 2004, Karyn directed the science fiction love story “Aeon Flux” for Paramount Pictures and her third feature, comedy-horror film “Jennifer’s Body,” written by Diablo Cody, was released by Twentieth Century Fox. Her latest feature, “The Invitation,” won the Grand Prize at the Sitges Film Festival, among other awards, and will be released in March 2016 by Drafthouse Films. Kusama’s television directing credits include “Billions” and “The Man in High Castle.”
Emphasizing the importance of being authentic and bringing something different into the room (a meeting, on a film set), Kusama stated, “Know how to say no and be specific on what you need. All these things take practice. ”
“I was open and willing to sit with studio heads. I kept hearing the words ‘NO’ and ‘WHY’? People couldn’t wrap themselves around the story. ‘Why does this Latina need to be a boxer? Can she be a grownup white girl?’ I was more interested in the girls I rode the subway with every day. I started boxing myself in a well-known gym called Gleason’s, and saw a lot of guys who found so much family and serenity in the ring, and I thought what an incredible opportunity it was giving them. What about their sisters and girlfriends? Boxing is almost its own trope. “
The Studio’s Genre Shift for “Jennifer’s Body”
“It was a horror film and a girl comedy. My pitch to the studio was: ‘It’s a horror movie about toxic female friendships and when they get too close it’s monstrous.’ As I was shooting the film, Screen Gems Studios released a remake of “Prom Night.”