Patty Jenkins: From Indie Film to Wonder Woman
Patty Jenkins is a director that does what she loves. She so happens to love comedy as well as real thrilling drama, although not at the same time. Her ability to delve into the femininity significance and its impact on modern society are revealed in her latest film project, Wonder Woman.
This unique way of viewing her projects began early enough in her life. She was born in Victorville, California, to Emily Roth, an environmental scientist who worked in San Francisco, and William T. Jenkins, who was a fighter pilot and an Air Force captain that earned a Silver Star in the Vietnam War. She has two siblings, Jessica Jenkins Murphy and Elaine Roth. Because her father was an Air Force captain, Jenkins spent most of her childhood moving from place to place and growing up on different military bases. She lived in Thailand, Germany, and Kansas. She began taking an interest in British sitcoms, and she discovered the works of Stanley Kubrick, Elia Kazan, and Martin Scorsese.
When her family finally settled in Kansas, she became engrossed in the arts; she studied photography and music in high school. Later, she attended the Cooper Union for painting. However, her interest in painting lasted until she began her first experimental filmmaking classes. From what she recalled, “They had a Steenbeck editing bay, and the first generation of video editing [equipment], the Toaster.” She continued there for days and nights adding life to the images and never wanting to stop for any reason. According to her, it was the first time she was in an entirely faithful relationship, and she wanted to lie up to the music she heard and make incredibly powerful emotional moments. This is something that has been with her even until this day.
From that time, her focus on painting led her to work as a cameraperson on some commercials with the hopes of training on the job. She noted, however, that it was misguided. While she learned the skills with the equipment, she failed to learn how to direct. After eight years, she left a successful career to learn to direct at AFI. When she graduated, she met Brad Wyman, an indie producer who had already established himself and had made a couple of low-budget serial killer films. Jenkins mentioned to him that he should create a movie surrounding Aileen Wuornos’ story. She was a prostitute who admitted to killing up to seven men. She was always bothered by the way Aileen Wuornos’ story had been showcased in the media. Brad told her to write the story for it. And that was how Monster was created.
When she was working on the script for Monster, she wrote to Wuornos. The night before the execution, Wuornos let up and left Jenkins every of her letters to review. And with that shocking turn of events, Jenkins knew she had to be the director of the movie.
The little $1.5 million budget along with straight-to-video expectations was what helped to give Jenkins the right amount of confidence to handle her first feature. Only with a 23-day shoot, she had no time for hesitations or anxiety. However, she didn’t have too much time or money to spend on blocking and lighting such hard shots.
The performance was critical, and she had to do what was necessary to use what she could and compromise on the style. As is turned out, that was a wise choice: Charlize Theron, who played Wuornos and at the time was not known for dramatic roles, won an Academy Award for her brilliant portrayal. Patty Jenkins collected her share of accolades from the movie as well.
After handling such a big a big project like Monster, Patty Jenkins became more relaxed. She always admits that making a movie is a lot of emotions and commitment, and she didn’t want to have herself do it for the money. She wanted to keep working, so she focused on smaller projects. She directed one episode of “Arrested development.” While working with the show’s peculiar tone, she learned how to time a joke, where to position the camera, and how to work alongside the actors. It was a new stuff she had to work with, and so it was also when she worked on “Entourage,” where she learned how to shoot a car chase scene in Maserati. Her style when she was directing the “boy’s club” show was one of the most fun she has had when directing. She calls it a job she did with “no emotional toll,” which was a relief after her work directing the 2003 hit movie, “Monster.”
Patty Jenkins found it harder than she expected to return to directing after the birth of her son. Being a new mother, she could no longer watch crime stories about kids. Jenkins worked on a ghost story series that didn’t get picked up, but when the cable channel needed a director for “the pilot of The Killing,” she was offered the job. She was convinced to take it on by “the showrunner of The Killing.” Jenkins explained that it was more about “focusing on the cost of a crime like that.”
The show, however, gave her an opportunity to do some of the stylized work she couldn’t do on “Monster” because of the difference in time and financial constraints. She aimed for a cinematic and lush look with an emotional feel. And as a result, she discovered “the tension of the unknown” she admired in her favorite films was easy to get on the pilot because “episodic drama is all about withholding.” Jenkins won the 2011 DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series. And to finish what she started, Jenkins retook the reins to direct the show’s season two finale, the episode where the killer was finally revealed. When she started in her career, every decision required doubt and deep thought. But recently, it comes as quickly to her as switching film genres.
Having directed her drama, “Monster.” With Charlize Theron to win an Oscar in 2003, Jenkins was sought after by Marvel to take command of its upcoming superhero film “Thor 2”. This would have been Patty Jenkins’ first time directing a Superhero film. This was huge—Marvel was about to hire a female director to spearhead one of its globally popular superhero movies, and also, it was still somewhat early in the days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But, it wasn’t meant to be. Jenkins parted ways with the studio due to creative differences.
Marvel later hired Alan Taylor to direct Thor: The Dark World. In the years that have passed, there weren’t many known reasons why Jenkins left, or what she had in mind for the sequel. She said later that she loved those guys and she loved the idea of working with them to make those together. But she did point out that it was heart-breaking but good because she didn’t think she could’ve made a great film out of their script.
In 2010, Patty Jenkins pitched what she had in mind for a Wonder Woman movie (it would be an origin story that will be set during World War I era) to the Warner Bros studio. However, the studio chose a different female filmmaker, Michelle MacLaren, to take the reins and direct the movie.
Just days after Warner Bros lost a director for Wonder Woman, they quickly found another filmmaker to take charge on the high-profile project. Warner Bros moved quickly to get another director after parting ways with Michelle MacLaren, the experienced producer TV director who was to have made her feature directorial debut with a DCEU movie. MacLaren’s departure was announced as the result of creative differences. Warner Bros needed to move quickly so that the project which was slotted for 2017 doesn’t lose momentum with Gal Gadot as lead actor.
In the movie, “Wonder Woman,” the title hero leaves her empowering, all-female home of Themyscira for World War I-era London.
For someone who has never directed a big-budget superhero film, this was a challenge itself for Patty Jenkins. How would she succeed as the first woman to direct a big feature movie in an industry that has been plagued by sexism? But she shook that off that labeling, choosing not to be bound by that question, and focused on succeeding as a director.
On the set of Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins was seen as more of a physical director, who demonstrated to her actors – especially Gal Gadot (as Wonder Woman) – the particular hand-to-hand fight moves she was looking for. She also encourages the emotional truths she’s looking for from the Wonder Woman character, who is new to a patriarchal world but refuses to abandon her sense of powerful self-possession or her sword.
The female lead of the Wonder Woman film (Gal Gadot) said that the director should be credited for not turning the Wonder Woman movie into a ballbuster. Although, it would not have taken much to convert the movie into something of that nature. Patty Jenkins made sure to capture different focus points in the movie. And with her directing experience, she created Wonder Woman to be a loving, compassionate, confident, and gentle superhero who could also take on any challenge. Wonder Woman can be very relatable in so many ways.
Patty Jenkins said that her emboldened apprehension applies to both real Hollywood machinery and mythic fiction. According to Jenkins, her mother was a second-wave feminist, and the way she was raised, she was both aware of the existence of sexism but that she was free to do whatever she wanted.
Jenkins once said that she’s sure there’s a history of belief that certain jobs are masculine, but the idea that the position of a director should fall into that category was confusing. She said it felt like a natural job for a woman. According to her, it is very maternal in a way, since it means caretaking all these sorts of things. Jenkins said that seeing Lynda Carter in the 70’s was a big deal for her when she was growing up. Patty Jenkins believes that one of the reasons it happened was because she liked Diana while growing up.
As Jenkins gets mostly positive feedback for “Wonder Woman,” she feels affirmed in hewing to her egalitarian outlook. She doesn’t see wonder woman as a female film, but instead, she sees her as a major female superhero. Jenkins also stresses the difference between choosing to be on the front lines as a prominent activist and creating empowering work.
Meanwhile, Jenkins advises young women filmmakers not to give attention to the systematic bias in filmmaking. She doesn’t believe that asking “how to make it as a female filmmaker” helps in anyway. She believes that the sexism is real and women are only more powerful when they continue forging ahead.
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