As an extra bonus for Graphic Content’s screening of Tank Girl, our friends at the Boozy Boob Tube spoke to Rachel Talalay, director of the film, for an interview. Read on for a sneak peek into how this month’s movie came into being.
Boozy Boob Tube: Why was it important for you to make Tank Girl? In other words, what was it about the Tank Girl comics that really resonated with you?
Rachel Talalay: Look at her. Words are pointless.
BBT: What was the adaptation process like for Tank Girl, especially given the comic book is often more hijinks-driven than narrative focused?
RT: We ended up with three options for places to make the film. I consulted with the creators (Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin) and the publisher (Tom Astor) about whether we should go with the Indie offers of less money but more independence or with the higher profile/more money offer to be able to afford the tank, jet, etc. They all felt we should do the studio/moneyed version in the hopes we could get both attitude and hardware, so we went with United Artists. None of the places were going to let Alan Martin write the script; we were clear on that. The comic did not have enough narrative line. I never cared about that part of it — the story. I wanted the visuals and the outrageous attitude.
We put in a story just to get it green lit. Alan Martin always said that if we took out all the words, the visuals are successful. He was understandably not as happy with the US dialogue. Any time anyone asks me “what is her back story?” or “what turned her into Tank Girl?” I puke a little in my mouth. Not that long ago, some studio exec asked me that. I answered, “questions like that.” It was not a good political answer, but if you are so caught up in narrative structure, you can’t see the essence of the translation of sequential visuals to filmic vision, you shouldn’t be making Tank Girl.
We started out well supported by United Artists. But then, as often happens, the head of the studio changed and the directives were different. This led to a challenging change of direction and numerous arguments about what film I had set out to make. This is really hard when you have a vision and they are trying to mold it to their own tastes at the last minute.
We might have made a different decision than to be with United Artists if we had known. There are scenes cut out just because they offended varying people, even when they tested well among the audience. The whole process was fractious at best.
We were ahead of our time. The “R” rating would probably be a PG-13 now. But then, they were afraid of it. I knew it would be a 1 or a 9 with people — you get it or you don’t. If you ask how and why she changes hairstyles when there is no water, you shouldn’t be watching the movie.
BBT: Aside from Lexi Alexander’s highly underrated ‘Punisher War Zone’, ‘Tank Girl’ is the only North American comic book adaptation directed by a woman. Can you describe your experience as a female director in Hollywood?
RT: I really deluded myself into thinking Tank Girl was going to break the glass ceiling and allow there to be female action heroes. Instead it halted my feature career. With fewer than 5% of studio features being made by women now, it’s hardly a time to talk about being a female director in Hollywood. I know more about special effects and visual effects than many of my male counterparts and I’m still treated like I might not know what a pixel is.
BBT: Why do you think that the ‘Tank Girl’ franchise and your film has become a cult classic that continues to resonate with audiences?
RT: The exact reason I had to make it. Women and girls want to be seen as independent, free-thinking, fearless heroes. They want to be accepted for their own attitudes and style and on their own terms. Tank Girl doesn’t have to care what others think. Sexism seems to be on the rise. Tank Girl is one of the few movies where the female lead doesn’t take it. I am so happy that it is a movie recommended in Queen Bees and Wannabes (the source material for the brilliant Mean Girls).
One of the most depressing things about the Oscars this year was the “Heroes” section which included maybe 8 images of women to over 100 men. That kind of sums it up. What are we telling girls about their futures?
BBT: Tank Girl is undoubtedly a badass lady. Do you have any other favourite badass ladies from television or film that you’re a big fan of?
RT: James Cameron is the king of feminist characters. He’s done more for women in film than I ever did. When Ripley says, “Did IQ’s just drop sharply while I was away?”, I want to cheer.
I’m very interested in the new breed of teen girls who are tortured and insecure (Bella, Katniss) but have two or more men completely devoted to them. The men see them for their inner worth, and the girls can be more real. I love Jennifer Lawrence and Kristen Stewart in these roles. They are offshoots of Scarlet O’Hara, but she was really too selfish and messed up. And the metaphors of Twilight don’t resonate with me. But Hunger Games is really strong — self-sacrifice, rage against tyranny, etc.
I love Ricki Lake in Hairspray. The outcast who gets the hunk (a bit like a twisted Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were). Women don’t want to have to be some ideal that a Photoshop-guru fantasized. The problem is that real life is complicated. Very few of us will ever be physically strong enough to win by force.
I love the old Hollywood icons, in particular Katharine Hepburn.
BBT: You have done a lot of work both in film and in television. Do you have a preference or do you gravitate to one medium over the other and why?
RT: TV is so hard. It’s mostly about how quickly you can work — and can you get along with the mostly male crew? Women are judged on totally different standards than men are. Male directors are given much more slack. I really miss the old days of independent movies when you didn’t have to make them on your own credit card, but there was a business model for making auteur movies. Now there are about 5 filmmakers who can make movies like that — and two of them are the Coen Brothers. I love independent movies and voices. I always wanted to be an auteur but didn’t have the integrity to starve.
BBT: You have worked on many television shows and there are plenty of fantastic shows being made right now, are there any particular shows that you would love to direct or produce?
RT: I want to do a series of Tank Girl and one of Hairspray. I want to do a horror series on Girl Demons called “Plagued”. If you’re asking me what I want to work on right now: Doctor Who.
BBS: You’re now teaching at the University of British Columbia for the Department of Theatre and Film. What was it that interested you about moving into teaching about film production?
RT: The students are amazing. Teaching makes me think about filmmaking in a more global sense: Why it’s so complicated, what I learned and how. I’m a bit like Tank Girl as a teacher. I’m always encouraging the students not to be hung up by the ‘rules’ of filmmaking. However I do insist they understand these purported rules (fulcrum, structure, screen direction, etc) so they can break them smartly. (I do not encourage them to break laws, be dangerous or go rogue). I want to help them be original thinkers, leaders and fighters, not entitled prats.
I’m still working a lot. I haven’t been put out to pasture in my advanced age. I just did a horror film called The Dorm for MTV and Sony. It’s feminist horror — (that sounds so ridiculous) — but it’s subtext is about the pressure on young girls to have perfect body image.
All my upcoming projects are female-oriented — a series for CBC about women in the west in 1869. Very Hell on Wheels (which is a great series).
A biographical feature based on the stories of a young teenage girl called “An Introverts Guide to High School.” A story about the women killed by Canada’s most prolific serial killer, Willy Pickton.
BBT: Speaking of horror films, you both produced and directed installments in the ‘Nightmare On Elm Street’ film series. Are you particularly fond of horror films and is there a certain type or sub-genre of horror that you enjoy? What would you consider the scariest horror film?
RT: You probably can’t name a horror film that didn’t scare me. I am a chicken, which is what made me so full of ideas for Nightmare. The Exorcist and The Shining are two favorites. The original Nightmare on Elm Street is ridiculously scary. The script gave me nightmares.
When I was a kid, the one that terrified me was an awful obscure TV movie called How Awful About Allan. The lead had hysterical blindness and would hear whispers “Aaallen” which my brother and sister did to me all through our childhood. I can still remember the plot and cheezy special effects — but don’t go looking for it, it’s not worth resurrecting. I was scared by the original Star Trek when I was 6.
I love the creativity, but I’m not interested in revenge movies or torture porn. Women can’t just be victims in horror films. That’s way too easy.
I love directing effects and scares, it’s liberating, never-ending creativity.
BBT: And since we’re a blog that incorporates a bit of drinking… if you had to describe yourself as an alcoholic beverage, which drink would you be and why?
RT: A black jello shot. Or two. Or three…interpret that as you wish.