Doctor Who director encourages female filmmakers to embrace the dark side

WIFTV contest urges women to make horror, fantasy, and sci-fi films

Women are geeking hard for genre entertainment.

For decades, the genre sphere – which includes horror, science fiction, fantasy, action, and any combination thereof – was considered the domain of dudes, just as tearjerkers and rom-coms were breezily dismissed as “chick flicks.”

But stroll around Fan Expo each April and you’ll see women arguing about DC vs. Marvel, and cosplaying as characters from Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.

Outdated gender roles be damned; genre fandom is for everyone.

The same can be said about the people making genre entertainment. It’s not exclusively a boys club anymore.

The biggest genre hit of 2014 – Guardians of the Galaxy – was co-written by a woman.

On television, Orphan Black, Continuum, and Strange Empire are all driven by multi-faceted female protagonists (and FYI, they’re all filmed in Canada).

While women are increasingly asserting themselves as genre writers, directors, producers, and stars, gaps remain.

Industry-wide, statistics show that women constitute only four per cent of feature-film directors, 11 per cent of writers, and 13 per cent of editors.

Women in Film & Television Vancouver (WIFTV) has been determined to build up those numbers for years – and with its latest competition, they’re zeroing in on genre films.

WIFTV – along with Super Channel, Telefilm Canada and Creative BC – is spearheading From Our Dark Side, a national English language contest seeking the best ideas for Canadian female-driven thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy and horror.

Ten projects will be shortlisted and juried by top genre creators; the winning five projects will receive a mentorship package designed to help them get their projects to the screen.

The mentors include some of Canada’s most prominent genre players: celebrated sci-fi actress and director Amanda Tapping (Sanctuary); writer-director Karen Lam (Evangeline); director Rupert Harvey (The Blob); digital marketing specialist Annelise Larson; and Rachel Talalay, the veteran writer, producer, production manager, and director whose credits include Tank Girl and six A Nightmare on Elm Street films.

Talalay’s fascination with genre began in her youth, watching Star Trek, early Doctor Who, and Twilight Zone.

“My starting place was that I was very interested in fantasy, but horror itself terrified me,” says Talalay, who teaches in the UBC film production department. “I always say that that’s what made me better at it was that, once I learned to love it, then I had so much to call on from my childhood.”

Fast-forward to earlier this year, when Talalay was tapped to direct two of the most highly anticipated television episodes on the planet: the penultimate and ultimate episodes of the eighth season of the Doctor Who reboot.

Her hiring meant that she became the seventh woman in Doctor Who’s 51 years to direct for the show.

“There’s the question of, ‘did you get hired on Doctor Who because they were under such pressure that they hadn’t had any women directors for so long, or did you get hired on Doctor Who because you were the right director?’” says Talalay.

“But I was saying to one of the very active Whovian feminist bloggers that, while I would believe that I was hired for who I am and I certainly can prove it in my work, and that’s what [Doctor Who showrunner] Steven Moffatt said to me, ‘look at your work,’ it certainly didn’t hurt to have them out there pushing. They certainly helped the cause, saying ‘it’s embarrassing that there haven’t been any women, let’s make a big deal.’”

While there’s no guaranteed formula for success in the contest, Talalay advises against pursuing an idea you don’t believe in simply to please some hypothetical audience.
“It has to be a project that comes from you, that’s completely original,” says Talalay. “Occasionally people say to me, ‘Oh, horror’s really easy, you just chop some stuff up.’ But that’s not what’s scary at all. What’s scary is something that’s psychologically deeply embedded inside of you. And the competition isn’t just horror. It’s genre, and so much can be considered genre.

“I think that it’s really important for women to feel comfortable embracing genre, and to feel that our future is not limited to women’s pieces,” she adds.

Female writers are invited to submit their three- to five-page outlines by Jan. 15.

For full contest information, visit WIFTV's website here.

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Vancouver's Rachel Talalay on directing Doctor Who

For Vancouver director Rachel Talalay, helming the final two episodes of Doctor Who’s eighth series was a highlight in an already illustrious career.

For the uninitiated, the long-running British sci-fi series follows the adventures of an alien who travels through time and space in his trusty blue TARDIS (which stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space – and which, somewhere along the way, took the shape of an English police box that’s famously bigger on the inside).

Oh, and the Doctor’s name isn’t Doctor Who; it’s simply the Doctor. Calling the Doctor “Doctor Who” is like nails on a chalkboard for ardent Whovians (including yours truly).

The Doctor regenerates every few years, at which point the role is given a fresh spin by a new actor. With that kind of story point, the series can last as long as there’s an appetite for it.

And there’s been an appetite for more than 50 years now – an appetite that was regenerated thanks to a 2005 reboot and intensified by Netflix and social media.

In short, Doctor Who is a global phenomenon, and the series has never been hotter.

The 12th incarnation of the Doctor – a gruff and fearless version played by Scottish actor Peter Capaldi – was introduced to much fanfare earlier this year.

As director of the final two episodes of the eighth season – "Dark Water" and "Death in Heaven", which aired in November – Talalay (a UBC prof and experienced director, writer, producer, and production manager) was the seventh woman in Doctor Who’s history to direct for the show.

I spoke with Talalay last week to discuss her participation in WIFTV’s From Our Dark Side contest, but being a Whovian, I couldn’t help but slip in a few Doctor Who-related questions.

If Doctor Who is your bag, these exclusive nuggets are for you:

ON READING THE SCRIPT BEFORE SHE MET PETER CAPALDI’S DOCTOR: “When I read the script for Episode 11 on the plane over to Wales, I had not seen any of this season, so the first time I read the script, I read it in Matt Smith’s voice. That’s all I had, and then I came in, and I met Peter, and I started watching other episodes, and then Peter became my Doctor well before he was your Doctor, and the whole way that he read those words was completely different, in Peter’s vocabulary, in the way Peter was the Doctor. Very few people are going to have the opportunity to have that moment that I had, when I read the script only knowing Matt as the Doctor, and then trying to make sense of that.”

ON FILMING OUTSIDE OF ST. PAUL’S CATHEDRAL: “The day that we were outside St. Paul’s Cathedral was one of the most incredible filmmaking days of my life. What’s so phenomenal about what we do is being allowed into places that you wouldn’t normally be allowed into. The centre doors of St. Paul’s Cathedral are the royal doors, and only the Archbishop and royalty are allowed through those doors normally. So we had to have special permission to allow the Doctor, Missy, and the Cybermen to come through those middle doors, and everyone else was not allowed through them. I had to keep running around the side to give direction, because I wasn’t on the list of who was allowed through those doors. But the Doctor is royalty, in its own UK way.”

ON KEEPING THE SECRET THAT MISSY WAS THE REGENERATED MASTER: “To keep that as a secret was so complicated. I’m still shocked we did it, but we actually recorded Michelle Gomez at St. Paul’s saying that she was the Rani, and we had the pages printed of her saying that she was Rani, and then we did a take where she whispered, ‘I’m the Master,’ and then we went in and replaced it properly in ADR. We couldn’t give that reveal in front of 5,000 people with their cellphones and their mics and their cameras – and because five of the episodes had leaked on line, we were even more sensitive. A lot of people guessed. I was saying to Gomez the day before, ‘I can’t believe we managed to keep this a secret.’”

ON TAKING SELFIES IN THE TARDIS: “Being in the TARDIS is just incredible. Taking selfies in the TARDIS. You take every single person who’s a Doctor Who fan into the TARDIS and they have the same reaction of just, ‘I can’t believe I’m here on the TARDIS,’ and that never went away, that feeling of, ‘I can’t believe I’m filming on the TARDIS, I can’t believe I’m here.’ That fan feeling. Peter Capaldi also said to me he was driving home after the day at St. Paul’s, with his wife, and they were talking about how that was one of the more incredible days of his career, and a couple of times Peter and I looked at each other and said, ‘how did we get so lucky?’”

ON RECEIVING GOOD WISHES FROM 3rd DOCTOR TOM BAKER BEFORE FILMING: “I had worked with Tom twice before doing this, and we stayed in touch, and when I emailed him to say, ‘finally, it comes full circle and I’m getting to direct this,’ I had the nicest message from him. You could hear it in Tom’s voice, just his joy that I was getting this opportunity.”

ON READING REVIEWS OF HER DOCTOR WHO EPISODES: “I try not to read reviews. I try not to abuse myself on the internet with all of the negatives. I’m careful about that, but my daughter said, ‘There’s one here that you must read, and this will make you happy.’ And it just said, ‘Rachel Talalay gets Doctor Who.’ That’s all I wanted. I wanted to make it clear that I wasn’t some outsider, that this was part of my DNA, and the fact that I wanted to do it was out of this love for it.

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