The Unfair Business of Being a Woman Director in the Boys Club of Horror Filmmaking

The Producer

Fact: Many of your average genre enthusiast's favorite movies wouldn't exist if it weren't for a few exceptional women. Take John Carpenter's Halloween, for example—bet you didn't know it was produced and co-written by a woman, Debra Hill, who also shard screenwriting credits on Carpenter's horror classic The Fog (1980). And how about Gale Anne Hurd? These days, the Hollywood super-producer is instrumental behind the scenes of AMC's The Walking Dead, but back in the '80s, Hurd—a major reason why James Cameron has become the cinematic demigod that he is today—produced The Terminator and Aliens, leading into future projects like Tremors, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Armageddon.

Though she's working on a much smaller scale, Jennifer Blanc-Biehn is taking cues from women like Hill and Hurd. Along with her husband, actor Michael Biehn, the 39-year-old, NYC-bred renaissance woman oversees Blanc Biehn Productions, the genre-leaning company responsible for the well-received 2011 grindhouse throwback The Victim, Danielle Harris' Among Friends, and nine forthcoming films, including her sci-fi/horror directorial debut, The Night Visitor.

Blanc-Biehn's transformation into a hustling producer comes after nearly 20 years working as an actress. That time spent in front of the camera gave her the perspective necessary to take her career into her own hands and personally create all-new kinds of roles and projects.

You've worked as both a producer and a director now. Has it been difficult to prove yourself in either position?
I was in the editing room for my first movie as a director, The Night Visitor. I've been producing since The Victim [2011], and I've gotten the hang of it. As a producer, I'm sort of this high-strung, aggressive person, but as a director I'm much quieter. I surround myself with guys, and they're all great, but I've been noticing that they all defer to each other whenever I'm making a decision. I have to stand up and go, "Dude, I'm the director—look at me!" And it's interesting, because then I feel like an asshole, but if it was a guy, nobody would think twice about him standing up and demanding that kind of respect.

Someone like Sherry Lansing is really interesting. She's shot to the top as a producer, and she's known as really nice, really beautiful, and she's married to William Friedkin, but she's also known as being a tough, strong woman. She's probably just that way because she's a woman. Look at Billy Friedkin, though—he's made the most influential horror film of all time, The Exorcist, and he's widely known to be very aggressive on his sets. But if a woman was acting like that, it would be so out of control. People would be calling her a lesbian.

The thing that men like about women is a little more demure, more sexual. I definitely have all of that in my personality, but I also have the more aggressive side, and that's when I start getting scared. I wonder if people think I'm being too aggressive or too angry. I'm trying to find that happy medium between being strong, standing on my own two feet, and not being thought of as a ball-buster type of person.

In what ways can being a woman benefit you as a producer?
Michael and I are doing a remake of this movie Hidden in the Woods, and the subject matter is about rape, drug trafficking, and female survival. A lot of people, when they see this subject matter, get very freaked out. I think it's actually helping us to have a woman, me, producing it, because I can get in there and say, "Look, this, this, and this happened to me as a child, and I still want to produce this. Here's the deal: We're talking to abuse charities and trying to get the support from that community, so it won't be gratuitous."

 
I'm always cast as the party girl, or the stripper, or the crazy chick, but I can play a lawyer too. Now that I'm producing, that can actually happen.
 

Having a woman behind a project like that can help the situation. Having that feminine side helps people see that women can get behind this stuff, as fans; the flipside is, if it's all men trying to sell you on it, it can be seen as torture porn or exploitative.

Women aren't pussies. In fact, some women can be way more hardcore than men. In Danielle's movie, there's a lot of sexual content that involves me and other cast members., but you don't see a lot of it. Still, it's very uncomfortable to watch, and I think a woman like Danielle is able to handle that kind of implication really well, whereas a guy might've directed that movie and shown it all.

Did you become a producer in response to not seeing the kinds of women roles in genre films that you'd like to see?
After Michael filmed The Divide, he and I were really impressed by how the director, Xavier [Gens], shot that movie with such freedom. We wanted to take control of what we were doing. And then this opportunity to make The Victim fell into our laps, and we wrote it in three weeks and shot in 12 days, and that was my first shot at producing. It gave me the opportunity to play the lead heroine in a movie that's sort of a throwback to grindhouse-era exploitation, and not have to rely solely on the character's sexuality. I got that taste of it, and from there I wanted to do it again. I'm always cast as the party girl, or the stripper, or the crazy chick, but I can play a lawyer too. Now that I'm producing, that can actually happen.

The horror community is looked at as a boys club, but I'd imagine that's even more so the case for a producer.
It is male-heavy, but I think there's something about the horror fans that feels very appreciative of women. As far as the horror filmmakers, I don't think it's as much of a boys' club as people think, but it's definitely one when it comes to the hierarchy of distribution. There is certain content they need to see in order to think it will sell, and that's usually tits and ass.

I've been very lucky because Michael has been a real supporter. He looks like the kind of guy who would be in that boys' club, but he's really not. Because he's such an intense presence, people are a little nervous with him, so I'm protected. Our latest investor really only defers to me, actually, and that makes me feel good, because there have been many times when I'll notice that people ignore me and go straight to Michael or whatever other guy I'm working with.

I just hit 39, and when I younger, all I thought about was, Yeah, I want to be cute, sexy, and show my boobs, but now that I'm getting older, I want the respect and I want to be able to show people that I have as much to offer, if not more, than a man.

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