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'Bachelorette' Writer/Director Leslye Headland on Flawed Female Characters

It’s obvious that we are in a very male-dominated industry, so it’s refreshing to see a female filmmaker getting attention for breaking stereotypes with her work. In this DP/30 interview, Leslye Headland, writer for the cancelled television series Terriers, and writer/director of the Sundance comedy Bachelorette, talks about the support she received from some comedy legends and geeks out about film narrative structure — specifically the movie Back to the Future.

First, here’s the trailer for the film:

The DP/30 interview:

Headland’s persistence to stick to her guns and keep her characters real and flawed is admirable. The $3 million dollar budget certainly did not keep the Hollywood stars away – proof that well-written material, comedic or not, can still attract big-time actors. Though Headland has a strong theater background, she gives some great advice about screen-writing and storytelling in this quote from an Indiewire interview:

I think the perfect film is “Back to the Future.” It’s a perfect script. The A-story and the B-story connect at exactly the right point, and you’re never given a piece of information that you don’t need, and in the second part of the first act, they explain time travel for you in like two minutes. It’s so succinct, and it’s so fast, and you’re never wondering what’s going on in the moment, and you’re just with it the entire way. That’s something that was a big inspiration to me, even in writing this film, which, of course, has nothing to do with sci-fi or anything. I just kept thinking that you’ve got to keep going. I always said to the cast when we were filming, and I said to Will and Adam that we’re doing everything right if the audience isn’t sure if Isla’s character is going to wake up. If we’ve suspended the disbelief to the point that they’re freaking out that we might kill off a major movie star, then we’ve done our job.

Though it may seem like a knockoff of other films (specifically another female driven film, Bridesmaids) at first glance, these characters were first created to be on stage in the theater version of the story well before that film (which was also written by Leslye Headland). Characters designed to be on stage in my experience are rarely one-dimensional, and have many different layers beneath their exteriors. Having just seen Ruby Sparks (highly recommended for any aspiring writers out there — it will definitely hit home), which was written by one of its stars, Zoe Kazan, it’s interesting when a story and characters traditionally written by a male play a little with preconceived notions. In the case of Headland, female writers can be every bit as vulgar as their male counterparts, but they have the added advantage of actually being inside a woman’s head.

Who are your favorite female writers and directors? Are there any particularly interesting interviews you think we should share from said individuals? If so, please share below in the comments.

Link: Leslye Headland, Bachelorette – Indiewire


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  • so after the very funny ‘bridesmaids’ they decide to make another movie with exactly the same theme but this time lets add a little ‘hangover’ as well to make it stand out. lame.

    IMO most female directors/writers are overrated, one hit wonders and i swear to God you can tell if a movie is directed by a woman or not. *cough* Sofia Coppola.

    The late Ephron was one of the best of her generation, Bigalow is awesome too with some very underrated movies under her belt, and I am looking out for Brit Marling, ‘another earth’ was good, flawed, but good debut, and looking forward to watch ‘the sound of my voice’.
    Debra Granik is great too, Winter’s Bone was excellent.

    • I’m sure Bridesmaids helped actually get this movie funded (even at this low of a budget), but to be fair, the stage play existed long before Bridesmaids was a film.

      As for the quite sexist remark about female directors/writers, I’ll let our female audience deal with that one if they so choose…

      • It’s not exactly sexists, you are being too much PC right now. It’s still his opinion about certain female directors and female directors in general, like it or not. Personally I’ve seen some amazing movies directed by very different women, each one was unique in it’s own right.

    • WOW. You swung and missed MULTIPLE times there.

    • “‘another earth’ was good, flawed, but good debut”

      flawed? please do expand upon that opinion and grace us with your explanation, your holiness

      • Lliam Worthington on 07.27.12 @ 8:45AM

        I know right. If you debut is “that flawed” you’ve done something incredible.

    • @Lliam Worthington. right. the moment when the communicator-lady with the other planet turned round the paper with the answer already witten on it, was one of the most suspense-shock moments i remember feeling in a film for years. very effective and well done IMO

  • Please spare me the feminists diatribe Leslye.

    We work in a male dominated industry, yet many male characters are relegated to stereotypical he man types, bumbling idiots, philanderers, rapists, wife beaters, abusers, etcetera.

    I would love to see less stereotypes across the board, but stereotypes are easily recognizable and tap into popular belief systems (of both men and women), so they will always will be used.

  • Not be too picky, but what exactly is a “Sundance comedy”? Granted, it’s a law of the indie world that nothing unkind (or truthful!) can ever be said in public about Sundance, the IFP, Tribeca, etc., but do we really have qualify every film with the word “Sundance”, just because the film happened to play there?

    Ever heard of a “Cannes comedy” or a “NYFF drama”?

    Bear in mind also, that the Sundance qualifier is likely to kill the film in some quarters.

    • I originally wrote this in February when I first started writing here so it was more relevant then (right after Sundance happened), I just didn’t change it. It took them 6 months to release a trailer for some reason, so that’s what I’ve been waiting for. It’s a little funny that you picked out something completely inconsequential in relation to the rest of the post and the interview/content.

      Also…it took me a little while because, you know, I’ve been busy trying to work on this site, but I finally saw a pattern with some of the names (lowercase first name, uppercase for last name or initial of last name) and figured out what you’ve been doing geraldH, or should I say JasonD, annoyed, samDee, nadia, jd, kitl, KarenB, SullyG, foul_humor, and djohnes? If I got any of those wrong or missed one, my apologies, but it’s tough to keep up when you change identities so often! Commenting on your own comments with different names was interesting – I’m sure it’s happened before, but I don’t think most people who have negative things to say would keep coming back as you have – even though you did say you weren’t coming back.

      On the Read Scripts, Watch Movies, Write Pages: the Scott Myers 1,2,7,14 Formula post back on June 17th, (as samDee) you said this: “But that said, I think you’re right about something else: this site is not the place for me, and this post will be the last one.”

      I actually took you for your word (I know, strange), since you seem intelligent enough, and I just hadn’t been paying close enough attention. Either way, you have been abusing the fact that in the past we haven’t really done anything about anonymity and fake emails/names. It comes with the territory, I guess, but it’s a little surprising that someone with so much intelligence has felt the need to change their online identity so often. The other troubling fact, is that out of the 50 or so comments (haven’t really counted), almost none have been positive. It takes quite a bit of energy to produce that much negativity, but I applaud your persistence – obviously you believe strongly or you wouldn’t keep coming back to this site so often.

      Anyway, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, here is a response that was crafted if you did decide to continue coming back (obviously you have):

      “We very much appreciate real names and email addresses so we can get in touch with you. One of the reasons for this is we like to solicit guest posts from people who have differing opinions. Looking over your IP address’s comment history, you are obviously involved in the industry in some manner and seem to have a bone to pick with folks like us who are always talking about the democratization of the medium and all of the new opportunities that digital acquisition and distribution tools offer. If you would like, we can offer you a platform to vent these thoughts/frustrations as perhaps a productive jumping-off point for a discussion here on the site. You can say what you think the industry is REALLY like, since we’re apparently constantly getting it wrong. However, I’m guessing if we reach out to the email address(es) you’re leaving comments with, we’ll get an error or the wrong person. So if you really want to take this discussion to the next level, please reach us at and we can talk about accommodating your perspective in a more official capacity. If you’re not interested, that’s fine, but we simply ask that you stop using numerous names and email addresses and own up to your name and role in the industry.”

      That response is in no way facetious. That is a genuine offer. We’d like to give you a platform to tell us what we’re getting wrong so we can actually get somewhere productive. Unfortunately, it also means you wouldn’t be able to hide behind the anonymity that the comment section currently provides – we’d need a real name and some way to verify that you are who you say you are.

      I’m willing to give not just a post, but many posts to start a meaningful discussion. Whether you’ve got anything positive to say or not, I think your thoughts and opinions might be something our audience wants/needs to read.

      • I don’t know where your IP detective work has led you, but Samdee and that host of others are not my doppelgangers. If we all have the same IP #, they’d have to be using this computer telepathically.

        Otherwise, you’re right: this is not the place. So, on that basis, this is the last word. Really!

        • It’s not even really detective work, in WordPress every comment has an IP address associated with it. When we click on that IP address, we can see every comment made from that IP. I understand your reasoning for trying to deny it, but one IP address in particular matched many of the “doppelgangers” that you’ve created. For the same IP address, to be commenting on the same site, in similar time-frames, with similar writing styles, and similar negativity, is an impossibility – and I wouldn’t have said anything unless I was 100% positively sure. I won’t post that IP address out of respect for you (even though I know you don’t have any for me), but here are the usernames associated with it along with the emails you used for those usernames (with the domain removed just in case any of these are real addresses for real people, they don’t need any more unnecessary spam):

          Harold Hill

          It’s not always the same IP address, that’s true, but for the ones above – it’s the exact same one. You also give yourself away a little bit at the end of the last comment by suggesting that this will be your last word (just like you already have). If this is a blatant lie, and I am making some grand mistake, where is the anger I see so often? I would have thought you would have enjoyed the podium – we are actually giving you a place to vent your frustrations with the industry in a constructive way.

          People would probably think I’m crazy for doing this, but I am leaving the offer of a guest post on the table. That’s how much I believe in this community and in the independent film community, that I would want to hear a well-reasoned post from someone who could easily be cast away as a troll. You’re very intelligent, obviously, but to spend so much time being negative does not benefit anyone. The writers here spend hours upon hours working on this site and answering questions, and Ryan spent years of his life building it. We care about this community and we want to see people succeed. If you disagree with the idea behind this site, why come here so often – and if you disagree so vehemently that you have to come back time and time again and change names, why not take the opportunity to vent to the world on a pretty large stage? It takes a lot of courage to put your real name out there and allow other people to criticize everything you say – in fact it’s what we do here every single day. We’re giving you the opportunity to be front and center and clear the air about the topics we cover and how we are steering people in the wrong direction.

          If some day you change your mind, we’ll be here.

  • You guys are too generous. I’d have stopped at the point where you called out this individual who in most quarters of the online world would be labelled a troll and you guys could be accused of feeding the troll.

    Still, I applaud your response Joe. I have to say, I’ve long wondered if certain commenters on here where masquerading under different names. Personally, I’d like to see this site adopt a similar policy to sites like Philip Bloom’s or DVXuser where one has to register with ones real name. A little accountability goes a long way.

    • I’m sure there are more, but rarely do they comment with such an eloquent negativity. We’re exploring all of those things for the future, but right now until we do a redesign, we’ll just have to deal with the comments as-is.

  • This comments section is a pretty good comedy too haha. I love the comments on this site. I always learn so much.

  • I really like Sofia Coppola´s films, and I doubt anyone can always just “tell” a woman directed a film. Even if you could, is that a bad thing? Maybe a feminine touch brings something new and fresh to the table. A slightly different perspective perhaps. I loved The Hurt Locker, Lost in Translation, The Piano, Lords of Dogtown. Agnès Varda, Mira Nair and Sofia Coppola are all great. Sure there a fewer female directors now, but I watched The History of Film, and in one episode they spoke about how Hollywood was once dominated by female writers, producers etc. and that many great Male directors actually just ended up putting there names on other people´s (often woman´s) work.

  • “Terriers” was a terrific show, one of my favorites at the time. It’s a shame they canned it, so much potential.

  • This article/interview has nothing to do with any sort of feminist agenda – such an ignorant, insecure reaction. The idea you can tell the gender of a director by the quality of a film is just as unsupported. Like Ida Lupino directing the gritty noir, The Hitch-hiker? Or Antonia Bird directing the amazing and underrated Ravenous?

    Regardless, well-written lead female characters (and I don’t mean ‘strong’ female characters – whatever that means) are few and far between. Never really took any notice of the issue until I watched Rosanna Arquette’s doc “Searching for Debra Winger”. Completely changed my opinion on the matter. I feel like if any indie filmmaker wants an amazing performance to anchor their movie, all they have to do is write a great lead female character and they’ll own the market. It’s exploitative, and it’s unfortunate, but it’s all too true.

    And Terriers was amazing. I feel like if it was given a little longer they could have found some support with a netflix audience and kept it going. The episode, “Asunder”, stands out as some of my favorite writing ever for television.

    Thanks for the piece, really enjoyed it (and the comments).

  • The play Bachelorette on was written in 2007, I think the script was optioned in 2008. It never had the $ or star power behind it to push it out the gate until Bridesmaids made bank, which both brought it to life and killed it. Too bad.

  • Daniel Mimura on 08.4.12 @ 6:32PM

    I’m all for the idea of having real names. switched to that a couple years ago, and it’s it’s been invaluable…both for weeding out trolls, and allowing professionals/semi-professionals/and dedicated noobs to meet and interact with each other or give referrals. It helps people actually find each other in the real world. Just based on people’s comments, I know people I would definitely work with or work for on NFS.

    Anonymity seems to make people more negative, as is showcased by geraldH/JohnDee/whatever…

    Especially in production…very few professionals knock other professionals without a very good reason, so it would probably get rid of some of the more negativity I’ve seen pop up in the last year or so.

    • Joe Marine on 08.5.12 @ 1:21AM

      Yeah we’re looking into all of our options but unfortunately it just can’t be done overnight.

      Someday soon hopefully…