‘M3GAN’ Writer Akela Cooper Opens Up On Genre Writing And Pitching Horror

Akela Cooper on writing 'M3GAN'
'M3GAN'Credit: Blumhouse
Hollywood needs to stop pigeonholing people and start embracing storytellers of all backgrounds. 

I'm not a horror buff by any means, but I plan on seeing any movie written by Akela Cooper, especially after seeing M3GAN. I was first introduced to her work with Malignant, a movie I must have watched five times since it came out. 

Now, Cooper is back with M3GAN, a terrifying and hilarious doll movie that has taken over the meme world. 

Cooper is a rising star in Hollywood. She's proving that the horror genre does not have to be a bunch of white guys tossing out ideas in a room. Instead, she's paving the way for a more inclusive view of storytellers, and she's doing it with one smash hit after another. She was also named to Variety's 10 Screenwriters to Watch for 2021 list. 

Cooper recently sat down with The Wrap to talk to them about her career, films, and what it was like breaking down the genre door. 

So how did M3GAN come about? It turns out it was a general meeting that had gone very right.

Cooper elaborated, saying, "I had written two original spec scripts that got me a meeting at Atomic Monster. During that chat, one of the things they had was an idea about a modern-day killer doll movie with James Wan. Their pitch was Child’s Play meets Chopping Mall. They knew they didn’t want it to be supernatural. They wanted it AI-based, like a homicidal American Girl doll." 

"I knew she was going to be called Megan," Cooper says. "I knew the opening of the movie [would be] a car accident that turns a young girl into an orphan. 'What if I had to take care of a child? I’m not equipped for that!' I pitched [a quick treatment] to them. It’s the kernel of the idea that like James and his executives had, and then I took that ball and ran with it. We got that ball to Blumhouse. Jason Blum was all 'This ball is awesome. Let’s do this.'"

The movie is about to cross $100 million at the box office, growing daily, with its modest budget of $12 million. Horror typically does well at the box office, but this movie got re-edited to make sure it could make the most money. The original R-rated version sort of went viral when TikTok screengrabbed the trailer. So, Universal and Blumhouse decided to cut the movie to PG-13 to make sure a wider audience could see the film.

Cooper talked about the process, saying, "There is a version of the movie that did have more blood. Fingers crossed that we’ll get an unrated version when M3GAN comes out on [DVD, VOD, and Blu-ray].

"Not to give too much credit to Tik Tok," Cooper says, "but once the trailer came out and teenagers responded so well to it, it was a matter of whether Universal felt they were leaving money on the floor."

Akela Cooper on writing 'M3GAN'
'M3GAN'Credit: Blumhouse
As I mentioned, Cooper is forging her way in a predominantly white male space. In Hollywood, people tend to be forced into writing only about themselves or into preconceived ideas about what they may be interested in. Cooper is working to defy that.

She says, "I have been incredibly lucky [with] the pairings that I have had in this business. I don’t hide the fact that I’m a Black woman or that I’m a giant nerd. I’ve worked on pretty much nothing but genre shows [like GrimmTron: Uprising, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds] because that is the space that I love.

Cooper continues, saying, "I had various general meetings with various studios around when Get Out came out that felt forced. 'Oh, Akela Cooper, like she writes genre!' But those meetings were 'Can you write horror that speaks to Black trauma or has something to say?' I could, but also, it’s a revolutionary act to just have a horror movie with Black people where they don’t die, and they just exist. We [non-white male screenwriters] can do that too."

Cooper's perspective is a window into the way Hollywood thinks and the way to attack those tired tropes. Be yourself unabashedly, and challenge those who try to put you in a box or exploit you.

This kind of attitude and storytelling prowess is what makes me such a big fan of Cooper and so eager to see what she works on next.

Let me know what you think in the comments.     

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