Sheila Scorned is a short film directed by Mara Tasker. With a tagline that reads, “Sheila’s a trash-talkin’, ass-kickin’ dancer whose moves will knock you out…permenantly,” it would surprise many to know that there’s a twist. The film is modeled after Grindhouse/exploitation films, but it has a feminist drive. The female lead pulls no punches and uses her situation as a way to get what she needs.
Tasker and her crew have been crowdsourcing the project over at Seed And Spark (http://www.seedandspark.com/studio/sheila-scorned), and have made quite an impression with their supporters. The director herself offered to chat with us about the how and why of Sheila Scorned.
Jacqueline: Why base this film on the Grindhouse genre?
Mara Tasker: Grindhouse offered us a place to be unapologetically and openly violent and aggressive, and still be able to be straightforward about the anger of the character. It’s an anger I was feeling about women’s issues. It’s a space where one can utilize violence without it coming off as an overly violent film because it’s what is expected of the genre. It housed the emotions we were dealing with.
Jacqueline: How is Sheila Scorned going to bend those established female tropes?
Mara Tasker: She’s sort of a self-aware trope in many ways. She plays on traditional roles though: she’s kidnapped. She fits the bill for a lot of those roles. She’s an exotic dancer and she’s chosen to be a dancer as a means to an end to track down this other character. When we first meet Sheila, she’s in the back room with that character. She stands up and says, “Remember me, Charlie?” He looks at her with his eyes bulging and bleeding. And she walks off.
She’s violent, aggressive and emotionally unmoved. The main thing that sets her apart is that distance that she has. She’s not in love with any of the characters there. She’s not compelled by any kind of heartbreak. She’s also not compelled by any assault or abuse in her past. A lot of the time in cinema, we’re shown exotic dancers as women that are beaten down, destitute, and desperate or very dark and stuck in their circumstances. She’s actually chosen this profession to utilize it and control it. She’s not motivated by someone that’s hurt her.
I wanted to utilize a character that men usually write for women. She’s usually written as a side story. Also I wanted to express that sexuality because it’s something we’re able to do on screen; a quality that I could turn on its own head. Sheila can use it to be fearless and unapologetic.
Jacqueline: Who are you gearing this film for? Women or men? Reactions to your pitch?
Mara Tasker: I designed it for everyone. It reads as an action film and many will appreciate it that way. It’s definitely will resonate with women in a huge way. All the reactions we’ve received from women have been really positive. They’re seeing something different and refreshing. It’s been great to see female coworkers and mothers watching this with different perspectives, it’s sort of bridging generations a bit. Women really want to see an aggressive character like this who’s in control of herself and her surroundings. I love how excited they’ve been.
Jacqueline: Have you faced struggles trying to make this film as a female director?
Mara Tasker: Yes and no. People don’t expect it of women. They’re less familiar with women having packaged a film. Usually they’ll say that’s a great project, but then they’ll ask me who’s directing. “No, I’m directing it!”
You have to convince people that you are owning the project. I think that’s typical for women who are directing. But what I think is cool about this film is because of the platform it stands on: it contributes something new to the genre.
We’ve also recruited it with a staff of a lot of women. And people have really rallied around that approach. The film plays with hyper masculine qualities, but isn’t hyper masculine with a team of women making it. In our literature and press for the project, we’ve made it known that this is a genre that generally exploits women, yet there’s a woman directing this film. It helps it stand apart.
Jacqueline: Why make Sheila a stripper?
Mara Tasker: I’ve actually had conversation with our lead actress, Laine Rettmer, about her circumstances because in her dialogue she’s very smart. Mostly, I want to use the exact tools that male directors are using to portray women and make them sarcastic and self-aware. One of the main reasons was to sort of play into the genre and use something that stayed sexualized. One of the things I enjoy about grindhouse and exploitation films in general is the casual quality with which they treat all their characters and the character’s jobs. Your in a world of drug dealers and prostitutes. Rather than wagging a finger at it, it’s a world that allows all these strange elements to come together.
It was very challenging to write a character who was a stripper. I wanted her to be in a position of power and I wanted her to be a strong women, but I also wanted to play with that trope. She’s very sharp because it’s all a means to an end so she can move on from where she is. That being said, it was also very challenging to film because we had to be careful with everything we do with her. We want her to stay empowered, but she’s already in a contentious position. One of the things I was talking to my DP about was how to film her. How do you open the scene and what sort of choreography are we doing…and then I sort of realized that we weren’t going to see her dancing. We are going to see her face. It’s the place where’s she’s sensual and softer. The aim is not for body shots that objectify her.
Jacqueline: Are you hoping to expand it to a feature some day?
Mara Tasker: I’m actually working on a feature right now. Sheila Scorned short sort of works as a prologue. This feature is sort of a cross between Kill Bill and Thelma and Louise. It has the same quirky and action base that you’ll see in Sheila Scorned. There will a female duo on screen and it’s a mix of genres.