It was cold and lonely in the deep, dark night so I saw Paradise on VOD. Ha! Diablo Cody’s latest movie is also her directorial debut, currently available on VOD and opening in theaters this weekend. Julianne Hough plays Lamb, a burn survivor who renounces her church and uses her settlement money to go to Las Vegas. On her journey she meets a bartender (Russell Brand) and bar singer (Octavia Spencer) who help her find her way on Fremont Street. We spoke with Cody by phone about her latest writing, including the Vulture article she wrote about her screenwriting career.
CraveOnline: I saw your 7 Lessons of Being a Screenwriter on Vulture and the one that surprised me was “Say what you’ve been coached to say.” Are those really the only two options, be honest or be rehearsed?
Diablo Cody: I think for most people those aren’t the only options. I think some people are authentically diplomatic and likable but when I’m completely honest I have a tendency to get myself in trouble. I think that’s just the nature of my personality.
I certainly noticed you’d become less controversial, but I still felt you were honest.
Well, that’s good. I do try to be honest. You know what? I know my audience. Obviously I was being honest in the Vulture piece because I feel like the average Vulture reader is sophisticated and has a sense of humor, is going to get it. Whereas if I’m talking to a different outlet, I might try to be less controversial.
Is Paradise the most optimistic you’ve been since Juno?
100%. I think it’s pretty obvious that this is a very sweet movie and very uplifting. Especially coming off a movie like Young Adult that’s so unabashedly cynical, which I love Young Adult by the way, but I just felt like I was in a different mindset writing this. I was feeling a lot more positive and I was feeling very maternal. I have two children now and this was my first time writing as a mother. I do think that, while it hasn’t changed my creative process completely, it has changed my outlook.
Has it changed your creative process at all?
Maybe a little bit. I’m more crunched for time now definitely. I know some people said, “Oh, you’re going to have kids and you’re going to write all these scripts about moms” and that hasn’t happened. I’m still not interested in writing about parenting. I think that’s pretty boring.
Was there ever any consideration for having burn scars on Lamb’s face?
Oh, 100%. Yes, Lamb was supposed to be extensively burned, but you know it’s not easy to get financing for a film where you take a beautiful blonde actress and scorch her face. So we compromised.
Would Julianne have been game for it?
Oh my God, Julianne wanted to shave her head. Julianne was like, “Lamb’s hair would have burned off. Can I shave my head?” And I said, “I would love for you to do that but unfortunately I don’t think it will be possible.”
Well, it would have grown back after the accident, right?
Some, but it was a year out from the accident. It certainly wouldn’t have grown all the way down to her butt. Yeah, that was a huge topic of conversation during shooting, the burns. Even in editing, even in color correction, until the bitter end, there were heated conversations, no pun intended, about how many burns we could show. At what point do you cross the line into it being a turnoff for the audience? I personally think we could’ve pushed it further.
How much further?
I would have pushed it way further. I think it is important to see the extent of the trauma, to understand where she’s coming from so you don’t just have a spoiled blonde girl complaining.
Is she a sacrificial Lamb?
Obviously the name Lamb is pretty unsubtle. You have a character who’s left her flock, wandering around Las Vegas but I don’t know if I would call her sacrificial. If anything, she’s trying to make selfish choices for the first time in her life.
Was there a clear divide between writing mode and directing mode, or did it overlap a lot?
I found myself writing the night before filming a lot, which had to have been profoundly irritating to the actors. It was kind of impossible for me to stop writing throughout the process. I do think writing and directing could not be more different in terms of the skill sets that you have to access to do them properly. As a writer, I’m used to being alone in my underwear and not answering to anybody and nobody’s answering to me. As a director, it is an extremely social, extremely collaborative leadership position. That was new to me.
I realized doing this that I’ve never been the boss in my life. Even on the TV show, I wasn’t the show runner. I was the creator and EP but I never ran “United States of Tara” so I don’t know what it’s like to be in a position of power like that and it was new and it was intimidating.
What’s an example of a scene that the night before you felt you could do it better?
Oh gosh, I was a little bit obsessed with the interaction between Lamb and William when they’re in that strip bar in downtown Las Vegas. They have a couple of scenes where they’re just talking about their lives and he’s trying to earn her trust and it was hard for me to find the right tone because I wanted William to be likable but I also wanted people to understand that he’s maybe being a little bit sleazy and a little bit opportunistic. That’s a hard balance to strike. It helped that it was Russell because he’s so likable and so charismatic that I think the audience is willing to go with him wherever he goes.
Was the on screen text something you decided in the script or something that came after?
That came way after. That came during editing. We were getting creative, trying to tighten up the pace and make the movie a little more visually interesting.
Now that Evil Dead has been out, did you work on a lot of the drug detox dialogue?
[Laughs] No. I mean, obviously I had to do a lot of research on opiate addiction to write this movie. I had to find out what kind of medication would be prescribed to a burn survivor, how much would they be taking and how long would they be expected to take it. With Evil Dead I do remember some of the detox talk at the beginning of the movie, but I didn’t even think about that. Honestly, I worked on Evil Dead for 10 days. I don’t have a super strong memory of what I worked on.
What is next, another screenplay only or something to direct again?
I’ve written another script. I don’t plan to direct it and I’m waiting to see what happens with that one. We’re out to cast so I guess I can’t really talk about it yet.
What was your experience writing “Childrens Hospital” episodes?
Oh my God, I’ve worked on “Childrens Hospital” twice now. Rob Corddry is a really dear friend of mine. I love a lot of the people who worked on that show and so it’s just a fun thing to do. I so rarely get to work in a purely comic mode and I’m not a comedian, so doing that is actually really hard for me in a fun way.