Interview: Red Reaper director Tara Cardinal

NOTE: October, 2013. When this post first ran, the director used the pseudonym “Kristen Stewart” for reasons related to financing and marketing concerns. Since then, happily, those concerns no longer apply, and the truth can come out: Legend of the Red Reaper was written, produced, partially choreographed and directed by its star, Tara Cardinal. Keep that in mind when reading this interview.–A.B.

The Legend of the Red Reaper is a project I’ve been following for a while.  I first saw the temp trailer a couple of years ago, and was impressed by the fact that the actress playing the main character, Tara Cardinal, looked not like some superpowered pixie waif but like a woman who could legitimately kick ass:

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Since at the time I was planning to introduce a tough female sidekick for Eddie LaCrosse, this got my attention. (You can see my creation, Jane Argo, this summer when Wake of the Bloody Angel hits stores.)

Now, with Legend of the Red Reaper near completion, director/screenwriter Kristen “Stew” Stewart (not the Twilight actress, it should be clear) was kind enough to answer some questions about the film, and about being a woman creating an action heroine.

Actress Tara Cardinal as the Red Reaper.

Me: You created the Red Reaper character for actress Tara Cardinal. What did you want this character to say and represent?

Kristen: I wanted to create a superhero that happened to be female. When we first starting pitching the concept of the “Red Reaper” to production companies, they immediately thought of a man playing the role. I wrote her like a man. I’m constantly irritated by gender stereotypes–they just don’t apply in the superhero world.

Aella, aka the Red Reaper, is a dark hero. She’s tortured by her desire to follow her dreams and her duty to the people of her realm. She’s very much an outcast. We see throughout the course of the film that she’s special–and most people don’t like “special.” They’re afraid of her, hate her, torture her, and she responds by becoming harder, stronger and calloused. In the end she chooses duty over love and pledges her life to help the people who still fail to understand, or even like her.

Ironically, I think everyone can relate to feeling isolated. I wanted to create a character that could see past her own pain and use her special abilities to make the world a better place, even for the people who hate her.

What aspect of writing the script was most difficult: creating the background of the world, the actual story or the characters? And how did you address that difficulty?

My process was entirely backwards, and I can’t take full credit for the writing. I was helped by MANY people along the way, and while I may not mention them by name, I’m very grateful for their guidance. The original screenplay was written by Kim Pritekel (based on my concepts), and had a simple, easy to follow plot about some Reapers, some humans, and the demons out to destroy them. Through a series of unfortunate events after shooting a little more than half the film, production was delayed for two and half years. During that time the original producers, director, and Kim had all moved on to other projects, and the money was tight. I stepped back in with the extremely limited resources and re-wrote the script with the parameters of only being able to use certain available cast, location, and equipment. It was like playing Sudoku, but much harder. So, really, I only created SOME of the characters, and then added some quirks and twists to the other existing ones. The created world became a product of necessity, and thus created itself. I’m hard pressed to take credit for that.

My writing process is a wonderful experience for me. I sit, or shower, or walk, and imagine the world and the characters, and once I know what they want, I let them show me how they’re going to get it. I don’t feel like I wrote Legend of the Red Reaper, I feel like it wrote itself, and I just transcribed it. I have no formal training in screenwriting, so for me, the hardest part was learning the formatting. After that the film re-wrote itself.

Women-created action heroines are common in prose genres such as urban fantasy, but not so much in the movies, where they’re usually created and developed by male writers. What did you find most difficult about your conception of the character and her story, to get across to the men who worked on it with you?

Oh, now THERE’S a great question! In the original version of the script, which had a lot of input from a male exec, the Red Reaper cried throughout the film. She cried because she loved her boyfriend, she cried when she didn’t get what she wanted, she whined at her father, she pouted and stamped her little feet. It drove me NUTS. The average woman isn’t that whiny; why is this superhero acting like a spoiled brat? Better still, in many of the battle sequences she required the aide of a man–usually not even a Reaper man, but a human man. Even at the end, the Red Reaper is defeated by the Big Bad and her human boyfriend comes in and saves her. It’s like Lois Lane taking out Lex Luther! It’s asinine. Asinine or not, it’s really not all that uncommon when it comes to female characters in general.

It irritated me so much that I went as far in the opposite direction from that as I could. I made the Red Reaper fairly stoic. You’ll find she doesn’t have a lot of dialogue throughout the film: she’s a man of action, not words. There is a love story, but her role is the more masculine one. The prince is in love with her, but she refuses to say it back to him. She’s arrogant, violent, brash. She’s confrontational, she talks with her mouth full and she would never hit a woman. She’s gallant and brave, chivalrous even. I never once thought of her as a woman when I re-wrote the script. Only as a hero.

I was lucky that during the last round of filming I had a great crew: my DP, my first AD, my head of Make up and SFX and my associate producers were all men very comfortable and secure with themselves. They never once questioned my leadership, my vision or my dedication to the film, and never once treated me or the character like a woman.

Thanks to Stew for answering my questions. You can keep up with Legend of the Red Reaper at the movie’s Facebook page.

6 Comments on “Interview: Red Reaper director Tara Cardinal”

  1. “They never once questioned my leadership, my vision or my dedication to the film, and never once treated me or the character like a woman.”

    Good for you for saying this straight. It’s a very genuine sentiment, and one that I wish was more common.

  2. Oh my goodness. The heroine could be the main character from my high fantasy book, The Curse of Gremdon. She isn’t a superhero, but the only female warrior. I’ll be checking this movie out. 🙂

  3. This sounds fantastic! I love that she had “male” traits like being chivalrous! I also love how the prince says he loves her but she isn’t comfortable saying it back.

  4. Pingback: Revealing a New Project: the Red Reaper | Alex Bledsoe

  5. Can I ask if Kristen Stewart was aware that you used her name as a pseudonym for financing and marketing? Or, is using a popular actor’s/actress’ name is a common practice just to get your foot in the door? Why Kristen’s name? Why not Jennifer Lawrence, or Emma Watson?

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