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Missing Pictures: Annefleur Schipper on Catherine Hardwicke

Well-known Dutch film buffs each watched an episode of the VR Missing Pictures and reflect on the filmmaker and their film that never was or perhaps precisely the one they did make.

By Annefleur Schipper15 December 2022

Media maker and film academic Annefleur Schipper – known for among other things the podcast De Lesbische Liga [The Lesbian League] and the TV programme Khalid & Sophie – writes about Catherine Hardwicke, who – on Saturday 17 December 2022 – will introduce her breakthrough film Thirteen at Eye.

What do the films Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown and the box office super smash Twilight have in common? At first sight, perhaps not all that much. Thirteen is a much-lauded drama about the tumultuous life of a 13-year-old girl who becomes ensnared in a world of drugs, sex and crime. Lords of Dogtown is the biopic of a group of 1970’s skateboarders. And Twilight is a film about falling in love with an absurdly handsome vampire who glitters in daylight.

Not exactly the clear common theme you might have hoped for, besides that all of them were directed by Catherine Hardwicke. A name that should be as familiar as Scorsese, Nolan and Spielberg, yet oddly isn’t. Which is a great shame because Hardwicke (born in 1955) has what may seem like an extremely diverse CV, yet her strength obviously lies in the nuanced and original portrayal of people the average person wouldn’t normally encounter. Whether that be fictional groups such as the glittering vampires or simply a group of teen girls who run amuck, Hardwicke is capable of infiltrating groups and portraying her subjects as well as making small lives significant like no other.

“Hardwicke is capable of infiltrating groups and portraying her subjects as well as making small lives significant like no other.”

Annefleur Schipper

I first encountered Hardwicke’s work when I was 13. I had invited a few girlfriends from the village to come round, watch a film and have a sleepover. This was in 2004, so the internet was still in its infancy. We chatted to one another on MSN at set times, but our internet connections were cut as soon as someone called the landline. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram didn’t exist yet so you were somewhat better shielded growing up than the average teen is today.

I really wanted to watch the saccharin romcom 13 Going on 30. A film with Jennifer Garner in the lead in which the 13-year-old girl suddenly awakes in a 30-year-old’s body. A scenario that holds delicious appeal to me now that I am over 30, but at the time felt absolutely shocking. The only snag was, the video rental had made a teensy mistake. The cover for 13 Going on 30 contained the VHS tape for Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen.

still uit Thirteen (Catherine Hardwicke, US 2003)
still uit Thirteen (Catherine Hardwicke, US 2003)

You can imagine the shocked looks on my mother and my friends’ faces when the first lines of coke appeared early on, followed by plenty of nudity, sex, crime and prostitution. It was a 13th birthday to never forget and one which everyone present left with a new trauma instead of a bag of sweets.

When I re-watched the film as an adult, it struck me how unusual it is that such a graphic film was ever made. This proves to be entirely down to Hardwicke’s passion and dedication. She wrote the film in six days together with the then complete unknown lead Nikki Reed (13 years old at the time). The story was partly based on Reed’s life. No studio wanted it and Hardwicke felt compelled to shoot it while Reed was still 13, so she scraped together limited funds to shoot the film and skimped where possible. With no expensive cameras or actors, she did the handheld camerawork herself, and also casted another then unknown actress, Evan Rachel Wood, in the leading role opposite Nikki Reed. All for the story. It was a massive success because straight after the film’s première it was bought for worldwide distribution after all.

This wouldn’t be the last time that Hardwicke – who originally trained as an architect – kicked down doors and led the way. In 2008 she did the same with the first Twilight film. Among the stacks of poor scripts, Hardwicke suddenly encountered Twilight. She initially disliked the existing script intensely, considering it cliched, until she discovered it was based on a book. After reading the latter by Stephenie Meyer, she engaged with the story of doomed romance told from a female perspective, which was unique at that time. The film had the potential to become one for and by women. She decided to take the project on, on one condition: the entire existing script had to be tossed out and she would write a new one.

She succeeded, after much persuasion, but this choice also meant no one would fund the film, because – at the time – women weren’t viewed as a profitable market, but merely as housewives who only went to the cinema occasionally. Other films made explicitly for the female gaze such as Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, didn’t bring in much more than 20 to 30 million dollars. Nevertheless, Hardwicke persevered and continued to emphasise that it should be a film for women. Ultimately, the studios were convinced by her passion, yet gave her a tight budget of 37 million dollars. Hardwicke subsequently cast Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson in the leading roles – having to endlessly convince the studios that Pattinson was handsome enough for the role of a sexy vampire. The same Robert Pattinson who – to this day – can’t leave his home without screaming teen girls surrounding him.

Ultimately, Hardwicke’s choices made the first Twilight film the biggest box office smash thus far in cinematic history. The film made well over 393 million dollars in profit and made both Stewart and Pattinson a global hype. The glittering vampire pierced the hearts of young women everywhere. This signalled the start of the first, and most successful, young adult franchise in the world and cleared the way for similar, later film series such as Divergent and The Hunger Games. Hardwicke was the first female director to set such a huge record and she retained that title for years.

“Hardwicke’s choices made the first Twilight film the biggest box office smash thus far in cinematic history.”

Annefleur Schipper

After a breakthrough of this calibre it would be logical to continue the course set and direct the four sequels to Twilight. However, that is not Hardwicke’s style. That was pretty unoriginal to her and she decided to pass the baton so she had time for new stories. She thought that because she – as a female director – had made a good impression on Hollywood and that another female director would be assigned to the project after her. Naturally, that never happened and another male director was chosen for all the sequels. Something Hardwicke described as ‘a great heartbreak’.

Although you might expect every door to be open to the director of such a major box office hit, that also proved untrue. In fact, she could hardly get a gig. All her pitches were rejected. She was described as ‘complicated’ and ‘emotional’ or people flatly told her they preferred to work with male directors. Hardwicke is still fighting the sexism in the film industry today. Time and again she speaks publicly about it, sometimes with other female directors such as Patty Jenkins and Sam Taylor-Johnson. She has since directed multiple films and series, but has come nowhere near the success of Twilight.

“Although you might expect every door to be open to the director of such a major box office hit, that also proved untrue. In fact, she could hardly get a gig.”

Annefleur Schipper

The story of her film The Monkey Wrench Gang, which was never made, perfectly suits Hardwicke’s story. Once again, she led the way, perhaps even a bit too far. Because although it is now commonplace to see large-scale climate protests, that definitely wasn’t the case in America in 2005. Nevertheless, Hardwicke was desperate to make a film about this group of cowboys and ‘eco-terrorists’ standing up for the environment by sabotaging large, polluting companies. A scintillating story, based on Edward Abbey’s bestseller.

still from Missing Pictures (Catherine Hardwicke's The Monkey Wrench Gang)
still from Missing Pictures (Catherine Hardwicke's The Monkey Wrench Gang)

Hardwicke even had an all-star cast ready and waiting to play the leads. She insisted that this film had to be made, but failed to find funding. Perhaps because it came too hot on the heels of 9/11 and America still wasn’t ready for ‘eco-terrorism’ as entertainment, perhaps because, at the time, the studios didn’t believe there was a market for the subject Hardwicke was so passionate about. Who knows? In any case, Missing Pictures makes it abundantly apparent that Hardwicke is still enthused about the project and I wouldn’t be surprised if she secretly hopes the film might yet be made.

Hardwicke continues breaking down walls and reinventing herself. She still doesn’t want to be limited to a single genre, but constantly stretches the boundaries of what is possible, paving the way for others. This was already the case with Thirteen and Twilight, and that is also the impression provided by her story about The Monkey Wrench Gang in Missing Pictures. She never takes the easy route, she does however choose the most interesting one. And perhaps that is the main element tying her oeuvre together. Never make concessions to what you truly believe in. Whether it be writing an entire film in six days with a 13-year-old girl, breaking records with sexy, glittering vampires or the never filmed story of a group of eco-cowboys who want to sabotage polluting companies.

I can’t wait for her next creation. Until then, I will remain eternally grateful to the village video rental for mixing up the VHS tapes on my 13th birthday.

poster Xtended: Missing Pictures

Missing Pictures

The VR Missing Pictures features five directors speaking about the films they never made. Eye will screen the films they did make to accompany the series. Catherine Hardwicke will introduce the screening of Thirteen (35mm) on 17 December 2022.