Movie-mad Bumblebee screenwriter Christina Hodson returns on more than one occasion to the subject of Linda Hamilton’s awesomeness in Terminator 2: Judgment Day as we chat over tea and scones made from scratch in her Los Angeles home.
And who among the Sarah Connor-worshiping faithful can blame her? Hodson’s lifelong love of film turned into a career when she took a leap and penned her first script just seven years ago: “In my heart,” she smiles, “I always wanted to write T2.”
The London native grew up a fanatic for action movies and wearing out her VHS collection, gravitating toward the big explosions, bombastic set pieces, and epic emotions of American big-budget blockbusters – exactly the kind of movies she’s now making her speciality as one of the exciting new voices shaping Hollywood’s future.
In 2011 after switching tracks from a career in development to screenwriting, three of Hodson’s spec scripts made the Black List. Within a few years she was hired to reboot The Fugitive for Warner Bros, which led to her working in the diverse Transformers writers’ room assembled to spark new directions for the Hasbro franchise.
Emerging with the script for Bumblebee, an origin tale that tracks the titular fan-favourite Autobot as he’s befriended by a teenager named Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) in the 1980s, Hodson is the first woman to originate and write a film in the US$4.3bil (RM18bil) Transformers franchise. (Read our review here.)
Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, the producer who has shepherded the property through four sequels and a prequel after 2007’s US$709mil (RM2.97bil) worldwide grosser Transformers, hopes Bumblebee will inaugurate a new constellation of spinoffs.
“The audience was telling us that they wanted to go in-depth on a character,” he said, explaining that Bumblebee was a hero fans already felt an emotional connection to. “But we were also interested in changing the rhythm of the franchise.”
The result is a scaled-down, more intimate Transformers action pic about a girl and her robot, featuring the kind of defiantly independent heroine who rarely gets to lead big studio blockbusters. (Kelly Fremon Craig, whose offbeat 2016 high school comedy The Edge Of Seventeen was instrumental in getting Steinfeld on producers’ radar according to Di Bonaventura, also contributed scripting duties after being considered to direct.)
Perhaps even more intriguing for the comic book hardcore: Hodson is prepping for a January production start on the Harley Quinn Birds Of Prey spinoff starring Margot Robbie, which she wrote and Cathy Yan will direct. And she’s writing a stand-alone Batgirl movie, also for Warner Bros. and DC.
“Mostly, I want my nieces to grow up in a world where the girls and women they see on screen feel as varied and complicated as they are,” Hodson said of her approach to writing characters.
Her rise has made Hodson not only one of the most in-demand screenwriters in town but among the small but growing ranks of strong female voices working in a multibillion-dollar blockbuster business historically dominated by men.
“Particularly as women, we feel like we need permission to be writing the bigger movies – and it is hard breaking into that space,” Hodson said. “It’s lovely that we all know each other, but I would love it if there were so many of us that we can’t know each other.”
In speaking with Hodson in advance of Bumblebee’s holiday release, it quickly became apparent that she can provide something all the best blockbuster movies need: a unique point of view.
Every project you’ve written so far has been female-driven. Is it a priority to centre female leads in your stories?
When I grew up and I was watching all of these Hollywood movies, all of the heroes were straight white men – always.
I wanted to be the archaeologist digging up the big thing running away from the boulder. I wanted to have those big adventures, and I never got to see it.
Certainly as a mixed-race kid, I never got to see it … so I can’t help but want to fix that. I can’t help but want all of my leads to be female.
How much do you think about the impact your characters have on young girls and boys who haven’t traditionally seen themselves reflected onscreen?
I hope it has an impact. I hope that girls will watch (Bumblebee) and go, “I can be something that’s not one of these four boxes, I can be something in the middle!” and “I can have a big adventure.”
It bums me out that it’s always the boy or the man that goes on the adventure and has the story, and the girl is the one that comes along for the ride – if they’re lucky. I wanted a girl behind the steering wheel, literally.
How did you find your way into the Transformers universe?
I loved the toys, and as a kid I watched the cartoons. I was robot-obsessed as a kid and weirdly always thought I would one day build my own robot that would be alive and real …
(Steven) Spielberg said about the first (Transformers) that the thing he responded to was the simple concept of a boy and his car, which I totally loved.
I remember the first time I turned the ignition in my dad’s car, the feeling of bringing a big hunk of metal to life – the most magical feeling.
And that’s a feeling you infused into Bumblebee with Charlie. Why was Hailee Steinfeld the right choice to play a teenage gearhead still figuring out who she is?
We’re lucky we got her because it’s a tricky role; so often we see girls in films who are “the mean girl” or “the tomboy” or “the artist,” and what I loved about her and what I could relate to because it’s who I was, is that she’s a bit of everything.
I think most kids are. Most of us are a weird mishmash of everything. We don’t totally know where we fit in with each other and with ourselves and that was the stuff I was drawn to. – Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service