Diablo Cody Opens Up About Her Passion Project

by Jarett Wieselman 1:53 PM PST, January 28, 2013
Photo: Getty Images

Since bursting onto the scene with 2007's Oscar-winning Juno, writer Diablo Cody has dabbled in a wide array of genres, but every film she's written has given voice to one uniquely engaging woman after another, cementing her as a writer steadfastly dedicated to capturing the female experience on-screen.

That's why she's the perfect person to serve as co-chair for the Athena Film Festival, a four-day festival that includes conversations with female directors and Hollywood stars, workshops for filmmakers and celebrates women in leadership positions.

ETonline caught up with Cody this morning to find out how she came to partner with the Athena Film Festival, why the ultimate sign of the festival's success would be its evaporation and what you can expect from her next project: a big screen adaptation of Sweet Valley High!

ETonline: How did you get involved with the Athena Film Festival?
Diablo Cody: They contacted me after their first year, and I was intrigued. Obviously I'm very interested in women in film, and had noticed that women are not placed in leadership positions as often as they should be. I liked that there was a festival that recognized and celebrated women in leadership positions, and the films they are making. There's opportunities for education, there's a directors workshop that AFI is sponsoring -- it's really a three-dimensional experience. Last year was a success, so I wanted to get involved again. I think it's super necessary.

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ETonline: Much ado has been made over Kathryn Bigelow's Best Director omission this year -- what's your take?
Cody: Honestly, I don't want to sound like the world's biggest whiner, but it's so sad to look at the Oscar nominations and not see a single woman nominated for Best Director. And, out of 12 people nominated for Best Screenwriter, only one is female. It's pretty obvious to me that there's a major disparity.

ETonline: Would the ultimate success of the Athena Film Festival's success be its disbanding on the day Hollywood's so inclusive, it's no longer necessary?
Cody: [laughs] You know, I've thought about that -- maybe it is the goal, but the Athena is so cool, I'd hate to see it eliminated. But I know what you’re saying. The festival is necessary because women are not being given the opportunity or accolades in the mainstream space.

ETonline: I'm not surprised to see the festival turn to you for participation -- you've not only been an artist women of all ages can aspire to be like, but you seem singularly dedicated to bringing unique female experiences to the screen.
Cody: Thank you so much. That's what I’m trying to do. I'm trying to tell women's stories -- especially the unconventional ones. It's not always the easiest sell. It's a lot easier to go into a pitch meeting with something that's mainstream and will appeal to a mass audience. For me, I'm always coming in with stories that are like, "OK, so there's this girl, and she's a burn victim..." It's a harder sell, it's harder to get the money for those films, but it's important to me.

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ETonline: What excited you about the stories you could tell with Sweet Valley High?
Cody: It's about the polarity of the good girl versus the bad girl, which is something I played with a bit in Jennifer's Body. I'm just fascinated by the way women are put into boxes in our culture. The Sweet Valley High books are about Jessica and Elizabeth, these identical twins; one is the perfect straight-A, ambitious good-goody and the other is this really selfish bitch who tends to have a lot more fun. In the books, they frequently switch places and adopt the other's identity. I thought that was a fun idea -- especially, like, in a big, fun, pop-y movie with songs that people can enjoy as hilarious eye candy on a superficial level or on a deeper level exploring some more of those themes.

ETonline: The books were published over the span of 20 years; did you have a hard time deciding which time period to set your movie in?
Cody: No, I knew it had to be 80's because, hello, I love the 80's. Also, I had read all of the books, but one stuck with me. There was a book [Dear Sister, published in 1984] I loved and read the most that involved Elizabeth going into a coma and waking up from her coma and acting like Jessica. I thought we could have a lot of fun with that. Cuz, what happens when you establish which twin you are and then your twin decides, "No I'm going to be that twin." It made for a great screenwriting experience.

ETonline: In terms of casting, are you looking for twins or are you going to pull a Social Network with one actor and face replacement surgery?
Cody: It’s funny, we bring up Armie Hammer all the time. In a way, it would be easier to find the one perfect girl and pull the Winklevoss technique on her. On the other hand, there's something really fun about searching for the perfect twins. The decision hasn't been made yet.

ETonline: You recently directed your first film, given the filmmakers you've worked with and spoken to at the Athena Film Festival, was the experience of actually helming a film different than you imagined?
Cody: It was very shocking. There's a reason why I procrastinated for so long and didn't direct. After Juno happened, when you win an award like that, everyone says, "What do you want to do next?" And I said I didn't want to direct because I wasn't ready at that time. I waited four years to be ready. I finished this script and was getting ready to send it out to directors, but I didn't want to. I wanted to take this script and shoot it [myself] and I got the opportunity. It was one of the coolest, craziest things I've ever done in my life and I'm so glad I did it.

For more information on The Athena Film Festival, running February 7 through 10 in NYC, click here!