Christina Hodson on Writing the Diverse, Girl Gang Story of “Birds of Prey”

Christina Hodson
Christina Hodson attends the world premiere for Birds of Prey (and The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) in cinemas February 7th. (Photo by Tim P. Whitby)

Screenwriter Christina Hodson has been in the entertainment industry for several years, but has gained recent attention for her work on films like BumblebeeBirds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)–a predominantly female-led superhero epic filled with many violent moments and zero f-bombs to give–is her first venture into the DC Extended Universe, as one half the predominantly Asian creative team (CAAMFest alum Cathy Yan is the film’s director). Hodson is also set to write the scripts for the upcoming films about Batgirl and The Flash.

Hodson recently spoke with CAAM about writing Birds of Prey and starting up a pitch program with actor and producer Margot Robbie.

-Lauren Lola


How did you wind up with the opportunity to write Birds of Prey?

I met with Margot Robbie four and a half years ago, so summer 2015. She had gone to the studio – she was still shooting Suicide Squad – and she went to the studio and said, “I want to do an R-rated Harley Quinn-Birds of Prey girl gang movie,” which was an incredible bold thing to do. I give her all credit for that. She and I met just for a coffee not long there after and I just totally fell in love with her as a human and her passion for this idea. I love the idea of doing an R-rated movie about female relationships because we don’t get to see those onscreen very often, particularly in this kind of space. 

We’ve been friends ever since. We started working on it way back then, went through a lot of different iterations of pitching it to the studio and convincing them that an R-rated comic book movie with a bunch of women could work. It’s been a long, fun road since then.

How would you describe the writing process for this film?

Fun. I mean, it’s a weird movie, as you all know, if you’ve seen it. It’s kind of all over the place because it’s told by Harley. It felt like writing nothing else, honestly, because with Harley as your mouthpiece, all rules are off. But also you have to try and write a movie that is coherent and that has three acts. So it was mostly just incredibly challenging but incredibly, incredibly fun.

Birds of Prey cast
Cathy Yan, Director, Chris Messina, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ella Jay Basco, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ewan McGregor, Margot Robbie, Christina Hodson, Writer, Image Credit: Warner Bros.

With you as the screenwriter, Cathy Yan as the director, and the cast mainly women all from very diverse backgrounds, how is it for you to see a film like this coming out with diversity on the rise in mainstream media?

Hugely gratifying, and I wish there were movies like this around when I was a kid. That’s honestly a big part of why I do what I do and what I believe in, is that I want my nieces growing up to be seeing people like them onscreen. All of my nieces and nephews are mixed race. I want for my nephew to grow up with female superheroes of his era, and he is, and it’s amazing.

But certainly when I was growing up, I wasn’t seeing a lot of characters like this, and certainly not together. Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley are two of my favorite onscreen heroes of all time. But they were always solo, you know? It was just them and a bunch of men. So to be able to see a group of women standing together and being strong together, I think is… to me it’s very important, and I hope it inspires people.

Can you talk a little bit about your experiences also being the co-producer of the film?

Yeah. It was an amazing honor and I’m incredibly grateful to Warner [Bros.] for that. They have been a dream studio to work with. It’s a rarity that a writer ends up staying on the movie the whole way through, and to be able to be on set everyday, in that co-producer capacity, to be involved in all the decisions, they were so generous in that regard; as were the other producers, [Robbie] obviously being the first one because it was just the two of us. It’s a real rarity in the feature business, and it shouldn’t be, because I think writing is a collaborative process. Filmmaking is a collaborative process and I think the film benefits from having one writer throughout, so I hope studios do that more and more.

You started a pitch program with [Robbie], is that correct?

We did! It’s called the Lucky Exports Pitch Program.

Can you talk a little bit about that?

Yeah. So basically, the statistics of working feature writers, I looked in the last WGA report which came out in 2016. So when Time’s Up kicked off, I looked into those statistics and was pretty horrified honestly. There are about 1,600 working feature writers. Of them, men outnumber women three to one, and of that 1,600, only 114 are people of color of either gender.

So those were astonishingly bad statistics, and I was like, “I want to make a change. I want to do something.” Given how bad the numbers are, I was like, “There is a way I can move the needle, even just little old me.” So I came up with the idea for this writers’ program, pitched it to [Robbie] and [her production company] LuckyChap. LuckyChap is predicated on the idea that we can make a change and we can get more women onscreen and behind the camera, so they were such natural partners and were just incredible.

I then hired a wonderful executive named Morgan Howell, who really put this thing on her back and got us up and running. We ran the four-week program in November with six writers each starting with just a very nascent kernel of an idea, not even a one-liner, and we took them all the way through, breaking down the ideas act by act, scene by scene, outlining the movies and then developing really strong pitches. Throughout the four weeks, we had fantastic guest speakers. [Robbie] was the first, obviously, talking about reading things as an actor. But we had studio execs, directors, producers, writers, and it was just the most rewarding, wonderful experience. We are going to be taking these pitches in two weeks to the studios and hopefully sell them all.

Has your work on Birds of Prey helped you prepare at all for writing Batgirl and The Flash?

Yes! Mostly I’m just very happy to stay in the DC family. I love the DC Universe creatively. I just think that comics having such an amazing, rich, varied history, and I’ve loved doing all of the research on all of them. But also just getting to work with Walter Hamada, getting to know Galen Vaisman over there at the studio, they’re really good people and they really care passionately about this universe and these projects. That’s rare in a corporate studio world. So to be working with them again on these two other movies is a fantastic treat. I’m very, very grateful.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is now playing in theaters.