Hands of Fate, creating a female-centric thriller web series without portraying women as victims.
I wrote and directed the twenty-minute short film, Hands of Fate, a New-York-centric tale about an Internet hookup between two introverts named Lucy and Albert that goes horribly wrong. After the film was shot, I realized it was too long for festivals and it didn’t make sense shortened. The multiple plot twists, however, made it natural to edit into Hands of Fate – Web Series. I was very lucky to have two highly versatile actors as leads, a co-producer/editor/director of photography with his own equipment, locations donated by friends and done on the fly, and a vintage wardrobe from my own closet. There was virtually no budget. No Kickstarter campaign. No grants. Most everyone worked for free and really pushed themselves. I think it’s a good option to have. Find people to work with who compliment you. For instance, be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and what you hope to learn from the experience of making your film. If you are creative, then look for a technical-minded person. Or maybe you have technical expertise but lack content to film, then seek out a writer/director who’s anxious to get her work seen.
Before shooting Hands of Fate, I’d been brewing this particular tale for years. It grew out of this theory I have about true beauty existing in our flaws, and how this idea directly clashes with the media’s obsession with feminine perfection. I wrote it as a play and short story, which helped me add more layers to the film script. Hands of Fate kept blooming into a deeper, larger story. As I wrote other screenplays and plays, I was haunted by this character of Lucy Wasserman, a young woman who appears idyllic in a “pretty-girl-next-door” kind of way, yet when her mask is lifted, her image morphs into something very different due to a physical flaw she’s hiding. I kept wondering, “What was Lucy’s social life like? How did she navigate dating?” My thoughts kept returning to the nature of unconditional love.
Although the short-film-turned-web-series is whole within itself, after completing that story, I came to see it as part of a much bigger picture in the world of these characters. A jumping off point. So I wrote a feature screenplay and TV series version of Hands. They continue where the web series leaves off in a ripple effect, caused by Lucy and Albert’s actions. The longer versions include Lucy’s two equally complicated female friends. Together these three women initiate a dangerous secret pact. My aim is to attract a producer for the feature or TV version who sees where the story can go and also its potential mainstream appeal. I believe this desire to keep our imperfections secret, whether internal or external, in fear of being rejected, is universal. Lucy’s situation is extreme but what she feels is something most women and men can relate to on some level.
After the character of Lucy was fully formed, I saw her love interest, Albert Fromaggio. Just as I aimed to avoid stereotype female roles, I also wanted an anti-leading-man. One who possessed aspects of the feminine and masculine, so we would understand why Lucy would be drawn to him and also feel safe. Albert is sweet and shy, yet painfully insecure. Like Lucy, he has his own secret flaws. He grows phobic at the prospect of interacting with women he finds attractive yet is aching for connection. I wondered what a man like this would experience when faced with our media’s image of the hyper-sexualized-female ideal. The Victoria’s Secret Angels with their super duper wonder bras and skyscraper legs are the most unreal and coveted images of women I can imagine. Albert must be so terrified of these Amazonian beauties, he likely has nightmares about being unable to sexually satisfy them. Albert’s nightmares gave me a real window into his psyche. Then, when I put Lucy and Albert together, there was a constant push pull that grew out of the each character’s fears and desires that gave the story psychological horror overtones. Personally, I can’t think of anything scarier than dating.
With Hands of Fate, I planned to create a film that twisted male/female conventions. Outwardly I wanted it to seem as though we have one of these familiar leading women, another lovely victim, (because victims are always lovely). And then, I’d to offer surprises to the audience they may not have seen coming. I didn’t want the characters and their flaws to be black and white—I saw them as fluid. For me, the most exciting films are the ones that allow me to wonder and create possibilities. I intended for the audience to have freedom to imagine when watching. Hands of Fate is a kind of dance in which each character is both victim and aggressor, depending on what moment you’re watching, and how you perceive the story. Before shooting when people would read the script, men thought it was from Albert’s POV, and women thought it was from Lucy’s. What I didn’t realize when writing Hands of Fate, is that the story encompasses both the female and male gaze at different times.
I’m also a painter, inspired by art and photography. For Hands of Fate, I kept envisioning Man Ray’s eerie and exquisite photographs, especially featuring hands. I wanted the story to include another layer about the language of hands. How each finger movement is associated with a secret thought. I’m always drawn to mysterious twisted stories, interwoven with a dark sense of humor. I grew up watching English ghost stories, fell in love with David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, and rented every Hitchcock film I could get my hands on. Yet at the same time the dark comedic way in which Woody Allen and Neil Labute expressed themselves made complete sense to me. I was influenced by male filmmakers creating films with offbeat female characters because that was what I was exposed to. But as I grew older I was thrilled to discover artistic female-driven films that defied convention by daring women directors such as Sally Potter, Jane Campion, Mary Harron, and Nicole Holofcener. As a lover of deeply psychological stories, I became fascinated by what goes unseen in the lives of characters and their worlds. That’s why my stories sometimes include supernatural elements.
Lately there’s been controversy over the term, strong women characters, by those who believe that label implies that women are inherently weak. After all, where are all the strong male characters? It’s a given that men are already strong. Yet, the word strong is important in showing that these female characters aren’t victims. Personally, I’ve always thought of my characters, both female and male, as highly complicated people. They’re flawed and struggle with internal forces. To me, they’re messy and real. With Hands of Fate and other films I write, it’s my goal to portray female characters in surprising ways and help dispel the myth that women write chick flicks that only appeal to other women.
Right now there’s a heightened awareness of female inequality in cinema, and I’m thankful that’s happening. Meanwhile, as women in the film industry rally to attain more substantial roles behind and in front of the camera, we’re still constantly bombarded with women portrayed as victims and objects on screen. She may be lying lifeless and nude with dead eyes, little more than the bloody corpse under a sheet, a horrific prop, momentarily exposed as the object of an impending murder investigation. Oftentimes, the woman is alive. But she’s living a life in terror because she’s a victim of rape, stalking, your local serial killer (or all of the above), in films so common they actually call the genre, Women in Jeopardy, films. The first time I’d heard that term was when a producer referred to one of my early screenplays as that (because the lead was being stalked) and I couldn’t believe that was an actual thing. And when women are not victims of violence in film, they’re victims of their own physical appearances. And the level of youth and beauty a woman possesses directly relates to how lovable, or worthy she is. With Hands of Fate, I wanted to create a story that challenged the unimaginative stereotype of women as victims, yet also appealed to a wide audience.
Viewers are intelligent and want to be challenged. And I believe the ghosts and demons conjured up within the mind are far more terrifying than anything shown on screen. That’s why when you watch Hands of Fate, you may find yourself seeing things that aren’t there. It was my intention for the audience to become active in the storytelling by using their minds to fill in the blanks. Is beauty an illusion that can transform into something else once ugliness enters the picture? What is ugliness? Is true unconditional love possible? Imagine what would happen if we could reach past the surface and relate to each other from the most honest place of who we are. That’s what Hands of Fate is all about.
Click here to watch Hands of Fate – Web Series. In previews now, official release date, Halloween 2015. For more about the series, visit Hands of Fate, Danielle’s website, and Danielle Winston on Twitter. You can visit Danielle’s profile here.