Women In Film, With Screenwriter Rebecca Banner

High expectations anticipate Space Oddity – the movie Rebecca Banner solo penned. Part of the buzz surrounding the project stems from the women who have taken the helm to bring Rebecca’s screen play to our movie theatres. Emmy award winning actor Kyra Sedgwick directs, and Valerie Stadler produces Space Oddity under their banner Big Swing Productions. REI Co-op Studios has joined the production which tips us off to the powerful environmental content of the film whilst promising enticing scenes of the great outdoors.

The star-studded cast of actors includes Kevin Bacon, Simon Helberg, Carrie Preston, Kyle Allen, Alexandra Shipp, and Madeline Brewer.

Rebecca has taken her place in Hollywood as a screenwriter with an expansive voice and mind. Rebecca, herself, does seem to be a bit of a space oddity. By this, I mean she is transcendent and wise beyond her years owing to her expansive wandering creative mind but so entirely modest and grounded in her experience as an LA-based screenwriter. She has cut her teeth in an environment that could not be more fierce and competitive.

In Rebecca’s words, “SPACE ODDITY tells the story of ALEX, a disillusioned young man working on his family’s flower farm while training for a one-way mission to Mars.

While obtaining a life insurance policy, Alex meets enigmatic underwriter DAISY, who offers to help him train. As their relationship develops, Alex must face himself and choose between the unknowns of space and the pale blue dot we call home.”

Space Oddity is about all the difficult, opposing and fulfilling emotions we confront throughout our lives, according to Rebecca, “everything that makes up the messy wonder that is life on Earth. It’s also a celebration of our planet and all its beauty, to remind us what we have – and what we have to lose.”

The cast and crew of Space Oddity
The cast and crew of Space Oddity

Rebecca Shares Her Insights With She Can

Rebecca shares her insights with us about making it to the big screen in an industry where outdated stereotypes still hold a strong grasp. She shares her honest and intimate feelings behind her success. She confronts directly the ‘imposter’ feelings amongst some of the world’s greatest talented artists, the ups and downs of being a creative, what her artistic experience looks like and what she dreams of for women and the big screen of the future.

A scene is filmed in the fields.

Rebecca’s poignant reflections reveal the underlying values and purpose that inform her work. Rebecca isn’t just telling us a story through her work, but inviting us to reflect on how we see ourselves as women. As women we often see ourselves as others see us. We need to learn to see ourselves in the mirrors of our own making. Rebecca did the important work to “figure out who we are versus what society tells us we are.”

The process of really significant learning about ourselves and the world may begin with a period of unlearning our habitual and prescribed ways of thinking.

See for yourself when you read her words below and discover the abundance of intelligence she collected in space for ground control. Rebecca helps us to tap into that celestial source.

Be An Independent Thinker

I think we are all a bit curious how to make it in Hollywood. As women only constitute 25% of screenwriters in Hollywood, what does it take being a woman screenwriter promoting woman-forward scripts? Did she start out promoting women? Rebecca gave a very honest and direct response, which provides an interesting insight to the clockworks of the Hollywood mindset. Rebecca describes the enormous difference it made when she began to work on female driven projects. In the early stages of her writing, even though she considered herself a feminist, she now sees that she was somewhat blocked by unconscious bias. The outcome for her of working with a “team of women” led to more “female representation both in the script and the actual making of the movie.”

Rebecca Banner : I’m ashamed to say it but I hid in plain sight. I didn’t put women up front in my early scripts, including Space Oddity – which was the script that got me through the door. I didn’t even think to make the protagonist a woman. I’d grown up watching the male perspective, so it was ingrained in me that the lead be a straight, white man. Yes, the plot is something a man might be more inclined to do, but it still wasn’t a conscious choice on my end. Worse – the female lead was underwritten, and my unconscious bias had me making supporting characters, like doctors, men. Thankfully, it did not stay this way!

Kyra Sedgwick directs as a scene shoots in Wickford, Rhode Island
Kyra Sedgwick directs as a scene shoots in Wickford, Rhode Island

As I wrote my next script with all female leads, I had a revelation that it was easier for me to write from a male perspective than my own, which was quite shocking, and a solid reflection of how bombarded we are with the male point of view. That’s been shifting lately, but growing up it was pretty one-note. With this strange, new awareness, I committed to working on female voices, which involved confronting my own biases. I found I was often uncomfortable writing women who were, among other things, flawed, disagreeable, angry, vulgar, sexual, raunchy, rude, unlikeable and ‘bad,’ because I’d been socially conditioned to see these characteristics as ‘wrong’ for women. And I considered myself a feminist! I was censoring myself, on and off the page. I knew I had to undo that conditioning, figure out who we are versus what society tells us we are, and become comfortable with myself, so that my characters could be.

I’m ashamed to say it but I hid in plain sight. I didn’t put women up front in my early scripts, including Space Oddity – which was the script that got me through the door. I didn’t even think to make the protagonist a woman. I’d grown up watching the male perspective, so it was ingrained in me that the lead be a straight, white man.

Since then, I’ve worked often on female-driven projects. I make it clear that I care about these, and have a team who support me in this and advocate for me. It’s not to say everything I write is and will be female-driven, but making it one of my priorities means I get the chance to focus on stories that spotlight women, every one an opportunity to create a more nuanced portrait of us, which I hope in turn has a ripple effect in creating and prioritising more female-led projects. The industry holds itself back by saying movies about women – among many other groups – don’t do well enough financially, or don’t appeal to a wide enough audience, to justify making many. So you have to prove them wrong. Ideally, relentlessly. And maybe a writer coming along in a few years won’t have to, just as those who came before got me to this place. It can be difficult – it’s pretty shocking the number of times I’ve been told female characters are ‘unlikeable’ and need to be ‘fixed’, and it’s exhausting having to debate what women ‘can’ or ‘should’ be. But change is slow and incremental, and I recognise that as a white woman I have a much easier time than most, so it’s still a great privilege to have a voice.

I found I was often uncomfortable writing women who were, among other things, flawed, disagreeable, angry, vulgar, sexual, raunchy, rude, unlikeable and ‘bad,’ because I’d been socially conditioned to see these characteristics as ‘wrong’ for women.

Happily, Space Oddity was picked up by a team of women, and the female characters extensively developed, because I was working with women who not only encouraged that but insisted on it – a learning experience I am so grateful for. And they went further, finding ways to increase the female representation both on screen and behind the scenes, so that the movie as it exists today looks and feels like our real world.

Embrace Your Creative Mess

Rebecca described to She Can the process behind her art. There is no Hollywood puffery but instead beautiful simplistic advice for all of us with aspirations to use our writing talents.

Rebecca Banner: My creative process is messy, so apologies to the neat creatives out there. I visualise a script as a room I completely destroy – in my first draft I get every part of the story onto the page. It’s always far too long long, it doesn’t make sense and really it’s just bad. Then, slowly, day by day, I clean it up. So off that I’d say be consistent, and trust the process. I always have several superb meltdowns during the writing of a script – I’ll think I’m getting nothing accomplished, or that it’s terrible. But I keep going, knowing that if I do, that room is still in a better state than it was before – even if all I do that day is pick up one dirty sock. Once you finish a script or two, you realise you can finish, which is a huge psychological hurdle to overcome. So I say embrace the doubt, frustration and meltdowns, step away, cry in your car, scream into a pillow and then keep going – trusting that it’s part of the process, you’re just cleaning up that room, and it all leads to a finish line.

My process also involves taking care of my brain and body. I’m against this idea that we need to be in a state of suffering to create. I’ve been in that state, I’ve created in that state, and I’ve created just as well if not better when I’ve been happy. Suffering is unavoidable, but prolonging it ‘for art’ is unnecessary. So I keep myself healthy by exercising most days, which not only helps my mental health, but clears my head – if I write in the morning then go for a run at lunch, it’s like I’ve reset myself for work in the afternoon and evening. As for my mind, I know therapy is a mammoth privilege – though there are amazing sliding scale organisations out there – but learning to understand my brain, and looking after it, has been so important for me as both a human and a writer. Therapy opens up not just my own world and mind, but the worlds and minds of my characters. It also teaches you to be curious, which is vital to writing.

With writing, I also find that I need to remain mentally buoyant, which is very frustrating when stressed about deadlines. But the more I focus, the more I insist on cracking a problem, the more stuck I get. So learning to step away, to not suffer, has been a difficult but important part of my process. And wouldn’t you know it, when I go and do something else the answer usually comes right to me.

Work with people who want to build your writing up with you, who are as passionate and invested in the story and characters as you are. It makes such a difference. Every piece of Space Oddity was enhanced by the team working on it, who came in with their own interpretations and opinions and creative visions. Collaboration helped us create the best story we could, together.

I draw heavily from reality so find it crucial to experience as much of this world as possible, to meet as many different people as possible, to listen and learn. I think this is a good objective in general, but as a writer it just adds so much I can draw inspiration from. When you experience something, you also discover the details, which help make stories grounded and believable. Of course we can’t experience living on alien planets, or fighting dragons, but the characters in even the most fantastical of movies will still be going through very human emotions and arcs – it’s what audiences connect with – so making those believable and detailed is key.

And then collaborate, wherever possible. Exchange writing with people you trust. Work with people who want to build your writing up with you, who are as passionate and invested in the story and characters as you are. It makes such a difference. Every piece of Space Oddity was enhanced by the team working on it, who came in with their own interpretations and opinions and creative visions. Collaboration helped us create the best story we could, together.

Write Real Women

Movies about momentous change and taking action are by the most part led by men. Indeed the woman hero has started to take a greater place, but we still see her very much shaped within the limits of societal norms. We wanted to understand the characteristics Rebecca valued in her female heroes and the messages she conveys in her writing.

Rebecca Banner : I don’t have one concept, I find countless women worthy of being called a hero, for so many different reasons. I believe women from the BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities, women with disabilities, and every other woman who battles sexism and then even more are especially heroic. What they must deal with, the armour they must put on just to exist in our society, is another level. I believe assault and abuse survivors are heroic. To endure the trauma, and then not only be consistently denied justice, but to face disbelief and victim-blaming by so many – their strength and resilience is astounding. I also admire the women who do the ground work to create change and equality, knowing they won’t see it all come to fruition in their lifetimes, but doing it anyway, as the woman who came before did for us. So in terms of characteristics, it’s hard to narrow down. I think our differences – unless rooted in hate – are what make us wonderful. It’s important then, to me, to show as many different, real women, as I can. In general I’m drawn to writing flawed, imperfect women, and find most genres, from rom coms to thrillers to family, are all great spaces to navigate imperfection, as well as flip gender stereotypes.

Explore Our Shared Humanity

Feelings are fundamentally important. Indeed, Space Oddity is about how different people, male and female, cope with life and loss. I wanted to get a sense of the male and female dynamics in Space Oddity and the values which are being upheld in her characters. I learned Rebecca isn’t trying to assert dominance in her feminine characters, nor in her male ones either. She simply nurtures a story of similarities and mutual kinship amongst what we perceive from our outer differences. I asked Rebecca what messages did she want viewers to take from your work?

The crew set up a shot
The crew set up a shot

Rebecca Banner: Space Oddity centers around the human experience – where pain and suffering exist, but so does joy. Through that I hope to show we are all human. Our feelings are the same regardless of our exterior. For example, an experience like grief is programmed into our brains. We may feel it in different orders and timelines, but we still all feel sadness, anger and denial. It still happens in waves. The difference comes in how we cope. Then you begin to see how society shapes us, be it culture, generation, or gender. The patriarchy alone plays a big role in policing emotions and reactions in women and men, but the feelings themselves are the same in all of us – we are the same.

I try to play around with societal expectations, including gender. I want my male characters to be free to lean into stereotypically feminine qualities and vice versa. I hope to give the women of Space Oddity the opportunity to be both three-dimensional and flawed – our female lead has her own story, her own agenda and flaws and problems she must face.

As it’s set on a family-owned flower farm, I also wanted to explore the ideas and expectations around farming and inheritance. It’s still a common presumption that the oldest son will take over the farm. At a time when a lot of family-owned farms are struggling to continue – in part because younger generations may not want to take over – it’s an interesting thread to pull at.

The Feelings Are What Keep People Watching

It is an amazing exhibition of art to have it show up on the big screen, a dream that comes true for a sliver of aspirants. I wanted to understand how someone filled with Rebecca’s abundance of compassion, fun spirit and gentle nature could navigate through the fiercely torrential sea of screenwriters. Being so talented amongst the best talent, would she still experience imposter’s syndrome or any similar feelings that made her feel like success was not hers to take? How could she nurture the surety she was good and be able to go forth regardless?

Rebecca Banner : Absolutely, especially in the beginning. I was uncertain, didn’t really know what I was doing (and had yet to realize no one does), compared myself to others and was a perfectionist, thanks to my competitive all-girls high school, so constantly felt I wasn’t good enough. Cultural differences didn’t help – Australians show confidence very differently to Americans, and it wasn’t translating well. Then, when I got my foot in the door, I had multiple men – some even friends – tell me I was “so lucky” the industry was “only hiring women,” implying quotas were the sole reason I’d achieved something. It wasn’t even said maliciously, more like a fact, which in a way was worse, and made me doubt my own achievement.

Then, when I got my foot in the door, I had multiple men – some even friends – tell me I was “so lucky” the industry was “only hiring women,” implying quotas were the sole reason I’d achieved something. It wasn’t even said maliciously, more like a fact, which in a way was worse, and made me doubt my own achievement.

So I had a foot in, but was paralyzed by the desire to be perfect, lest it be revealed I hadn’t earned my place. I wanted to be the most prepared, and before I shared any writing wanted certainty that what I wrote was not only brilliant, but guaranteed to be well-received. Needless to say, I received a rude awakening, as I discovered a creative career involves zero guarantees and a whole lot of failing and rejection. And I failed a lot. It was devastating at first – it still stings – but I also started to notice I was learning from failing. My writing evolved. I evolved.

I couldn’t avoid failure, but I could reframe it to see it as an opportunity – it was impossible to deny it always led me to curiosity, reflection and growth. This validated my voice, as it enabled me to move past my perfectionism. And the more I’ve grown, the more I’ve had to say – same with my characters – all of which makes me feel worthy of having a seat at the table.

I also realized if I couldn’t guarantee a successful outcome, then I had to learn to trust myself and my instincts. This helps me be as certain as I can be about my choices regardless of outcome, whether it’s taking on a project, deciding it’s time to submit that draft, or figuring out what a character is saying or even eating – this helps even more when you realize the act of screenwriting is really just you making ten thousand little decisions. I also focus on picking only projects that matter to me – where there is something I want to say, and themes and messages and ideas I want to explore – which again gives me purpose and self-worth during the process, regardless of the outcome.

I was being self-deprecating on set and remarked that my job was just to ‘have all the feelings.’ One Assistant Director, Tyler Cox, said to me “the feelings are what keep people watching.”

Of course I still doubt myself, but recently learnt something I think all creative people should know. I was being self-deprecating on set and remarked that my job was just to ‘have all the feelings.’ One Assistant Director, Tyler Cox, said to me “the feelings are what keep people watching.”  I’ve heard variations of this, but the clarity of his statement stayed with me, because we so often get lost in details and fear and uncertainty, but this, plain and simple, is what matters – if you have the ability to convey feelings to an audience, then you have a voice worth sharing.

Commit To The “No Asshole” Work Environment

When we want to go for our big success we can experience the excitement of the end goal, but also thoughts of the obstacles loom over us. Hollywood is one of the toughest industries to get a foot in the ground. Often with success, obstacles get thrown at us. At She Can we are all about making success happen, so I was keen to learn more about the most difficult obstacle Rebecca had to overcome in building her career and the advice she could share with our readers about overcoming these obstacles

Rebecca Banner: Learning to not be so agreeable. Thanks to both being a woman and a childhood as an expat, my first instinct is to be amenable. This led to more than one situation where I was taken advantage of, so I’ve learnt to say no, and am learning (slowly) to hold firm on my wants and needs

I also really value kindness, in an industry not known for it. I know several people who have committed to creating ‘no assholes’ work environments, both in offices and on set, and I’d like to follow in those footsteps – because it really isn’t hard to be kind. It seems like people mistakenly equate the trait with sweetness, docility and weakness, but that just isn’t true. You can be snarky, opinionated, powerful, ambitious and edgy – most things – and still be kind.

Embrace Failure & Reject Agreeability

The crew set up a shot (2)
The crew set up a shot (2)

The women Rebecca have worked with on Space Oddity have been all about supporting her, and Rebecca is keen to continue the legacy. We asked her about the kind of guidance she would give to other young women coming up in the industry.

Rebecca Banner: Find the people who aren’t just speaking about supporting women, but are actually doing it. Kyra and Valerie didn’t just make the movie. They nurtured and supported and mentored me. They got into the trenches with me to develop the script and went out of their way to credit me on set. I learnt so much from them, because they were willing to teach. I gained so much, because they were willing to give.

Kyra and Valerie didn’t just make the movie. They nurtured and supported and mentored me. They got into the trenches with me to develop the script and went out of their way to credit me on set. I learnt so much from them, because they were willing to teach. I gained so much, because they were willing to give.

They also pulled up other women. They promoted several women to department heads – most of them long-owed that promotion by the industry. Since it was my first set, I didn’t even realise how rare it was to see that many women around. But now that I’ve seen it, I expect it, and I’ll keep working with them and people like them, and the momentum of their movement will continue. It’ll also surprise no one to know every single one of these women were legends who did an amazing job – once given the opportunity.

Similarly, surround yourself with other women. I’ve met women across the industry, some with jobs similar to mine and some wildly different. But we all have our own experiences of being the only woman in the room. We all know what it’s like. And we can all lift each other up. There is immense power in women uniting and supporting one another, working and creating together.

Know that failure and rejection are part of the job – and find something to cushion the blow. When I get bad rejections, I become comatose on the couch for a day watching something ridiculous, usually while ranting to whichever loved one is lucky enough to be nearby, and by the time I wake up the next day, I’m ready to keep going.

There is immense power in women uniting and supporting one another, working and creating together.

And don’t let the job become all-consuming, as I’ve done before. We like to treat everything with the urgency of an all-consuming ER but it’s not. Make time for your hobbies, your fun and your health. Maintain and treasure your relationships. Many of my friends aren’t in film, and I personally love it. Not only do they keep my perspective firmly in check, but I get to visit their own fun and different worlds.

Don't Close The Door Behind You

 The 1st AD manages the set
The 1st AD manages the set

For such a young artist, Rebecca has put a lot of thought into the kind of vision she wants to project through her screenwriting. Her work shows how a movie doesn’t need to be created for a consumer, but created for greater connectedness within and between us. Rebecca’s legacy is one which is for a better future through creating understanding between us.

Rebecca Banner : At the end of the day, I as a viewer want to see the real world on my screen, so I want to leave behind stories that do that. One of my greatest privileges was growing up an expat across Asia and the Middle East. Living in other cultures created an appreciation and love for our world, for people and life, that I would love to have expressed in my work. As a viewer I also want to experience diverse stories, from the countless perspectives of those who haven’t had the chance before, because it’s interesting and engaging and meaningful and in my opinion one of the greatest gifts film gives us. So if I can do anything to open doors, if I can use my own privilege to pull others up so they can tell their stories, that’s a legacy I’d be proud of.

Movies can show our similarities. Movies can help us connect and relate. Movies can make the unknown, known.

I’d also like to leave behind stories that matter to me. Stories of women from different times and places, our feelings, perspectives, our wants and needs, our ups and downs and our perfectly imperfect selves. I’d like to have given the men of my stories the space to feel. To explore themselves. And I’d like to have changed a few minds – the power of art lies in the ability to open our eyes to new perspectives. Even in the most light-hearted of comedies, you can open people’s minds.I think a lot of the time people are judgmental against others because they are isolated from them – movies can bridge that gap. Movies can show
our similarities. Movies can help us connect and relate. Movies can make the unknown, known.

So as not to detract from Rebecca’s artful and inspired words which in reality say it all, we are going to highlight a few of the most important insights and let her lead with her space-mind awareness.

We should not judge ourselves too harshly for the messiness we have to cope with in our emotional space, no matter how deep and raw. It may be a part of a creative process or an emotional journey that moves us closer to the “finish line”. Rebecca normalizes our low points and shows us even the most successful people have “ups and meltdowns” that tend to make us want to shut down or shame ourselves.

Rebecca shows us how female heroes manifest themselves in many different platforms and experiences. She shows us how creativity has many sources, and one of them is suffering but she seems to know how to embrace and nurture it not just for soothing but as a platform for thriving curiosity and greater success.

Let’s conclude with Rebecca’s vision for the world she would like to see, the world she wants for children currently growing up, the most promising world to shape future generations.

Rebecca Banner: I have a 7-year-old godson, and want him to grow up seeing wonderfully flawed women (and men!) I want him – and all kids – to see women being respected, and treated as equals. I want them to see women in leadership roles, and women as heroes, and to see sensitive, gentle men who express their feelings instead of fighting or repressing them. I want children to see endless possibilities on screen, so they don’t feel constrained by gender, and are free to be exactly who they are.

Words by Rebecca Banner. Editorial comments and questions from Mary Troy Johnston.

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