Over the course of only two feature films, Cathy Yan has already amassed an interesting journey for any filmmaker. From beginning on a critically acclaimed Sundance award-winning film, “Dead Pigs,” which was sitting on the shelf for three years to then moving to a massive superhero film like “Birds of Prey,” she’s experienced quite a bit of what Hollywood and the film industry has to offer, specifically when it comes to challenges. And she has definitely learned some lessons.
Speaking on an upcoming episode of The Playlist Podcast about the release of “Dead Pigs” on MUBI on February 12 (full podcast conversation coming soon), Yan discussed her excitement about “Dead Pigs” finally getting wide distribution after premiering at Sundance in 2018. “Dead Pigs” is a dark comedy about a family and how even the most random events can link people in surprising, emotional ways.
“So exciting! Very exciting!” said Yan about the long-awaited release of her debut feature on MUBI. “I think when it was first at Sundance [in 2018], it was a slightly different set of circumstances. There weren’t that many distributors that want to take that kind of risk or know what to do with this film because it does cross a lot of different genres and tones. It was difficult to find a distributor that really wanted to take that chance.”
Ultimately, she feels the delay in the release hasn’t hurt “Dead Pigs” at all, saying the themes are “more prescient” now than nearly four years ago when she was making the feature.
The filmmaker also talked about the well-documented challenges she faced working on “Birds of Prey.” As has been reported on a variety of DC superhero films, Warner Bros. has taken a hands-on approach to the final cut of their blockbusters. So, when asked about her experience working on ‘Birds’ and specifically, the post-production process with WB, Yan definitely agreed there were compromises that had to be made.
“It was definitely challenging,” said Yan about working on “Birds of Prey.” “‘Dead Pigs’ was such a singular, pure version of myself. And I think when you’re dealing with a budget like [‘Birds of Prey’ had] and the sort of pressures of a studio, especially a studio that is undergoing a lot of change, inevitably you end up having to compromise and fight for stuff. And you win some and you lose a lot. It’s just kind of how it is.”
“I would have loved to have more control over the edit [of ‘Birds of Prey’],” she continued. “But that’s just kind of how it is. I don’t know if there’s a Cathy Yan cut out there, but I think for any filmmaker, all of us are in it because we want to express ourselves as wholly as possible. And to match what you ultimately see on screen with what’s in our head.”
She went on to talk about David Ayer’s experience on “Suicide Squad,” which Yan famously expressed sympathy about. Ayer has been championing the idea of recutting “Suicide Squad” to better fit his vision after WB reportedly interfered quite a bit and drastically changed the film in the editing room.
“I do know that there was a very different tone of movie that [Ayer] had planned for ‘Suicide Squad’ that never really made it,” Yan said. “And so, if he gets to show his cut or get to take another stab at it, then that’s an insanely wonderful opportunity.”
Asked whether her “Birds of Prey” experience has changed her mind about big-budget blockbusters moving forward, such as doing additional DC superhero films, Yan is unsure.
“Yes and no,” she said about the experience on “Birds of Prey” influencing any of her future decisions. “I never did [‘Birds of Prey’] in the first place so that I could say I did a big movie or blockbuster movie. I actually very much did it because I thought the script was interesting. And the fact that I got the chance to depict women, especially female superheroes, in a way that we haven’t really seen before, like neither perfect nor weak, you know? I think it’s [typically] either-or really. I enjoyed that challenge of being able to subvert the genre a little bit.”
“I would not discount ever doing it again,” she said. “I try not to think of whether I would do this type of movie or that type of movie again. Or whether I’d work with this studio or that. But more like, ‘Is this story compelling?’ And I’m also a writer/director. So, in that case, my big lesson is that I want to continue to do that and have a little bit more control over the story I’m telling.”
Yan is still attached to “Sour Heart” over at A24, but there has yet to be any news about any sort of “Birds of Prey” spinoffs or a sequel in development. More on the full conversation with Yan about “Dead Pigs,” her career, and more below: