P.J. Woodside: Kentucky’s Woman of Horror


Big Biting Pig Productions.P.J. Woodside and her creative partner, Steve Hudgins, are on the edge of releasing their 9th horror flick, Frances Stein, a twist on the well-known story also written by a woman.

As I researched P.J. and the films she and Steve create together about once a year, I was able to piece together, Frances Stein-like, an idea of who P.J. is and why I think she, along with many other filmmakers, both female and male, are contributing positively to the global battle cry asking for more women in pictures.

Big Biting Pig Productions

Big Biting Pig Productions, a self-proclaimed grassroots production company, is based in Kentucky, USA in a town about two hours from Nashville, Tennessee.

A virtual friend (thanks BlogDogIt) recommended I contact P.J. to learn more about a scriptwriter who happen to be a woman. The randomness of the Internet gave me the opportunity to Skype this week with a vivacious woman who wrote the script, plays the mad scientist, and along with Steve is involved in every aspect of its production. Just my kind of woman in pictures.

To help with flow, anything in [square brackets] is my interpretation or clarification of her answers.

P.J. and friend on the set of Frances Stein. Picture courtesy of Big Biting Pig Productions.

Telling Different Horror Stories

Where does your passion for horror come from?

I came into it accidentally because the genre is what my movie-making partner, Steve, is interested in. My education is in story telling. I come from a literary tradition, and I did not [originally] give much credibility to the genre market.

We both started out as writers, story tellers, and actors and then directing, for me, seemed like a natural progression. The technical part is not easy but you learn it. The story telling part is harder to get right and that is what we pride ourselves in.

In your opinion do you think men and women enjoy horror equally?
I taught a writing class where the topic was horror. I do think men are conditioned to be more open to it, but I think there are a lot of women into it as well. It depends on the person.

I also see that so many of the female characters [in horror] are exploited in narrow clichéd ways.

I have enjoyed taking the female archetype and turning it on its head.

Shaking Up the Horror Genre

What is your experience as a woman in this industry?

Everything about there not being enough women in film is true. One of the things that happens going to the horror festivals is that the women are scantily dressed to promote the movies. Amanda Bearse was at one of these in 2013, she was in Fright Night and Married with Children, she came by my table and talked to me for a long time just because I was a real woman, and also a filmmaker [read PJ’s blog post here]. That was my experience at these festivals, and film making in general.

Creating Characters

Even when Steve writes the scripts, we alternate years more or less, I always push for having equality in the characters. I think everyone bases characters on what you have seen before. For Steve, his childhood experiences are horror movies with mostly men in key roles. I have to sometimes ask him “does that minor character have to be a girlfriend? Why can’t we make that a minor male character instead?”. Steve is great once he sees it.

P.J. on the set of Frances Stein. Picture courtesy of Big Biting Pig Productions.

P.J. on the set of Frances Stein. Picture courtesy of Big Biting Pig Productions.

Creative Female Control to Subvert the Female Role

The Frances Stein script took me a long time to complete although the story has been in my head for about three years.

It is kind of fun because there is a younger male character who is obsessed with me. Is it wrong to write a movie where all the men are after me? I have fun with that, play on it, what you expect out of characters. In 2012’s Creepy Doll a pregnant woman is the villain, which is a little risky. In this genre you can subvert those characters a little more easily. That is where I get my kicks.

Being a Mentor

I have a good grounding from my youth [in South Carolina] of believing that I can be smart, I did not have to be pretty. For a long time I put up a shield to say don’t judge me for this, judge me for what is inside.

But there is an inclination for women to tell girls to be nice. I often tell young women on my set you don’t have to smile and put up with that, you don’t need to be mean or be a bitch. Most of the time when someone is called a bitch they are standing up for themselves.

I am happy at the age I am now that I don’t have to work so hard for that respect, I own it.

My daughter was on set with me a couple of weeks ago. She said it is great to see you in your element, taking charge. I don’t think twice about it now. [In the past] I was dismissed because I am a woman. That part makes me mad, that is what I hope to shift a little bit by encouraging my daughter who does things I didn’t do when I was younger.

P.J. on the set of the Caretakers

P.J. on the set of The Caretakers. Picture courtesy of Big Biting Pig Productions.

Where are the awards for women filmmakers?

Do you think that women are better represented on film? As a viewer have you seen any changes?

I think it has been slow to shift. It just amazes me how few writers, editors and directors are up for awards, and it is not because they are not out there. It is still a good old boy network.

It still annoys me when I go to look for a TV show or a movie that has women at the centre of it, that is still a minority. I seek those things out, like Orange is the New Black, but I am sometimes disappointed. Friends tell me “you might really like it”…then I find out there is only one female character. I am not going to spend my time on that, I am going to spend my time on movies that have more women at the helm or behind the scenes, with more equal distribution in front of the camera.

When you did your MFA were there more men or women in your classes?
That is where I think it has shifted and has become more equal in higher education. I was always respected for what I thought and for my intelligence, and I saw women given power.

What are your thoughts about female law enforcement characters wearing high heels in the field?

Oh God. I think high heels, they are a costume piece, and if the character needs high heels, fair enough. I am all about the comfortable… that could be considered torture.

Contact Info for PJ and Big Biting Pig Productions

Final words, don’t underestimate P.J. or you might get bitten…

It’s been pointed out to me by one of my trusted advisers that one of my themes in my scripts is “women who feel wronged because they have been underestimated.” This is one of my life themes, too. These women aren’t overly happy, and being underestimated gives them an edge. Of sorts. Beware.

(P.J., February 23, 2015 on Tumblr).

The Caretakers. Screenshot courtesy of Big Biting Pig Productions

The Caretakers. Screenshot courtesy of Big Biting Pig Productions

Stay tuned for more interviews and analyses of women in pictures. I have only just begun.

Related Articles

This interview is part of a series, currently related to my own script and a required research course.  I have had such positive response to my request for interviews that I plan to keep going well after the project deadline of June 19.

Update July 1, 2015

The industry analysis is published: Why are there fewer female scriptwriters in the film industry? and Erica Tremblay’s interview.

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3 thoughts on “P.J. Woodside: Kentucky’s Woman of Horror

  1. That was a great interview Amanda!

    I am glad you were able to get in touch with PJ; I know she is up to her neck-bolts in her latest project and her willingness to spare some time speaks to just the sort of person I have always found her to be.

    To tell you the truth, until I discovered PJ Woodside & BigBitingPig Productions – we cannot forget to mention Felicia Casey Stewart here; another female powerhouse behind this successful outfit (in the role of assistant to everything it takes to make a movie) – I was not what you would call a horror fan. However, PJ’s films are unique in the genre for many reasons not the least of which is the casting of women in other than your typical horror flick scream-sources.

    Pj is a really cool individual and I can only imagine the two of you hit it off splendidly!

    Like

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