Interview by Kierston Drier
Are you searching for groundbreaking cinema? The untold stories given voice by trailblazers? Concepts ambitiously challenged by unique craftsmanship? Also comedy? This reporter is.
It is true that excellent stories come in all forms- from the smallest micro-budget indie to the grandest blockbuster- but more times than not, an audience is subtly led towards the tropes and stereotypes that society is unconsciously comfortable with. But not this time.
This time I was connected with two fearless and talented Toronto-based content creators, Dana Fradkin and Karen Knox. Fradkin, a writer/producer/performer has worked all over Canada, the United States and Europe and has teamed up with Knox, writer/director and creator of her own production company Boss & Co to bring startling fresh life to an overused industry trope in their new short film The Case of the Massey Bodice Ripping.
What trope are they aiming to break down? An ambitious and intense one- the issue of Rape, as convention in film. I dive in with these two talented creators to dissect their motives behind making their piece The Case of the Massey Bodice Ripping, a piece that tackles the tropes of violence against women through the lense of satirized murder mystery comedy.
- To begin, tell me a bit about the synopsis of the piece.
Dana: The Case of the Massey Bodice Ripping, written in the style of the murder mystery genre, takes a look at our uneven portrayal of murder vs. rape in contemporary media. While we freely satirize murder to the extent of writing Broadway musicals on the subject, the issue of rape has been relegated to stories of broken women, sensational crime drama or hackneyed plot device excused as historical accuracy.
The Case of the Massey Bodice Ripping is a parody/satire on the classic murder mystery genre. It’s 1932, the Massey family has gathered together at Helen Massey’s estate up north for their annual hunting weekend. But the whole weekend goes awry, when, on the first night, Lara Massey (Helen’s daughter), is raped. Female Detective Tracy Halt zooms in to solve the case. With an array of neurotic characters including Helen’s drunk brother, her French lover, the young polish gardener, the British butler and the flirty maid; Detective Tracy uncovers many family secrets before finding the sexual predator. The film is both quirky like the movie Clue while also focusing genuinely on Lara’s traumatic event, her experience and the after effects.
- What sparked the genesis of your project? What was the initial inspiration or motivation behind this piece?
Karen: The idea of creating this film was born of a conversation Dana and I had while discussing society’s treatment of murder vs. rape. How we are able to freely satirize murder and violence, but not rape. Even saying the word full volume in a coffee shop is difficult to do. Why is this? Does our inability to explore the subject matter except from a limited artistic milieu contribute to the perpetuation of rehashed tropes and bad stereotypes furthering ideas propping up rape culture? These are questions we are trying to answer through the making of this film. By working closely with the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre, and speaking with survivors we are attempting to create a film that is insightful, sensitive, and above all else a paradigm shift in our thinking with regards to how we tell stories of sexual assault.
After years of watching primetime drama consistently churn out half baked stories, romanticizing, sexualizing, helping to promote hateful stereotypes, and adding to the perpetuation of rape culture I along with co-writer Dana Fradkin created a script dealing with the rape of a young woman that:
- Doesn’t romanticize/sexualize rape
- Does not credit rape as a “backstory” for female revenge
- Doesn’t use rape to further the development of a male character
- Does not use rape to turn a female character into a superhero
- Is told from the survivor’s perspective
- Does not use rape as an excuse for a woman to be “broken”
- Is a comedy. Highlighting the absurdity/ubiquitousness of sexual assault in “Period Pieces” especially in the particularly grim rape factories of primetime dramas.
The kind of film we are making has never been made before. We want to change the conversation. While acknowledging that one cannot change the world with a short film, we do hope to help the slow reconstruction of how the media deals with the story of sexual assault and violence. We are a team made up almost entirely of women. With more women telling stories, and more female directors translating those stories into images that impact viewers’ emotions and attitudes, we can at least convey one giant truth: That rape culture – founded on the belief that women are less valuable, less deserving, less believable – is based on a lie.
- Tell me a little more about the piece itself. It sounds like you are tackling a difficult subject matter with deep sensitivity and also a bit of humor, as you mentioned your short is also a comedy.
Karen: I am a firm believer in the ability of satire to change the world. I can acknowledge the difficult nature of watching media about the subject of rape. It is one of the most horrific acts of human violence and unlike murder, leaves us with survivor, a human being who can speak to the experience, the trauma and its effects. It then seems perhaps counterintuitive to try to create a film on the subject that includes elements of comedy. The satire in Case of the Massey Bodice Ripping is more a commentary on our oft too passive acceptance of rape culture. Truth though satire is piercingly clear in that in allows us to be self critical without turning us off with a too violent or vitriolic reprimand.
4.Tell me about the process of building your film right now?
We have an incredible team behind us, cast, creative, and an amazing team of producers. Everyone who has come onto this project has generously donated their time to the cause. With the philanthropic help of the Kellet foundation we have been able to secure a lot of our filming essentials, including the incredible location, a 1930’s Tudor period mansion, we will be filming at. After about two years of on again off again script development, we are ready to bring this film into the world, but we need the community’s help to make it happen!
- You are currently running an Indiegogo Campaign. Can you elaborate on exactly what the funds are being raised for?
– Equipment rentals (some of these have been donated, but there a few vital pieces we still need to cover the cost of).
– A fair wage for essential crew members
– Post production (editing, composition, sound mixing, colouring,)
– Festival submissions and publicity
– Craft services! We will have a team of 30 for three days on set working ten to twelve hour days! In order to keep everyone happy it is so vital to keep them well fed and well caffeinated!
- You film aims to do some incredible things, both on a small and large scale in media. Talk to me about how helping you with this Indiegogo Campaign creates meaningful change, on a small and large scale. (For the record, this reporter is already sold!)
On a small scale you’re helping a team of Canadian artists create meaningful content that can contribute to changing the way we deal with the rape trope in TV and Cinema. On a larger scale, we’re taking on nearly a century of cinema and TV that has refused to tell survivors’ stories in a way that offers ownership of perspective.
- If you had one message to send out to people are passionate about this industry, what would it be?
We are making something that no one has ever seen before. This story is vital, this message is vital, let’s bury the rape trope ONCE AND FOR ALL!
- Anything you’d like to add?
While we do need to raise $6000 in order to cover basic filming costs, there are other ways in which you can easily donate to this project other than with financial support. Do you have experience working in the film industry? Is this a project you can get behind? The donation of your time as a member of our crew is HUGELY valuable. Join us for one day, or join us for all three! Get in touch with us and we can most likely find a position for you on this shoot!
If you have any other ideas/skills you feel might be able to contribute to this project, we would love to hear from you. Maybe you run a catering business and would like to donate catering to our project? Maybe you run a costume rental house and would like to help us out with rentals?
- Please link me to your campaign! (and basic campaign details, rewards, etc)
How utterly refreshing? How exceptionally brave and admirable? How badly do you want to see a comedy like this get made? I do. I want to see this piece succeed because what is film if it does not take on a challenge? What is film if it doesn’t make us ask ourselves (and our society) hard questions? Tired tropes must be retired, and creators must rise to the challenge of retiring them. Knox and Fradkin are two of these creators- challenging the status quo, making a difference and making us laugh. For that alone, I tip my hat and head on over to their amazing Campaign. (And when you do check out their Campaign, watch the video! It’s a comedy in and of itself!)