‘The Legend Of The Red Reaper’; 1st Feminist Sci-Fi/Fantasy Film

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Most sci-fi/fantasy action fans, whether it be of movies, games, or books, are accustomed to seeing certain things: men in most protagonist roles, men as the heroes, and women making token appearances but not carrying the story or the action. This seems somewhat of a blatant and-in-the-face of half the audience of this genre (which are women), and yet many big companies don’t feel the need to cater to the female fans.

There have been plenty of articles relating to sexism in the video game and “geek” world, but that hasn’t necessarily changed the minds of the bigger companies churning out the cult hits. So what will it take to change the status quo? Women writing, producing, directing and playing lead characters.

There has yet to be a clear feminist fantasy action film on the horizon…until now. Tara Cardinal who is an actress and filmmaker had had enough of not finding strong female characters in the genre she loved the most, she decided it was up to her to change things up. She wrote the film ‘The Legend of the Red Reaper’ as well as an accompanying book called ‘Sword Sisters’. The creation of these two stories are in itself an achievement worth talking about, but it was Tara’s journey and difficulties in making this that shows how tough it still is for women to sell female-lead films.

After an unprecedented streak of bad luck (embezzled funds, stolen footage, death of the director of photography), the project was abandoned until lead actress Tara Cardinal (Zombie Massacre, Scarlet Samurai) reorganized the project self-financing hundreds of thousands of dollars out of her own savings, working part time as a wrestler on the independent circuit and completing a highly invasive medical study like her idol, Robert Rodriguez. She even put her house on the line – and lost it. Donning both hats of a writer and director, she picked up where everyone else left off.

Her journey made news in The Hollywood Reporter, the Mary Sue, and Indiewire, and is a prime example of how determined and strong women need to be to face the odds that seem to be inevitable in Hollywood when it comes to gender discrimination.

Movie mogul Uwe Boll (‘BloodRayne’, ‘In the Name of the King’, ‘Rampage’) and martial arts legend Ho-Sung Pak (‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’, ‘Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master’) saw potential in the Red Reaper franchise and he put his full weight behind the project, guiding post production with his expert team.
Not one to rest on her laurels Tara grabbed fellow fantasy author Alex Bledsoe (‘The Hum and Shiver’, ‘Eddie LaCrosse’ series) and knocked out “Sword Sisters”  a prequel novel to the film, published by Rogue Blades Entertainment. Film Festivals, Renaissance Festivals and Comicons screened the film and the project snagged a total of 9 awards.

Iconic film news sites like Ain’t it Cool and B*tch Flicks gave it phenomenal reviews calling it “complicated” “progressive” “pull no punches and hit some great emotional beats” “able to shift from curb-stomping she-devil with a sword to soft and delicate, sometimes in the same scene”.

The film is screening this summer across America and worldwide, and the Sword Sisters book is available on Amazon. We spoke with Tara about creating this sci-fi series, and how the industry needs to change to include more women’s stories across all genres.

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Tell us about the story of the “Legend of the Red Reaper”?

Legend of the Red Reaper is the story of a girl that was born wrong but used her flaws to make the world a better place. Half human, half demon, tortured by her past – she isn’t living up to her potential – or the prophecies. To top it all off she’s in love with the only man she could never have – the human sworn to be king.

Tell us about the journey to making this film and the bad luck you experienced along the way?

Once upon a time, long long ago, before the studios went public about not making big budget movies with female leads…

It all started off traditionally enough. I had an idea for a film, and I pitched to some studios. The studios liked the concepts of the story, but didn’t want a female lead. So, I went independent with it. I acquired the financing and hired a locally. Pre-production went very well, but two days into production my “producers” embezzled the production funds.

With the money went most of the team. Soon I found myself without a director, writer, or any producers. While I raised a little more money, I taught myself how to write, direct and produce. It took me two years but, I built a new team populated with passionate artists and we were up and running again!

Unfortunately my director of photography passed away suddenly. We were all devastated and I looked to find a camera man who would honor Mr. Goodnoff’s keen eye. I would have gladly hired someone to write, produce or direct, but no one wanted to. Once I was finished with principal photography, I had to digitize the footage.

It took an entire year.

The first digitizer held my footage for three months, and did nothing. So I fired him. Then I was recommended to an editor who “knew some people”. He told me he was editing the film, but when I asked him for scenes, he pushed me off, saying he was doing me a favor and I should just be happy he was doing it. Six months went by, before he admitted the footage even been digitized yet. And I owed the post house $5,000.

I raised the money and, got in contact with the post house. They were livid with me for “leaving” my tapes with them for 6 months and not paying. They “punished” me by “losing” two of tapes. Those tapes included two hours of cinematography and three scenes – including the finale. I couldn’t go back and re-shoot, because the locations no longer existed.

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By this point I was on my 3rd editor, a promising young man who worked for the studios. I sat with him 3 nights a week for nine months, before I had to let him go. After he’d collected his salary he tried to cash in further by insisting that I sign with a distributor who would finish the film. They wanted full creative rights, and began negotiations to recast the film with a popular male action star. To my face, they promised they promised much, but the contract never matched the verbal agreement.

The contract was significantly slanted towards the distributor.They expected the rights to my whole franchise (for no compensation) and all future rights to everything I ever do as a writer, director or producer. It was insane! Obviously, I couldn’t sign that deal, but when I balked, my editor wouldn’t give me back the footage or the cut I’d paid for. I knew if they were treating me this way in the beginning, it would only get worse from there. I used the resources at my disposal and forced the film back into my hands, but took months to get it back on track. So much time wasted for no reason.

Boll World Sales (Uwe Boll’s company) had a great reputation and I wanted them to distribute Red Reaper. I’d already had several meetings with Mr. Boll, and he was interested in my work and my drive. He told me it was unusual for an actress to take over a project, especially one of this magnitude, and bring it all together. He loved the trailer and wanted to see the rough cut.

When I showed him my editor’s work – he passed. I was devastated, but not beaten. I made him a deal. I told him I would re-edit the film myself, and he would take another look. He agreed. All I had to do was learn how to edit, which I did.

Boll saw the new cut and he loved it. He immediately assembled a full post team, which I helmed and here we are!

Tell us about the sacrifices you had to make to make the film happen?

Funding a film this size was an expensive and exhausting endeavor. I put my house and my health into this film and lost them both. My house was foreclosed on during post production, and was hospitalized twice for stress. Not to mention the bumps bruises strains and sprains from losing 500 wrestling matches.

Your story was covered by a few major Hollywood industry press publications, why did it attract so much attention?

One of the studios publicly passed on the big budget version of the film because it had a female lead. We were surprised by that, because that version was penned by an employee of that studio, so the script had the elements that they look for.

How did you eventually get the project up off the ground again?

A multi-tiered plan.

  1. – I sold my body to science
  2. – I became a professional wrestler. My job was to lose. I lost probably 500 matches, getting body slammed, thrown out of rings, I took body blows in semi-competitive MMA fights.
  3. – I got rid of everything but my clothes, my files and my cat, and moved into a small room in someone’s condo, for three years. I scrimped and saved, and put EVERY dime I earned into the film. For 3 years I didn’t go out to eat or buy clothes for myself. I just put everything into the film. And even then, it almost wasn’t enough.

That’s how I raised the money.  After I had the funds, I contacted actors and crew I had previous relationships with, and everyone was thrilled to be on board.

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Tell us about the accompanying novel you wrote “Sword Sisters” which is a prequel to the film?

I’d started writing Sword Sisters during post production on Red Reaper, but I was needed constantly for all aspects. I wasn’t able to write as much as I thought I could, and I realized the process was too slow – it would take me years to finish if I was only writing a couple of hours a week. So I looked for a co-author.

I didn’t have to look very far, because Alex Bledsoe (the first person I asked), agreed immediately! Working with him was a dream and just as much fun as you could expect to have writing a sword and sorcery novel. The novel finds Aella several years before the film, struggling with her identity, her place in the world, and the ambiguity of her role as “The Red Reaper” (the protector of humanity). Humans don’t even like Reapers, so why should she dedicate her life to them?

She decides to run away, and instead of abdicating her responsibilities, she walks right into them. I am currently co-authoring Book 2 (sequel to the prequel – still takes place before the film) where Aella the Red Reaper, discovers Reaper-animals, hybrids that are both demon and animal. She befriends a Reaper-wolf who needs her help, meets her half sister, her true love and his fiancé.

Who are the sword sisters and why was it important for you as a woman to create strong female characters in the sci-fi and fantasy action genres?

Her first contact with a human female (other than her mother) is a defiant young lady slated to be sacrificed to an archaic God. The young woman, Amelia, never accepts that as her role, and fights with all she has for freedom, but she lacks the physical strength. That’s where Aella steps in. She saves the girl, and then the girl saves her. Then they save the village.

It’s not enough to just have one strong woman who shows no emotions. Both Aella and Amelia are strong in their own way. Where Aella is physically strong and trained, Amelia is confident and outspoken. She lacks training that can compensate for her physical strength, but Aella can help with that. Aella is strong enough to fight a Demi-God, but Amelia is strong enough to save Aella from the prejudice of Amelia’s village. They need each other to complete their own stories, and neither takes away from the other.

That strength of relationship is just as important as creating two individually strong characters.

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Even though women make up half of the “geek” audience globally (books, video games, films), they are still not catered to as much when it comes to female characters and representations, how do you hope to change this with your stories?

I’ve never met a guy that felt like he really understood women, so it’s no shocker that it’s a struggle for most of them to create well rounded independent females. And by independent, I mean independent of the plot. Men have been conditioned to see women as things to acquire/rescue/win on their quest to become men. Save the princess, avenge a wife’s death – these are all valid (if not tired) plot points, but they don’t allocate independence to the female characters.

That’s confusing for boys and girls growing up. We don’t have much in the way of role models to see how males and females can interact outside of a sexual relationship. So it falls on women to stand up and be seen, to shout out, and be heard. I am Aella. Her backstory is my back story. Like Aella, I was put into foster care (given away to demons). Like Aella I have found and lost true love. Like Aella I have dedicated my life to making the world a safer place.

In the movie you can see my martial arts abilities, sword or hand to hand. I am the proof that you can be accomplished and strong and even feminine, without having to do it in a bikini, or fetish wear. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it just doesn’t belong on the battlefield, am I right?

Tell us what makes “The Legend of the Red Reaper” a feminist fantasy action film, as it is being called?

Feminism is simply the equality of men and women. It’s not the word I would have given it, because “feminism” evokes this idea of female supremacy – which it’s not. So, in today’s climate, having a woman do everything a man does is all it takes to be a “feminist” film. I was surprised when the media dubbed Red Reaper “feminist”. I’ve always thought of myself as a well-rounded, complete person with my own story independent of anyone, male or female. And that’s the story I told.

Are there many feminist films like this, and why do you think there should be more?

To my knowledge, there are not, unfortunately. I’ve been told I’m the first woman to have full creative control over a female driven franchise. I don’t want to be the only one! As a society we need full and complete representation of not just women, but minorities and people of other religions and orientations of all kinds. Why? Because everyone deserves to be represented yes, but because other people, other cultures, other experiences are not just amazing, but they can change your whole world.

Especially for those of us who don’t identify with the superficiality (come on, how much can I really care about shoes, or Ax body spray?)  of the dominant culture. Imagine, how much richer our lives would be if we shared the best of all of our cultures and traditions? Never mind the potential social impact of more tolerance, less fighting. People fear what they don’t understand and they hate what they fear. Imagine a world with less just by telling more colorful stories!

Do you see a lot of sexism and unfair female representation in the Sci-Fi world of characters?

Yes, I do, but I also see more fully rounded females represented in Sci-Fi than other genres. It’s kind of sad, like the message is, only in another world are women fully formed. What?!

Why does Hollywood have such a hard time financing films and content made by women for women, and how can women change this?

It’s a business, and it’s all about marketing. The belief is that women don’t spend money the way men do. When you take into account that historically women have had less employment, and been paid less than their male counterparts when they are employed, you see the dilemma.

Hollywood is a business, run by mostly men and these men actually sit around and try to figure out what we will consume.  Some of these guys just aren’t interested in the stories of women, and some who are, are silenced. Fortunately with this new era of Kickstarter and Indiegogo we are no longer limited to what the studios think we want to consume. The best film makers are going independent. George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Sylvester Stallone, Jackie Chan have turned their backs on the studios and are making their own content on their own terms.

If women want more films by/for women and not just the paternalistic studio fare, then we have to seek out those women whose voices match our own and support them vocally. Leave supportive comments on their IMDB pages. Rate the films. Contribute to their Kickstarters or Indiegogo campaigns. Until the tides change, it’s the only way. I am grateful for the women in my circle that support me in the ways that they can. Those that started off as fans, I now consider friends.

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Are there any other female written/directed/produced fantasy action franchises that we should know about and support?

I don’t know of other women doing what I’m doing (and if you’re out there, reading this contact me ASAP – I want to meet you!). I do have a second franchise I’ve developed called “Scarlet Samurai: Incarnation” the heroine is a bi-racial LGBT woman with a whole lot of flaws and a twin sister. Together they have to defeat an ancient evil brought on by a Chinese curse, set in modern day Buffalo, NY.

They tell me there’s no audience for fantasy/horror with a lesbian protagonist. I’ve been told that the LGBT community won’t watch action films, they only want dramas and comedies – but I can’t believe that’s true. It’s absurd to predict some one’s taste in film based on their sexual orientation (of being anything other than straight).

Well I’m sending this story out there anyway! I think Hollywood routinely underestimates the tastes of the public. There’s a whole big world out there filled with all types of people with all types of interests. My supporters tell me Scarlet Samurai will have with a loyal cult following. Time will tell, but I’m hoping for the cult!

Scarlet Samurai’s World Premiere will be at Florida SuperCon this July 4th weekend in Miami Beach. I’ll also screen Red Reaper several times, and several different versions. I am in talks with a production company to make the Scarlet Samurai sequel in Japan, which is very exciting for me, and appropriate for the content. And I’m also in talks with a distributor (a company of all women!) for Scarlet Samurai, although I’m considering self-distributing to maintain a little control.

What message do you have to young women who are huge Sci-Fi fantasy action fans who want to create movies and books in this genre?

Do it! Tell your story, your way (but make sure you hire a stunt coordination and people who are stunt trained, not just martial artists. Trust me, it’s a different animal). And don’t let anyone stop you. People will try to stop you. The people closest to you might not believe in you until after you’ve made it. That’s normal. But do it anyway. Prove them wrong and when you’re done shout it from the roof tops!

What makes you a powerful woman

All women are powerful. All women can write, produce and direct. All women can wield a sword and learn martial arts, like me. All women are powerful, some of us just haven’t found our power yet.

Tara-Cardinal

Make sure you check out the Legend of the Red Reaper on Facebook. To purchase a copy of the film, go to Amazon, where you can also buy the Sword Sisters novel. Follow Tara Cardinal on Twitter to follow her adventures with the ‘Legend of the Red Reaper’ and ‘The Sword Sisters’. Check out the trailer below:

11 Comments

  1. Pingback: Singer Shayne Leighton's Recipe For Being A Unique, Powerful & Invincible Woman

  2. Hey, screw your sexism angle. It’s not sexism. Girls have their fanfic/ fanservice and guys get theirs unless of course you practice double standards like all modern feminists. Tara didn’t EARN her way into these roles like a man would. She’s a BS hack with no stunt training nor any martial accolades that warrant her getting inducted into the “martial arts hall of fame.” Men have to provide a lot more skill, proof of that skill and then a larger built up body because thin muscular guys with plenty of hard hitting martial arts experience are for some reason seen as a liability while scrawny women doing stunt or action work are not.

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