Kimberly Peirce gets behind “The Knife”

Out director Kimberly Peirce has signed on to direct The Knife for Universal Pictures. reports:

[It’s about] a South Central gang member who became a paid FBI informant. His covert collaboration with a hard-nosed agent led to a volume of busts ranging from crack and automatic weapons dealing to murder. It turned the gang scene so upside down that leaders issued a “kill all snitches” edict that put the informant’s life in constant danger.

The storyline is inspired by a 2008 GQ article, “The Inside Man” by Guy Lawson, and the script was purchased by Universal two years ago. Peirce told Deadline why she was so interested in telling the story, and why it took so long:

We spent about four months working for free to put this together, because directors and writers have to go in with a movie like this totally figured out. Many of my filmmaker and screenwriter friends tell me they’ve had to do the same. You just have to look at it as the answer to the question, what do I have to do to get a good movie made? A two-minute pitch isn’t good enough, and is there anything more mind-numbing than reading an outline?


I fell in love with the two characters and immediately saw a classic buddy movie with this rookie gang-banger and a hard-nosed FBI agent who have to overcome a mutual distrust. The agent wants to infiltrate the gang at a time when the FBI had no understanding of gang structure. They were effective but there are so many conflicts that play out, like can you be an informant without being a rat, to can you trust an informant if his reason for cooperating isn’t that you will otherwise send him to prison for another crime he committed?

I love true undercover crime stories like On The Waterfront, The Departed and Donnie Brasco, but Hollywood is moving away from films like these. We walked in and said, here’s the movie, it will cost under $30 million. And we walked out with much more than a development deal. It also helped that The Town and Takers came in at $30 million or less and grossed over $100 million. The studio told us to move as fast as we can and that’s what we’re doing.

Peirce, whose last film Stop-Loss was also inspired by a true story — her brother’s stop-loss return to the military — is an anomaly in Hollywood. Women directors are rarely hired to direct films that are male-driven, much less action-films like The Knife looks to be. Recently, Catherine Hardwicke told Bust magazine she was passed over as a director for The Fighter becase she was female:

I couldn’t get an interview even though my last movie made $400 million. I was told it had to be directed by a man — am I crazy? [The Fighter] is about action, it’s about boxing, so a man has to direct it. … But they let a man direct Sex and the City or any girly movie you’ve ever heard of.

She acknowledged that Kathryn Bigelow, who won the Oscar for directing The Hurt Locker, is only an exception because she’s won the award.

[Now people are saying], “Oh, yeah, Kathryn Bigelow, she can direct action.” Well, she’s done that on five other movies. How is this suddenly a revelation? It’s like, guys, wake up. Look at her other films. It’s just kind of crazy. … You keep hoping things will change. The person they hired for that particular job I’m thinking of has had, like, three bombs in a row, but he’s a guy. It’s just kind of weird. Hopefully the high-profile status of Kathryn’s last movie can help change that and bust open a couple of doors. We can only pray, you know?

In a recent post on her blog Women & Hollywood, Melissa Silverstein wrote the percentage of female-directed films hasn’t significantly changed in over 10 years.

The percentage of female directors has not budged from 7%. And that is down from 9% in 1998. Now I know that it takes a long time to feel the effects of change and maybe in 5 or 10 years we will get the percentage of women director up into the double digits. Should we be happy with that? I don’t think so. And should we be happy that we have one woman in the record books? Should we be nice girls and shut up? I don’t think so. And remember that because Kathryn Bigelow won for directing a war movie about male soldiers, we still have no female winner who has directed a movie about women. The Academy had a chance to do that this year—actually two chances—and it passed.

The changes she’s referencing are Lisa Cholodenko and Debra Granik, whose films (The Kids Are All Right and Winter’s Bone, respectively) were nominated in other categories. Both movies were well-received, so why were they snubbed? Could the directors’ vaginas have anything to do with it?

Considering awards are not the be-all, end-all, the problem lies in this: Where are these director’s next projects? Neither Cholodenko or Granik seem to have any projects greenlit as of now, and they could be competing with the same male directors they were up against to be considered as an Oscar nominee this year.

Kim Peirce is working with screenwriter Vineet Dewan and producer Brian Grazer on a film that seems to be, at its center, a story about men. I’m glad to see Universal wasn’t afraid to put the subject matter into her hands, and hopefully she will do the subject justice just as she did with the subjects she dealt with in Boys Don’t Cry and Stop-Loss. She has a big budget, a large studio behind her, and will likely nab some big names to star. If it’s a success, will it change Hollywood politics? Probably not much, but it’s a step in the right direction.