One of the many delights of the surprisingly great Bumblebee (well, “surprising” to most people who sat through the last few Transformers movies) is that when the credits roll, there’s only one credited writer, Christina Hodson. It’s a distinction she’s proud of, since so many movies of this scale often have multiple names attached as writers, often resulting in audience quips like, “Um, it took three writers to come up with that? (For example, the much-maligned Transformers: The Last Knight had three credited writers.)
Bumblebee is a smaller story, or, as Hodson puts it, a story about a girl and her car. And Hodson explains that Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) is based on her two nieces. It’s less a story about robots fighting (although there’s plenty of that) and more about Charlie trying to fit in after the death of her father.
Hodson has also written the upcoming Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), which will see the return of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. It’s another example of taking a character from a jumble of a movie and trying to do something more interesting, Though, Hodson is quick to point out that Harley Quinn is very much her own thing.
When Hodson called, she immediately apologized for having a cold and having to sneeze her way through the interview. Well, she was in luck, because I also had a cold. (This is a moment to be happy these interviews are in print, because listening to this one would be a very nasally and gross experience.)
We should just talk the whole time about how we both have colds.
A whole article on snot. My nose is so red I look like somebody out of one of those ridiculous commercials.
I assume you’ve been pleased with the reviews?
My sister has been keeping an eye on all these things for me. I’m too nervous to open one and it will be a bad one. I’m not on social media, so I have a sister filter.
When you first started were you ever warned, “Look, these movies make a lot of money but the critics aren’t always fans. So be ready for that”? And now the critics like it.
It’s a surreal feeling. I’ve been so nervous this whole time. I flew my two sisters out for the premiere, which I thought I was going to have them with me in case it all went badly. People have been very kind, especially, I think, it’s not that often you get a full (writing) credit on a movie like this.
You’re right. Usually when you see “written by“ in a movie like this it usually says 35 names. How did you make sure it was just you?
That’s not something I can speak to specifically, but I can say that it began as a really personal story. And I’ve always had a really personal connection to it because Charlie is actually based on my two nieces. My niece in the UK, Jeanie, who was very young when I first started writing, but she’s the love of my life. I was there when she was born. And I speak to her every single day on FaceTime.
And she was very immediately a kid who was not one thing or the other; she was both very girly and also a tomboy. She was a total math nerd, but also very artsy. And it made me really realize that is what most girls are like. Most girls are a mixture of things. That’s certainly what I was like. So Charlie was kind of inspired by her – wanting to write a female character for the screen who was nuanced and had all of these different elements to her. I think so often we see these kind of two-dimensional female characters who fit into a neat box, and Jeanie isn’t like that and I didn’t want her growing up in a world where the movies she saw had that. And then my other niece, Sylvie, just lost her mum, sadly, to brain cancer. And her relationship with her dad is 100 percent the inspiration for the relationship between Charlie and her dad. It’s not that often when you write a big movie like this and you get to have such a small personal connection to a thing.
Is that what people liked about your script? That is was a smaller, personal story?
You know, I think that’s what they were drawn to, yeah. When I pitched it in the very beginning back in 2015, it was the story of a girl and her car. It was me tapping into my two nieces. I think they were ready to do something different. And yeah, they luckily fell in love with it the way I did.
As opposed to Transformers: The Last Knight, which has a million ridiculous things going on and the Transformers meet King Arthur. Bumblebee is almost a shock to the senses how streamlined it is.
I kind of had this pitch for a movie and I didn’t know if they would want to do it because it’s so far outside of what they were doing. But I think it was just a lucky confluence of events where I went in with a very clear idea of what I wanted to do. They were ready for a change and ready to try something more character-driven and a lot smaller. And I was very, very grateful that it all worked out that way.
Thematically, when you sat down to write this, what did you want out of a Transformers movie?
I wanted to tell the story of this girl who was broken in some way. She had this big hole in her heart, she meets a broken robot, and the two of them kind of heal each other. They both are broken in some way. And by the end of the journey she has kind of filled that hole in her heart, and I think it’s a really lovely thing. It is in some ways about grief and about moving on and saying goodbye. She wasn’t able to say goodbye to her dad and this is her way of saying goodbye. And then, of course, people who were fans can go and see Cybertron come to life for the first time, which is exciting.
Yes, the first five minutes is a cavalcade of old Transformers. It feels like, okay fans, here’s what you’ve been waiting for, here are your old Transformers. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s start our actual story…
[Laughs] Now we’re gonna go listen to The Smiths. I think (director) Travis (Knight) did such a good job of balancing those things. When I wrote all the boardwalk stuff, I was really imagining The Lost Boys boardwalk, because I grew up with that movie and I loved that movie. And then the fact that when Travis was looking for a location he said, kind of off the cuff, “You know, something like in The Lost Boys.” And I found out we got that exact same boardwalk. I was like, “You read my brain!”
You also wrote the upcoming Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). When that title was announced I saw a lot of internet writers complaining about future headlines. Because headlines can only be so long and still show up in social media and that title creates a pickle.
I did not know that! But that’s brilliant. It’s got the word fantabulous in it, so I hope people think that’s the review and go see it.
See, that’s good thinking.
You know, I didn’t even know about that. That’s the problem with not being on social media, I don’t know any of that stuff.
How did that come about? Had they read your Bumblebee script or was this before that?
It was before that. I think I started working with Margot on this one end of summer 2015. So I’d just done the Transformers writers room, but there was nothing to show from it yet. I think there was some good buzz coming out of me doing that, but it was really that I met Margot, and we had an awesome meeting, and really saw eye to eye just generally. I love her as a human being. We just started thinking about what we’d be excited to do and she’d always wanted to tell an R-rated girl gang story about Harley Quinn. And our sensibilities were very in line and we got excited.
Suicide Squad is similar to Transformers: The Last Knight in that there’s a lot going on in those, but then you are plucking one character from them to do something different.
I mean, Harley Quinn is her own thing. Obviously, she was part of Suicide Squad, but she’s got her own history. She’s been around for a while and I love her in all the comics. I’m just excited to be able to play with the character. She’s such a fantastic character. I’m very excited about it.
Well, the last thing is, good luck with your cold.
Thank you, good luck with yours! I feel like I don’t want to talk to anyone else that doesn’t have a cold now.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.