Karen Maine co-wrote the feature film Obvious Child (2014), starring Jenny Slate, alongside Gillian Robespierre (in her directorial debut), which originated as a 2009 short film co-written by Maine, Robespierre, and Anna Bean.
In 2016 she wrote, directed and produced the short film Yes, God, Yes. Maine has also written for the Young Vic Theatre in London and is the creator of the Twitter hashtag #SchwimmerFacts. Born in Iowa, she currently lives in London.
On the making of Obvious Child:
We started writing Obvious Child (the short) in 2008 when my friend, Anna Bean, did her thesis about abortions in mainstream cinema and realized very few had been realistically portrayed. We decided to make our own movie in which getting an abortion felt more authentic, based on the women we knew. After the short had some success in festivals and online, we began adapting it into a feature script in 2010. The story in the feature didn’t change much from the short—it has the same skeletal narrative—but there was so much more room to explore and dig into our characters. My favorite addition in the feature was making Donna a stand-up comedian. I love that she confronts her struggles through her comedy, and Jenny Slate was obviously a natural at it.
Her advice to filmmakers ready to turn their short into a feature:
Don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole. In other words, don’t just expand the short so that it fills 90 pages. Some scenes that you loved in the short probably won’t work in the feature, and that’s OK. Learn to cut and let go and don’t be afraid to change things. Use the opportunity to write more dimension to your characters and explore their histories; add new characters! Writing a feature is an immensely long process, even if you’re basing it off something else. In fact, that can even make it harder! The best advice, really, is to write often and to be patient when things aren’t clicking…. they will soon!
On her forthcoming film, Yes, God, Yes:
It’s a coming-of-age story about a teenage Catholic girl (played by Natalia Dyer) who discovers orgasms and then becomes super horny, and how she struggles to reconcile that with 15 years of Catholic indoctrination.
Natalia is phenomenal, and we were so lucky to have cast her in our short, which we shot just after the release of Stranger Things. She’s incredibly thoughtful and easy to work with, and she brought so much to the character, who was not easy to play, given that she doesn’t actually have that many lines. But Natalia is brilliant and conveyed so much expression through nuanced movements in her eyes and her face. She’s also exceptional at comedy and has pitch-perfect timing. She blew me away in every respect. I can’t wait to see what she does next!
I went to Catholic school kindergarten through 12th grade, and most of what’s in the short is pulled from my experiences growing up. In my high school, we didn’t have detentions, we had JUGs, which was an acronym for “Justice Under God.” The obvious innuendo was not lost on the students. We were also forced to watch video of a partial birth abortion in a class called “Christian Lifestyles.” It was an intense, bewildering environment to come of age in as a young woman. And that contradiction is at the heart of the film.
I wanted to tell an honest, realistic story about a woman’s sexual coming-of-age. Not the story of having sex for the first time (which we’ve seen), but the story of discovering and exploring sexual pleasure. So often in film and television, it’s about young women painfully losing their virginity or having sex because it’s cool or because everyone else is. I wanted to focus instead on the discovery of pleasure and on how young women can become just as obsessed and curious about masturbating as their male peers. We just don’t see that perspective in film.
On exploring female sexuality onscreen:
It’s not just female sexuality that we rarely see authentically explored on screen—it’s women. Period. Nearly half the people in America just elected a president who has a rich history of disrespecting and abusing women, which leads me to believe they either condone that type of behavior or they just don’t care. That’s a clear sign that an overwhelming number of people don’t think women are meant to be respected or treated seriously, and that includes giving respect to their sexuality. And if they don’t respect women, they’re not going to go and see a film in which they’re respected. That’s why films like Obvious Child and Yes, God, Yes are/will be so niche. The majority of people do not want to watch authentic narratives about women. It’s the sad truth. But we’ll keep making those films anyway. ★