Michelle Lovretta (M.A Lovretta) is a producer and writer known for her work on Lost Girl, Relic Hunter, Sorority Wars, Instant Star, Hunt for Justice, and The Secret Circle. Editor Helena Vann sat down with her to talk Lost Girl.
Tell us a little about Lost Girl. What is the premise for the show?
Lost Girl follows the journey of Bo, a woman with a painful past who learns that she’s a succubus — a mythological being who uses sex to feed, heal and kill. She soon discovers she’s part of an underground civilization of people called the Fae, filled with various creatures from legend and folklore who secretly predate humans in a variety of ways. Bo sets about trying to find her place amongst the dangerous Fae while searching for her true origins. Along the way, she creates a new family out of her human best friend Kenzi, her lovers Dyson and Lauren, and her mentor Trick, while trying to use her gifts to help others.
What storytelling techniques do you use on Lost Girl to make the show different than others in the same genre?
Hmm, I’m not sure we have any special “techniques”, per se, but as a nine o’clock Canadian cable show we do have some rare storytelling freedoms compared to a major network series. From the beginning of development I’ve been continually pleased by how open minded our network Showcase is regarding how we portray the type of elements (sexuality, violence, language) that can send other networks into a pearl-clutching panic. It’s a real luxury to have that kind of top-down support, especially for a genre show, because genre exists partly to explore the edges and push the boundaries.
True Blood uses sex as a part of their story, while the essence of sex is embedded in your story. Though the way sex is portrayed is completely different. What were your thoughts on this during the development of the show?
Well, from my perspective and from what I’ve seen of TB, I’d say we’re less explicit and also have the latitude to use sex in a positive and playful way that might not fit the darker tone of their world. Oh, and we definitely have less blood in our sex scenes! That was a tiny rule I had, partly from my own squeamishness, but mostly from a need to clarify that we aren’t a vampire show.
True Blood had an interesting double-impact on our show during development, and I think we owe them a debt of gratitude. Genre TV comes in waves and it was definitely not in vogue when I first pitched my little succubus-centric show, so even though I got a pilot order, I actually didn’t expect to get a green light for a series pickup. I can’t recall the exact timeline, but we’d been in development for well over a year before we shot our pilot, and I think True Blood’s order was announced around the same time. Given its pedigree and network, it was clear to us that they were making a high quality, dark, and very adult show. That had two interesting effects for us: our show — which was originally intended to be slightly grittier and more adult — was lightened in terms of sexual content and tone, so that we had something different to offer; also, the fact that a genre show was being supported by HBO helped make genre TV attractive again, which I suspect in some tangential way may have helped us get our greenlight.
Why did you decide to portray sex the way you do on the show?
Simply put? Because it’s the way I personally see sex, so it’s the most natural and intuitive way for me to portray it. As for the more complete answer, When Prodigy (our studio) asked me to create a show about some kind of bisexual superhero who uses sex as part of her arsenal, my first thought was “hell, yes!” But after that initial excitement came trepidation – it is so, so incredibly easy with a template like that to create something mind-numbingly insulting, anti-female, and exploitative. I wouldn’t want my name on that. And, as someone who respects both the straight and queer communities, I was afraid of alienating either of them in the process… or, of just making neutered, boring TV by overthinking it and being too PC. Gah!! The challenge was to create a fun, sex-positive world that celebrates provocative cheesecake for everyone, without falling into base stereotypes or misogynistic (or misandristic) exploitation along the way. I also really wanted to defend the bisexual community and counter some sad tropes out there (bisexuals are sluts, can’t commit, are just afraid to be gay, yadda yadda) while also valuing and representing female friendships that have nothing sexualized about them at all.
So, I came up with a few internal rules and I moved to Canada that first year to co-showrun the show (with the fab Mr. Peter Mohan) partly just to help institute them:
1. sexual orientation is not discussed, and never an issue;
2. no slut shaming – Bo is allowed to have sex outside of relationships
3. Bo’s male and female partners are equally viable;
4. Bo is capable of monogamy, when desired;
5. both genders are to be (adoringly!) objectified — equal opportunity eye candy FTW.
We haven’t always succeeded on all fronts, granted. Mea culpa. It’s hard to honor all those good intentions in the chaotic thick of production when manic rewrites and a million disparate studio/network notes need to be addressed. But I can tell you we’ve always tried, and that I believe Prodigy intends to continue supporting those original mandates for the life of the show.
To be clear: I’m aware (and thrilled!) that boiled down to our essence we’re just a fun, charmingly-flawed, quip-happy little series about monsters and heartache, and I make absolutely no claims of Deep Meaning or Super Importance! But, in a way, that in itself is its own little victory: we’re clearly at a point where a main character’s orientation not only doesn’t have to be swept under the rug, but also doesn’t have to be a big damn deal. Bo has lots of sex, with men, women, humans, Fae, threesomes… and she’s still our hero, still a good person worthy (and capable) of love, and that’s a rare portrayal of female sexuality. Also, a show built around a bisexual lead doesn’t have to BE about her bisexuality — orientation can just be an interesting element of a story, and not the story itself, and that’s the central spirit of our show. I consider that “I’m here, I’m queer, and it’s no big deal” approach to a main character still fairly rare and wonderful, at least in North America. It’s also rare to have a female lead who is so honestly sexual, without judgment. I don’t profess to be striking any new ground, here — I’m just saying that this is ground I’m very happy and privileged to be building on. In short: however long Lost Girl lasts, and however popular it does or doesn’t become internationally, I think the single element I will remain proudest of is just that we’ve been able to create and put out into the world a sex positive universe where a person’s sexual orientation is unapologetically present and yet neither defines them as a character, nor the show as a whole.
There are many different situations on the show where sex is used. What are the different ways you choose to portray it? And what factors go into that decision?
Because of our mythology, we get to use sex in some unique ways on our show. As a succubus, Bo urgently needs sex when she’s injured in order to heal herself, which can put her in some interesting situations — like jump starting her relationship with Dyson, our male lead. Sometimes we use sex as a plot device or inciting incident that brings her a case. Occasionally, sex is used to explore some sort of social political view, if we can get a good story out of it. Lastly, and most satisfyingly, sex is used just as a natural evolution and exploration of Bo’s emotional relationships.
I think my favorite sex-related moment on Lost Girl just may be episode 104, written by Jeremy Boxen. Bo has a house-shaking threesome with a consenting married couple (“we’re gonna need a safe word”) and then the next morning… wakes up HAPPY. No guilt. No conflicted emotions, or need to turn it into a relationship, or fears that she’s a slut. And her human best friend and walking-Lovretta-analogue Kenzi isn’t judgmental or envious — Kenz isn’t into threesomes, and that’s cool. They accept one another for who they are.
Are there any deeper themes in mind when you do or don’t use sex?
I’m not the sort of writer who starts from theme, so any that we’ve landed on have been organic and mostly visible in hindsight. Loyalty and identity are big ones — who you are, who you belong with, what you owe one another, and what transgressions you will or won’t forgive.
I read that Lost Girl is coming to the US. Is this true? Can you explain the process of moving the show internationally? Did you have to make any changes to the show?
We’re currently airing in Latin America/Australia/UK etc., and starting January 16 2012, we premiere on Syfy in the US. From what I’ve seen on twitter, we’re being watched all over the world. I’m really proud of that, and so grateful to our wonderful fans. As for any potential season-two-onwards changes to the show for Syfy, I may not be the most-informed person to ask? It wasn’t practical for me to move my family back to Canada for another full season, so I’m currently more of a consulting “fairy godmother” for the show, rather than an active day to day showrunner (although I returned to Canada for six weeks to oversee the new mytharc and help get season two off the ground with Emily Andras and Jeremy Boxen — badasses, both! — and I will continue to write scripts when I can, and give notes when I can’t.) From what Jay Firestone of Prodigy has told me, it seems that Syfy is being very cool and not requiring many changes, if any. Our language has been tamed slightly (no more “shitballs!” for Kenz, I guess) but I’m sure everyone can tell from 206, which recently aired, that hot sex is still a part of Bo’s life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Is there anything more you would like to add?
Most of these questions (and, therefore, my answers) have been canted towards sex, so I’d like to clarify that this show isn’t about sex for me: it’s about relationships, and one of the core relationships on Lost Girl is NOT sexual, by design. On a show that deals with female sexuality, I felt it was crucial to also demonstrate that sex and romance aren’t the only ways that Bo measures a relationship’s worth, to give the show balance. Fans may have noticed that Kenzi clarified her hetero orientation at the end of ep 101 — pretty much the only time someone has addressed their orientation directly on our show. That line was necessary because in production I kept running into directors who wanted to sexualize the dynamic between Bo and Kenzi, to make the show “hotter”. I was determined to protect their platonic-yet-epic BFF-ness, so I made sure it was written in as canon. Partly, this was to debunk the gay-panic cliche that bisexual people sexualize everyone, and are incapable of platonic friendship. But there was another, simpler and more personal reason:I think friendship is the fifth element. Truly. I think it’s that substantial and nourishing a thing, so friendship and loyalty are part of the bone structure of Lost Girl, always just under the skin. So, hidden in amongst all the romance and cleavage and threesomes, the Lost Girl Bo and Kenzi relationship is my own little love poem to all the BFFs out there who do it right. I salute you.