The Old Guard Taught Gina Prince-Bythewood A Vital Lesson For The Woman King

Gina Prince-Bythewood made her name making tremendous dramas that I feel never got the proper respect that they deserved. Partly, this is due to the fact that she makes movies about women, which generally don't get as much respect as they should. Partly, it's because her best work were romances, such as "Love & Basketball" and "Beyond the Lights," a genre that has rarely gotten its proper due since the turn of the 21st century. These romances were also connected to the worlds of women's basketball and pop music, respectively, which many see as trivial.

This was not the lane Prince-Bythewood always saw herself in, though. At the heart of these films is classic Hollywood entertainment, and she looked to bring that to the action genre as well. She had signed up to make "Silver & Black" for Marvel and Sony, which would have been a film about Silver Sable and Black Cat from the Spider-Man universe, but that project fell apart. From that, she hopped over to another comic book property in "The Old Guard," which starred Charlize Theron and was released on Netflix in 2020. While I don't think "The Old Guard" is great cinema, it provided a much-needed respite from the horrors of the height of the pandemic.

For someone directing large-scale action for the first time, Gina Prince-Bythewood handled things admirably. The set pieces weren't necessarily the most inventive. However, they were very well-shot, and Prince-Bythewood had an inherent knack for action geography. It was a great place to build from, and boy howdy, did she build on it for "The Woman King," her 19th century African epic. Filmmaking is evolution, and Gina Prince-Bythewood knows how to use each film as something from which to learn.

It's all in the preparation

Some filmmakers hate rehearsal. They hope the spontaneity on the day of the shoot will be their saving grace. There's a place for spontaneity if you're John Cassavetes making "Husbands," but on a big action movie, you can't leave things to chance; action sequences are incredibly complicated and could cause serious harm. Rehearsal and preparation are vital elements to these films, and sadly, not all of them are allotted the time and budget to properly utilize them.

But Gina Prince-Bythewood understood the importance of getting everyone on the same page for "The Woman King." Speaking with A.frame, she detailed how working on "The Old Guard" made her realize rehearsal was her friend:

"I learned in terms of what you need to do to prepare for stunts, how much you need to prepare the actors, how to work with your stunt and fight coordinator ... It also gave me the knowledge of knowing what it takes to do really good action — how many takes it can be, that it has to be perfect on set or it will not be in your edit room. Even if you're on take 22 and it's not quite right, you can't stop. You're exhausted. The actors are exhausted. But you learn that, if it's not on set, it's not in the edit room, and you don't have the scene."

This prep resulted in every action sequence being rousing, brutal, and utterly thrilling. Every actor is in total command of their body, and you believe these are real warriors. Without proper rehearsal, "The Woman King" could look frenzied and hollow, and it couldn't be further from those descriptors. Gina Prince-Bythewood learned how to be a great action filmmaker, and I want to see her canvases get even bigger.