Karyn Kusama

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Karyn Kusama
Born Karyn Kiyoko Kusama
(1968-03-21) March 21, 1968 (age 49)
Residence Los Angeles, California US
Education New York University
Occupation Film director
Years active 1996–present
Home town St. Louis, Missouri United States
Spouse(s) Phil Hay (2006–present)
Children 1

Karyn Kusama (born March 21, 1968)[1] is an American independent film director known for the 2000 film Girlfight,[2] which she wrote, directed, and produced.[3] Kusama went on to direct 2005's Æon Flux and 2009's Jennifer's Body. She directed the 2015 horror film, The Invitation, and has recently worked as a television director.[4]

Early life[edit]

Kusama grew up in St. Louis, Missouri,[5]:264, 266 to father Haruo Kusama, a child psychiatrist, and mother Susan Kusama (née McGuire), an educational psychiatrist.[6][7] Her father is Japanese and her mother is white.[3]

Kusama graduated from Ladue Horton Watkins High School in St. Louis, Missouri.[8] In 1990, Kusama received a BFA in Film & TV from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.[3]


After graduating from NYU, where she won a Mobile Prize for a student film called Sleeping Beauties,[7] Kusama worked as an editor on documentary films, in production on independent film and music videos, as a nanny, and painting houses.[9]:312 Through her nanny job she met filmmaker John Sayles and worked as his assistant for three years while he was making the film, Lone Star, as well as the development of his films Men with Guns and Limbo.[10] While working for Sayles, she continued to write screenplays. In 1992, Kusama started boxing at Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn, training with Hector Roca.[2][7] She began collecting ideas for Girlfight, but didn't start writing it until two years later.[9]:314–315[11]

At age 27, Kusama wrote and directed her debut feature, Girlfight. It took two years to find financing for the film, reportedly due to her insistence that the main character be a Latina rather than allowing the film to become a vehicle for a well-known white actress.[2][3] After financing fell through shortly before shooting began, Girlfight was fully financed by film-maker John Sayles, for whom she worked as an assistant at the time and who served as a mentor.[3][9]:309 The film was released in 2000 and won the Director's Prize and the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, as well as the Prix de la Jeunesse at the Cannes Film Festival. The independent feature film with a budget of around US$1 million was critically well received. However, it brought in only US$1,667,000,[12] which was considered a poor return; it has since become a classic example of the "Sundance Effect."

In 2005, Kusama directed her second film, Æon Flux, a Paramount Pictures studio production that starred Charlize Theron and had a budget of US$62,000,000. The film had been ushered through production by Paramount studio chief Sherry Lansing but during post-production Lansing left, which resulted in the film being recut and reworked, with significant changes from Kusama's original vision. Following on this experience, Kusama said that she would never again work on a film where she doesn't have control of the final cut.[10] Its worldwide gross was estimated at around US$52,000,000.[13]

In 2009, Kusama directed the film Jennifer's Body, which was written by Diablo Cody.[14] The film grossed approximately US$31,000,000 and was produced with a budget of around US$16,000,000.[15]

In 2015, Kusama directed The Invitation, a horror movie written by Kusama's husband Phil Hay and his writing partner, Matt Manfredi and starring Logan Marshall-Green.[16] The film was funded by a film consortium called Gamechanger Films who fund films directed by women.[17] The film premiered at the 2015 SXSW Festival to great acclaim.[18] The film was acquired by Drafthouse Films for distribution.[19]

Part of the movie's inspiration is based on the experiences of loss that Kusama, Hay, and Manfredi had. Kusama's brother, Kevin, died when she was young, as did a close friend in New York. The film was shot in sequence, cost US$1 million, and was shot in 20 days in Los Angeles.[3]

Starting in 2015, Kusama began working regularly in TV as a director on shows like Halt and Catch Fire, Casual, and Billions. Kusama is now slated to direct the upcoming adaptation of Breed, an adult horror novel by Scott Spencer under the pen name Chase Novak. The film will again be produced and written by Kusama's husband Phil Hay and his partner Matt Manfredi.[20]

In 2017, Kusama directed a segment of an all female directed anthology horror film called XX.[21][22]

Personal life[edit]

Kusama married screenwriter Phil Hay in October 2006. They have a son. Although they had known each other since meeting at Sundance when Girlfight premiered in 2000, it wasn't until they worked together on Æon Flux that they began dating.[3]




  • 2007: The L Word, episode: "Little Boy Blue"
  • 2015: Chicago Fire, episode: "Forgiving, Relentless, Unconditional"
  • 2015: Halt and Catch Fire, episodes: "High Plains Hardware", "Working for the Clampdown" and "The Threshold"
  • 2015: The Man in the High Castle, episode: "End of the World"
  • 2016: Casual, episodes: "Such Good Friends" and "Big Green Egg"
  • 2016: Billions, episode: "Quality of Life"
  • 2017: The Man in the High Castle, episode: "Land O' Smiles"
  • 2017: Billions, episode: "Golden Frog Time"


Year Film Role Notes
2000 Girlfight Director, Writer

Director's Prize at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival
Grand Jury Prize at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival
Prix de la Jeunesse at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival
Grand Prize at the 2000 Deauville Film Festival
Best Feature Independent Feature Project's Gotham Awards
Silver Spike at the 2000 Valladolid International Film Festival
FIPRESCI Prize - Special Mention at Flanders International Film Festival Ghent


  1. ^ "Karyn Kiyoko Kusama - United States Public Records". FamilySearch. 2001. 
  2. ^ a b c Gordon, Bette (Fall 2000). "Karyn Kusama". BOMB Magazine. 73: 74–79. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Vary, Adam B. (7 April 2016). "How Hollywood Turned Its Back On One Of The Most Exciting Filmmakers". BuzzFeed. 
  4. ^ Lewis, Hilary (8 April 2016). "Rapid Round: 'The Invitation' Director Karyn Kusama Explains 7-Year Break From Filmmaking". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  5. ^ Rybicky, Dan (2008). "Chapter 13: "And Maybe There Is a Way to Give Hollywood the Kick in the Ass That It Needs: An Interview with Karyn Kusama". In Bernardi, Daniel. Filming Difference: Actors, Directors, Producers, and Writers on Gender, Race, and Sexuality in Film. University of Texas Press. pp. 263–288. ISBN 978-0-292-71923-1. OCLC 488626749. 
  6. ^ "Charlotte Hursh McGuire". Herald & Review. Decatur, Illinois. 23 March 2003. p. 10. 
  7. ^ a b c Smith, Dinitia (1 October 2000). "Film; Now It's Women's Turn to Make It in the Ring". The New York Times. 
  8. ^ Silva, Eddie (20 September 2000). "Fighting Chance: In the ring with Karyn Kusama, the Ladue-bred writer/director of Girlfight". The Riverfront Times. 
  9. ^ a b c Figgis, Mike (2000). "Karyn Kusama". In Lippy, Tod; Boorman, John; Donohue, Walter. Projections 11: New York Film-Makers on New York Film-Making. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-20591-2. OCLC 45625833. 
  10. ^ a b Horowitz, Josh (2006). "Karyn Kusama". The Mind of the Modern Moviemaker: 20 Conversations with the New Generation of Filmmakers. New York: Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-452-28681-8. OCLC 475147506. 
  11. ^ Baker, Aaron (September 2000). "A new combination: Women and the boxing film: An interview with Karyn Kusama". Cineaste. 25 (4): 22–26. 
  12. ^ "Girlfight". Box Office Mojo. 2000. 
  13. ^ "Aeon Flux". Box Office Mojo. 2005. 
  14. ^ Wilson, Staci Layne (17 September 2009). "Karyn Kusama – Interview with the Director of Jennifer's Body". Horror.com. 
  15. ^ "Jennifer's Body". Box Office Mojo. 2009. 
  16. ^ Levine, Jonathan; Kusama, Karyn (8 April 2016). "The Invitation DGA Q&A with Karyn Kusama and Gil Kenan". Directors Guild of America. 
  17. ^ Jedeikin, Miri; Cornet, Roth; Kusama, Karyn (18 March 2016). "From Girlfight to The Invitation. Karyn Kusama: Girls On Film". HitFix. 
  18. ^ LaBrie, Sarah (22 March 2015). "Director Karyn Kusama talks about her ensemble horror film The Invitation". The Verge. 
  19. ^ Kang, Inkoo (7 April 2015). "Karyn Kusama's 'The Invitation' Bought by Drafthouse Films". 
  20. ^ McNary, Dave (19 September 2016). "Karyn Kusama Directing Horror Movie 'Breed' Based on Chase Novak Novel". 
  21. ^ Yamato, Jen (8 October 2014). "Magnet Springs For Femme-Driven Horror Anthology 'XX'". Deadline.com. 
  22. ^ Crucchiola, Jordan (20 February 2017). "Director Karyn Kusama Will Make You a Believer in the Power of Genre Cinema". Vulture. 

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