Unsung Auteurs: Shauna Cross

August 17, 2023
FilmInk salutes the work of creatives who have never truly received the credit that they deserve. In this installment: screenwriter Shauna Cross, who penned Whip It and Bad Santa 2.

With the writers’ strike currently raging in the US, we’re showing solidarity by focusing on screenwriters in the Unsung Auteurs column. The hardscrabble world of roller derby – a tough sport in which (mainly) women barge and bash their way around an arena on roller skates – has given wheels to a few great films in 1972’s Unholy Rollers (starring the great Claudia Jennings) and Kansas City Bomber (starring the even greater Raquel Welch), the 2020 doco Queens Of Pain, and in a kinda-sorta way, the sci-fi dystopia of 1975’s Rollerball. There’s also 2013’s horror-romp-on-wheels MurderDrome, which takes the sport into serious supernatural horror territory.

The world of roller derby also gave the film world screenwriter Shauna Cross, who initially rolled hard as Maggie Mayhem for The Los Angeles Derby Dolls after moving up from the smaller TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls league in her home state of Texas. While playing roller derby in LA, Cross was also trying to break into the world of filmmaking (Cross had worked on film productions in Texas before moving to LA), working various jobs and eventually optioning scripts here and there. One family-themed script went to Disney and was never made, but Taking 5 (about two geeky girls who kidnap a famous boy band so they’ll play at their prom) did go before the cameras, and was released (and quickly forgotten) in 2007.

Shauna Cross

Though Cross had never intended to write about her experiences in roller derby, it was this wild sport that would give the burgeoning screenwriter real kick-off. “I never expected to write about it,” Cross told Crow River Media in 2008. “But every time I met with my [screenwriter] friend Kirsten ‘Kiwi’ Smith to discuss writing, I would end up telling her all the latest, hilarious derby stories and she kept saying ‘You have to write about this. You have to!’ So, finally I tried writing it as a young adult novel, which seemed less risky. It quickly sold in the form of Derby Girl. Meanwhile, the derby phenomenon started to grow, and I learned there were a couple of competing roller derby film projects in Hollywood.”

At this time, and before her novel had actually been published, Shauna Cross took her concept to Drew Barrymore’s Flower Films, with the production company optioning the idea, and getting Cross to script it for Barrymore to direct herself. The resultant film – which followed innocent teen Ellen Page’s journey into the world of roller derby, where she is rechristened Babe Ruthless, and discovers a team of wildly divergent characters, superbly played by the likes of Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis, Zoe Bell, and Barrymore herself – was an absolute charmer deserving of way, way more success. A tasty slice of female empowerment, Whip It comes complete with right-on messages about being yourself and doing the right thing by your friends and family. Despite the bad attitudes and breakneck nature of roller derby, this is also a great film for young girls: there’s no overt violence or bad language, and it puts young, aspirational female characters front and centre. Cynics might balk at the heartfelt sentiment and brimming positivity, but hey, that’s their problem: Whip It is an absolute delight from start to finish.

Shauna Cross being interviewed with Whip It star Juliette Lewis

Despite not receiving the acclaim and box office rewards that it deserved, Shauna Cross has since gone on to a consistent screenwriting career. Though her most fascinating sounding projects (a rebel cheerleader movie for Disney called Shake It Up, and a proposed film from a true story about a group of San Francisco strippers who formed a union), Shauna Cross had penned some solid material. Along with Heather Hach, she ingeniously turned author Heidi Murkoff’s series of birth instructional books into the multi-strand 2012 comedy What To Expect When You’re Expecting, which boasted a big cast (Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Anna Kendrick, Chris Rock, Rebel Wilson) in its tale of five couples dealing with the challenges of pregnancy and impending parenthood. Cross also expertly adapted Gayle Forman’s novel If I Stay, effectively navigating its complex themes. More in line with her raucous work with Whip It, Cross was drafted to co-write the script for the belated 2017 sequel Bad Santa 2, and provided Billy Bob Thornton with an appropriately wild array of bad attitude one-liners.

“I guess my thing is funny, smart rebel girls,” Cross told Crow River Media in 2008, and we hope that she gets the chance to create a lot more of them in future.

If you liked this story, check out our features on other unsung auteurs Troy Kennedy Martin, Kelly MarcelAlan SharpLeslie DixonJeremy PodeswaFerd & Beverly SebastianAnthony PageJulie GavrasTed PostSarah JacobsonAnton CorbijnGillian RobespierreBrandon CronenbergLaszlo NemesAyelat MenahemiIvan TorsAmanda King & Fabio CavadiniCathy HenkelColin HigginsPaul McGuiganRose BoschDan GilroyTanya WexlerClio BarnardRobert AldrichMaya ForbesSteven KastrissiosTalya LavieMichael RoweRebecca CremonaStephen HopkinsTony BillSarah GavronMartin DavidsonFran Rubel KuzuiElliot SilversteinLiz GarbusVictor FlemingBarbara PeetersRobert BentonLynn SheltonTom GriesRanda HainesLeslie H. MartinsonNancy Kelly, Paul NewmanBrett HaleyLynne Ramsay, Vernon ZimmermanLisa CholodenkoRobert GreenwaldPhyllida LloydMilton KatselasKaryn KusamaSeijun SuzukiAlbert PyunCherie NowlanSteve BinderJack CardiffAnne Fletcher ,Bobcat GoldthwaitDonna DeitchFrank PiersonAnn TurnerJerry SchatzbergAntonia BirdJack SmightMarielle HellerJames GlickenhausEuzhan PalcyBill L. NortonLarysa KondrackiMel StuartNanette BursteinGeorge ArmitageMary LambertJames FoleyLewis John CarlinoDebra GranikTaylor SheridanLaurie CollyerJay RoachBarbara KoppleJohn D. HancockSara ColangeloMichael Lindsay-HoggJoyce ChopraMike NewellGina Prince-BythewoodJohn Lee HancockAllison AndersDaniel Petrie Sr.Katt SheaFrank PerryAmy Holden JonesStuart RosenbergPenelope SpheerisCharles B. PierceTamra DavisNorman TaurogJennifer LeePaul WendkosMarisa SilverJohn MackenzieIda LupinoJohn V. SotoMartha Coolidge, Peter HyamsTim Hunter, Stephanie RothmanBetty ThomasJohn FlynnLizzie BordenLionel JeffriesLexi AlexanderAlkinos TsilimidosStewart RaffillLamont JohnsonMaggie Greenwald and Tamara Jenkins.