How Your Writing Really Can Make a Difference

To be totally blunt, the suckiest thing about writing for a living is the lag time between finishing your work, and your work actually being done. You can feel, sometimes, like you`ve been sucked into a black hole made entirely of lag time. (And, let`s face it, I need something that`s going to help me use up all those excess holiday stamps and address labels…)

Of course, you already know that December 10th is International Human Rights Day. If you`re looking for a way for your writing to make a difference (or even a small way to pay tribute to the life of the great Nelson Mandela), get involved in the Amnesty International Write for Rights campaign. There are letters you can write, petitions you can sign and actions you can take alongside tens of thousands of others.

If ever you worry that your writing doesn`t reach the right people, this is one day it absolutely will.

(EDIT: The link above is to the Canadian site. If you`re looking to get involved in your region, go to Amnesty.org to sign up.)

The Award Goes To… Fruitvale Station

I still have a scant few 2013 movies to see but, of all the movies I have seen, I loved maybe a few. The movie that stays with me, though, the one that still haunts me with it`s depth and clarity and vision – that`s Fruitvale Station. Any movie that still gives you shivers six months after seeing it once, well, in my experience that`s incredibly awesome and rare.

It doesn`t matter to me if Ryan Coogler gets an Oscar – for writing or directing or whatever else –  but he should get some kind of a parade. A first script and film that powerful… he`s magic or something.

(Also, I doubt very much Grudge Match will knock it off the top of my list of 2013 favourites. But I do promise to have an open mind and let the magic happen… Seriously.)

Women We Love: Aisha Tyler

You know the whole stereotype of women hating each other and having catfights and… I dunno, all those other fake ass things women do when they get together?

Yeah, we don`t do that here.

Here, we have no problem talking up women who are awesome. And one of those women is Aisha Tyler.

She seems to be everywhere as of late, but that could be because she is literally everywhere. She`s got a book, a podcast, a TV show, another TV show, and yet another TV show and a healthy stand-up career.

And I need a nap just from posting this.

Here are two interviews that further reinforce her power of awesome, though, before my nap gets underway:

The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson – December 4, 2013

Studio Q – December 5, 2013

Enjoy the awesome.

Screenwriting Resources: Breaking Down The Confessions of a Failed Screenwriter

One of the many interesting sites for new screenwriters is Scriptshadow. Among other features, the site includes an informative blog that covers a range of topics, and one recent post caught my attention. A guest post by Randy Steinberg, who identifies himself as a failed screenwriter.

Ooh. Ow. You just got a little twinge in your chest, didn`t you?

Because failing at something is often healthy, for the most part, I think. But declaring an entire career a failure? That`s a lot of weight to put on your shoulders. I think redirecting your career isn`t failure… But I digress.

There`s a lot of different suggestions about what could make a screenwriting career easier to undertake and, like all things relating to screenwriting, all could be applicable to any number of individuals.

There was one nugget I wanted to single out, though. A piece of advice I`ve heard too many times that has never made any sense to me. Here`s how Steinberg puts it:

You’ll hear Hollywood insiders frequently tell new writers to just “write a great story” and you will get noticed. I think this is terrible advice. If there are two writers of equal skill, one who loves writing period dramas with female leads over 50 years of age and the other who scripts action pieces with 30-year old male leads, it’s not hard to see who is going to get more traction.

Here`s my mini (tangentially related) rant on the topic- I just read a script of a film that has been vexing me. It`s a film that`s recently gotten some critical attention, but I kind of loathed it. A lot. I`ve been struggling to figure out why I disliked the film. I thought reading the script would make it clear what a great script it was and I maybe just didn`t give the film a chance. But the screenplay seemed to be more of a mess than the film! I did find the characters and themes were very much in line with the stories Hollywood is currently telling, though, and it makes total sense why it would get made and critics would like it.

Is it possible that sometimes so-so scripts get made? Maybe someone wrote a not-so-great script and still got noticed by Hollywood? One thing I know for sure is that there`s a lot more to being a successful writer than being a great writer. Crazy, but true.

 

Aline Brosh McKenna on Scriptnotes and Gender Issues in Screenwriting

I love Scriptnotes. I`ve said it before and I`ll keep saying it- Scriptnotes is one of the most positive screenwriting resources I`ve found, and I rely on it (and on John August`s website in general) a whole lot.

And, even with all that love, I just caught up with last week`s must-hear episode on Positive Moviegoing.

(Read the full transcript or listen to episode 119.)

Aline Brosh McKenna has proved to be a great guest on the podcast (this was her fourth appearance). The trio covered a myriad of topics surrounding Positive Moviegoing, and it`s Aline who brings up the disparity in numbers of women working as screenwriters (if you`re listening, it comes up around the 59 minute mark).

Three very different (and very interesting) theories emerge:

John August – I wonder if culturally we have a different expectation about men in their 20s, it’s expected that you are broke, and you are sleeping on couches, and that your life is a disaster, but you’re doing all that stuff and so eventually you’re going to break through. And we perceive a woman who is doing that as being a failure.” 

I really identify with this idea. I think there is, still, a cultural expectation that women are expected to only be doing certain things with their time. Or wanting certain things, even. For myself, as I slogged through the ups and downs of being a professional writer in my 20s, I was practically surrounded by girls who seemed to care most about who they were dating or how lovely they could make their homes look. Honestly, I knew few women who identified themselves with anything even remotely resembling ambition for their own lives. And practically none who were willing to sacrifice relationships and home comforts to achieve any kind of dream they might have had that was their own. I have heard more than one woman say something like – Oh, I would love to take time out to write. After I`m married and I have a couple of kids, I`ll stay home and do that.

Wait, what?  Writing is not a hobby, or an abstract idea, or even a particularly strange way for a lady to make a living. Writing is a vocation. Some people work hard and sacrifice to make it a real job for themselves. I have never understood why women. generally, don`t always seem to take it seriously. I`ve honestly never heard of a man who says he`s going to wait until he`s married and has a couple of kids to start writing. I`m going to guess that he just writes.

Craig MazinI wonder if this is something in terms of the gender thing that women are trained by the world around them, if not by their parents, to not aggressively go after what they want because they themselves have an inherent desirability. That they are instructed to essentially play hard to get and to let things come to them.” 

Interesting. I kind of agree with this as well. Society really rewards women for very specific things, and desirability (as Craig so eloquently put it) it number one on the list with a bullet. So, if you focus your energy on making yourself desirable, or even likeable in some cases, that`s time and energy you`re taking out of your life. Poof, it`s gone, and you can`t spend it on other things. I think it`s fairly culturally obvious that women spend far more time worrying about being likeable than men do. And, as we all know deep down, the only way you can get ahead in anything is not listen to the haters. There will always be haters.

Aline Brosh McKenna – “I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why there aren’t more female screenwriters and I think it’s this aspect of being an entrepreneur. You are really running a small business which is you. And you have to put yourself out there every day and wear your sandwich board of like, “I’m interesting. You’re going to listen to me.” And I think that women are attracted to things where they can demonstrate excellence in a somewhat prescribed fashion. That’s why women are killing men in colleges and graduate schools. But screenwriting is not like that.” 

… I think that it’s not a thing that we encourage women to do from childhood is to really say like, “I’m interesting…” 

“… it takes a leap of faith and a confidence in yourself to say, yeah, I’m a writer, I have something to say. Because essentially what you do as a writer is you say, “Listen to me.” 

“… what I didn’t know is you’ve got to have the goods, be good at what you do, serve that apprenticeship of becoming good at what you do, but you also have to say, “My point of view is valuable. Listen to me. I have something to say.”

But what I would say is if you’re trying to get into Hollywood screenwriting, which is a more Mandarin, closed system, you have to bet on yourself.”

I included a lot of what Aline had to say because, really, I think she`s landed on something that could (and should) be one of the great solutions. The equalizer.

It`s true for everyone, of course- you have to believe that what you have to say has value in order to say it. But that`s virtually impossible when you start out with little (or no) faith in yourself. If your society, culture, family and friends are all telling you that your value is limited (or even nonexistent) your voice is going to have to be loud enough, and faith in yourself strong enough, that you can drown out every bit of noise that comes at you.

And you know what? It can`t be done. Not every minute of every day. No matter how much support you have. At some point, someone is going to call one of your female characters a bitch and you are going to get bummed out, lie on the couch, eat Chicago Mix and not shower for a couple of days. And you know what else? That`s OK. Giving yourself permission to write is giving yourself permission to fail. So, when you`re ready to dust off the crumbs and start again, everything really will be OK. I promise.

Thanks to John, Craig and Aline for letting us listen in. (And thanks to Stuart for typing it all up!)

 

 

Lee Gordon, The First Woman In The DGC

Add this to the pile of things I knew nothing about. Well, two things:

1- The Director’s Guild of Canada publishes a magazine

and

2- The first woman admitted to the guild was Lee Gordon (The link goes to a PDF of the magazine, and her profile is on page 40.)

I shudder to think about the kind of prejudice she faced in mid-20th century movie making. So many women were discouraged from work in general, forget film making. Women like Lee Gordon are a big part of the reason why we can keep fighting for equality. So, when you have a minute, read her profile. Anything we can do to learn from history, we have women like Lee Gordon to thank, that we can take full advantage.