The Up And Downsides Of Women Writers And Step One Of How To Be The Change

The upsides?  The Black Board and Go Into The Story have been keeping the issue of diversity in screenwriting top of mind. This is a great thing. If you don’t regularly read/post to those, they are great screenwriting resources.

In fact, Go Into The Story recently had a post about female screenwriters and for names of female screenwriters to further the discussion. Feel free to go over there and add to the list. A few off the top of my head:

  • Aline Brosh McKenna
  • Tina Fey
  • Katie Dippold
  • Annie Mumlo
  • Terri Edda Miller
  • Shonda Rhimes
  • Jane Espenson
  • Dana Fox
  • Vanessa Taylor
  • Greta Gerwig
  • Amy Jump
  • Melissa Stack
  • Melisa Wallack
  • Maggie Carrey
  • Nia Vardalos
  • Lake Bell
  • Dee Rees
  • Emma Thompson
  • Julie Delpy
  • Nicole Holofcenre
  • Rashida Jones
  • Jennifer Lee
  • Jennifer Westfeldt
  • Everyone who made The Athena List this year

(By the way, if you start typing in female screenwriters into Google, you’ll get “female serial killers” as a recommend first. Nooooice.)

There are more screenwriters than these. Lots more. And the best way I can think of for any writer to get attention is genuine old-school hype. Anyone can be a hype machine for female writers. I think women are lacking in hype. So, that’s an easy fix.

For outlets like Go Into The Story who talk to filmmakers , whenever you interview a female writer, ask her about other writers she loves. I imagine that should lead to more writers who deserving of the attention. And so on. Writers are talking about this in all kinds of forums, including Done Deal Pro. That’s a great thing.

Every little bit helps.

The not-as-far-upside? I’ve noticed an… interesting trend. I get the hype emails from The Black List (not the weekly pro versions but the general hype ones for all members that are published biweekly… I think?) There haven’t been many of them as of yet, and I do think the email is an awesome idea… but haven’t all the hyped scripts been written by men?

I am a big fan of The Black List and this doesn’t feel like anything deliberately structured to exclude women, but it’s still tough to understand. Is the quantity (or quality) just not there? I feel like the deals and the folks who’ve gotten attention from the (let’s call it non-industry) BL have generally been men. Feel free to correct any of this- I don’t have any stats in front of me…

I feel like this is a good time to expand on where I’m coming from a little bit, and a couple of reasons why I’m hyper-aware about any/all of this. I don’t like to talk about my personal experiences much. I’ve lived a life that I’ve really enjoyed, though it’s probably woefully boring to many. But you need to understand a tiny bit about me at this point. So, here goes.

First, a crazy fact: When each of my grandmothers was born, continuing even past the time they were old enough to marry, they were not people. The law didn’t recognize them as human beings. Think about that, just for one second. My parents’s mothers couldn’t vote, drive, choose a vocation or living arrangements. A short century ago, women like me (and any woman reading this right now) existed only as property.

Kaboom.

Honestly, I can’t even fathom this. This is not even a thought that registers in my brain. I was always told I could do anything if I worked hard enough. I believed that. I don’t even think I grasped gender inequality as a concept for a very long time.

I admit, I was extremely lucky- I certainly didn’t experience any kind of treatment that registered as institutional gender inequality until I was in my 20s.

But, when it happened, it washed a tint over my whole understanding of life. It became the horror you cannot unsee.

It started off innocently enough. An upper-level manager at a part-time job made a comment to my manager that I didn’t smile enough. Weird, right? I did a good job- I was helpful, efficient and polite. Lots of customers and those I’d worked with had communicated to management how happy they were with me. I was further confused because the men who worked there were far more dour than I. They hardly smiled, but they got better shifts. They got more and better hours, and promotions to management. And I was still being berated at every turn for things no one could ever properly explain, as were many of the other women who worked there.

Being oblivious as I was then, I set up a meeting with the manager in question to ask how he thought I could improve. The issues he was raising about me were getting worse, though no one else noticed these things. His advice? Go out and get another job, get more experience, and come back and work in another department. That was his advice. Not joking.

I was already the most experienced worker there by far, but it took that meeting for me to finally understand- I was never going to be treated equally. The men were treated well across the board. The women were not. That’s how it was and everyone knew it. Still, I fought against it, and it took a ton of discriminatory action against me before I finally walked away from that toxicity.

That is certainly turn-of-the-century behaviour but, you’d hope, not turn of the 21st century. Keep in mind, this happened in the 2000s. Still, I thought to myself that’s got to be an aberration. That’s one person in one place.

But moving into a string of big-deal corporate jobs did not help that viewpoint, unfortunately. I think back to two different corporate-type female managers I’d had during that time, and I better understand their poor-management paranoia now. Their incompetencies were constantly magnified through the lens of their gender, and they may have wondered privately (as often as those around them openly did) if they were promoted into their position because they were legacy hires, or diversity hires, or because they were easily manipulated yes-people who were sleeping their way to the middle. Their gender never had anything to do with their paucity of management ability, but their own fear of how they arrived at their position might have done them in.

Though, in the ironic twist to end all ironic twists, it was none of these things that started me down the road that begins and ends here at The Twelve Percent. It was my last 9-5 (as of this writing, at least), that was fronted with the look of progress but was grotesquely sexist under the surface. That was my last step before this one.

It was a place where plenty of women worked, but all the managers were men. The vendors were all men. The leaders and innovators were all men. I was told I was intimidating, but it wasn’t my fault, because “some cultures just don’t respect women”. I lost count of how many times I ran into a woman either crying or raging in a semi-private space at that job, upset that they were not being treated fairly.

My memory is probably faulty on the timing, but I recall it as if it all hit me at once- Why on earth is a 21st century corporation run entirely by men? Why are women still so expectantly ghettoed into talking about spas and nail polish so frequently? Why is someone treating me, a dependable and hard worker with nearly twenty years of editorial experience, like I’m the group secretary because I’m the only woman in this department?

What on earth is going on?

After telling you all this, I’m not going to lie now- it was this job that finally shattered my heart. I thought I had found the place I would spend a massive chunk of the height of my editorial career. Instead, it was the place where my 9-5 life ended. I threw myself into writing screenplays and comics, and I put my house up for sale. I got used to being (very) broke and that some of my so-called friends were suddenly nowhere to be found. I decided that if I was going to be treated like a failure, I would at least give myself a job that would allow me to fail fairly. On my own terms.

So, being totally honest, even if screenwriting ends up being the most sexist, vile, worst of the worst place to be… Well, it won’t be. I’ve seen things go wrong, and it hasn’t killed me just yet. I’ll keep looking for the upsides and finding ways to be the change.

I don’t think we need to wait for two more generations to pass until we realize how far we still need to go. It doesn’t matter if it; a hill or a mountain, you can still make progress with every single step.

Advertisements

Megan Ellison And 2013 Spec Script Sales

Sigh.

I started off to post merely some very general observations about spec sales in 2013. But then I saw that tweet and thought to myself, man, if someone who is out there working and making a difference feels like this, the rest of us should feel…?

But we cannot fix the system, can we? No one person can. All we can do is the work. Mini-revolutionaries. Change from the inside. Small steps. Big hearts. Can’t lose. (Did I rip that off from elsewhere…? Ha ha.)

So, let us get the good/bad news out of the way. The good news? Lots of awesome writers sold spec scripts in 2013. Congrats to all.

There is an exhaustive list at Go Into The Story of 2013 spec sales. To be fair, I only did a quick scan of the 100+ title list, so I might have missed some nuances.

The not-so-good news? By my rough count, 15 women are on the list. Keeping in mind, of course, some of the scripts have more than one writer. Working out the percentage of female writers who sold spec scripts in 2013 to be right around 12%.

I really can’t explain this. If anyone can, I’d love to hear it.

 

The Weekend Reader – January 3, 2014

A new thing for the new year. Every Friday (give or take), I’ll post a list of recent reading from around the interwebs that might be of interest to y’all. As always, if there’s any interesting news/discussion you think I’ve missed, send it along!

Enjoy and keep writing!

Major 2013 Film Themes from The Guardian

4 Things Writers Should Stop Expecting from Bang 2 Write

Hollywood Movies With Strong Female Role Models Make More Money from Vocativ

Jeff Willis Breaks Down A Script Option Deal from The Black Board

101 Deadliest films by body count (Infographic) from Randal S. Olson (via The Black Board)

Casting Call: Hollywood Needs More Women from NPR (via The Black Board)

The 10 Most Sexist Female Characters on TV from Role Reboot

‘Her’ is a Futuristic Tale With 21st Century Sexism from Policy Mic

Ricky Gervais on what’s made him so successful from Time.com

WGA Award Nominees from Variety

REMINDER: Download tons of award season scripts from Go Into The Story (So much to learn! DO IT.)

Best Bits of 2013 – The Year of Screenwriting Dangerously

There are a glut (a word I do not use lightly) of “best-of” lists that appear this time of year. Originally, I wasn’t going to add to the pile at all, but I wanted to recap the work of screenwriters I’ve enjoyed in 2013. I’ve been blessed to be on the receiving end of so much great wisdom this year, so I figure this is the least I can do.

(A disclaimer- I am not a movie critic, so my viewing isn’t as thorough as someone who watches movies for a living. I see a lot of movies because I write movies. I sometimes gravitate more to movies/genres/stars/writers I like. And there are still a handful of unseen films on my must-see 2013 list, as listed below. So, better yet, don’t even consider this a year-end list. This is just a collection of films I liked in 2013 that had awesome writers and creators that I’ve learned a whole lot from. Enjoy.)

1-Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg – The World’s End

The only film I can ever imagine seeing in a theatre 13 times (which I really did do) because I am so much in love with the Pegg/Wright aesthetic. Shaun of the Dead turned me on to a whole genre and Hot Fuzz turned a genre I already loved on its head, but The World’s End was something… else. Something really beyond your average film-going experience. Something really smart,  invaluably sweet and utterly enjoyable.

Screenplays for all three films are available on The Ultimate Three Flavors Cornetto® Trilogy Blu-ray™ and there are oh-so-many how-to writing and filmmaking bits floating around online that the guys have shared in their decade-long writing partnership. A huge inspiration to me.

 

2-Ed Solomon – Now You See Me

My all-time favourite screenwriter since forever turned out to be the coolest, sweetest and most generous writer, possibly ever. Did I mention the smartest? Also, probably that. And did I mention I love his work. Swoon. Just swoon.

I was really enchanted by Now You See Me (remind me to post more about how great Mark Ruffalo always is) and I can’t wait to see whatever he works on next.

 

3-Katie Dippold – The Heat

I watched The Heat in theatres, on planes, in airports, in bed. I loved everything about it – including the performances and director – but I especially loved the funny and fearless script. It also prompted the realization that Katie Dippold was one of the few female screenwriters I could actually name… And that was part of the reason why this blog was created in the first place.

 

4-The Great Teachers of TX (Austin, to be exact)

I have been promising myself every year, literally, for nearly 20 years that I would make the trek to Austin, Texas to spend a week of sun and fun there during SXSW. Finally, this year, I made it… almost. I made it to Austin just in time for the 20th Austin Film Festival. I do not regret that choice. Those folks aren’t kidding around.

They say it’s a writer’s festival and they mean it. I spent a lot of time and money on screenwriting events over the past 12 months and, though Austin was kinda pricey, a lovely bunch of people made it worthwhile, including:

Craig Mazin – Identity Thief

Craig Mazin is really, really good at his job. Aside from the weekly Scriptnotes podcast with John August, he wrote both this year’s Identity Thief and The Hangover Part III. But it was Craig’s A-Game at the AFF that floored me. Especially his panel Structurally Sound. I couldn’t explain it to you if I tried but, man, it felt like a whole screenwriting education crammed into an oh-so-brief session (in a very tiny room, even).

Listen to Scriptnotes

 

Shane Black (with Drew Pearce) – Iron Man 3

This year, after a long and flirtatious courtship, I really fell hard for Shane Black. At AFF, listening to him talk in such loving, dulcet tones about noir, hard action, insane thrillers and Iron Man… You had me at noir, Shane. You had me at noir.

Listen to the brilliant On Story Podcast with Shane Black

 

Vince Gilligan – Breaking Bad

This was the year of Vince Gilligan was capped off with the heartbreakingly brilliant end of Breaking Bad. I very nearly expected the AFF crowd would organize a parade to hoist and carry him through the streets. And deservedly so.  In the lead up to the AFF, I did some binge-watching of classic Gilligan-penned X-Files eps like Memento Mori and Drive. I have so much respect for someone working at that insane level of talent.

Listen to the lovely On Story Podcast with Vince Gilligan

 

(Side note: is it weird that I can’t find any of the video from the Austin Film Festival? They seemed to film everything, and there was so much good stuff… If anyone knows where I can point to, let me know!)

5-For Heroes, Thrillers and those Lost in Space

Joss Whedon (with a little help from William Shakespeare) – Much Ado About Nothing

Find someone Joss Whedon hasn’t inspired and I’ll give you a nickle. I have a lot of nickles and I’ve never had to give one away. (I forgot about Much Ado initially, only because I first saw it at TIFF in 2012. It was magic, though, no matter how or when or where you saw it. Enough with the Marvel nonsense Joss! Make more Shakespeare!)

 

Nicolas Winding Refn – Only God Forgives

Another early entry that may not be for everyone, but film I liked from a generous filmmaker nonetheless.

 

Scott Z. Burns – Side Effects

There aren’t enough straight-up adult thrillers. I don’t think Hollywood ever had an era where they cranked out an excess of these. There’s no time like the present…

 

Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke – Before Midnight

I love these movies. Richard Linklater has written a bunch of other brilliant movies. Julie Delpy has written a bunch of other great movies. Before Midnight is a masterclass in everything.

 

Alfonso and Jonas Cuaron – Gravity

One thing I’ve learned in 2013 is that the more movies you watch, the more cynical you can get about the strained, cookie-cutter fare that seems to rerun endlessly. If you ever wake up feeling like that, watch Gravity. Or anything Cuaron, really.

 

7-The New Kid

Ryan Coogler – Fruitvale Station

I’ve already declared my Best Picture for 2013 because the only movie that made my heart stop in 2013 was Fruitvale Station. So, if you haven’t seen it, do. And if you’re the type who votes, take it under consideration.

Read the unlikely story of Ryan Coogler

 

Still playing 2013 catch-up (some are available for reading right now, thanks to Go Into The Story for the links):

Enough Said by Nicole Holofcener

Dallas Buyer’s Club by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack

Saving Mr Banks by Kelly Marcel

Philomena by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope 

Nebraska by Robert W. Nelson

Mandela: The Long Walk To Freedom by William Nicholson 

August: Osage County by Tracy Letts 

Inside Llewyn Davis by Joel and Ethan Coen

 

And, yes, this is still my favourite clip from 2013. No contest. Happy new year indeed.