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.

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Where Can I Sign Up For The Aline Brosh McKenna Fanclub?

I say this a lot, but there are a ZILLION reasons why you should listen to Scriptnotes. Here is but one more incredibly awesome reason…

The year-end edition of Scriptnotes is a Q & A from their latest live episode. Lots of great questions (you can read the transcript in full as well), including a question about the lack of female action writers. After asking the writer if she was interested in writing action herself, this was Aline Brosh McKenna’s answer:

Aline: Just do it. Who cares? Who cares? And I’ll tell you something right now. It would work for you because right now if I saw your name on a script and I was like, “Oh, who is that, that’s a female woman who wrote this kickass action script, that’s great. Oh, you have to see her. She’s adorable. She’s got this cute gray coat. She’s going to kick your ass.”

And it’s going to be like, oh, it’s not going to be like the 20 other dudes who look the same who are in cargo pants. It’s going to be like we have this girl. Her action kicks ass. People would freak out. They would be so excited. And if you’re putting up that barrier in your own mind, forget it. Put it down.

Yeah. That. We should all do all of that, in whatever genre we choose. Welcome to 2014. (And thank you, Aline)

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.

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!)

 

 

Show Of Hands: Who Wants To See Another Depressing Infographic?

You do? Well take a look at this.

It’s really interesting and well-done. Now, take a gander in the lower left corner. I’m referring to this:

The 300 scripts sampled were written by 270 male writers, 22 female writers and 8 mixed-gender duos.

I’d like to say this is a surprise but, hey, this blog is called The Twelve Percent for a reason…

I really don’t know what the root of this can be. Is it the collaborative effort? Is it the formatting restriction? Is it the length and depth of the narrative? Is it a lack of participation in the feedback process?

Seriously, where the ladies at? Anyone?

A Writer’s Roundtable… including George Clooney?

I definitely hate the game and not the playa… (OK, I’m not a huge fan of the beach either- the film or the thing…)  But I wanted to quickly post this from The Hollywood Reporter.

I am very cool (happy, even) with celebrating writers who (maybe/might/perhaps) be up for awards soon enough, but is it weird that I don’t think of George Clooney as a writer? I mean, Julie Delpy is there, and I totally think of her as a writer with writing skills on par with her acting chops. Maybe Mr. Clooney does a lot of adapting, which is why him=writer doesn’t really make sense in my brain…? I dunno. But, Clooney aside, the interview has some interesting perspective on the craft. And it’s a bit diverse, so yay that too…

 

John August and Craig Mazin and Scriptnotes live? Oh my!

Question- do you listen to Scriptnotes? If you’re interested in screenwriting, you should. I was surprised how many people I talked to at AFF who hadn’t heard of Scriptnotes, but then the live Scriptnotes panel was pretty packed, so maybe I was just talking to the wrong people…

On top of the magic that was live Scriptnotes (including Rian Johnson and Kelly Marcel even!) both John August and Craig Mazin presented panels of their own. And both were in the same teeny, tiny room. John August talked about the evolution of Big Fish (see it on Broadway!) and Craig Mazin gave a talk designed to make every screenwriter’s life easier.

Those three panels alone were worth the price of admission to AFF. If you have the chance to see some live Scriptnotes for yourself, you really should. Really.