Seven Stereotypes About Women Screenwriters

I expend a fair amount of blog energy on how things are tougher for women screenwriters, and the studies that back me up.

And I thought it would be fun to compile stereotypes about women screenwriters that can get in our way.

They’re below. (Feel free to help me get to ten, folks.)

More recently however I’ve been rethinking how I feel about all this. More of that in a separate post….Promise.

Adorable funny gals, clockwise from top: Morgan Murphy, Leslye Headland, Maggie Carey, Lauren Anne Miller, Kay Cannon

Adorable funny gals, clockwise from top: Morgan Murphy, Leslye Headland, Maggie Carey, Lauren Anne Miller, Kay Cannon

 

For now:

The Stereotypes

1. They apologize before they pitch. (“This is just an idea I had…just my first draft…something that needs work…”)
2. They’re cute and spunky.
3. They write  romantic comedies or dramas.
4. They’re bad investments cause they’ll give up on writing when they start a family.
5. They are less fun to hang with than their male counterparts.
6. They aren’t in touch with the market and what sells.
7. They write “soft” stories and suck at structure.

How many of these are you? How many did I miss?

Who are These Schmucks with Underwoods?

Get thee to writing thy screenplay, thou hack.

Get thee to writing thy screenplay, thou hack.

2013 was an annus horibilus in terms of my filmmaking life, a year in which I’d look aspirationally at this blog’s tagline “laughing off the slings and arrows” and doubt whether I’d get to a place to be able to do that again.

But I did learn a lot about the process of putting together a film and there was this weird thing that I kept bumping up against with the script for the project. “Did you write this thing? All of it? How? Did you write it with your husband, your friends, anyone else?”

There is always a level of angst about who wrote the script, the ownership, the intellectual property. I’ve gotten it from investors and lawyers who may have had bad experiences of folks coming out of the woodwork to attack the most obvious target…the source material that the film is based on, but while I was eager to talk about moving forward, the prep, the picture, the money, there was always this backward glance. I couldn’t figure it out. Having been with the script for years, I couldn’t see it from their perspective and couldn’t understand their skepticism, until the excellent book I’m reading “What Happens Next”, Marc Norman’s History of American Screenwriting put me in their shoes for a moment.

Here’s Marc Norman (screenwriter “Shakespeare in Love”) writing about Hollywood in the ’20s, which is a pretty apt summary of what I came up against.

“Stars and directors did their work in plain view– a mogul could visit a set and understand what he was paying for, the heart-stopping performance, the magisterial leadership.  In fact, none of them were quite sure what a screenwriter did or even how he did it. Certainly he delivered an artifact, a screenplay that worked or didn’t, but where did it come from? […]
Did it take them a year to write a screenplay, or only one day and then they waited a year to hand it in? There was no telling because no one could see the work occur; the screenwriter functioned in private, secluded, unwatchable. […] They were like football kickers, specialists — they didn’t pitch in, didn’t get tackled, they weren’t part of the movie company, the gang that went on the floor and bashed the damn thing out; they finished their work before the company gathered and were gone when it began.”

Schmucks With Underwoods as Jack Warner, the Warner Brothers studio head, famously called his writers around this time… but it’s no longer relevant.
Now we’re Schmucks With Laptops scrimmaging for desks and plug points  at the coffee shop.

Finding Your Tribe

Being a successful screenwriter requires such a delicate combination of “in-your-headedness” and social skills it’s a wonder anyone succeeds. It’s a balance I struggle with constantly, especially as a mom which in itself puts limits on the time you get to sit down and write. (When you finally get some time to work, you guard it jealously and can be loathe to do anything else.)

But back in 2007 I  made one of the best New Year Resolutions ever when I decided I had to find a writers group post the MFA workshop experience. I didn’t know what to expect, only knew that after six years of going it alone I couldn’t continue to write in a vacuum. The group I chose was affiliated with a NY women’s film organization so I figured it would also be a good chance to network and get out of the house. As a work at home mom, the things that you used to take for granted, like a commute on the train, take on a quaint, exciting anthropological bent.

I can’t believe it’s seven years since I sat down at that table next to women I’d never met before. The group has changed wildly since then, the original women’s org has disappeared and re-emerged as something else, but a few core members have withstood everything, month-in, month-out and have been an invaluable first ear in hearing so much of what I’ve written in that period. When I think about finding a tribe, a support group that can help fortify you from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, I think of them. And many of the things that I thought were weaknesses at the time…the fact that we were so tiny in number, s0 informal and unfussy, are the things that I think have made us last.

Many of the following tips from Huffington Post about creating/finding your tribe I’ve discovered on this seven year journey. In what can be a rough, unpredictable business that doesn’t value friendship, I’m finding the tribe indispensable.

10 WAYS TO CREATE YOUR OWN TRIBE

1. Start small and stay small. Add too many people and you won’t feel obliged to show up because you’ll feel you won’t be missed if you’re not there. Though it feels strange to keep it tight, if you open it too big, it won’t be sustainable.

2. When forming your group, find a couple of folks you love and ask them each to find one more person. This creates an immediate circle of women who will probably get along and who most likely will start off with a shared mindset.

22fempire1a_600

Even hotshot Hollywood scribes Dana Fox, Diablo Cody, Liz Meriwether and Lorene Scafaria need the tribe. They called theirs “The Fempire.”

3. Find a common thread and work from there. Maybe you’re all mamas or artists or marathon runners or inventors or some such. A common ground is a great starting point.

 4. Start with a clear intention and a shared desire — a writing workshop,an entrepreneurial guide, a retreat, etc. And start off with something that you pay for which will make you more likely to commit fully to it. Somehow when we pay, we feel more committed to show up. Like it has more value somehow.

5. Keep it purposeful. The social aspect is fun and of course crucial to it continuing year after year, but the commitment to a book or writing exercises or something definitively productive makes it more likely that you will show up fully and regularly.

6. Make a regular meeting time. Rather than having to discuss it each week or each month, make it the same — Tuesday nights or First Thursday or something to give it it’s rightful place.

7. Find a sustainable time slot — something that won’t be easily pre-empted by some other meeting or commitment or family need. For us it was Tuesday nights at 9:15 p.m.. Since we all had littles at the time and full plates otherwise, we knew this time slot was one we could make available week after week after week.

8. Once you’ve formed and your group has been going a while, hire someone every now and again to bring you to the next level — when the group needs a bump up, hire out to reignite the commitment.

9. Name it. By naming it, you can call it by its name and by calling it you are acknowledging it’s powerful existence. And giving your family something to call it too that feels more powerful than just, “Mom’s group of women.” We call ours Goodness. Because that’s what it is to us: pure, unadulterated goodness.

10. Ask your family for support and encouragement in making it work.Even your kids. Ask them to joyfully give you the space and ask them too to help you get yourself out the door so that you can meet up regularly. If they moan or beg you to stay, remind them of all you get from it, which in turn will mean they, too, will get something from it.