Being a (Female) Screenwriter in the Eye of the Storm

As today is International Women’s Day, I thought I would write a post that only seemed fit. It’s 2019 and the screenwriting world is still predominantly male. Why is that?

This is a fact that barely crossed my mind in the past until this week when I began researching the marketplace for film and was shocked by some of the statistics I saw. I wouldn’t have even realised it otherwise but for my dissertation, as you know, I am writing a screenplay and the academic part of my dissertation is a competition analysis in which I need to write about the marketplace my piece of creative work would be entering.

The film marketplace, much like many in which us writers enter, is constantly evolving and changing and for those trying to write, make and produce the films it’s a constant uphill battle to keep up with the changes. But this isn’t what I wanted to talk about today. I want to focus on female screenwriters or, more particularly, being a female screenwriter in the Eye of the Storm.

I should probably explain myself first. The other day, I had a phone call with film producer and co-founder of Raindog Film Co., Ged Doherty. Previous to creating Raindog Film Co. with Colin Firth, Ged worked in music from the young age of 17, working his way up to being the CEO and chairman of Sony Music UK. When on the phone, I asked why he decided to start Raindog and his response was simple: “I wanted a change of scenery. I had been in music for the majority of my life and thought I’d give the British independent film production industry a go.” However it was a lot harder than he first thought. He said the film industry is a lot tougher than the music industry, in particular the British independent film production industry which “makes the big music industry look like it’s filled with honest, kind people.” This was something that shocked me a lot. When I asked him what the current marketplace for film was like his insider response was “terrible. the bottom has fallen out and the business is going through a big transition. Studios are only making films such as Avengers and Captain Marvel as they know that they’re the ones that are going to make any money. No one is going to the cinema anymore and who could blame them: you have Netflix and Amazon from the comfort of your home and with the cost of a cinema ticket, travel and other expenses seeing a film at the cinema turns into a very expensive night out. We are in the eye of the storm. We will get out of it – the music industry went through the same transition and have come out the other side. It’s just a waiting game.”

So it isn’t just people like me, those who are emerging and trying to make it, who are struggling. It’s the film industry as a collective.  We are all in the eye of the storm together.

I found an article on Bustle from last year which spoke about research conducted by the Writers Guild of Great Britain which stated that “women make up just one in six screenwriters, with one in ten feature films being written mainly by a woman (and one in 14 feature films in which the budget is greater than £10 million). As for the small screen, only 28 percent of television episodes are penned by female screenwriters.”* Back in March 2018, The Guardian posted a piece as part of the open letter to film and television commissioners which called upon TV and film bosses to give more writing opportunities to women.  This letter came about after ITV released their upcoming shows for 2018 in which only 1 of the 10 dramas had a female lead writer.

With this in mind, I spoke to Doherty about the imbalance between males and female screenwriters in 2019 (a year after this letter was made public) and his response is as follows: “the industry has made some giant steps in the past 2-3 years for female screenwriters. Big studios such as Universal and Warner Bros are pushing for female screenwriters, to the point where projects are getting stalled because they want a certain female screenwriter. And because of this push, young female writers like yourself are entering the industry in the best state for them. Emerging female writers are an asset at the moment – they just need to be writing what the producer wants to read.”

What have I taken away from all of this? There may still be an imbalance of male to female screenwriters however it is getting better. And I, much like a lot of other people need to remember that nothing is going to change overnight. The progress made in the past few years for women in the film industry is immense and there is still a long way to go but I am hopeful that in the next few years there will be even more changes and even more progress. We just need to get out of the storm first.

I am still trying to find ways to get my screenplay out there. When I asked Ged for advice on wanting to get my screenplay made he told me to “do something you care about and become an expert at it. Focus on what you love and pay attention to dialogue. Because, at the end of the day, actors will not focus on any other part of a script when they first pick it up other than their lines. If the dialogue isn’t good and the character development isn’t there then you won’t get anywhere. In my 7 years with Raindog I have read hundreds of scripts and have only actually found 5 good ones. When you show your script to a producer it needs to be good. It needs to resonate within the producer and educate and inform them. It cannot be another story that’s been told a million times before but if you are dedicated to writing that story then it needs to be told in a compelling and completely unique way that will blow away that producer.”

 

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