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Screenwriter background

How much impact does a screenwriter's gender, race or sexuality have on how they are perceived by key decision makers within the film industry?

  • Guess that'll vary person by person, and what subset of "the industry" you relate it to. Most money people just care about money - show them a market gap and they'll want to fill it.

    Thinking back over the last couple of films, we've had a real mix of sexualities, races, and gender. And none of those has been a barrier for entry in recruitment, or even the subject of any gossip or tittle-tattle that I saw. Some departments attracted different groupings (Steadicam and grips more often male, production female, etc). Costume and makeup more sexual-identity fluid, but frankly I've seen all of those groupings at all levels, and it's not been a thing.

    Speaking as a straight white male, I obviously have a quite unique insight, though, and would be interested to hear if people are experiencing it differently!

    1 year ago
  • Which film industry? UK? Hollywood? Mumbai? etc etc... Each will have a slight or large slant depending upon culture or community.

    Here in the UK I have seen absolutely no bias on any grounds other than 'can you write?'. My work in LA with writers, from a producers pov, and the writers group I am also part of has a huge diversity of people - along the lines you described. All of them work with domestic and international clients and I have never heard of any issues.

    Also as Paddy talks about crew, which I know you didn't ask about but..., there are typical gender roles that people fill. Camera tends to be more male. Design tends to be more female. But every film is different and the ratios always seem to change :) I worked as a VFX Supervisor on a film recently and was happy to see a female boom op/audio mixer on set. I hadn't seen this on a shoot for some time. Happy days.

    My 2c worth.

    Wozy

    1 year ago
    • Hey Lee,

      Industry wise I had the UK and the US in mind, though you make a great point referencing other markets.

      I don't think there needs to be any typical gender roles from a crew perspective but am aware that certain genders gravitate toward certain roles behind the camera. Thanks for commenting.

      1 year ago
  • Why are we having this discussion? Fun in sociology courses at college but not really relevant here. It's a capitalist world you guys. It's the accidental, almost 'nice' face of capitalism - if it's makes dosh it's in.

    1 year ago
    • Because this is an open forum for discussion...

      1 year ago
    • Allan, it is only recently that the finance world started to look at markets as inefficient systems.

      1 year ago
    • Hi Allan,

      I asked the question because I was interested in everyone's opinion. It is useful to get a wider point of view. This is not a necessarily a new discussion.

      It feeds into wider discussions like #OscarsSoWhite (regardless of what they got right or failed to achieve in terms of the wider need for consistent inclusion of black, Asian or Latin artists), cultural representation in front and behind the camera (in the UK, US mainly), gender pay gaps and the stories (screenplays) that get to be told and why. Hope that is clearer, thanks.

      1 year ago
  • The perception to gender or race for a writer in Hollywood is zero. You tend not to meet power brokers until after they've read your script. And the only reason they will be meeting with you is because they like your writing and think they can make money off of you.

    1 year ago
    • They see the name of the writer on the first page. That generally gives away the gender, if not more, immediately. How do you know that doesn't influence their decision to meet you?

      1 year ago
    • I mean to meet the broker.

      1 year ago
    • @Alève Mine I know many women writers that only put their initials and last name. Which, I guess, makes your point. I read a publishing industry study some years ago that found in Young Adult readers, boys tended to shy away from women writers. Girls, on the other hand, didn't care one way or the other. Perhaps that's why J.K. Rowling used "J.K."

      1 year ago
    • @Dan Selakovich

      Good idea.

      There still is the problem that when you send the script, you're busted by your email address, which is info at your full name and also gives away your website featuring a prominent photo... Anyway I'll try the initials next time.

      1 year ago
    • @Alève Mine let us know how you go Alève ;-)

      1 year ago
    • @Rickardo Beckles-Burrowes Thanks. I guess as long as you don't hear about my films from mainstream media, you will know that I didn't go much :)

      1 year ago
    • @Alève Mine I'll keep my fingers crossed for you ;-)

      1 year ago
    • @Rickardo Beckles-Burrowes
      Thanks, man.

      1 year ago
  • Women and therefore names that give away that fact are at a distinct disadvantage in writing. The J K Rowling nom de plume probably as the previous answer says reflects that.
    I write a blog about all aspects of female film making and commented on this on artyfartyfilmgirl.tumblr.com/post/146402... Note no 3:
    3.Guardian brought out an article today(July 2016) that says 73% of critics of film are male to 27% female. So men are less likely to critique a film with a lead female protagonist and “Women’s under representation among the top critics is not only an employment issue for women who write about film, it also impacts the amount of exposure films with female protagonists receive.” So it stands to reason that the male dominated film industry will not pick female scriptwriters, but all that is slowly changing.

    See also:artyfartyfilmgirl.tumblr.com/post/1... that shows a chart compiled by Slated about representation of women in the industry as a whole.

    Lucky you, you have one less hurdle to worry about!

    1 year ago
  • Stating that the industry only responds to gaps in market and that there's zero difference in perception of gender and race I think is quite misguided. We all like to think that's the case, but it's not. I've added a piece below from Huff Post discussing it, but I do remember reading a fantastic study a while ago about taking names off scripts for competition entries. It was found that conscious or unconscious gender bias was certainly in place when the name was on the front page, whereas when the name is taken off around 50% of the 'winners' from competitions were women. I've been trying to find the article but have failed this morning as it was some time ago, but if I manage to find it I'll post here for people to look.
    Here is the Huff article: www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/24/sexism...
    Here is the study the Huff article talks about from Susan Orozoco, who analyses every script from 'The Definitive Spec Script Sales List':gointothestory.blcklst.com/2013/06...
    Obviously the problem is that the industry doesn't always read work blind, you have to meet people. However I would certainly agree that screenwriting is one of the more 'equal' employable areas in the industry, but it still has a way to go. And I'm making an application to gender here, not to BAME, LGBTQ+ or disability, and I don't think as many studies have been done there.

    1 year ago
    • Messed up the 2nd link above, here it is: gointothestory.blcklst.com/2013/06/gende...

      1 year ago
    • @Kelly Holmes great points Kelly.

      1 year ago
    • @Rickardo Beckles-Burrowes Thanks :)

      1 year ago
    • Of about the 15 working writers I know that work in television, 12 are women. I know that's not scientific, but writer rooms here in L.A. across the board are about 30% women, and that's changing rapidly. They want diversity. (I'm just talking television. Features are a different, very sexist, beast. And like I mentioned, it's good not to use your first name on a script if you're a woman). If you and I handed in the same script as a writing sample for a TV show, I'm pretty sure you'd get the gig. Right now, studios in TV production are making a conscious effort to hire more female writers. Maybe the U.K. is different. I'm sure it is.

      I would also cross-check that against enrollment in film schools. When I attended back in the 80s, about 15% were women, and that was from a school that very much encouraged women to apply. Are film schools 50% women now? I have no idea. I'm just asking the question.

      Look, there's no question there is a gender bias. But there is also a market bias. Are you writing scripts that the studios want to make? I know I'm not, but it's not because I'm male. It's because I can't write for 14 year old boys. I don't know how to write for the audience that the studios believe they need for a picture to make a profit. Lana Wachowski, a transgender woman, certainly isn't having trouble getting her stuff funded. Is that because she made The Matrix when she was male or because it made a shit ton of money?

      Of course these biases exist. But if you wrote a great pilot that a network thought they could sell, I just don't think gender would enter into it. Whitney Cummings, who writes crap, is still a player in television because her crap makes money. Good for her.

      The real gender bias for women is in acting and directing. Not so much in writing.

      1 year ago
    • @Dan Selakovich

      Maybe this is in literature, not screenwriting, but you may want to know: twitter.com/alevemine/status/62864280078... (Judging by responses to sent manuscripts ) "(the male pen name) is eight and a half times better than (her) at writing the same book."

      And of those I had a look at, Le Guin on Wikipedia is the only scifi author article with a chapter called "Marriage and family".

      1 year ago
    • I couldn't open the link, but I get it, Aleve. I really do. The world is a biased place, and even boys don't tend read books written by women. I've never had that bias, and really don't understand it. But, on the other hand, of the working women writers I know, I've never heard them talk about not getting a job because they were women. Maybe they think that way, or maybe they just accept the bias and keep plowing ahead. A woman I know made a short film with 2 female characters. She got a job on "Orange is the New Black" because of it. Now, after all of these years, she's turning that short into a feature with her directing. Not too shabby.

      1 year ago
    • @Dan Selakovich That's great. So do I (keep plowing ahead).

      Here shortened version of the link, maybe it will work better: bit.ly/2c8WTkC

      1 year ago
    • @Alève Mine That link worked, and that is truly depressing. Oh, to be clear, my friend got a WRITING job on "Orange," not a directing job.

      1 year ago
    • @Dan Selakovich Thanks for this.

      1 year ago
  • I agree with Kelly. It's comforting to talk about gaps in the market as some inevitable cure where money trumps bias. But film and TV has been a marketplace for 70 years or more so why hasn't that inevitable economic magic worked yet?

    It takes a person to spot a gap and to know how to exploit it. The predominance of people not that dissimilar to me amongst the decision makers continues to result in a number of compelling creatives voices not getting heard.

    A change has started, there's definitely been growth in the number of talented non-male, non-white creative artists getting to make work. However Rickardo's question of "perception" is what's really important. Even those getting paid to fill the culture gaps struggle to find support for any work that isn't in some way seen as reflecting their "unique perspective". I know far too many talented black filmmakers who just want to make people laugh and are sick of having to write knife crime into everything they do.

    It's one thing to employ a brilliant black filmmaker to make films about "black" issues. The real test is when brilliant filmmakers get supported when their work is saying nothing at all about their own colour, class or gender. I long for the day when no one gets called a "female" director or a "black" writer and we all get to just be directors and writers...

    bB

    1 year ago
    • Thanks Ben for your comments, all of which I agree with. The concern and the challenge around perception is that a writer or performer from a particular cultural background 'should' just create certain work. Or be offered certain roles. All of which has an impact on how those groups are then seen.

      1 year ago
    • And Ben I agree with you. I have to revert to gender again, because I'm a white woman director/writer. But the point about "unique perspective" really gets on my nerves in reality. I have a WW1 film I'm trying to fund, it's not even a feature. It has an entirely male cast. I'm a woman. Can I get funding? hah....not so far, but we'll see in the next month or so when I've run out of pretty much every option available. So far I've been turned down at several places. But it's the attitude people seem to have towards a woman wanting to make a war film with an all male cast that annoys me most, constantly asking why there are no women in the narrative.

      1 year ago
    • @Kelly Holmes - Just a side note really, but not getting funding or investment for a short is the normal position for just about anyone and everyone, gender aside.

      1 year ago
    • @Paddy Robinson-Griffin
      I am aware and that process is not complete yet. I'm speaking also about attitude towards women and the work we're often expected to make and how that has an influence on the funds you can apply for. That can be extended also any other filmmaker of any minority that is not a white man. Thus the concept of the "unique perspective" and how that can hold us back.

      1 year ago
    • @Paddy Robinson-Griffin I'd say thats very true and not just for shorts.

      1 year ago
    • @Kelly Holmes Hi Kelly, have you found funds that explicitly exclude women? There may be funds targeted specifically at women or other underrepresented groups that the likes of your generic white middle aged middle class man is ineligible for.

      As Wozy suggests, it's not just shorts that don't get public money/funding. Indeed, I'd extend that point to the hospitals and schools that could use more public funding? :-$

      1 year ago
  • Whilst I imagine that some lingering racism, socio-political reactionism and misogyny still exists in the corridors of the moguls I believe that the more pervasive of biases is culturism, it effects far more of us; the confusion in mistaking it for other forms of prejudice is because cultures, tastes and perspectives are still very often stemming from differing tribal and gender identities and assertions. This simple fact can be extrapolated into the percieved market forces assumed by those moguls. I think they're missing an opportunity though because the actual cross polination that's going on is evolving much more exponentially than thier bean counters understand. There's a lot of it about; shame the transition period is dragging on a bit.

    1 year ago
  • Thanks Kelly for those links, very interesting. It would be great to see the stats on Gender and race too, wouldn't it? I think we all know what the results would be. We corresponded some time ago but if you email me info@luminofilms.co.uk I will share some funding sources with you, don't know if they will help but you can but try. I am still trying to fund my first feature, getting closer, but have funded 10 shorts, but it is hard work.

    1 year ago
  • I meant sexuaity and race.

    1 year ago
  • Here are some interesting statistics (link at the bottom), although I'm generally not finding the ones that I have previously read. Need to archive the good articles that I find in future. Particularly interesting are pages 15&16 for race and ethnicity on screen and behind the camera. Also page 5 where a particularly revealing graphic shows how out of the 779 films they studied, only 5.8% were directed by black or African Americans and only 2.4% were directed by Asian or Asian Americans. The statistics for women of minority are abysmal, if you didn't think those above were bad enough.
    We all know the numbers are terrible and if you look throughly through the document there are statistics for screenwriters, with for example only 11.2% of the top 100 films they reviewed being written by women. Further interesting statistics cover how gender/race have an effect on the gender/race of the characters that are on screen, presumably due to the influence of writers/directors of differing gender and race. There are also statistics for LGBT on screen portrayals. Recent studies have focused more on directing as an employable area, but people are also starting to look into screenwriting, cinematography and so forth.
    Like I said, I had an even better infographic, and it compared gender and race of directors all in one pie chart, which was really useful. If I find it I'll post it here.
    I think Rickardo that it's obvious that there is an impact on the screenwriter, depending on race, gender and sexuality, however screenwriting is a more hidden area. And one that you can even change the name on the front page if you're entering competitions or sending out a spec script blind. It's the one area I also believe where your talent can shine through peoples conscious or unconscious bias more than any other area. But I still believe that bias is there. Despite the fact that people love to deny that is exists. But the cold hard facts say otherwise.
    Also the point previously made about the market responding to cultural interests I think is also interesting, because the market does respond to cultural interests and it seems those cultural interests are widening as we become ever more aware of the inequality that exists not just within the film industry but worldwide. It just seems to be taking a very long time for any kind of equality to exist in almost any area of the film industry

    1 year ago
    • Dammit, why is it that when you post a link at the bottom it doesn't seem to come up? Is it because I put too many spaces in? Very weird:

      1 year ago
  • Ok, third attempt, I'm posting the page previous to the link as this discussion page obviously has an issue with links: www.wftv.org.uk/resources/reports-and-st...

    1 year ago
  • I work in the UK and the US I'm a feature film writer. It's a fact, that most studios have now made it company policy to employ more diverse writers in film, and in television more so. If you are a woman or a person of colour and you are good, and I mean a kick-ass writer, then at this time - you could have an edge on getting in the door over your white male counterparts in LA.
    How long this will last who knows, it's currently part PR and part a genuinely progressive move. This is not gossip or hearsay, this is first hand from a writer who just got back from LA.
    I believe there are many stories that need to be told from very diverse backgrounds, but it all depends on the writers ability, and at the end of the day; box office.

    In closing, just be a great screenwriter and grab every opportunity that comes your way.

    Goodluck.

    Adam

    1 year ago
    • Just for anyone curious as to Adam's credentials, I know he's sold stories, options and scripts for real money, and has some close studio connections.

      1 year ago
    • Hi Adam,

      Thanks for your comment. From what I've researched, studied and seen (and read in this thread as well), the majority of consistently working screenwriters or key decision makers in the UK and US film industry don't reflect me per say.

      I hundred percent agree that there are 'breakthrough' screenwriter's or people from different cultural backgrounds (gender, sexuality and disability included) helping to shine more of a light on the need for greater inclusion and those key decision makers having a wider perception of what is possible, though this is an exception.

      Also, I have heard at different points "be a great screenwriter and..." in various texts or offered by industry influencers, though outside of following industry standards for producing scripts which I understand must be adhered to, the rest is subjective.

      This does not mean that I or any up and coming screenwriter should not continue to push forward, though it makes the playing field more challenging.

      1 year ago
    • @Rickardo Beckles-Burrowes Maybe it makes it more challenging, or maybe it opens other doors that would give you a chance. Do you think that Antoine Fuqua or Denzel Washington couldn't get a green light for anything they wanted to do? And do you think they might want to help a talented black screenwriter break in? Of course they would. They've spent their careers pushing for just that. As has Spike Lee and others.

      You don't have to accept institutional racism in Hollywood. There are ways to walk around it. And too, you're a writer. That's a much easier row to hoe than an actor or director. I'm sorry, but I really can't see an agent in Hollywood wanting to sign you because of your writing, then he meets you and decides not to because of the color of your skin. Maybe I'm really naive, but I just can't see it.

      1 year ago
    • @Dan Selakovich I agree that with you that I don't have to and won't accept institutional racism in the US / UK or other geographical film industries.

      I am focused on moving forward, accessing the opportunities that make sense for my career and being a part of a solution led environment that is focused on consistent inclusion. Regardless of a screenwriter's gender, race or sexuality.

      1 year ago
  • When I ran the Brighton Film School the male/female mix was 50/50 and in some groups there was a female majority. One group was all girls and one boy! Overall I have to say that girls were often better than boys as the latter are leaving schools with poorer results. It's now becoming text book that UK boys regard education as unmanly. I would also add that ethnic students from overseas had more drive and respect for education.

    1 year ago
    • That does my heart good, Franz. I taught producing and directing at a for profit film school here in L.A. (in other words, if you could afford the tuition, you were in), and had the opposite experience. Out of a class of 20, there were only 2 women.

      1 year ago
  • I believe there are stories that only I can write in the world. This color of skin and hairs, sex, age make me write my own stories and I like them. Everybody has different culture and background and they will be our own good points. Art doesn't have boundaries. People who understand art have boundaries.

    1 year ago
  • Oh no... again!??

    1 year ago
    • You mean Ono Yoko? Why 'again'? To who? To what?

      1 year ago
    • @Hitomi Kanezaki I think Matteo was referring to the gender/race debate in general, Hitomi. It pops up every now and again here on Shooting People.

      1 year ago
    • @Dan Selakovich Hmm...? Why can't people talk about gender/race often? Why did he have to write like that? I don't understand it at all...

      1 year ago
    • @Hitomi Kanezaki I'm not sure at all what you are asking, Hitomi. Why can't people talk about race and gender? We are.

      Who are you referring to? Why did who have to write like what?

      I know the Japanese language often excludes the subject, but we English speakers kind of need the sentence subject to understand who or what is being talked about.

      If I understand your question: people in the U.S. and U.K. debate these things to try to make the film industry more fair. Or at least to show others that don't know, that there is a problem. I don't think debates like these help very much on an indie film forum. Indie filmmakers don't have any power, after all. It's up to each individual to find their way around the walls to get their own films made.

      1 year ago
    • @Dan Selakovich I keep wondering why Matteo di Cugno wrote "Oh no... again!??" Why can't we talk about race and gender again and again and again and again? I totally don't get Matteo's intention. Is this my English skill's fault? Could someone please tell me the meaning of "Oh no... again!??". Does he hope we won't talk about this issue forever?
      I'm sorry if I misunderstood everything. I just didn't feel good when I read "Oh no... again!??". And I want to know why I felt so. Again, if I misunderstood everything, I'm sorry.

      1 year ago