a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Why Aren't There More Female Screenwriters?

So three posts below, where I rambled about not wanting to direct, I had people list their favorite screenwriters, and they did.

Counting everyone that everybody mentioned, there's about 40 names.

And they are all male. Which I didn't even realize, until Amy F. pointed it out in comment #24, and wondered why.

I made some lame response to her about how women are drawn to more relationship tales/serious dramas, and that that's the kind of stuff that usually winds up on TV, but that's obviously not the complete answer (though it's less badly-stereotypical than you might think).

There are a lot of women working in film today, and a lot of high-profile movies have been written by them. Susannah Grant wrote Erin Brockovich and In Her Shoes, Nora Ephron has written a ton of stuff including When Harry Met Sally, Callie Khouri wrote Thelma and Louise and Something to Talk About. Allison Anders has written a lot of stuff, including Gas, Food, Lodging. Sofia Coppola has to be listed, just for Lost In Translation.

I can go on and on, but obviously not that long, because yeah, it's a profession dominated by men. White men. And lists like the one below, of respected screenwriters, tends not to include any -- or many -- women at all.

Speaking from experience, women tend to write "softer" scripts, but not all women do. Hollywood executives seem to be increasingly female, so men hiring men would seem to play less of a role... wouldn't it?

I'm sure there are a slew of reasons that contribute to this imbalance, that I'm barely touching on. Maybe women are much less willing to write genre crap. Maybe it's something genetic.

It's a fascinating imbalance, because on certain levels, it doesn't make all that much sense.

Anyone have thoughts on this inequity? Favorite female screenwriters I haven't mentioned?

And for the aspiring female screenwriters out there, do you worry about this? Does it affect the kind of things you try to write?


At 9:16 AM, Anonymous Laura Reyna said...

Thanks, Scott, for noticing & caring. I'll have more to say later. Just wanted to say THANKS! for now. :-)

At 9:56 AM, Anonymous Kenneth Molen said...

Based on my own personal experience film is an area that attracts males more than females.

Sure, most people, regardless of gender, enjoy watching movies. But the rabid fans? The ones who know the names of directors and producers, what movies are in production, what a cinematographer actually does, etc, etc.

Those kinds of people are, in my experience, mostly male. I don't know exactly why that is, but it makes sense that if something about the industry attracts males more than females, then this screenwriter gender imbalance is really no more surprising than the imbalance you find in other professions like car mechanics or nurses.

Some vocations simply attract males more than females and vice versa. I think the real question isn't so much why there's a gender imbalance, but why does the film industry appeal more to the male psyche than the female?

At 10:09 AM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

For anyone really interested in learning more about the challenges, real and perceived, faced by women in screenwriting, I'd recommend a book called "Women Screenwriters Today: Their Lives and Words" by Marsha McCreadie.

At 11:09 AM, Anonymous Peter said...


Let me ask you this question...

Back when I was working as a full-time reader, with certain genres of scripts, I used to be able to determine with amazing accuracy the gender of the writer without looking at the author's name.

With romantic comedies in particular, this was a remarkably easy feat.

It wasn't that any one style was better than the other. Both were usually pretty bad, but in predictable patterns which broke down along gender lines. (and it wasn't even about male protagonists v. female protagonists)

The best scripts were the ones in which I couldn't tell.

Did you ever have this experience during your long reading career?

At 11:11 AM, Anonymous bianca said...

Kenneth Molen has a valid point. I am a member of a screenwriting group and of the thirty members only three are women.

Women love to write as evidenced by the plethora of female novelists. So why the discrepancy when it comes to screenwriting? A few possibilities: you don't have to move to L.A. and uproot your family to get a novel published, there's less interference between your finished manuscript and the published book and there's less day-to-day hussle in trying to get a book published.

There's a gender imbalance in all areas of filmmaking. The few successful women out there get a lot of attention because Hollywood wants to project an image of gender equality. The only area of filmmaking that is gender imbalanced in the reverse (more women than men) is acting. Which is ironic since there are less roles available for women than for men.

At 11:13 AM, Anonymous kristen said...

I personally don't spend much time worrying about this, probably because I'm so many light years away from actually taking meetings and stuff. I think a lot of women are writing, but what I wonder is if the the numbers attenuate on the way up because it's such an old boy's network. Former fratboys or whatever. My brief time temping at a busy VP's desk seemed to imply that meetings were all about acting like "dudes".

As for "softer" material... I dunno about that. You can't really take the few women who've made it as a representative sampling of what people are actually writing. I think things like the IFP Lab expect women to write "marginalization" stories, so you can't take those indie filmmakers as a representative slice either. I'm sitting on a script like that myself. The whole reason I started writing it is because it seemed like a more palatable idea, the kind of thing people would expect me to write. A nice coming of age story about two orphaned sisters trying to find their place in the world. (BORING!)

Speaking as a woman -- I watch a lot of Lifetime, just recreationally. Almost all those made-for-TV Women in Peril stories are written by men. The only places I consistently see women's names on the screen are on "Grey's Anatomy" and re-runs of a few sitcoms like "What I Like About You".

At 11:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


What were the differences between female-written romantic comedies and male-written ones?

At 11:15 AM, Anonymous treekiller said...

A brilliant screenwriter once theorized (Terry Rossio in one of his columns, if you must know) that it might be due to the high risk/high reward nature of pursuing a screenwriting career.

Guys can fare a few years longer eating Top Ramen, building makeshift furniture out of scrap wood, and wearing underwear with holes. Years that are crucial to make-or-break success, years that could very well be a waste of time.

At 11:16 AM, Anonymous kristen said...

P.S. in response to Kenneth's comment -- at the risk of generalizing here -- collecting data is a very male-driven response, don't you think? Like collecting baseball cards and player stats. Just because women don't follow every detail of the behind-the-scenes on others' films doesn't mean they don't appreciate, understand or even have mastery of writing or filmmaking.

At 11:20 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Peter --

You are right. It's usually pretty easy to tell.

One reason (and it might also be a reason for the bias) is that the main characters of screenplays tend to match the sex of the writer. Even romantic comedies with male and female leads usually lean toward one or the other, and it's usually the same sex as the writer.

Because movies tend to have male leads, this probably just feeds the bias.

Oddly, my best three scripts all have female leads. I'm not sure what that says about me.

At 11:21 AM, Anonymous Erik Hustad said...

I'm really fond of Kasi Lemmons, even though she really only has one major writing credit to her name so far. (Her new film isn't out yet so I'm not counting it.) I agree with Roger Ebert that "Eve's Bayou" was the best film of 1997.

At 11:21 AM, Blogger Martine said...

Yes, Scott, it is indeed frustrating to rarely find women's names in favorite directors or favorite writers lists. But it's not surprising.

I've taken on jobs on films that I wasn't too excited about just so that I could prove that I (a woman) was able to write in that specific genre (and to make ends meet, of course). I've had producers tell me that I write "like a guy" and frankly, I don't know how to feel about that one, even though I know it was meant as a compliment!

I don't buy into the "film industry appeals more to the male psyche" theory. I know more women film geeks than men and both film schools I attented (for undergrad and grad school) had more female students than male. So why is this reality not reflected in the film business?

The film industry has been a male dominated field for a long time and most men like to work with men (for a lot of reasons I won't get into right now). So when they need a writer for a project, they spontaneously call up a guy. I know that's how it works here in Canada where a lot of the work is commissioned, generated either by producers or directors. All the female directors I know write their own material. (There are a lot more women in the tv industry though, at least in Quebec.)

Also, a screenwriting career takes a long time to get established. A lot of women end up in relationships, get married and have kids. Most women are still the ones staying at home with the children while their partner works. Writing and raising kids at the same time is not impossible but it's damn hard, especially if you are doing most of the work. That means a lot of women are out of the market for a long time and just never manage to get back in.

At 11:43 AM, Blogger Dave said...

Hopefully, I won't knack anybody off for my comments...

1) I think that women haven't been in the "working" force as long as men. Thus, they're still reaching out to positions previously unattained. It doesn't happen overnight.

2) I agree with Martine when she talks about life outside work. In other words, priorities. I believe man are typically more career driven than women - if nothing else - out of expectations. This, too, is changing though.

3) Why does everything have to be equally divided. I know there are tales of ill treatment towards women, but, honestly, everybody gets them. It all depends on who you're dealing with specifically as to how you're treated.

I've belonged to a screenwriting group for over 10 years and the majority of writers have all be women. With few exceptions, the scripts that are written are small. They don't really cater to the Hollywood desire for high concept.

With that said, you can already see that women are becomming more interested in a wide variety of work positions within the film industry. Acresses, producers, directors, execs, writers, etc.

Without looking back, I'd wager that the majority of those comments listed male writers for a couple reasons:

a) Typically, men watch and write movies with themes/subjects that appeal more to them than women

b) I'd bet that most, if not all, of the comments were by men.

Lastly, (yes, I'll shut up) with few exceptions (Nora Ephron sticks out), men seem to be more prolific with their writing. They amass enough films for you to follow their careers. For whatever reason, that's harder to find in women writers.

At 11:47 AM, Anonymous Amy F. said...

Thank you Scott!!
I appreciate both the shout-out, and that you dedicated a post to the relative lack of female screenwriters.

I don't necessarily agree with Kenneth either, that screenwriting appeals more to men than women. I've taken many a screenwriting class in my day, and the male/female attendance is usually pretty equal. As a matter of fact, I'm currently in a screenwriting group that's all women.

I hear everyone else's comments about the screenwriting life possibly being harder for women because of making time for it, uprooting families, and etc. I think that's definitely a good point, but I don't think it tells the whole story.

I have a slightly different theory.

When I read pages or hear ideas of (most, but not all) of the other women screenwriters I know, I usually can't help but think, "soft, soft, soft." Not that soft is a bad thing, it's just not what sells screenplays.

I think that, as women, we get so many messages not to make waves, create or escalate conflicts, and just generally make nice to people, that it can be hard to make our (totally made up, of course) characters do it, too. And lack of conflict, risks, stakes, make for a softer script.

I know that I tend to love my characters so much that I don't want to put them in jeopardy. I just have no instinctive desire to give them a hard time, because why would I do that to people I care about?

Conversely, now I know that if I'm writing a script and the situation I've created gets me really stressed out to the point where I almost hate writing it and have to type while wincing and averting my eyes from the keyboard, then I'm probably onto something good.

I've also been told that I "write like a boy," and I take it as a substantial, if unfortunate, compliment.

I'd be interested to hear if other women writers feel this way. Do you hear your work is 'soft' a lot? Do you find yourselves instinctively avoiding conflict and trouble for your characters?

It might be an interesting writing exercise to get-from a male writer-an assignment that puts a female character in a LOT of trouble, and one where she can't be rescued, she has to find her own way out. And if she has to be a royal bitch to do it, so be it.

PS-thanks for the rec, m bathellor. I'll check that book out.

At 11:58 AM, Blogger Julie O. said...

This is something I worried a bit about before I got my foot in the door. I don't give it any thought now because I don't feel I've been treated any differently because I'm a woman -- I'm pretty sure I've been extended the same courtesies and bullshit a male writer would've in my place.

As for the scarcity of female screenwriters, I agree with Terry -- most women's life plans don't make room for the Ramen Noodle Years.

Fwiw, I've also been told, with regard to one of my scripts, that I write like a guy. (shrug) Take or leave that. However the compliment I'll cherish for years was when a guy reader told me I have a preternatural understanding of the male psyche.

At 12:04 PM, Blogger Eric said...

A lot of good points, and the central issue really is practically.

Why aren't there more female cinematographers? Probably the same reason; tne necessary dedication and marketing of yourself to producers.

Women do desire personal lives while men are willing to have a relationship with the keyboard.

At least the keyboard won't tell them how to live their lives!!! hahahaha

Opps. Did I pull a Mel Gibson there?? I'm sorry, I deeply regret anyone I have offended.

Please let me back into Hollywood.

Oh yeah, I was never there.


At 12:22 PM, Anonymous Amy F. said...

The more I think about it, the more I'm not so sure I buy the "uprooting the family, bigger commitment" argument. After all, there are a TON of aspiring women actors, and committing to that career takes the same amount of ramen-eating, studio-living, holes-in-the-underwear sacrifice years, doesn't it?

At 12:24 PM, Anonymous kristen said...

I echo some of the other comments -- I've taken 2 writing classes in L.A., at UCLA. The sitcom class was about 2/3 women. The screenwriting class was about 60/40 in favor of women. Then again, all that might say is that women are more likely to pursue training and validation before diving right into something new. Who knows.

I think the only way to find out why women writers/directors aren't "prolific" is to find out what they're doing now. It could be they're script doctoring... not necessarily tending to families.

As for the "soft" vs. "I write like a boy" stuff... there may be something to that. I wouldn't be surprised to see the edgier writing rising to the top, given that movies/TV are still a male-driven world.

At 1:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kathryn Bigelow...Amy Heckerling...
Tina Fey...should I continue...?

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Well, being that those three writers only have two film writing credits combined in the past 10 years (Mean Girls and Loser), yeah, you may need to continue.

At 2:41 PM, Anonymous Eddie said...

Call me lazy for not researching before commenting, but it may just be that most of the producers, directors, decision makers are men. If there is, as suggested, a stylistic difference between men and women's scripts, the men may just by their nature be drawn to the men's work.

Give it some time and let some Nora Ephron and Callie Khouri types break into producing and things may change.

I don't believe any intentional slight is in play, and hope that decision makers are looking for the BEST PRODUCT, be it a woman or man.

At 4:09 PM, Anonymous Peter said...

I wasn't even talking about cases where the protagonist was male or female as a way of telling apart writing styles. Though that often is a big clue, there were other tell-tale signs which are too vague to try to describe.

It's just an impression and a very stereotypical one at that, having to do with tone, sense of humor and the general sensibility of the script. There seems to be a "male" voice for writing rom coms and a "female" one, no matter who the lead character is.

I think some of the other comments here are pretty narrow-minded and devoid of insight.

So there aren't any female screenwriters because they're too busy clipping coupons and planning weddings and driving to soccer practice and as such aren't willing to eat ramen in a studio apartment for five years instead?

Come on, gang, we can surely do better than that...?

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Dave said...

One of the women I've known for over 10 years in our writing group had a severe issue with placing characters in jeopardy. It's taken her about 7 years to be able to do it.

There's another woman writer who wrote a story similar to Emily Rose, before that came out, as well as a couple of great thrillers; just no sale - some options though.

I have no idea what writing like a girl would be - good writing is good writing.

As for female actors, we all know the popular stereotype of sleeping with somebody to get a part. But why would anybody sleep with somebody to get a read? People do have the power to get you a part, but not buy your script.

Even then, the writer's are at the bottom of the pile. Doesn't seem worth the cost of sex considering what you get in return.

I believe there are a lot of women in the production side of the house. Either as wives working with their husbands or the more powerful actresses putting their own projects into production.

At 4:21 PM, Blogger EllieTee said...

Wow, read the blog and the so-far-left 21 comments, and this is really something to think on. I'm sure there are fewer of us out there for a *mix* of reasons posted above. I think I tend to agree with many women feeling the need to go for relationships and kids, and therefore maybe don't end up taking as many risks. (Trust me, I'm fighting with this one first hand as I struggle with my inner workings in my plan to relocate shortly from Toronto to LA...advice would be MUCH obliged, btw.) As well, most of what I've read that's been borne of the estrogen squad IS softer, now that I think about it. I've also been told I write like a boy, and my first ever main character was a guy in his 20s (I'm 32, and decidedly boob'd).

Now I don't know what you'll all think about this, but I very much like to subscribe to the belief that THE BEST WORK GETS OPTIONED. Though quite girlie and proud of it, I'm probably the worst feminist in the world (unless, like a few male members of my family, you insinuate my degrees are worthless and I that should be finding a husband to cook for; because then, f**k you). I never want or need to know the feeling of getting a job JUST out of some company's duty to "Female Affirmative Action". Plenty of girls write great guy stuff, and plenty of guys write great girl stuff. I need to be able to trust that TPTB know the difference between sweet and swill, and then choose to work with people with promise. So does that mean that guys just write better, or that girls are have the misfortune of being overlooked in their writing? *shrugs* I just don't know...

Canucklingly yours,

At 5:05 PM, Anonymous kristen said...

I think in the end it just boils down to the fact that, like someone else suggested, this is a traditionally male-dominated field that women are still infiltrating.

I don't understand this aversion to putting characters in jeapordy. I don't think one can generalize about this and say that it's a female thing. That's like saying "an aversion to good storytelling" is a female thing, and if you go there, then I'm going to have to stomp on you. However sweetly.

Guys don't write better. Good writers and bad writers alike come in both genders.

Another important distinction to make, I think, is not so much between "men's writing style" and "women's writing style" but between "risk averse storytelling" and "risk-taking storytelling". Studios like to stick with what they know. It's possible more women may be writing more dramas and romantic comedies, but it's also common knowledge (or anecdotal knowledge, anyway) that horror movies, action films and buddy comedies are easier to sell and tend to make more money.

Those are traditionally the sorts of things guys like to write, and if that's what the market is demanding right now, then that's what will be optioned and what will get made. If women start writing more of those then maybe things will even out.

At 5:52 PM, Anonymous Amy F. said...

Peter, I agree with you that the "clipping coupons" argument is a little too simplistic, even if it does have some legitimacy.

Lana, yes of course the best work gets optioned, no matter who wrote it. The question is, though, what's defined as "the best work." It's not a totally objective call, it's about who's making the decisions and what the market will bear. Which brings me back to my original question (or at least I think it was my original question). Is the "best work" these days defined as the highest-concepts, the biggest budgets, etc? Or is it work that simply has an "edge" that's not found in the writing of most women, for whatever reason?

Julie O, I've also found, now that I have the tiniest toe in the door, that I've been treated very fairly and worked with very cool people of both genders. My question is more about why, if aspiring writer gener ratio is about even, the success rate seems so skewed.

Scott, when you read scripts do you find that the majority of them are by men? And do you find the problems with the women's scripts to have any commonalities of being too soft, or do they all have unique problems? I'd be interested in your opinion, as a professional type.

ETA: cross posted with kristen. still thinking about that one.

At 6:08 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I would say that though the majority are by men, it's not necessarily a huge majority. Though I read for certain companies (like Disney Channel) where it's more likely to be by a female writer, probably because of the teen subject matter.

Genre scripts (horror, action) definitely do skew heavily male, though.

At 8:44 PM, Anonymous trawsars said...

Here's a thought that I haven't seen anyone mention yet: It all starts from the consumer. If a male-female couple want to go to the movies, the decision of what movie to watch is almost always dominated by the man. There are far more women who'll go to a so-called guy movie with their boyfriends/husbands than there are men who'll watch a so-called chick flick with their girlfriends/wives.

This influences everything in the movie business - there are more men writing movies, making movies, making decisions on which movies to make, etc. than women.

I wonder though, why women don't play this game to their advantage. Why *is* it that women screenwriters mostly write small character dramas? In my experience, women audiences love a good action-adventure flick as much as men - they don't have to be dragged into the theatre for something like MI:3, I don't think. And the best genre films are those that have strong character relationships at their core.

So why don't women write more action, scifi/fantasy, or horror? As a fan of all three, I should think a female sensibility to these genres would make for a better movie.

At 9:12 PM, Blogger Julie O. said...

why, if aspiring writer gener ratio is about even, the success rate seems so skewed.

'Cause living in the town where you grew up, writing screenplays when you're not at your day job -- no matter how very committed or talented a writer you may be -- makes "making it" a lot more difficult than cutting loose, moving to LA to share 800 sq. ft. with two roommates, waiting for the day Jerry Bruckheimer sits in your section at Denny's.

Add a biological clock to the mix and now you're living on the Zoetrope boards, recycling pearls of wisdom to those who bask in the glory of your Monthly Top Three-placing spec.

(All that said, I'm married w/kids and live nowhere near LA.)

At 10:01 PM, Anonymous Chris Soth said...

without wanting to knack anyone off either (new fave from above).

It's not RIGHT. There should be more women screenwriters. But I don't think it's sexism that's behind it. Oh, battery dying...back later, or on my blog...

At 11:41 PM, Blogger Chloe said...

Once upon a time the publishing industry was entirely male. Now it's run by women, employs mostly women, and women sell more books.

As for the movies, women are flocking to horror movies in record numbers. Women already watch more TV. As young men stick with youtube and video games, all those women in your screenwriting classes will keep writing for an increasingly female audience.

Change is coming!

At 11:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not sure if it's relevant or not, but I wanted to point out that trawsars' claim that men make the movie going decisions in couples is not born out by recent studies.

In more than one poll, the female half of the couple emerged as the one who holds the deciding power for which movie to go see. Combine this with recent stories in the New York Times and elsewhere about how women viewers are even driving the new horror renaissance and I think this discounts the notion that men dominate the movie viewership. It's been true for many decades that more women than men go to the movies, period - and now, in the era of new media that keeps young men at home - the difference statistcally exceeds the male/female population difference overall.

At 12:45 AM, Blogger Optimistic_Reader said...

Scott - you posted recently about how few successful screenwriters are just screenwriters, not writer-directors or writer-producers and I wonder if that is not something that also impacts on the number of women screenwriters - screenwriting is something that can be done from home, away from L.A but directing or producing involves much more networking, longer hours away from home. Much harder to do that with a family.

The UK Film Council recently published a study into the lack of women screenwriters, with some surprising results - for example women over 35 now make up the majority of the cinema-going audience. The report is available here:
I have to admit, I haven't had a chance to read all of it yet, it's 124 pages and I'm bogged down with scripts! But there is an interview with screenwriter Olivia Hetreed, discussing the report here:

Also, thanks Maryan for recommending that book.

At 5:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love writing action scenes and I hate writing action scenes at the same time - not because I've put my mc in jeopardy, but because I'm driving myself bananas with making sure I've got it right. (would the car actually do this...kind of thing)

And it depends on the age of the character if I (willing or not) tend to put that person in a mother it is hard to put kids in a bad place...but as a former kid, I have little doubt they can get out of it or survive it...Mommy usually wins until the re-write, though.

I've started very late in my 'career' (such as it is), BUT, for example there's an opportunity for training with a current TV show and I'm not even going for it - because it would mean three months away from my family. And I ...can't do that. Not because of the kids, a little bit because of the difficulties it would give my husband, but mostly because - I just can't do that. I can't justify it TO ME. (I haven't even told my husband the chance is out there and that it's paid..low pay, but there is money)

I know women who write soft stories and I know women who write kick-ass stories.

My opinion, for what it's worth...we'll catch up. When we're ready.


At 6:15 AM, Blogger said...

I'm a chick. And it does worry me. Especially since some of the things I write about are geared towards men. I love action, and espionage and war stories... as much as I like some romantic comedy.

Which is why I have a pen name to send out my more manly stuff. Vic Nye. That way, upon first read, they'll hopefully think it's a guy who wrote it... ;)

As to what Kenneth Molen says about men knowing more about directors/cinemtographers, etc. He'd be wrong. Come into my household. You'd think all us ladies here were actual hollywood movers and shakers. It's all we talk about from hollywood gossip, to what the box office is doing, etc.

It all depends on who you surround yourself with. Are you just hanging with your film maker buddies who are guys, are you finding the women who do know as much (maybe more :) ) than you do about film?

One of the screenwriting magazines had a great article about this a year or so ago... I'll see if I can dig it up. Apparently, if memory serves, there were more female screenwriters back in the beginning of filmdom than today... which is really odd.

At 6:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Tell your husband about the writing opportunity you've been offered and discuss the risks/rewards as a couple. I'd hate for you to regret missing out on this opportunity because you never told anyone about it.

At 8:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Mary Harron did a brilliant job on the American Psycho screenplay

At 9:25 AM, Anonymous kristen said...

I agree that change is coming. I know several women who write and watch "harder" stuff, myself included.

I don't know any couples where the guy makes the decision about which movie to go see. It's usually a consensus.

I think the New York Times reference anonymous makes is interesting. In my circle of friends, there are more women interested in horror films than men. I'm wondering if this is because traditionally, horror films seem to be driven by heroines rather than heroes.

At 11:21 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I just checked the movies in theaters now, and the numbers are even more troubling.

If you look at the top 30 movies from last weekend (and toss out the two documentaries that didn't have writers listed), the result is 28 movies with a total of 51 writers given screenplay credit.

47 men, and 4 women.

The only screenplay with sole credit going to a woman is (not entirely surprisingly, unfortunately) "The Devil Wears Prada", which was written by Aline Brosh McKenna. At least it has made a lot of money.

Otherwise, the only female screenwriters were one of at least 3 writers named on films.

Pamela Pettler gets one of three credits on "Monster House".

Amy Sedaris gets one of four credits on "Strangers With Candy" (which was the #29 movie).

Jerusha Hess gets one of 3 credits on "Nacho Libre" (which was #30).

And that's it. Granted, it is summer (whatever that means), but yeesh.

There was a female presence on some of the other movies. "John Tucker Must Die" was directed by a woman (Betty Thomas), while "Little Miss Sunshine" was co-directed by a woman (Valerie Faris).

This weekend, we get The Descent, The Night Listener, Talladega Nights and Barnyard. 7 writing credits, all men.

At 11:29 AM, Blogger Emily Blake said...

I love action flicks. I almost never watch romantic comedies, and my DVD shelf is mostly superhero movies and sci-fi. Every single man who comes over to my apartment expresses shock and amazement that I don't have any romantic comedies, or a lot of weepy dramas.

Now I love Waiting to Exhale as much as the next gal, but I would never write something that devoid of fistfights and cool acrobatic manouevers.

Most of my protagonists are female, though, and I feel that's one thing missing from the genre. With a very small amount of exceptions, action flicks with female leads tend to suck. I plan to remedy that situation.

At 11:33 AM, Anonymous kristen said...

Well... seems like the next step is to call the WGA and see how many women screenwriters are listed vs. men. Then we'd have a better sense of whether women are getting hired on jobs often enough... or if there simply aren't as many women getting into the biz (and the Guild) as men.

At 12:43 PM, Blogger Scribe LA said...

I liked "Dream for an Insomniac," written by tiffanie DeBartolo and "Reality Bite" by Helen Childress, though neither have more than their respective movies as credits on IMDb. Kathryn Bigelow ("pint Break") is a good one, but I didn't realize she was a writer, as she was the director on that one. I read "Lost in Translation" and was surprised that it was so short, about 80 pages. It was good, but c'mon, nepotism truly makes the world go 'round. Tina Fey is good, as is Amy Poehler. Alexa Junge ("Friends") has written some good tv, too.

At 2:36 PM, Anonymous Broad Humor said...

What's really interesting about a lot of these comments is they're still breaking down into those stereotype columns. Women tend to write soft, marginalization stories, can't take time away from the kids...

I'm half of a female writing partnership, and neither of us are married or have children, both are 30+, both of us have been told we "write like men". Maybe it's because we tend to write male protagonists, maybe because we write sci-fi/fantasy, and maybe just because even our rom-coms tend to be action oriented.

We both have felt we had to make sacrifices - like a personal life - because for us making it has been more important then settling down and having the 1.8 kids and the white picket fence. Somehow, it seems that men don't have to - or feel they have to - make that choice.

So, guys out there, have you felt pressure to stay foot loose and fancy free to get your career going?

At 3:40 PM, Anonymous Amy F said...

Nicole Holofcencer.

I can't believe it took me so long to think of that.

Also, I read through the WGA's list of 101 best screenplays ever, and I think there were only six women on it and of those, only two with sole screenplay credit. (Nora Ephron for When Harry Met Sally and Callie Khouri, of course).

I've been thinking a lot about some of the gender stereotypes that have come up here too (women too busy with the kids, family, etc to take the risk). And I wonder...

If we're talking about a hypothetical family-Mom/Dad/Kid, it seems people are saying that if Mom wants to be a screenwriter, chances are that she may take a few classes, have the best of intentions, but eventually be likely to give it up because of the pressures and demands of the family.

But, what if, in the same family, Dad wants to be a screenwriter? In our hypothetical and fairly stereotypical family, Dad's probably the main breadwinner. Does it follow that it's easier for him to say to mom/kid "Hey, I'm quitting my job, we're all moving to Los Angeles, and I'm going to make it big as a writer! Have some faith, people!" I just don't think that's any easier for a man to make that call than a woman. I think the pressure to keep the day job, support the family, would be equal to the pressure women felt. Guys, any opinions?

I'm sure that's why screenwriting and all super competitive/creative jobs like it are mostly the property of the young and single, or at least kidless.

I do think that there's a bigger reason that women don't sell more scripts, though I'm still trying to get to the bottom of it. I don't know if I ever will.

And I can't help but wonder what the demand is for good female screenwriters. Are we in a great position to break through, with our awesome, edgy-yet-perceptive-yet-action-packed scripts? Or are we fighting an even tougher battle in an already insanely competitive field?

At 4:23 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I think what they are saying is that the serious screenwriting path might be to eschew a life for a while, and just focus on writing.

When you fall into the marriage/kids thing, it tends to suck away all your time, male or female. Whether single guys are able to focus more on writing than single women is more up for debate.

I'm married (albeit childless), and I definitely have less time to write than if I were single. Not that I'm complaining.

At 5:06 PM, Blogger Ryan Rasmussen said...

Nicole, Amy F, et. al:

The challenge of breaking in is great no matter how a particular couple decides to divide the labor: maintaining a day job that covers the expenses (in order to avoid the two-income trap), rearing children (or in our case, rabbit and parakeet), and keeping up the house. Yeah, I feel the pressure.

There's a value lurking out there, however, which informs the original gender question: this idea of sacrifice, lack of balance. What are folks sacrificing? Or, how are they pursuing their screenwriting careers such that a "Ramen lifestyle" seems acceptable? And why is such a pursuit seen as more properly the province of men?

At 6:17 PM, Anonymous kristen said...

By the way, when I referenced "marginalization stories," I didn't mean that women prefer to write them. What I actually said was that it seems as if the IFP filmmaker's lab expects those kinds of stories from women. Likewise Sundance. So a lot of the women writers/directors who break through seem to do so with stories that have a certain small & personal feel to them. These stories are often workshopped by programs that seem to have a definite taste preference for things that are most decidly not action movies.

At 6:19 PM, Anonymous kristen said...

I meant, "decidedly".

So, the filter standing between a lot of women writers/directors and their projects is a selection committee that likes projects like "A Walk on the Moon" (very good) or "Girlfight".

At 6:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey guys,

In Australia, which has a depressingly smaller industry, most of the succesfully film makers are women - writing, directing.

As a guy, it seems skewed the other way here.

How odd. How bizarre!

At 9:07 PM, Blogger Scribe LA said...

Who's hooking me up with spell check for comments? I don't know what it is about comments on your blog, Scott, but I can only see my typos after I hit the publish button.

At 9:42 PM, Anonymous lmichele said...

Maybe the question should altered a tad: "why aren't there more female screenwriters...anymore?"

According to stats in an earlier McCreadie book (The Women Who Write the Movies), back in the heyday of silents, women scenario writers outnumbered men by a ratio of over 10 to 1. Women were major players in the screenwriting biz through the 40s, and they networked like crazy during these decades: women writers writing for women stars.

Would these screenwriters be on any "inspire me" lists? They're on mine. These women wrote scads - credited and uncredited. A few I can remember offhand...June Mathis (scenario writer: Ben-Hur, Four Riders of the Apocolypse, rewrite on Greed); Frances Goodrich (co-writer: It's a Wonderful Life, The Thin Man, Another Thin Man, Father of the Bride, etc); Vina Delmar (The Awful Truth); Frances Marion (Dinner at Eight, The Champ); Anita Loos (The Women), Mae West (writer, actress & censor outwitter!)

And women were key players in founding - and running (e.g. Mary McCall) - the Writers Guild.

So the real question for me is, what the hell happened to the female presence in Hollywood? How'd it slip away?

At 10:46 PM, Anonymous kristen said...

You bring up a great point. Surely someone's written a book about this decline in presence? If not, someone should.

At 6:33 AM, Blogger said...

Imichele... you're absolutely right. I can't seem to find the screenwriting magazine that had the article... but like I said early, back in the early days of filmdom... women had a strong presence... Was it because so many of our boys went to war in the 40's? It also seems to me that women back then felt more compelled to prove themselves to men as equals... where as today many women (not all) have forgotten what it was like to have to fight to get things as an equal.

At 8:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott -

Thanks. I did and we're looking into it.

Why do women feel compelled to sacrifice a possible career when children come along as opposed to men?

Well I can't answer for the guys, but as a woman - I may never, ever achieve success as a writer - but my children will be there regardless. It's my job, as a mother, to make sure they have the best chance I can give them. That doesn't mean money, per se, but my time and my attention is something that cannot be replaced by any amount of money or success. I'm the one who brought them into this world. I didn't have to. They didn't ask me to. I could find a good nanny...but then why did I bother having them?

I knew once I had a child that my life, my desires, my goals had been superceded by my new responsibility.

My eldest is 24 and I've been writing for four years.

Some women can delegate that responsibility. I'm not one of them.

I think it's up to the individual. My husband works from home - because he enjoys being there for our boys. Our cars are all second-hand and we don't have much - but we have two good boys (2nd marriage) between us and ...

...they're worth it. Sometimes it's hard - there are no sick days, no vacations...just having lunch out is a big treat. But it's what we choose because of who we are.

I can live with that.

Doesn't mean I'm not going to give it the best go I just means that I can't go the Ramen route.

Was it Buddha said "There are many paths to enlightenment?" In my case - there are many paths to employment.



At 8:57 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Maybe screenwriting for men is compensating for the fact that we can't give birth -- this is the way we can bring something new into the world. Our little babies.

Of course, this doesn't explain why women still wouldn't be kicking our asses at it.

At 9:15 AM, Anonymous kristen said...

The babies vs. creative fulfillment thing -- putting them on opposite ends of the spectrum and making them seem mutually exclusive -- makes me uncomfortable.

Let's not forget there are lots of very successful novelists who are also mothers.

At 9:21 AM, Anonymous kristen said...

And yeah, I second the idea that the Rosie the Riveter scenario probably had a lot to do with why the female presence diminished in Hollywood after the 40s.

At 9:49 AM, Anonymous Amy f. said...

I suspect that men became more dominant in the screenwriting business when it became apparant that there was plenty of money to be made from it.

At 11:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a question I'd like answered. Why do female directors seem to disappear after one film or take so long between projects. Kimberly Peirce, for example, hasn't done anything since Boys don't cry ten years ago. Patricia Rozema hasn't followed up Mansfield Park. Amy Heckerling and Martha Coolidge haven't been prolific.

At 11:15 AM, Anonymous kristen said...

Sometimes they go into TV for a while. I had noticed that Rose Troche (Go Fish, The Safety of Objects) is running "The L Word".

At 11:17 AM, Anonymous kristen said...

Martha Coolidge has a ton of credits. She's actually working a lot. It's just not all films.

At 1:28 PM, Blogger citygirl said...

As an aspiring screenwriter who's female AND African American I can honestly say I don't let the fact that white men still hold most of the power positions affect me. Mostly this is because it's that way in many areas of American life, if it freaked me out I'd never get anything accomplished!

I write what I want to, regardless of what people may expect from me because of my gender or race. I figure that's the only way to have any integrity at all in an industry where it seems easy to lose it.

And, you did leave some women out. My faves: Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball), Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou), Nicole Holofcener (Friends with Money), Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark), Shonda Rhimes (Introducing Dorothy Dandridge), Elaine May (The Birdcage), Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (Howard's End), and Leigh Brackett (The Empire Strikes Back).

Everybody should look these women up and see some of their films if they can. And if you look around you'll actually see that women used to be quite active as writers in film, especially during the early years of the industry. We can get to a place again where the business accepts that women can write anything, just like men.

At 2:33 PM, Anonymous anon said...

A recent news report stated that women have infiltrated(CNN's word, not mine) the news media, and outnumber men 2 to 1 in new hires.

On the loading dock where I work, men outnumber women 12 to 1.

At the salon I visit, women outnumber men 6 to 1.

Twenty years ago, the concept of a stay-at-home dad would've been ludicrous.

My trash collector is a man.

My mail courier is a woman.

There are more black players on my favorite basketball team than other races.

My favorite hockey team doesn't have a black or Hispanic player.

When I play golf, my wife gets to hit from the red tees.

Okay, forgive me for being silly, and I know all of these could be broken down and discussed at length... I guess I'm just saying that maybe we're overlooking something very simple. The numbers might just be a little more random than we are.

Or, it could be that women just have more common sense than men. We all know the odds, and that everyone here is a bit of quirky dreamer for even pondering this business. Men may be more likely to behave, well, like men, while women may choose to do the smart or mature thing, and put their efforts into a more reasonable venture.

At 6:22 PM, Anonymous chris soth said...

Argh. Back -- typed more but I think it was deleted or something, or my computer died and deleted it -- if the point's been made above, sorry for being repetitive:

It's more about money than sexism. The bulk of movie dollars are spent by men, so the male audience's taste dominates (emily aside). The taste of the male writer tends to guide him to write those stories more often too, so his movies get made more often and he gets more credits. Vote with you dollars women, and this will ultimately lead to more woment getting credits.

When movies were a women's medium and Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford were the biggest stars, many of the most produced screenwriters were women too.

It's not good or right, but it's not sexism...mainly, imo.

At 9:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, what do you know, the WGA has a handy graph on this very subject.

At 10:28 PM, Anonymous Ozark said...

Huh, I didn't know that. Myself, I would love to become a screenwriter someday, though I am female - granted, one of the less feminine you're apt to meet. As always, I think societal expectations play a major factor here. Women are expected to be more concerned with prettiness and romance, and since most people like to fit in, many are. But not this ol' nerd... nope. Still, I'm not a movie geek. I can't tell you what year Casablanca was made or anything like that - hell, never even seen Casablanca. But I love the movies I love and I love them hard, and I admire them and aspire to someday write screenplays for movies as great.

At 9:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Know this is a late addition but have been looking into this and stumbled across your blog.

The top sixteen highest paydays for a screenplay went to men-- not surprising because of the high incidence of male writers.

Do you know if there is a difference in what women get paid for writing a screenplay versus what men do?

Is it possible to compare paydays for comparable scripts to see if there is a bias-- how to judge if scripts are comparable?

What is the highest payday for a single script written by a woman and who was she?

So many questions--


At 4:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was a kid, people used to say the same things about why there were not more female doctors. Yet, by the time I entered med school nearly 1/2 of the doctors were women and they were all "kick-ass" and "top of the line".
Sure, a few chose to work only part-time in order to raise their families and many chose "chick-friendly" specialties like pediatrics and OB/GYN but they remained second to none in their profession.
However, how did the numbers of females increase so quickly in medicine? The stakeholders (medical school's selection committees, hospitals, male doctors and even patients) began to believe that women can do the same job and that they would still benefit (profit or get/stay well). Unfortunately, the powers that be in Hollywood do not believe that women can write for their key demographics (pimply male teens 16 to horny immature 24 year olds). Still, I'm out here ready to give it a try.

At 11:23 AM, Blogger starrette said...

I was just looking for support groups and such (grin), and came across your blog - I am a female screenwriter, currently working on my first (very indy) film, and I don't write soft stuff at all (it's a slasher/serial killer piece), which is probably why it was so hard to get taken seriously - you think the industry "in general" has few women, take a look at the horror genre!!! I'm starting a blog myself to catalog my trip through the process, because it's daunting as heck.


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