Monday, December 22, 2008

Tips for Screenwriters - Off with Their Heads!

Where does your script REALLY start? More than 50% of the scripts I read every year have opening scenes that are not nearly as interesting as the rest of the story. Not badly written, not meaningless, but tiresome and overdrawn. I get a lot of background I don’t care about. I want to get on to what happens to whom. I swear I could toss out the first fifteen pages of most scripts, and no one other than the author would miss them.

So why don’t good writers see this obvious failing? I think this is because the writer’s pleasure is as vastly different from the reader’s pleasure as a mother’s love is from everyone else’s. How many of us have seen photo after photo of a child or pet when, for us, one or two would do? Well, as a writer, when you read your story, every beat that is adorable to you may not be of equal interest to your reader. You have to teach your prose manners.

You, the writer, are forming a newborn world in your imagination. You have to write your way into that world, bring the people and places to life in your mind. Once the story has legs and “has learned to walk” so to speak, you go about challenging your characters and changing their world. So. Go to your script and find the first real challenge or change for your main character and check your pages. Are you only a few pages in or are you 10-15 pages in? Remember, you are writing a movie, where backstory can be dispatched before the opening credits have finished rolling. Get the story going.

Here’s an experiment. Give someone your script minus the first fifteen pages. Then invite them to ask questions about things they didn’t understand or missed because the beginning wasn’t there. If you don’t have anyone close who has not already read the story, do it yourself. Mentally toss out what you know about the beginning. Image your movie opening with a scene about fifteen pages in and read through the screenplay. Was anything that was missing crucial, vital, absolutely essential to getting the plot or character? Put that stuff back, but try to do it later as the story unfolds, not at the beginning unless you absolutely have to. Do not put anything back in just because you love it, or, if you cannot do without, sum it up in your opening credits and get on with the story.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Women Write - Then What?

News from the world of scriptwriting competitions is not good for the gals. The 2008 Movie Script Contest announced its winners, and out of the 24 finalists, three were women. And of the winners - zip, nada, zero. Out of eight comedy screenplay finalists, the only woman was at the bottom with an honorable mention.

Last summer I wrote a long post about some of the reasons for this gender bias by people of presumably good will, but understanding does nothing to further our interests. Pointing out the bias, protesting against it, fighting it at each turn uses a lot of energy and does not seem to produce results.

As someone who reads a ton of scripts every year, I can tell you women write great and funny films. True, I am female, but again, the experiences I have had in this festival show me that guys like the kind of comedy women write when they see it on screen. In general (with all the pitfalls of generalizations) women structure their comedies differently, both in the relationship of the world to the characters and in the manner of the climactic payoff(s). But I have had Marines and ex-cops who knew no one associated with the films walk out of screenings telling me that this festival was the most fun they have had at an indie screening. Anecdotal - yes. I would also say emblematic, symptomatic of a larger appeal that these women's work possesses if only they could reach a larger audience.

I want to find outlets for our films outside the mainstream. If we can build an audience and a name for women's comedy, the establishment will come to us. So how do we do that. Any ideas?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Satirizing Sarah

If you care about women's humor, as I do, Sarah Palin's arrival on the national political scene has been a boon. One of the Broads from this year's festival, Susan Deming, has made a musical McCain/Palin musical spoof, "I Picked a Girl," that very definitely hits the funny bone. Susan's "singing Sarah" is a hoot. Watch it here. Susan has been doing political parodies of Hillary as well, and all I can do is salute.

And she's not the only one. Other Palin spoofs are here and here to mention a couple.

More women's satire, that's what I want to see. Maybe we should do a political blog retrospective next year.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Tamar Halpern's "Your Name Here" August 16

A bunch of us broads caught a screening of Tamar Halpern's (BH 2007 Best Feature) sweet and fun feature, Your Name Here when it screened at Dances With Films.

I don't want to call Your Name Here a mockumentary because the word implies a certain attitude of superiority on the part of the filmmaker toward her subject. This is full of affection and the laughter is based in love. It follows two 14-year-old kids who play and write music and try to start a band in Silverlake. So much of the story rings so ridiculously true, in part because of how the two lead actors, who were 14 at the time, friends and musicians, improvised scenes speaking and acting the way 14-year-olds do. An adult could never write it so well. The film is a blast for adults and for kids.

Here' s the logline...

The story of two kids who want to start a band, Your Name Here is about to be endorsed by KidsFirst, an organization dedicated to quality children's programming. Shot in Silverlake, wholly improvised, and driven by original music written by the stars, Jordan and Michael, Your Name Here is a 'Once' for kids.

Trailer:, click Your Name Here
More clips, photos, and general shenanigans:
And of course, Your Name Here is now on Facebook
There's another screening here in LA on Aug 16th, Saturday, 4pm, Laemmle Grand Downtown, as part of the Downtown Film Fest. Don't miss it.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Broads Blogging Workshop

A bunch of broads came over and we went set up accounts to blog and twitter together as a way of building our profiles. It was exciting in the same way that the big BlogHer conference had been for me because the small number was more than compensated by the fact that these were my group of gals. So now, if you go to Twitter, you can read the twitter streams not only for me at, but for Donna Wheeler , Suzi Iselt, and Michelle Clay.

So if you didn't or couldn't come, here's what you need to do. Create a blog. If you're an absolute beginner, here's how to do it in simple steps.

Blogger can set you up in a few easy steps. Yes, you'll get frustrated when you get errors because your username or blog name are taken, or you didn't check a box, or you couldn't read the insanely difficult security question that keeps bots from creating blogs. But it's only three pages of that, and you're in. Write something and hit "PUBLISH POST" (SAVE NOW merely creates a draft - it won't show up on your blog). Click the "VIEW BLOG' button when it finishes publishing and bookmark the page so that tomorrow you won't wonder how to find your blog again. Next, go to the "dashboard" (the link is on the top right) and create your profile and save.

You're almost done. Next to your blog listing is a link to "settings." Clicking that will bring up a page where you can give a general description of the blog. Save it. Then go to the "comments" link and scroll down to control comments. For example, do you want to restrict comments to bloggers or let anyone comment? You have to change the setting to make commenting open to everyone. You should leave verification on so that you don't get spam comments. And you might want to have Blogger send you an email whenever you get a comment by putting your email in the box at the bottom. Click save and you're done.

If you're feeling brave, you can go to the "template" link and play with the layout of your page. Or you can just click over to your blog and admire it. Then send a Twitter post - called a "tweet" - that you are up and running.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Invisible (wo)Man in Hollywood - The Female Screenwriter

Who knew the word 'writer' was a gendered noun like 'steward,' 'king,' and 'stallion.' Got this insight via a righteous rant called The Evolution of the "Male" Hollywood Writer by Melissa Silverstein of the Women & Hollywood blog.

We've talked a lot in the festival about this. The festival was started because of the comedy competition featured in the Writer's Guild magazine four years ago. Not one of the finalists was a woman. Since submissions were blind, many felt the contest was objective proof that women just don't write the stuff of movies. Many people, men and women, feel that women writers should stop whining and start writing better. Period.

After three years of reading scripts and watching films by women, I see the problem as one of fundamental worldview divergence. Bear with me as I take jump back in time to explain.

I remember the fuss a number of years back about the Kohlberg Scale which rated moral development in humans. Kohlberg happened to find men's moral development spread out along a nice sigma curve and women more or less clustered in the middle. At the time, the conclusions drawn suggested that while women as a group were more 'good,' they lacked the qualities to rise to moral greatness. Here we see the same pattern of thinking that dominates this business, where many of the movers and shakers regret the 'reality' that women's scripts, while not bad, are not quite good enough to warrant the money and effort that goes into a studio movie.

Kohlberg's Scale used a hierarchy of values derived from all male subjects. One research assistant at the time, Carol Gilligan, saw that when women were included, they struggled against the frame of responses written into the test. Later, her own research into the field suggested that women operated on a different scale, one based on maintaining a web or relationships rather than an ladder of individual attainment. On her scale, men came up mostly in the middle - the majority being neither terrible nor great.

Imagine two axes, like a plus sign (+). Viewed from the side, the vertical line shows its full length but the horizontal one appears as just a blob in the middle. Shift perspective and look down from the top, and suddenly the horizontal has a full range and the vertical is stuck at the middle.

My experience with the festival and reading all the scripts that come through illustrate this difference perfectly. I've been reading to find out what women write and not looking to see how well they fit in the Hollywood paradigm. In general, the scripts I get from women tend create a world into which they put a character or characters and then proceed to create the humor out of what the world elicits from its denizens. The end result is a shift in the "fittingness" of the people into the world. This is contrary to the entertainment biz wisdom of making a script about one character's journey, building the world around the character so as to maximize the humor/drama/suspense/you-name-the-genre, and shattering the world if need be to deliver the character to his destiny. This is very broad, but bear with me a bit more.

These women's scripts do not deliver the same monumental climax and a cigarette that the men's scripts do, hence their perceived weakness. And while there is nothing wrong with the way men climax, the world is poorer when women's climaxes are not also a part of the public narrative. From watching audiences male and female who are watching the films in our festival that have been made from women's stories. it turns out that the guys enjoy the multi-climax experience enthusiastically. It is not that the typical Hollywood structure is wrong; it has been polished and perfected for almost a hundred years. But it is a bit like a country with only one political party. It cannot help but degenerate. Room must be made for alternate narratives to be shown and polished so all films can benefit.

How do we do that? That is the question and challenge of the Broad Humor Film Festival, of this blog, and of my life.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Attacking the BlogHer Conference and Women's Writing

There have been several articles written attacking the BlogHer conference that I went to last weekend for being so...well... woman-centered. One guy complained that no guys were on any of the panels. And a woman today found the idea of lactation lounges and child care and Sesame Street being there as proof that women aren't worthy of being taken seriously. (Katherine Berry's "Sisters: The Path to Punditry Isn't Paved With Baby Powder") Her closing riposte was that the glass ceiling in blogging is merely a question of quality and not gender:
It’s not because you’re a female. It’s because you bore them.

I couln't help it. I posted a long comment on her article. I thought you might like to read it as it applies equally to the film biz and goes to the heart of why I started Broad Humor three and a half years ago.

Back in the 70's I remember that many women agreed with the cultural canon that women's writing was not "real" writing, being personal and so not universal. The arguments made here are the same ones I read thirty years ago.

Back then, some women, Aunt Hen-like (as opposed to Uncle Tom), did quite well, for girls, writing in the same vein as men. And a few Olympian talents shone through gender biases effortlessly. But what about the rest of us who are neither male-identified nor Nobel quality? Do we "stifle ourselves" as Archie Bunker was wont to shout?

When a whole segment of the population, passionate, educated and talented, finds its writing disparaged and denied a place at the publishing table because it carries no interest for the 49% of the population who happen to be male (a minority if you do the math) this lack impoverishes us all culturally. Book publishing has caught up with the reality of women's writing and is making a profit from it. But the blogosphere has no such incentive to change. Fellow bloggers will not profit from the success of subject matter they have no personal stake in. It would be the same as if the book publishing community let the authors decide who deserved to be included.

I find this need to attack what does not harm you puzzling. Men don't fear that one group of men acting foolishly will reflect badly on them. Why should you care how these women act unless you feel deep down that women are second class and you despise it.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Telling Your Future

Planning on finishing shooting your short by Labor Day? Got a festival you are going to enter come hell or high water? Now you can send yourself time capsule emails of encouragement or congratulations. Go to Future Me and tell yourself exactly what you will need to hear.

All the motivational gurus say you have to work as if you have already achieved the success you desire. By sending yourself the pat on the back here and now that will get delivered then and there, it might just do the trick.

Or just send a birthday note to yourself.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Social Marketing Blogroll

The Friday Traffic Report has put up a list of the top 142 blogs that help with social network marketing. If you want to learn about how to do this for your film or project, here is a resource to get ideas and advice.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Promoting Your Film - Forget MySpace and Facebook

Lots of indie filmmakers, not to mention the big studios, are trying to figure out how to get an audience for their work. Many people went the Myspace/Facebook route that worked so well for the music business. But music and film are two different beasts, and while music can be used to fill your regular life with a soundtrack that adds to the richness of your experience, movies ask you to leave your life and enter someone else's for a while. A musician rides shotgun for your mood. A filmmaker takes over and manipulates your mood.

Nevertheless, a lot of press has been given lately to the idea that you have to go 100% web 2.0 where a page on one of these sights is an ablsolute must-have. The mantra was picked up by many of the most dedicated women promoting their films I know. Me, I couldn't see the point to MySpace or Facebook even if I had a million so-called friends. After you're a celebrity, okay maybe. But as a business model, I couldn't see how it would do me, my films or my festival any material good, so I avoided it and felt guilty.

So imagine my relief when I went to BlogHer 08 in San Francisco last weekend and heard one after another woman with a successful web presence (successful meaning money-making) dismiss these tools that I had been feeling guilty about not using. Setting up and maintaining these social networking pages takes a lot of time and does nothing to build an audience. It can be used to keep an audience loyal, but many of the women I know are looking to build their numbers. These sites are not the place to do that.

Only one tool that I did not understand turned out to be a winner, and that was Twitter. I got some good advice and workable examples of how to use it effectively in conjunction with blogging. Not only that, it turns out to be a streamlined and often fun connector of people with like passions. I see how it would work to build a following. But more on that another time. For now, I'm just happy to let go of the guilt.

Breast Films

Yes, breasts. Rethink Breast Cancer is having a film competition.

Breast Fest is now accepting video submissions for a short film competition. The winning films will be screened at the Festival, taking place on November 21 & 22, 2008 in Toronto.

We are looking for films of all genres that shed light on breast health and the issues surrounding breast cancer in significant and interesting ways. Produce a PSA, short film, or animation - the shorter the better - 10 minutes max!

Entry Deadline: August 24, 2008

For details go to

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I've been Twittering (actually I think they call it "tweeting" but I refuse). I'm still not comfortable with the form, but am going to have a bunch of broads over this weekend to learn how to use it, so that we can make a whole community of funny broads there.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Italy Again

We were invited back to Italy again, this time to Lucca for the Donna Discover women's travel weekend. Check us out on Flickr.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Strategy Meeting

Brunch at my place to try to figure out how to win this time. We came in second in November in the Ideablob contest. We have been gathering votes, registering friends who want to support us and generally preparing for a big push next month. Chang Hun's friends in Korea are running into some kind of web problem, but Taek's friends did not have the same issue. Can is working on his Turkish pals, Mara's confirming her Italian and Croatian links and Benjm has gotten almost a hundred from France. The contest this month is looking like it will take double the votes of last month to win - ouch. Nevertheless we are forging ahead with our plan - next month is a clean slate. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

You can't vote yet. You have to wait for February. Then we have to win a weekly sprint, and then we have to take the finals at the end of the month. If you only want to be bothered once, wait until the end of February. You can register now, just to be ready, at But hold that vote for now.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Going to Lucca

We've been invited back to Italy - Lucca this time - to exhibit shorts from the festival at the 4th annual Women Traveller's Weekend. All the films exhibited will have to be subtitled in Italian, so we're planning on showing a combination of the films that screened last year in Lucarno and a few new ones. Stay tuned for more info.