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 http://tinyurl.com/63agv8

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.