Friday, April 19, 2013

Doing the Math on Women Screenwriters - NYTVF/Comedy Central Pilot Competition

The NYTVF/Comedy Central comedy pilot competition just announced its 25 finalists.  Once again the number of women's names on the list is bad enough to shock any fair-minded person.  Or maybe art is different from everyday life and more like sport where women have less writing "muscle tissue" than men.  That's the only explanation.  Women may be over half of the overall population, but we are apparently not so good with language and words, or we are simply not as funny as men.

Or, maybe, that yardstick being used by male and female judges is neither inches nor centimeters, but male-imeters.  I don't know.  But only two of the 25 were all-female in creation (and possibly a third, some names being gender neutral...).  It's a little better when you look at the overall numbers 10 out of the 50 names being female. These numbers are actually pretty high for the numbers we have been seeing coming out of contests recently, but it is depressing to even think about calling them good.

What we don't know is what percentage of the submissions were female.  Perhaps the finalist selections perfectly reflects the ratio of submissions in this contest.  However, that defense cuts two ways. If you use it as a defense of the lower numbers of women included here, then you must allow for it as offense when the number of women does not reflect the proportion of, say, Dramatist Guild or Directors Guild membership by gender.  And this does not even begin to touch on structural barriers that might make a female writer with a healthy sense of self-worth decide, after seeing the gender bias in the film industry, to take her ideas elsewhere.
I should put in a disclaimer here... I submitted a pilot idea myself.  Didn't get into the finals.  You could put it down to sour grapes, except I didn't think much about it until someone else forwarded me the list, someone who doesn't even write comedy but reads the trades and watches screenwriting contest announcements.

I saw this when I was directing theater, how women's plays would be passed over, even as audiences loved many of those that did manage to get produced.  A friend and female playwright wrote a comedy, Hell on Wheels, that was the highest moneymaker for a theater in Seattle one season, sold out and given an extension to capitalize on its success, but they never did another of her plays. The same thing happens all the time in the movie biz, where a woman makes a great film but can't seem to get that second deal that the first success should have earned her.

It seems my reasons for starting Broad Humor still stand. 

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