New publication: The Good Girls Revolt cancellation – and why Amazon Studios has an image problem

wrote recently that Amazon and Netfix were leading the way in improving the gender balance in writing for television. In a post-Weinstein industry, there is more and more discussion about women’s representation in film and television. Right now, however, Amazon Studios has an image problem.

There is currently an industry-wide push for the employment and promotion of women in key crew roles such as director, showrunner, writer and cinematographer. Despite this, Amazon has axed three original series helmed by women: Good Girls Revolt, One Mississippi and I Love Dick.

The story of Good Girls Revolt goes back further than this year, but is key in demonstrating Amazon’s attitude towards feedback from its audiences.

In 2016, Amazon premiered the first season of Good Girls Revolt, an original series from showrunner, Dana Calvo, based on the book by Lynn Povich. Good Girls Revolt tells the true story of the women of Newsweek (in the series, News of the Week) who sued the magazine for sexual discrimination in 1970. The drama received critical acclaim and was well-received by female audiences, in particular. But Amazon Studios’ then-chief, Roy Price, decided to discontinue the series after its first season.

The cancellation of Good Girls Revolt caused an online uproar, with the series’ stars and crew leading a charge on a #SaveGoodGirlsRevolt tagline on Twitter, and audiences crying out for the series to find a new home.

The Weinstein scandal

Following the Harvey Weinstein scandal in 2017, Roy Price was stood down at Amazon Studios following allegations of sexual harassmentmade by a female producer. Sharon Tal Yguado, formerly in charge of event series for Amazon, was promoted to head of scripted programming, and Amazon Studios was in line for an overhaul. Fans of Good Girls Revolt found new hope, as Calvo and her team prepared their season two pitch to be shopped around to various outlets, including Amazon Studios itself. However, in a statement on January 11, Calvo announced on Instagram that Good Girls Revolt would not be revived. The fight was over.

This final cancellation of Good Girls Revolt, while disappointing for crew, cast and fans alike, is hardly an unusual event in the world of television. The long-lived series is becoming rare and the performance of series made specifically for Netflix, Amazon or Hulu is measured not in ratings, but in completion and contribution to platform subscriptions. That is to say, how many viewers watch the series all the way through and whether new customers sign up in order to watch them. Since Amazon and Netflix do not publish viewing statistics, there is no way for the public to know why they make particular programming decisions, apart from official statements.

It is not the discontinuation of Good Girls Revolt alone that has caused Amazon’s image problem. With Netflix championing Orange Is the New Black and GLOW, and Hulu’s runaway success with The Handmaid’s Tale, surely Amazon could do more to actively greenlight and support scripted series written by and for women?

More bad news

On January 17 came more bad news for female-created content on Amazon. Amazon Studios announced it was cancelling three original series. Two of these (One Mississippi and I Love Dick) were helmed and predominantly written by women.

It has been reported that Amazon is looking for its very own Game of Thrones. Nevertheless, audiences and industry are puzzled by the cancellation of Tig Notaro’s One Mississippi, in particular. With a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the series is also one of very few to feature a queer protagonist, and a woman at that.

While I Love Dick received fewer accolades, it marked the only series on Amazon’s slate to feature an entirely female writing team. An Amazon “insider” told Deadline: “This is part of a move towards bigger, wider-audience series.” But it is the ability to cater to niche audience markets that makes online original content platforms unique.

In the wake of Hollywood’s sexism overhaul, why has Amazon chosen this time to withdraw support for female-led content? Actors and Hollywood leaders including Ava Du Vernay, Reese Witherspoon and Jessica Chastain are calling for drastic improvements to the gender problem in the entertainment industry, but outlets do not seem to be responding quickly enough. With this latest spate of cancellations, how will Amazon improve its contribution to a balanced and fair production industry?

 

First appeared on The Conversation – January 31st, 2018.

 

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New publication: Amazon, Netflix and righting the wrongs of television’s gender problem.

First published in The Conversation, 27th July, 2017.

Netflix will spend $6 billion on original content in 2017. Between them, Amazon, Hulu and Netflix have scored 125 Emmy nominations this year. The message is clear: Subscription Video on Demand (SVoD) is no longer the new kid on the block. And it is this blooming platform which is starting to turn the traditionally male-dominated world of television production on its head.

Every year, reports on industry employment reveal how women are underrepresented on the writers’ credits in television. In the US and the UK, women’s share of television employment has remained at under 30%. Women showrunners (creators, executive producers and writers) account for only 22% of showrunners in the US. Women of colour make up just 4%. Once the bothersome newcomer in the entertainment market, subscription streaming services are shaking up the system and showing their more traditional rivals how innovation can lead to market dominance.

Two key points separate the production of subscription video on demand original content from the more traditional “linear” television model, where content is programmed to broadcast at one specific time.

First, producers such as Amazon, Netflix and Hulu have flexibility in the programming they commission. For example, without being restricted by commercial breaks and channel scheduling, episodes can run shorter or longer than a conventional drama (usually 45-50 minutes) or comedy (22-28 minutes). Being less accountable to programme sponsors, online original series can also tackle more controversial subject matter. But most importantly, they can commission content from a more diverse range of people with different voices.

Orange is the New Black, season five. Netlfix

The second key difference between subscription video on demand and linear programming is their commissioning processes. Amazon completely shook up the convention of the “pilot season” (where initial episodes of new content are made then dropped or pushed forward depending on their anticipated success) with its own version of the “pilot” process.

In Amazon’s version, anyone could submit an idea for original content through an online portal. In this break from the “who you know” system of commissioning, Amazon made the pilots viewable by its Prime customers, who can then vote for the content they want to see produced into a full series.

This democratisation of viewing is also influenced by the feature that is at the very core of on-demand viewing – we watch what we want, when we want, for however long we want. We watch on our laptops, on our tablets, on our smart phones and on our home smart televisions. Importantly, all of this has helped increase programming about women, created by women.

A man’s world

Television production has traditionally been a man’s world. Evidence for the media industries shows that people in positions of power over hiring will employ those they feel are most similar to their existing teams. So, for a team of white men, another white man will typically be seen as a “safer” hire than a woman or a person of colour. When the odds are loaded against women like this, it becomes harder for a woman to get her foot in the door.

In addition to these “homogenous” hiring practices, the employment of women in creative and cultural industries declines sharply after the age of 35. These industries have not been conducive to motherhood, maternity leave or care-giving. Far more so than men in television, women in television report that they were made to feel they could either have successful careers, or be mothers, with no middle ground.

By its very nature, television runs on short-term contracts, long and unsociable hours and informal recruitment practices. For those lacking a family network of childminders or the financial stability to hire flexible child carers, it is near impossible to have it all.

This is where original online content can shine. These series are, for the most part, being made by production companies – but the commissioners can now order content that speaks to women. Previously, an unproduced writer needed the right contacts to have a series picked up. Now she can now pitch directly to Amazon Studios.

Sense8. Netflix

Original content distributors are responding. A Paste Magazine piece lists the “top Netflix Original” series, and stories focusing on women are beginning to climb the ranks. Grace and Frankie (2015) studies the lives of two older women whose husbands have left them to begin a relationship with one another.

Sense8 (2015) features women in leading roles including LGBTQ women and women of colour. Glow (2017) follows a team of female wrestlers in the 1980s, while Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015) is a comedy exploring a woman getting back on her feet after being imprisoned in a bunker for 15 years.

These series create a discussion about what is hidden on most mainstream television. They are about women – but not about “traditional” romantic entanglements, shoe shopping and mean teenagers.

So the question now is, will we see a knock-on effect in the employment of women writers for scripted series? Or will the industry reproduce its gendered norms and continue the pattern of white, male, middle-class dominance? Time will tell. But for now, original on-demand content has steered the industry to a turning point, bringing women’s voices to our many screens.

You Don’t Have to Work in Production: New Women Entrants in TV and Film

Recently, I responded to a call-out on a professional film & television Facebook group for women in production who would be willing to speak to some 3rd year BA students at LIPA. It was the second time I’d seen the request, and I remembered (finally) to offer my services. And I am so glad I did.

It’s not just because I got to spend an afternoon away from my laptop and desk (isn’t it funny how a one-hour drive can actually be a blessing when your to-do list is ten times longer than your shopping list?); it made me think more about the status of women in the industry from the viewpoint of a new entrant.

I had my first running job at eighteen, for a photographic catalogue shoot. Since then, I’ve bounced about feature films to live television, to television drama and back to feature films. All the way through, I would subconsciously make notes of little everyday sexism events, but I never really sat down to think about how it affected my career and the careers of my female colleagues.

So when I sat down to write up my presentation for these students, I wanted to focus on the beginnings. The first title header I could come up with was, ‘You don’t have to work in Production.’ Because when you scan down a crew list on a new job, there are invariably three places where women’s names appear the most:

Hair & Makeup.

Costume.

Production.

Armed with this thought, I went to check the statistics and, yes, sure enough, this is what Creative Skillset’s data said:

Skillset 2012 Employment Census

That’s a small selection of the departments surveyed by Creative Skillset in their 2012 Employment Census for the Creative Media industries, in total percentage of the Creative  Media industries workforce.

So, when I see these male-name-heavy crew lists, what I would like to see is this:

I would like to see new entrants and female graduates being educated on all the departments that are open to them. That means camera, lighting, grips, stunts, VFX, SFX, editing, casting, talent agency, sound recording. Everything. Being a woman does not discount you from working in any department in film and media.

As a graduate, I somehow left film school thinking that there were four aspirational careers paths, and that they were Producer, Director, Writer and DOP.

What I didn’t realise before I entered the industry was that there are so many roles I didn’t even know existed. I’m still encountering roles I never knew existed (the amount of times I’ve been asked to source someone and asked, ‘That’s a thing?’). I want to see women understanding the vast smorgasboard of roles available, and never once thinking, ‘that’s for dudes’.

I watched a great presentation by Katie Bird from the University of Pittsburgh at the Doing Women’s Film and Television History conference in 2016 which was about female Steadicam operators. I had never even thought about the fact that Steadicam rigs weren’t built for women’s physiques. Katie’s presentation looked in part at Jessica Lopez, Steadicam operator on Transparent, (among many, many other projects), who has become a veritable rockstar on Instagram, and I’m pretty sure it’s because a) she’s talented b) she kicks gendered assumptions in the bits. And I want to see more of that.

What struck me as interesting in the masterclass was that, although the students are studying management for multiple creative industries (theatre, film, music), they all seemed to be acutely aware of gender disparity and gendered stereotypes. That didn’t stop them, however, from intending to pursue precisely whichever path it was that they were interested in.

So perhaps when we are faced with new entrants who come to us for advice, mentorship or even a job, we need to ask them, ‘Why Production?’. Yes, some of us are Production die-hards, in love with the happy/sad feelings we experience when we’re in the office at 7am and still there at 10pm. Some people are made for it. I won’t say I don’t see women in these other departments, because I do, on occasion. More often lately in cameras, but sometimes in sparks, and increasingly in construction. But I never again want to see a woman in the production office because she didn’t know that there were other options.

A quick shout out to one of my favourite sites on this subject:  Shit People Say To Women Directors (& Other Women In Film). So much of this rings true and makes my blood boil, but it’s so nice to see that it’s not just you.

While you’re at it, please visit F-Rated, who were recently acknowledged by IMDb. In order to be classified F-rated, films must meet the following criteria:

1. be directed by a woman
2. be written by a woman
3. feature significant women on screen in their own right.

I have so much more to write on this topic, and on the inclusion of minority workers in this industry at a broader level, but I’ll save that for another day.

I want to hear your stories of women in male-dominated departments in film and television, so please leave a comment, tweet me or get in touch.

Happy Friday!

Research Update: Assessment

Hello, all three of you who read my blog (hi, Dad). I’ve been really quiet of late, and that’s because I am working my butt off. I know, I know – PhDs are hard to get. It’s been a rollercoaster of a year. I’ve had to learn how to speak Academicese, learn (the hard way) how important note-taking is at this level, and how to manage the work/work balance that is the life of a postgraduate researcher.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though – I’m more excited than ever about my research. My last update was a little bit about the history of women screenwriters, and I’ve been keeping watchful eye on the credits of all the many television shows to which I am fatally addicted to see how many women writers are listed.

In fact, the more I talk about my research (a lot – a friend and I were recently discussing how PGRs are with their PhDs as new parents are with their babies – i.e., everyone else is bored of hearing about it), the more I realise that, actually, quite a lot of other people are interested in it, too. Women in and out of the industry are ready for a change, and that is so uplifting to hear when you feel like you might lose your head if you read one more book that’s not about a lady on the moors.

I’ve lined up my first locked in participant, who is a writer on an action/YA show you may have heard of (hint: it’s on Netflix). She’s a young writer who writes YA fiction on top of being a really successful TV screenwriter. I am so honoured that she’s agreed to be interviewed for my research.

So I’m coming up to the culmination of my first year as a PGR, and it’s been tough. I’m in the last month-long stretch before I hand in my measly little 4,000 word paper (in all honesty, it was 9,500 words last week, and it’s been a nightmare to cut it down…again, hi, Dad), and then I have to stand up and defend my research to a panel of actual academics to prove that I have the moxy to continue down this treacherous but rewarding road.

I’m not going to go into detail about academic works I’ve been reading because, quite frankly, I’m academic-ed out. Instead, I’m going to share with you a little list of the podcasts I’ve been listening to, because times when you’re driving a car is time when you can’t (definitely shouldn’t) be reading journal articles.

So this month’s post (I promise I’ll try to do better) is dedicated to:

Sophia Amoruso – #Girlboss Radio

I love to listen to successful women, especially women who admit that it’s not easy to be successful. Something I really like about this podcast is the personal level to which guests dig to impart knowledge not only about work, but also about family, love, and adulting.

Emma Gannon – Ctrl, Alt, Delete

Same goes here, but British-er. What’s what with the web, for women, with women. As with #Girlboss, this podcast also focuses on successful women who do good things for the world, which is something we all need to hear more about from time to time.

James Morton, Alice Levine, James Cooper – My Dad Wrote a Porno

Because not everything can be feminist studies. And because even PhD students need to laugh until they cry tears of despair and disbelief. #DriverWarning, though – the M60 and I nearly had a problem around about Season 2, Chapter 2.

 

*You can find me on the Twitter here: @KirstenStoddart

**You can find my Dad, who is much more experienced at Academicing, on the Twitter here: @BrianStoddart

 

 

 

Research Update: History of Women Screenwriters

Mary McCall was the first female president of the Writers Guild of America.

Ida Lupino publicity.jpg

Ida Lupino

Now in the fourth month of my doctoral research journey, I’ve been taking an in-depth look at the history of women in screenwriting. It’s interesting to note that, despite my passion for this subject, I had barely ever scraped the surface of the history of the contribution of female filmmakers to the industry as a whole. While I had heard of and read about the big names like Mary Pickford, Frances Marion and Ida Lupino, I had never heard of Mary McCall, Jr., who was, apparently, quite the saleswoman of her own work. These women were pioneers (to use a cliche), and not only wrote, acted, directed their own films, but built their own companies. During the first World War, as with all industries, filmmaking was rather a woman’s game. Of course, it wasn’t entirely considered big money then, but, with the return of the menfolk, there was a sudden shift, and the studio system came into play. This, among many other factors (the developing income stream from cinema attendance, the debut of the talkie etc), led to a new age in movie-making, which, in turn, saw the golden age of the woman screenwriter (or ‘scenarist’) come to a close, and female auteurs relegated to small offices where they were paid to fix ‘broken’ scripts and inject a little female energy into male-dominated stories.

Mary Pickford

More to come on this at a later date, and a big thank you to the two fantastic and invaluable books that have dominated my time over the last couple of months; Lizzie Francke’s Script Girls, and Marsha McCreadie’s Women Who Write the Movies.

 

Action Heroes: Screenwriter Edition

83006-marvels-agent-carter-marvels-agent-carterAction is one of those genres that has a bit of everything; fast-paced drama, weapons, sometimes explosions, and usually a nice, dark urban setting. What a winner! It’s also traditionally seen to be a bit of a man’s world. There is a kind of assumption that goes about that men write action or thriller shows and women write rom-coms (not everyone thinks that, this is just coffee table talk). So I wanted to have a look at the top performing TV action series of the moment and see just how many were written by women.

A couple of small disclaimers before we get into the numbers:

  1. This is an exercise only, and was taken from IMDB (aka The Bible)
  2. I’ve taken into account for this exercise only the number of writers listed, and not how many episodes each writer was credited with (I’ll get into that another day!)
  3. This information is based on the top 10 performing action series as listed on IMDB, and I won’t pass judgement on the shows because, well, I’ve spent the last month’s allocated Netflix time catching up with Pretty Little Liars so I haven’t seen half of these.

Jessica-Jones-1-1200x674

And now, let’s get into it.

The Top Ten as Listed:

No. Title Year Total Writers Total Female Writers % Female writers
1 Legends of Tomorrow 2016 9 2 22.22
2 Shadowhunters 2016 8 4 50.00
3 Arrow 2012 31 12 38.71
4 The Flash 2014 31 10 32.26
5 Jessica Jones 2015 11 4 36.36
6 Agent Carter 2015 14 5 35.71
7 Colony 2016 6 1 16.67
8 Daredevil 2015 10 1 10.00
9 Vikings 2013 1 0 0.00
10 Supergirl 2015 14 5 35.71

CBS_SUPERGIRL_101_CLEAN_IMAGE_thumb_Master

So, let’s rearrange those in order of action series with the highest percentage of female writers…

No. Title Year Total Writers Total Female Writers % Female writers
2 Shadowhunters 2016 8 4 50.00
3 Arrow 2012 31 12 38.71
5 Jessica Jones 2015 11 4 36.36
10 Supergirl 2015 14 5 35.71
6 Agent Carter 2015 14 5 35.71
4 The Flash 2014 31 10 32.26
1 Legends of Tomorrow 2016 9 2 22.22
7 Colony 2016 6 1 16.67
8 Daredevil 2015 10 1 10.00
9 Vikings 2013 1 0 0.00

 

melissarosenberg-2011-a-p

Melissa Rosenberg

Now, it’s worth noting that Jessica Jones actually has a female creator, Melissa Rosenberg, who is also (fun fact), ranked #24 on the highest-grossing screenwriters list (according to www.boxofficemojo.com). She’s grossed an epic USD $1.452B over her career (largely due to her screenplays for the Twilight series). At #24, she is the third woman on the list, coming in behind Philippa Boyens (#7) and Fran Walsh (#9), both up there for box office slam dunks with the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series.

So here’s a shoutout to all the women listed as writers on the top 10 action series according to IMDB (alphabetically, no favourites here):

y-shireen-razack

Y. Shireen Razack (from themortalinstitute.com)

Ali Adler (Supergirl)
Lindsey Allen (Arrow, Agent Carter)
Dana Baratta (Jessica Jones)
Rebecca Bellotto (Arrow)
Andi Bushell (Agent Carter)
Tara Butters (Agent Carter)
Lauren Certo (The Flash)
Yahlin Chang (Supergirl)
Lana Cho (Arrow)
Sue Chung (Agent Carter)
Cassandra Clare (wrote the novel for Shadowhunters and is listed as a writer on all episodes)
Marjorie David (Shadowhunter)
Michele Fazekas (Agent Carter)
Anna Fishko (Colony)
Ruth Fletcher (Daredevil)

Lana_Cho

Lana Cho (from Twitter)

Liz Friedman (Jessica Jones)
Grainne Godfree (Arrow, The Flash)
Holly Harold (Arrow)
Sarah Nicole Jones (Legends of Tomorrow)
Moira Kirland (Arrow)
Wendy Mericle (Arrow)
Anna Musky-Goldwyn (Supergirl)
Cortney Norris (Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash)
Hollie Overton (Shadowhunters)
Caitlin Parrish (Supergirl)
Y. Shireen Razack (Shadowhunters)
Jenna Reback (Jessica Jones)
Brooke Roberts (The Flash)
Melissa Rosenberg (Jessica Jones – Creator)
Alison Schapker (The Flash)
Beth Schwartz (Arrow)
Keto Shimizu (Arrow, The Flash)
Rachel Shukert (Supergirl)
Gabrielle G. Stanton (Arrow, The Flash)

124KB-Adler-author-photo-credit-Graeme-Mitchel-Redux-2-3

Ali Adler (photo by Graeme Mitchel for Forbes)

Sarah Tarkoff (Arrow)
Lilah Vandenburgh (The Flash)
Katherine Walczak (The Flash)
Kai Wu (The Flash)

It’s great to see a few names popping up across different series. See? Women can and do specialise in writing action/superhero/fast-cars-big-guns television.

 

That’s all for now.

I’d love to hear about which television series featuring great female leads are your favourites for another post – comment below!

 

2016 Pilot Season: The Numbers

PS_c1

The 2016 Pilot Season is a fascinating thing to watch. If you hop on over to Variety (www.variety.com) you can see, network by network, which new shows in drama, animation or comedy categories might grace your TV screens this year for the first time (and a couple look pretty binge-able). But the most interesting thing for me and for what I’m researching for my PhD is that you can see the names of the writers, executive producers and, sometimes, directors, of all the new shows. And I’m here to tell you, the numbers are pretty dire.

At the time of writing, there are sixty new TV shows up on the TV Pilot Season Development Scorecard (see? It IS a viewing sport). Out of those sixty, fifteen have female writers listed for their pilots. That’s sitting at 25%, which is pretty low, as far as I’m concerned. When you think about it, women make up 51% of the population in the USA. I’m not saying that everyone watches television, and I’m not saying that everyone cares about who writes the content on their screens. What I’m saying is, isn’t television about representation? I know that I connect with shows that I feel represent me, and everyone should have that chance. If only 25% of the new drama/comedy/animation content that’s released in a year is written by women, then that seriously narrows the chances for all different types of women to find something they identify with.

Now, the numbers get a little tricky here, because, out of those 15 female writers, 6 had male co-writers for the pilots. That brings the percentage of new pilots written exclusively by women to 15%.

Again, I’m going to reiterate that not all content I watch is made up of stories about people like me. I love watching shows and films from different cultures, about different subcultures, and about people who have done amazing things. I also love watching absolute rubbish shows that are so bad that they’re brilliant, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I do think that everyone deserves the chance to find something that kind of relates to them. And with a rate of 15%, it really reduces the chance for women to see stories that relate to them on television when you take into account women of colour, women across the sexuality and gender spectrums, and differently-abled women, among many, many others.

If you take into account the number of female EPS, you’re getting a lot more representation, and that is great. It’s important to see women at executive levels in every industry, not just in television. But I am really looking forward to seeing the number of women screenwriters steadily increase over the next couple of years. I’m also really looking forward to Season 2 of How to Get Away with Murder. But that’s neither here nor there.

Another day, I’m going to look at women-related content on our screens, and at the female protagonist in all her glory.

Until then…

Go watch some telly.