Research Update: LA

In August and September of 2018, I’m making the pilgrimage to Los Angeles to complete the data collection for my PhD research on women writers for SVoD original scripted series. These small updates will tell you about my progress.

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The Getty Center, Los Angeles

It’s Day 3 in Los Angeles, and I can see why people fall in love with this place. Apart from the outstanding weather, fantastic food and gorgeous scenery, everyone is so friendly. Not a single neighbour at our Air BnB has failed to smile and say hello, and everyone we pass in the street has a smile for us. It’s so refreshing. Yesterday we went to the Getty Center and I can honestly say that, although the exhibits themselves were wonderful, the sheer beauty in the design of the center itself was the most breathtaking thing I’ve seen in a while. And what a view! Driving on the right hand side of the road has been interesting, too – but I think I’m getting into the swing of it.

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This is the face of someone enjoying the most spectacular LA view.

Research-wise, I’ve got a couple of interviews with really special writers lined up and I can’t wait to meet them in person after exchanging emails (one of them for over 2 years!). I’m still working on cracking the code of contact; Twitter has been great for me, and I’m messaging on Instagram, but, to be fair, these are very busy people, and probably have overflowing inboxes.gettyimage2

 

I’m so thankful for the kind writers who have donated their time already to my research. I feel passionately about the work I’m doing (well, one would hope so, I suppose) and I want to do everything in my power to make it inclusive and representative of the diversity that is a) present already but b) not present enough in this industry. My work is about women writers, but that means all types of women. It means women of colour, it means trans women, and it means women from different backgrounds.

 

I have three weeks to make this time in LA count, and I’m crossing all my fingers that it will be as fruitful as I’ve hoped.

 

If you’re reading this and you think you can help make some connections for me, please do direct your friends, colleagues, connections and family to this link.

 

Off to enjoy some writing in the sunshine!

 

K.

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!

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.

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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

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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

 

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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):

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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)

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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)

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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

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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.