January 10, 2008

by Melissa Silverstein on January 10, 2008

in Uncategorized

Men Writers Dominate Hollywood
That’s the title of an AP story that reflects the reality that women are underemployed as writers in Hollywood and that the strike has only made this even more pronounced with picket lines being dominated by men.

I wrote about the lack of women writers in Hollywood way back on May 31 in a piece for the The Women’s Media Center

From my piece:

The news is bad for women writing for TV, and worse for women writing in film. According to Darnell Hunt, the lead author of the 2007 Hollywood Writers Report and director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, “women are still under-represented about 2 to 1 in the industry and that’s pretty much across the board. In some places you see signs of progress, but overall it’s pretty stagnant and quite distressing considering this has been a story we have been telling for a couple of decades.”

In film, the percentage of women writers of features has hovered between 17% and 19% since 1999. Why are there so few? Kimberly Myers, newly appointed director of diversity at the guild, believes that some of the problems stem from the Hollywood blockbuster obsession. “Executives increasingly are looking for blockbuster movies that are going to appeal to a youth audience that they think of as more male than female,” says Myers. “Therefore, they are likely to be more interested in what male writers are pitching.” When they do get a job, women tend to make less money: the median women’s earnings decreased 6.1% while male earnings increased 16.1%. In a single year, between 2004 and 2005, the gender pay gap doubled from $20,000 to $40,000. While neither Myers nor Hunt has a complete explanation for the gigantic jump, Myers attributes it to the continued consolidation of the industry: “all it takes is one studio to change their policy about the number and type of films they are making and it can impact the whole industry, which is not that large to being with.

White male writers still make up 72% of guild membership.

Full story: Guild Finds no Progress for Hollywood Women Writers (Women’s Media Center)

I also did an interview with Sarah Fain, Executive Producer of the Women’s Murder Club where she discussed being a female writer in the context of the strike and many other interesting things about making a living as a writer.
Interview with Sarah Fain

Some quotes from the AP piece

As Hollywood’s striking scribes ventured out to their picket lines over the last two months, it’s been plain to see — female writers are outnumbered by their male colleagues.

“I’m surprised when I see a woman on the picket line and I always wonder, ‘Hmm, do I know her?’ ” said Sarah McLaughlin, who wrote for “That 70s Show.” “If I don’t know a woman writer personally, I know of them.”

“I’ve worked with male writers who say, flat out, women aren’t funny,” said McLaughlin, who says it’s easier for women to get a foot in the door on dramatic shows.

Sitcoms typically draw their writing talent from stand-up clubs, where women are scarce, but that doesn’t mean that witty women aren’t plentiful, she said.

Some shows have only one or two female writers on staff, said McLaughlin, because managers and staff think they’ve met an unspoken quota.

“The industry is still primarily driven by men,” said Elaine Aronson, who added she has been the “token woman” for many shows in her 19 years as a writer. “This was true way back in the days of ‘Golden Girls’ (which ran in prime time from 1985 to ’92). Men who create shows — even when they’re about women — think that one woman is enough to have on a staff.”

“In order to be accepted in the writers room, you have to go to your male side in an extreme way,” said Aronson. “Sometimes it’s fine, and other times I wish I could have said, ‘You filthy pig, I can’t believe you said that.’ “

Other women, many who are younger, say they’re perfectly comfortable yucking it up with the boys.

“I’ve never felt at a disadvantage because of my gender,” said Hilary Winston who writes for “My Name is Earl” where five out of the 18 staff writers are women. Winston, 31, credits the generation of experienced women producers for opening up the writers room to all ages and genders, and mentoring young writers such as herself.

“I think it’s a non-issue,” she said. “Those battles were fought and I’m reaping the benefits.”

The need for female voices also can work to the advantage of women writers, said Stacy Traub, executive producer of “Notes From the Underbelly.”

When Traub hires new writers she looks for diverse voices, raw talent and someone she wouldn’t mind spending long hours with at work. Traub is one of the few female showrunners who have landed that prestige position and created their own show.

Men Writers Still Dominate Hollywood (AP via Seattle PI)
Glad AP finally got on the story

Even Successful Women in Hollywood Get the Axe
Dawn Taubin, head of marketing at Warner Brothers has been ousted in a studio shakeup as sexist studio chief Jeff Robinov (check out my earlier post- Do Women Matter to Hollywood?) completes his takeover. It’s not like she hasn’t been a success – 3 of the top 10 movies are Warner Brothers. She leaves after 20 years at the studio.

Research Help Needed
I am writing a story on the experiences of women directors whose films have been at Sundance. I specifically want to talk with women who have had dramatic films. I am trying to figure out if women directors coming out of Sundance are benefiting in their careers the same way male directors are. Please email me (email is at top of site) if you are a woman who has been at Sundance or if you know of any woman director from Sundance.

Another request comes from reader Stephanie Vann:
I am conducting research for a film class. I would like to find out the names of any movies that deal with women and their relationships with their fathers. Email her at: stephanie_vann@yahoo.com with any thoughts.

News
Isabel Coixet’s Elegy an adaptation of Philip Roth’s the Dying Animal starring Tilda Swinton has been added to the lineup of the Berlin Film Festival.

I’m not surprised that Juno is doing well. Not even surprised that people outside of the coasts like it. I’m surprised that Hollywood is so surprised. It just goes to show the lack of trust Hollywood has that real film viewers can spot a good movie.
Juno is a Surprise Hit in Middle America

The Awesome Annie Lennox talks about her album Song of Mass Destruction
Annie Lennox is Unafraid to Sing About Global Crises (Spinner)

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