No Regrets, My Most Challenging and Terrifying Goal: Writing A Screenplay that is bought and made.
Against all odds I’m doing it.
My writing partner says I exist in a world of a sky of rainbows. I’m known for having a great attitude. I’m also a person who was abused for the majority of my life (and later treated for PTSD). I’m perfect for Hollywood. I believe the combination of a huge ego, a little delusional and able to handle rejection and abuse well (knowing full well I’ve stepped back and know what it really is) gives me an advantage. Determination and strong work ethic, self-motivated and driven are my assets. I’ve chosen this goal because I am in that chapter of life where you realize it’s either now or never.
Here’s the truth:
Women are not making advances in Hollywood; in fact, they’re actively losing ground. According to the Writer’s Guild of America Wests’ latest study (2014), female writers accounted for only 15 percent of feature film work in 2012, down from 17 percent in 2009.
Relative to white males, women and minorities continue to lose ground. The full report, entitled “Turning Missed Opportunities Into Realized Ones: The 2014 Hollywood Writers Report,” noted that the gender pay gap in film has increased. Currently, female writers earn 77 cents for ever dollar earned by a white male film writer, down from 82 cents just three years earlier.
Women weren’t the only underrepresented group. While writers aged 41-50 were employed at the highest rates and received the most earnings in TV, there was a sharp decline beyond the age of 60. Minority writers made up only 5 percent of film writing jobs, the same number from 2009, but their pay has declined at the same time that white male writers’ pay has gone up.
Television has proven to be a slightly better area for women. Women writers made up 27 percent of television writers, down only 1 percent from 2009. And the pay gap between female and male TV writers closed a whopping 1 cent per hour on average, but is one of the more equal rates in the business, where women earn 92 cents to the man’s dollar.
And then there’s the other challenge, I’m writing spec scripts. A spec script, also known as a speculative screenplay, is a non-commissioned unsolicited screenplay. It is usually written by a screenwriter who hopes to have the script optioned and eventually purchased by a producer, production company, or studio.
Do I live in LA? No. Yikes, that doesn’t help but I’ve been told it isn’t a deal killer. I live in Coronado, California so if I need to take a meeting I’m very close. Have I networked in LA? No. So do I have any clout? Yes, UCLA. My decision to study at UCLA (known for it’s screenwriting program, USC is known for it’s directing program) has been smart. It’s very well respected and although they don’t actively help you find someone to read your script, they helped me learn the CRAFT of screenwriting.
It is a craft. Like any career, you must be ready to put in at least ten strong years or 10,000 hours to become good at it. Are there people who write one and sell them? Yes, of course, but it’s rare.
What most people don’t know about screenwriting is that what you see on the screen at your local theater:
- May have been written by 15 different writers.
- May have taken 5-20 years to get made.
- Spec writers (unknowns like me) are usually fired from they’re first gig.
Film & Entertainment Industry Facts
- In 2013, women accounted for 16% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors. This represents a decrease of two percentage points since 2012 and a decrease of one percentage point from 1998. – Celluloid Ceiling 2013 Report
- Women accounted for 10% of writers, 15% of executive producers, 17% of editors, 3% of cinematographers, and 25% of producers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2013. – Celluloid Ceiling 2013 Report
- Women comprised 6% of all directors working on the top 250 films of 2013. This represents a decrease of 3 percentage points from 2012 and 1998. Ninety-three percent (93%) of the films had no female directors. – Celluloid Ceiling 2013 Report
- 36% of films employed 0 or 1 woman in the roles considered, 23% employed 2 women, 33% employed 3 to 5 women, 6% employed 6 to 9 women, and 2% employed 10 to 13 women. In contrast, 1% of films employed 0 or 1 man in the roles considered, and 32% employed 10 to 13 men. – Celluloid Ceiling 2013 Report
- A historical comparison of women’s employment on the top 250 films in 2013 and 1998 reveals that the percentages of women directors, writers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers have declined. The percentage of producers has increased slightly. – Celluloid Ceiling 2013 Report
- A historical comparison of women’s employment on the top 250 films in 2013 and 2012 reveals that the percentages of women directors, writers, executive producers, and editors have declined. The percentage of women producers has remained the same. The percentage of women cinematographers has increased slightly. Celluloid Ceiling 2013 Report
- Only 11% of all clearly identifiable protagonists are female, 78% are male. - It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World
- In Academy Award history, four female filmmakers have been nominated for best director (Lina Wertmuller-1977, Jane Campion-1994, and Sofia Coppola-2004, Kathryn Bigelow – 2010), but only Kathryn has won.?- Women’s E-News
- In 2013, during the 85th Academy Awards, across 19 categories 140 men were nominated for awards versus 35 women. There were no female nominees for Directing, Cinematography, Film Editing, Writing (Original Screenplay), or Music (Original Score). - Women’s Media Center
- 9 percent of the top 250 movies at the domestic box office last year were made by female directors. That’s substantially higher than the 2011 figure of 5 percent. – NY Times Report
- Diversity means money. Broadcast comedies and dramas with more diversity get higher ratings. Films with just 21-30% diversity earned a global median box-office total of $160 million, while films with less than 10% diversity made just $68.5 million. – Indiewire
- Women are underrepresented by a factor of nearly 2 to 1 among lead roles in film; women had the lead in just 25.6% of the films. – Indiewire
- Things are not moving in the right direction for women onscreen. The numbers are stuck at around 30%, yet remember, women buy 50% of the tickets. The numbers continue to show that Hollywood doesn’t care enough about women. They believe that sexualizing girls and women sells tickets. – Indiewire
- Women support women. Films directed by women feature more women in all roles. There is a 21% increase in women working on a narrative film when there is a female director and a 24% of women working on documentaries. - Indiewire
- Females direct more documentaries than narrative films – 34.5% vs 16.9%. - Indiewire
And… after it’s done… Top male critics wrote 82% of film reviews featured on Rotten Tomatoes during a two-month period, with top female critics accounting for less than 20%. - The Wrap
Spec sales (As of today, 2014) – 61. How many women? I’m not even going to look.
So, let’s talk a little about how crazy this whole goal appears…
It’s been a dream of mine since I saw the Wizard of Oz (girl protagonist!) to be involved with a movie. I first thought it would be via an old career, makeup artist, but once I had the courage to call myself a writer I knew that’s the category of Academy Award I wanted to win (Best Original Screenplay).
I first started working in films (for free). I then served on the board of a Film Office. I later took a class in Screenwriting and the professor asked to write a script with me (she had won an Emmy for documentary filmmaking so I thought she knew what she was doing). That script was awful – but we did it. We flew to LA to a “pitchfest” where a speed-dating like approach to pitching studio people was held. We were horrible. We had no clue what we were doing and they ate us alive. In retrospect, it was a great learning experience – but at the time it was crushing.
So what did I do? I quit screenwriting.
I focused on my magazine publishing business. It thrived. I created a short documentary film. The people that hired me to do it hated it. Another blow, so I went back to focusing on my publishing company.
Years later I couldn’t quit thinking about screenwriting. I wanted to tell a story in a visual medium that moved people emotionally. UCLA was the key. They taught me how to do it.
There is a structure to story. There are a lot of influences going all the way back to Aristotle. According to western thought, there are 7 basic storylines:
[wo]man vs. nature
[wo]man vs. [wo]man
[wo]man vs. the environment
[wo]man vs. machines/technology
[wo]man vs. the supernatural
[wo]man vs. self
[wo]man vs. god/religion
There is a Three Act Structure. Certain things “must happen” for you to have a positive experience.
I’m not going to tell you the “spoilers” because you would not enjoy going to the movies as much. Once you know, you can’t go back. I like the structure. Yes, people break “the rules” all the time, but most of the Hollywood movies you see follow a structure and strive for certain key moments to satisfy seeing and experience a story that relies on only two elements: sight and sound (in a very short period of time compared to a book – that can be any length – that you can put down and pick up when you want).
So here’s where I’m at:
I’ve written six scripts. I’m ReWriting one now. Writing is rewriting. I’ve heard tales of scripts that were sold that had been rewritten 25 times. I remind myself that Farewell To Arms was rewritten 37 times. UCLA says it takes between 7-10 scripts just to “get it”. I’m hanging on those words. I’m going to submit my script in the spring of 2015 to the most prestigious contest, The Nicholls (through The Academy). If I can place high enough (or win) I’ll be able to send it to people who will read it.
Call me crazy? Kinda… but happy. I’ll have no regrets. It’s the great writing challenge I’ve ever had. The fun part is the love of my life asked if he could try writing with me. At first I was hesitant, but once we tried it we loved it. He’s an amazing writing partner. He, too, decided to go to UCLA. We each bring something unique to the process. We’re a team. When you see our name someday on the screen look for the ampersand (&). That’s how you know it’s a team. If you see Screenplay by “someone AND someone else”, the last name had the last pass.
Wish us luck. We’re going to need it. We’ve also been told if it’s a GREAT story, it will be sold and made. We’re on it. Our mottos: No Regrets, Dream Big, Why Not and Have Fun.
What are your dreams? I’d love to hear. Drop me a line.