One week ago I sold most of my belongings, vacated my apartment, and quit my lucrative job in order to pursue a career writing in the entertainment industry. At nearly thirty years old, with three feature scripts, four television specs, and a university degree in screenwriting under my belt, I’ve decided to give it my complete attention. No longer will I only write on nights and weekends. I am funny and experienced enough, my writing partner is funny and experienced enough, and we will write for a living. Then I came across this LA Times Report statistic: Women writers account “for just 15% of sector employment, down from 17% in 2009.” I promptly left my office and had a panic attack in my car, ironically the place I will probably be living out of in a few, short, jobless months.
I’m not a complete stranger to women’s struggles in the industry. For the last three and a half years I’ve produced content for a major entertainment group. I knew it was time to quit when so many titles contained the word “Guys” that it became confusing to production. I was relating to nothing I was producing. I can pick out three, maybe four productions Why is leaving one job for another so much more terrifying?that were female content-based out of 25 or so that I’ve had a hand in. I know the cards are stacked against women and I’ve known for years because I’ve worked in it, yet somehow seeing this specific number is unhinging, and the timing!
Trying to break into film and television is a terrifying leap of faith with no guarantee of return. I’ve taken leaps before. I left my family with a car full of clothes and photos and moved to Los Angeles at 19 years old completely alone. Why is leaving one job for another so much more terrifying?
It took seeing one statistic on the internet for me to realize my fear comes from the fact that I am a woman. How will anyone take me seriously, especially in writing comedy? I’ve seen a creative team debate show line ups with comments like, “We have nine men, now we have to find two women, at least one.” There are so many funny women! You can see them performing every night at iO, UCB, The Groundlings, knowing that we are part of 15% does not facilitate women helping women, we are competing for the “woman’s spot” that’s been createdand you can read their work on Hello Giggles, The Onion and College Humor. How can we only speak about them as if they only fill a quota? Men and women put words on paper the same and even if we didn’t, the human experience is varying. How are we filling a quota? How are we 15 percent?
I have a theory that ties into the recent popularity of ‘leaning in’ or women making an effort to band together: knowing that we are part of 15% does not facilitate women helping women, we are competing for the “woman’s spot” that’s been created. It’s a cycle that will repeat itself until more women are given the opportunities to write for film and television. The percentage will not open up until women are given more slots with help from new initiatives and much needed mentorships.
I recently asked a successful female writer for a chance to take her to dinner for advice and she declined. Later she posted online about her concern with younger women writers who understood “GIRLS” being a threat to her job. I do not blame her, but I can’t help but think this is the situation in which a man would help another man to become a colleague because there is room. In my experience, networking as a woman within this industry is especially difficult, but an unfortunate part of getting your scripts read. I believe it has more to do with this than women creating less worthy work.
Nancy Nigrosh wrote an article on IndieWire and response to the LA Times article, “Memo to Women Screenwriters: Man Up!” and had this to say:
“Why do so few scripts written by women receive high ratings on The Black List? This is mainly a problem for feature scripts, but highlighted television pilots also project a dim ratio.”
My writing partner and I have fall into this category made of “few”. Over Christmas holiday we received positive reviews for a comedy we wrote titled “Matt Goes to Rehab”, a script with a male lead, and it earned a place on the Industry Top List for the following month. The following is from our first review:
“Matt and Bryce’s friendship felt real and funny. It was hard to not picture Seth Rogen as Matt and Bryce as Jason Segel, which speaks not only to the character voices, but to the general commercial feeling of the script.”
Interestingly enough, we still encountered “learn to write like a man” and “market towards men” notes for our script:
“With a male protagonist, it’s important to make the movie feel as relatable to men as possible. Try to tap into the male mindset as much as possible when thinking about Matt, and think of the type of character an actor would want to play.”
No matter coverage or meeting, we are constantly reminded of our gender. When my writing partner and I had asked an agent to help us find a manager he replied, “You’ll want to find a woman who gets your humor. They will really push for you.”
What’s the statistic of women literary managers working in the entertainment industry? I’m going to imagine it is almost as staggeringly low. Should I believe a man in management is less likely to take us as clients because we are women? I’ll have the next few months to find out. I personally believe that when it comes to the best person for the job, it doesn’t matter whether you are a woman, a man, or a 15-year-old who is trusted by industry executives, just as long as you recognize good writing.
My panic attack turned into this article because I will never stop writing, no matter how few opportunities I have, even if I fall into next year’s 7%. Female screenwriters exist and we are out here, quitting our jobs and giving up our security because we have original stories to tell. We are looking for executives, agents, managers, and show runners to take a good hard look at 15%, then prop the door open for female writers before we crawl into a window. We’re out here waiting. I’ll be in my car.
What’s your experience on the ration of women to men in your line of work? We’d love to hear from you!