Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Does Writing Chick Flicks Make Good Business Sense?

I recently read Emily Blake’s fuming blog post about a screenplay she had to read, in which there was only one female character, who was a passive victim, waiting for a man to save her. It’s well worth a read, just to see the sparks of fury flying off your screen.

Besides that, though, Emily raises an interesting point, which was also discussed recently on BBC’s The Review Show, when one of the topics was Sex and the City 2: How come women’s experience is not more often the focus of mainstream movies? As Abby McDonald, one of the writers participating in the show said, there are plenty of movies with great roles for actresses, but very few films really portray a woman’s point of view.

Which goes some way to explaining the huge response from female audiences to movies like Mama Mia and Sex and the City.

To some extent I guess the dearth of authentic female points of view in mainstream cinema is just a another manifestation of prevalent gender status differences: Most people who write, direct, produce, fund and distribute movies are men. But I don’t think that’s the whole story. And I don’t believe there’s a deliberate, male chauvinist conspiracy to prevent movies that appeal to women from being made. After all, the same industry that churns out testosterone-driven action movies, also produced those female audience hits I just mentioned.

There are so many factors involved in getting a film made (and seen), that there’s probably no point trying to pinpoint any one issue that prevents more “female” films being made. Although… wait… actually, there is one thing: MONEY. And it’s ubiquitous flipside: RISK.

If only more of the conservative-minded men working in the movie business would sit up and take notice of the fact that hundreds of millions of women around the world, with enough disposable income to go to the movies with their girlfriends now and again, are dying to see their lives and problems portrayed more authentically on the silver screen... They’d see that there’s a lot less risk involved than they fear.

And as for simplistic representations of passive female characters with nothing better to do than wait for some muscle-bound numbskull to come along and sweep them off their feet… To me that just sounds like lazy and derivative writing. Isn’t it much more interesting to do something innovative with stereotypes rather than simply repeat them? And what else is Hollywood looking for, if it’s not new and surprising versions of familiar stories?

So I guess it’s really up to us screenwriters to recognize that it does make good business sense to write “female stories” which have the same dramatic, comedic impact as the overcooked macho stuff we’re used to seeing. At the very least it sets your screenplay above the masses of generic and lazily written scripts.

And if you’re a male screenwriter, clueless as to how to go about writing good female characters, take some advice from Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) in As Good As It Gets: “…think of a man and take away reason and accountability.” He was speaking ironically, right?


Anonymous said...

Hey Dave,

It's disturbing when writers think they know what its like to direct and produce a specific genre or they know what makes a guy or lady click? Is this a psychology course?


For the record, I hate so many chick flicks and will not watch it.

But I will not criticize or prevent your from making chick flicks.

I just don't watch it. And I respect Chick Flicks. And will buy them as Christmas/birthday presents etc.

An by the way, I read for contests and sometimes I select daring and guys and chick flicks. And there are contests out there that only like guys films. And there are only cable station that only buy and play guy films.

Did you see the movie CRASH by Cronenberg. Folks hated it. Such a silly wet dream kind of movie. But the top directors of the world respected it.

Respect folks. And stop thinking you can tell us (yes, I'm a 17 year old guy in Vegas going to University to study film and screenwriter)what to write or not write. Stop this hiding behind blog crap. It you think you are so good, make a good chick flick and win awards and get box-office gold.
Stop wasting my time.

Get used to the real world ladies.

I know some female screenwriters who are so cool and it does not bother them what guys like or write about. They are cool. The love all kinds of writing.

Why is it its always the female screenwriters who are upset at guys who write stuffs they like this. Guys write stuff they like. If they like R-rated humore - that is what they will write. If they like hard-core violence, that is what they will write about. So what.

Some female screenwriters write about feminist lifestyles or bi-sexuality or romance, affairs etc.

Raving Dave Herman said...

Are you sure it's me being sensitive?

But to address your main point (I think): I'm not telling anyone what to write, I'm wondering out loud why there aren't more mainstream movies out there catering for an apparently lucrative audience, namely women over twenty-five.

It's just one of many genres, and as you point out, there's a place for all kinds of films.

Ellin said...

Because the conventional wisdom, which may be right for all I know, is that women will go see a film with a male protagonist but men won't go to a film about a female protagonist (as the comment above would seem to attest). The same applies to the book audience, apparently. Moreover, the CW has it that men 18-25 are the most lucrative market.

One would hope the success of Mamma Mia and Sex In the City, both merely OK or worse in my view, would go some way to changing this, proving that there is an audience so desperate to see itself reflected on the screen it will embrace even mediocre films in huge numbers.

It's worth remembering that most of the men who make decisions in Hollywood (even though lots of studio execs are now women) don't want to look at women over 40 on the big screen. To paraphrase Kurtz, "The Wrinkles! The Wrinkles!"
Any female who isn't nubile just doesn't do it for them.

Also, the CW about what makes a good script works against women writers, which are why they make up less than 12% of produced screenwriters. I sent a script around to various friends in the biz for comment. All the men thought there was too much dialogue, too much romance and too much description of clothing. None of the women thought there was an excess of these things - in fact, some thought it could have used more.

I have another question: why aren't Van Damme/Diesel/The Rock films or any films with lots of violence, lots of explosions, lots of cars and limited character development considered part of a genre reductively called "dick flicks"?

Raving Dave Herman said...

Very astute, Ellin!

I still say it's mostly about marketing though, rather than some intrinsic 50-50 divide in humanity.

Recently heard Greg Davis sharing his experiences cutting trailers (on Pliar Alessandra's podcast). He explains how the same movie can be (and often is) cut into very different trailers, depending on who the target audience is.

BTW, my guess is that the moniker "dick flick" might also elicit cries of "The Wrinkles! The Wrinkles!" this time from the female development execs...