Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Chick flicks

Imogen writes in with a question:

While browsing this year's specs in the Black List ( and the Hit List (, I couldn't help but notice that most are action films or thrillers. Comedy tended to feature towards the bottom of the lists, and even then, there were few to begin with. Chick flicks? Hah! Maybe 2 or 3 max.

Awesome. I'm writing a chick flick.

Is it harder to get a chick flick made, compared to other genres?
Are there more male script readers than female? And if yes, do you think this would make a difference anyway? Or does the lack of comedy and girly films just reflect current tastes in the market?

Some good questions here, so let's start with the easy one:

"Is it harder to get a chick flick made?" That depends - is it a drama, comedy or melodrama?

Melodrama = Beaches
Drama = The Notebook, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, For Colored Girls,
Comedy = Maid of Honor, The Ugly Truth, What Women Want

There are also Dramadies like The Devil Wears Prada, which really sort of straddle the line. I'd probably push it as a comedy if I was trying to sell it, given the conventional wisdom that drama is less commercially successful.

Of the three sub-genres, Comedy is probably the easiest of the three to sell. Comedy tends to have broader commercial appeal and it you'll find a high concept female-driven comedy more often than a high-concept female-driven drama. In fact, it's possible that those will be seen as "high concept comedies" rather than "chick flicks."

The advantage of a chick-flick is that they cost a helluva lot less than your average Bruckheimer or Bay film. So you might not have a mega-hit like Transformers on your hands, but you also don't NEED to recoup a $150 million dollar budget. (Unless you've made the mistake of hiring Jim Brooks to direct.)

Also, women tend to be an under-served portion of the viewing audience. And people seem to forget about this until a Sex & The City opens big and for a week, publications both online and print run feature articles with the subtext, "Golly gee! Dem dere's womenfolk who can buy tickets too!"

The important thing is to have a "star role." Make sure it's something that Reese or Anne could play if you're dealing with younger characters. If you're dealing with older, think Julia or Meryl, and even older you want Diane Keaton. Maybe I'm wrong in this thinking, a healthy portion of the chick flicks out there seem star-driven. (Which makes sense, there aren't an abundance of high-concept chick-flicks that have REALLY worked. The Wedding Date, anyone?)

I'll plead guilty here - I've not worked for many companies in the business of making these movies frequently, so my "insider" knowledge here is less useful than if we were talking about genre pics. Is a chick flick likely to be THE hot spec? No, probably not... because it's less likely to be the big phenomenon of the summer.

Given that the Black List usually tends to spotlight either high-concept scripts or quirky comedies, I wouldn't read too much into the lack of scripts on that list.

Having said that, if you're writing a tear-jerking melodrama, you might want to rethink it. Those haven't been big lately and they tend to be tricky scripts to get readers excited about.

As for if there are more male readers than female, I can say with any certainty that there's a significant imbalance in the gender ratio. My personal experience is that I've encountered more male readers than female. As to if it makes a difference if you have a male or a female reader on your chick flick, it shouldn't. If the reader is any good, the main thing that will stand in your way is who they're reading for.

Readers are paid to filter material for their bosses. Thus, it behooves them to identify material that their bosses will find valuable. If they're reading for a company that makes dramas, they'd better know what makes a good drama. If their bosses tend to produce thrillers, then they should have an eye for thrillers - and if their bosses make chick flicks, then the readers - male and female - had better be able to recognize a good chick flick.

I hope that answers your questions.


  1. Hey Bitter,

    With all the end of the year lists, I don't think I've run across a "chick" that lists the hottest female writers? The Black List and almost every other list I've seen has been male-dominated, with one or two female writers and most of the time they are co-writing with men. Has someone started this kind of list, the best unproduced scripts written by women?

  2. That's a really good idea. Someone in Hollywood should come out with a list like that. Something proactive to chip away at the gender disparity.

  3. I'm of two minds about this. On one hand, I can see the value in spotlighting female-written scripts as a way of encouraging more women scribes. On the other... I'd worry it carries the subtext of "Scripts that are pretty good... for being written by a girl."

    After all, in a business sense what would such a list accomplish? A list of the best "unproduced scripts" or the best "horror scripts" at least carries some market value. It's like a big neon sign for the people who produce those films, saying "HEY! This is in your wheelhouse and it's still available!"

    Are agents going to be as quick to call out the best scripts by women writers? How many people in the business recall a script by the gender of its writer? Any reader would find it easier to answer "What was the best script you read last year?" or "What's the best horror script you read?"

    So there's some noble intent there, but I don't know if it's practical enough to be implemented.

    But it does seem odd that so few scripts written by women placed on the Black List. Are there that many fewer female writers?

  4. I don't think there are fewer female writers. Are there other "minority" lists that highlight Latino or African-American writers? I know there's the Brit List for British writers. And I agree it may not be the best way for women writers to get some notice. But then again, there is the organization Women In Film already in existence. Shouldn't or couldn't they be encouraged to support upcoming women writers with the end of the year list?

    It seems to me that if there were such a list, it might encourage cross-listing. I haven't checked, but I wonder how many on the horror list were also on the Black List.

  5. I can't fathom all the factors that feed the disparity between men and women screenwriters. But it obviously exists – Certainly to a much greater extent than can be rationalized with simplistic child-rearing rationales.

    Might be interesting if you interviewed a couple people who have more perspective on why it is and how they see the future.

  6. I don't want to be on a list of great women writers. I want to be on a list of great writers.

  7. Thank you, Emily. I was hoping that a female reader would chime in with that sentiment.

  8. I remember when I heard about women art museum in washington, dc. First, joy, then, ugh, wait, this is wrong, really wrong. No separate list.

    Besides, the movies I consider chick flicks, and I'm a chick I know of such things, go way beyond being a chick flick, like 300 (Queen Gorgo? a chick I'll watch any flick to see).

    My favorite love stories get logged in first as action or thriller, like True Romance, Natural Born Killers, Fifth Element, Mummy, and the less active but just as entertaining State and Main (I think Mamet might well have been at his happiest with that one). Chicks want good entertainment. Just like the boys.

    A more traditional type chick flick I'm looking forward to, Sarah Haskins' Booksmart, hoping it provides the same funny smart social commentary she puts in her other work. Truly smart chick flicks are always welcome.

    Good luck to you, Imogen! Keep it smart and sassy and the chicks will flock.

  9. Thank you so much for answering my question in such detail. I'm happy to say the script is a high-concept comedy with a (young) star role. Now there's just the worrying fact that I live in Australia...

    And I'm with Emily. It's bad enough that every editorial piece written about a famous woman opens with an in-depth report on the outfit she's wearing and whether or not she's got kids, along with some ditzy headline like "You go, girl!" I'd rather play ball with the boys then end up in some "we can do it too" club. And I think this attitude actually makes me more of a feminist.