Monday, October 3, 2011

The era of the female screenwriter is over for good... until the next breakout hit "shocks" everyone

Earlier this summer, a new era in female-driven movies was declared when Bridesmaids had a strong showing at the summer box office to the tune of $169 million domestically, and $286 million worldwide.  I can't count how many articles I saw touting this as a victory for female screenwriters and womens' movies in general.  Again and again, executives were quoted as being invigorated to discover that the female audience *gasp* buys tickets to films featuring female protagonists.

In fact, so great was the return on Bridesmaids, it made everyone forget how incredibly annoying most of Kristen Wiig's original characters have been on Saturday Night Live and it even won Melissa McCarthy an Emmy.  (I know, the Emmy was ostensibly for the sitcom Mike & Molly, but I ask you - do YOU know anyone who watches that show?)

I couldn't help but chuckle at all of these "rah rah sisterhood!" articles - not because I have anything against female writers, mind you.  It's just that I've seen ALL of those articles and their thesis before.  It happened after Sex & The City, it happened after The First Wives Club, and I'd be willing to bet that there were similar articles after Thelma & Louise came out.

The routine: a movie targeted at a minority demographic makes a big splash - usually on a somewhat conservative budget.  The stars of the film are splashed all over the industry press for a few weeks, along with analysis that there's a vastly under-served audience out there that could yield.  Thinly-veiled ripoffs of this film are announced - begining  a trend that lasts until a solitary inferior film in that genre tanks.  This insures that when another film in that genre "inexplicably" is a hit a year or two down the line, the analysits are shocked anew.

So what I'm saying is - pretty much every female screenwriter in town is pissed at What's Your Number? for opening in eighth place this past weekend.  This is solid proof that when it comes to selling tickets for shitty concepts and poorer execution - it's a lot easier to dupe male audiences than female audiences.

This phenomena isn't limited to just female-driven films.  Tyler Perry has made a career out of going just long enough between movies for people to forget that black people go to the movies too.  Thus, every film he makes is not only a profitable hit - but it reasserts his position as a filmmaker whose works are basically a license to print money.  Amazingly no other filmmaker or studio has really taken advantage of the audience that Perry has shown time and again is there.

Furrthermore, the success of Bridesmaids was in part because it appealed to women AND men.  If you have something that speaks to a passionate audience that isn't often catered to and still draws in the men who go to, say, Adam Sandler comedies, that's where the money lies.  Similarly, consider why Will Smith is one of the biggest stars in the world - because he draws the African-American audience - and is beloved by the mainstream (read: "white") ticketbuyers.  If studio heads had any sense, they'd invest serious money in creating another black superstar capable of headlining movies that would have been once led by Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson.

And if I had any sense, I'd be writing a film with an ensemble African-American cast, with a few funny ladies thrown in for fun.

Screw it, I'm making that my next project - a comedy about maturing African American "playas" who get a new perspective on romance as they woo a bunch of comedicly gifted Caucasian ladies.  I think I'll call it Where All the White Women At?

So what can you, the writer, take from this?  Easy - every trend is cyclical.  It's always the Year of the Woman until a bomb comes out.  But even when the trend goes fallow it ALWAYS comes back.  So if you're halfway through a female driven ensemble comedy - finish it!  If you've got a great script that just so happens to be predominantly African-American in cast, don't worry, its day will come.  If it was hot before, it will be hot again.

So hang in there, ladies.  If your script's any good, it'll have its day.


  1. I remember when Diablo Cody was hailed as the savior of female screenwriter. Cody and her "Mom's such a hosebeast" hipster dialogues were supposed to be the next big thing after her success with Juno.

    Now the new hot chick in town is the "Terra Nova" chick who pitched Speilberg "Avatar meets Jurassic Park" in between bit parts and working at a video store. (BTW, didn't Spielberg discover Diablo Cody as well?)

    But she'll soon fade after Terra Nova gets cancelled (which it will after this season).

    There's some pretty good female screenwriters working in t.v., but hardly any in features...

    This isn't the case for female fiction writers. Some of the most popular fiction novel authors in the past twenty years have been female.

  2. Bridesmaids was written by a woman? I'm shocked! Frankly, I never saw the movie because the one fat character was written as such a stereotype that I refused to see it. As a fat woman I'm actually offended by what I see in the previews. More so than a lot of fat women were about Shallow Hal. We're not all masculine/butch. I would NEVER suggest a "female Fight Club" - if only because I absolutely abhor Brad Pitt. The slicked back hair as well....

    I honestly thought that a bunch of men who never even talked to a girl wrote that movie based on just that one horrid character.

    And you can quote me on that.

  3. @JamiSings RE: "I never saw the movie because the one fat character was written as such a stereotype that I refused to see it. As a fat woman I'm actually offended by what I see in the previews. More so than a lot of fat women were about Shallow Hal."

    You are talking about the character, Megan, played by Melissa McCarthy (who did win the Emmy for Bridesmaids - and agreed - I know NO ONE who watches Mike & Molly).

    In the actual screenplay, this is the description for Megan: "MEGAN is Dougie’s sister. An ODDBALL. She looks like she
    might be at the wrong party. She is single and lovin’ it!"

    That's it. No where does it say "She's fat and butch!" Melissa McCarthy was the best person for the role and she just so happens to be significantly overweight. The character is hilarious and McCarthy's execution is stellar. And in the end, it's a comedy. It's meant to get some over the top laughs and succeeds at doing so.

  4. Look at the commercials. She comes off as a butch type fattie. A stereotype I'm sick and tired of. Along with that we're all slobs, that we all eat 24/7, that we're all lazy, etc.

    I stand by what I said. I refuse to see the movie as that character completely offends me.

  5. No, JamiSings, I will not base my opinions of a film character off of a commercial. If you refuse to watch the film, then read the script. This is, after all, a screenwriting-of-sorts blog. I gave you the character description from a draft since you did not watch the film.

    If you did watch the film, you would realize the "butch type fattie" you're talking about is actually one screw away from being a sex addict and is a technical genius. But you're right, you wouldn't get that from a 45 second clip they decided to air for promotional purposes.

    The point is: The character was not written to be some fat slob. The character was written as an offbeat, over the top, direct woman who's biggest concern was to GET LAID. Melissa McCarthy was the women with the comedic timing to pull it off - her weight had nothing to do with it.

    Apologies to Bitter Script Reader for engaging in the off-topic thread...but not sorry enough to erase what I just wrote. ;)

  6. No apology necessary, Brook. You said it better than I could have.

  7. I won't watch 'Big Momma's House' because as an undercover police officer in fat old lady drag I found that trailer offensive, I don't pick my wedgies on the porch.

  8. Ha ha, Pete.


    One note on your post, Bitter Script Reader: Women aren't a 'minority' group.

    "The routine: a movie targeted at a minority demographic makes a big splash - usually on a somewhat conservative budget."

    I get what you're saying and take your point. But still, women are not a minority group.

    Slightly different influences are at play...