However much you know or don’t know about movies and television, you can’t deny that they are a massive, unhinged, inspiring part of our worldwide culture. And they’re relatively new (just like podcasts are relatively new too!) Humans have been telling stories since about the time we developed fire, but it’s only in the last century or so that films have risen to prominence.
And I love it. I love learning about practical effects and never-been-done-before techniques. And I love hearing about the things actors do (or won’t do), for the good (or detriment) of a film. I love the resurgence of stop-motion animation, and I love the way that computer animation has evolved over the last few decades. I love the gossip a little bit too if I’m being brutally honest (the Quibi debacle is breathing life into my cold, dead heart; what a mess). And I really love listening to podcasts about all of this.
It’s a fascinating world! Podcasts are the way into it!
As if this year wasn’t bad enough we lost a great one. He didn’t even let the world know he was sick, choosing to slip quietly back into the universe. It’s devastating.
In my most basic fan-girl state I’m sad about the loss of T’Challa; a monumental force in the world of superheroes. But he was also Thurgood Marshall and Jackie Robinson; he brought his all to so many good roles (made better by his talent!) and it’s just tragic that he’s gone.
As a writer still trying to break into the industry, it’s not like I knew him. His loss doesn’t affect me as much as it does his family and friends. But more than once I was writing characters thinking that Boseman would be a good fit for the role (as if I’d have any say). His talent was beyond measure and the world is just a little less bright without him.
RIP Chadwick Boseman. A true light in the darkness has gone out.
There are plenty of myths and misconceptions about the world of screenwriting and film, just like any industry. The pervasive untruths that people believe about filmmaking are pretty wild, and before I got enmeshed in this world I believed plenty of them myself. (Heck, part of me still wants to believe that I can make bank with screenwriting. Ce n’est pas vrai. C’est la vie).
Here are some of the most common and most untrue myths about screenwriting and the film industry that I have come across.
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Myth: It’s lucrative.
Fact: This is one of those myths that makes me laugh. For the most part, you cannot make a living on screenwriting alone. At least until you’re fairly well established, and even that can be a bit of a tossup. The majority of screenwriting gigs for movies are commission based; you don’t know where the next job is coming from once you’ve finished the one you’re working on. Sometimes big payouts for a script get publicized. Various entertainment and industry publications will tell you about the latest acquisition by big-name directors and up-and-coming writers, utmost scripts rarely get bought. Those that do rarely make the kind of seven-figure payout you think of when you think of Hollywood.
I don’t write screenplays for the money; it’d be nice to make some but I’m not kidding myself. I write because I love it. (And because I want to eventually have someone buy my script and Chris Evans star in it, and then meet me and fall in love with me. Obviously. This is a sound plan.)
That sucks. That’s just bad math. Especially considering that women are making some really great films, and have been since films began. Hell, when I first started writing and submitting screenplays for competitions I considered doing it under a male/gender neutral pseudonym. Because that’s the world I am living and working in right now.
(But also, what if women were making really mediocre films? Men get away with that all the time, but don’t end up representing their entire gender when something flops. ‘The Room’ is a cult classic and it sucks. When was the last time you saw a ‘so bad it was good’ film directed or written by a woman? Something to think about.)
Here’s a few women on my radar that I think are really killing the film industry game. They’re making phenomenal pieces and working hard to amplify voices of minorities and other women.
‘The Farewell’ was a phenomenal film directed by Lulu Wang and premiering at Sundance. Wang is fairly new on the scene. (Or rather, was working hard and then made something brilliant that put her in the spotlight). Her film killed it at Sundance and with good reason; it’s personal and raw and funny and heartfelt. It’s a beautiful story about the juxtaposition between Eastern and Western cultures and a look into the lengths families go to to keep each other happy. I truly cannot wait to see what Wang comes up with next.
There are some things in storytelling that we repeat, rehash, and make anew. That’s part of the human condition; we love telling stories and boy howdy, do we love hearing, reading, and seeing them on the screens. Chalk it up to the hero’s journey, but humans are just super into that rising-action/climax/conclusion cycle. And within that cycle we come up with literary tropes as well; the wise old mentor, the sidekick, the monster. These have been around since humans first sat around a fire together telling stories.
As storytelling evolved, so to have these tropes. In fact, with regards to film and TV, there’s a whole website dedicated to cataloging them. Sure we have wise old mentors, but we also have The Hacker, who can smash a keyboard and get into any computer system. We have The Jock and The Cheerleader and myriad other roles we slot our characters into. There are themes that get repeated, lines of dialogue that pop up again and again — i.e. techno-jargon followed by a, “Speak English!” — and even plot holes that writers fall into again and again.
Writing and storytelling are hard; it’s easy to walk on the well-trod path that others have set before. In fact, in many ways it’s a good thing; the hero’s journey speaks to us on a nearly primal level. Humans like it, and your story probably already follows obliquely; let it. Have fun with it.
But there are some tropes, particularly in film and screenwriting, that we do not need anymore.
The following list is a collection of some of my least favorite writing tropes. They’re just malarkey. Frankly, they are dated and offensive. You can do better.
So excited for the new Sony Pictures Animation film. The trailer looks so good. I’m in love with the art style; it’s cartoony and exaggerated which we totally need after ages and ages of hyper realistic stuff and uncanny valley big-eyes ‘everyone looks the same’ women. It’s truly gorgeous.
My last big girl blog post was about being a fat woman trying to make it as a screenwriter.
Now I’m wondering if perhaps a more pertinent problem is just to be a woman trying to make it as a screenwriter. And whether or not that’s worth it in an industry that is so skewed.
I’m of course talking about the Roman Polanski win at the Cesars in France (god bless Adèle Haenel and the others who walked out!). But I’m also talking about Harvey Weinstein. And I’d be remiss to forget about all the women snubbed at the Oscars last year — Natalie Portman may have embroidered their names on her cloak, but they deserved so much more.
According to Woman and Hollywood and the Center For the Study of Women in Television and Film, of the top 100 grossing films in 2019, only 20% of the writers were women (I don’t have the stats on POC, or WOC, but I imagine they’re equally abysmal). The disparity is just astounding and awkward. This wasn’t some statistic from two decades ago, these were the films from last year. The industry tells time and time again that our voices and our writing isn’t worth it.
I’m tired. That’s all I can say. It’s International Women’s Day and it doesn’t feel like things are changing at all. Maybe they’re getting worse. And I don’t have a solution; I can’t offer any real advice. I’m struggling and I’m hoping it’s because I’m struggling like every other writer and not because my gendered name on the cover page of my screenplays (my mom once told me that I should change my name on my writing from Elizabeth to Eli… I’m almost tempted to try it).
I’m just going to keep writing. That’s all I can do.
To all the women out there feeling less than great about how things are in our industry – and really, any industry – I’m with you. We’re just going to keep going, and we’re eventually going to win.
Thank you to all the women who are standing up and fighting back.
I’m going to be brutally honest; there’s something utterly devastating and soul-crushing about being plus size in a world that idolizes thinness. That’s just a fact. Right now I’m sitting pretty at a size 20-22 jean and a 3X shirt and sometimes don’t want to leave the house because of the potential to be seen by some jerk who thinks they know what’s best for me. Los Angeles, California (and really the whole world?), just doesn’t have the infrastructure and chutzpah to love someone like me. Further still, I grew up in San Francisco which, while a notoriously liberal and accepting culture, definitely has no problem shaming fat people for being ‘unhealthy’. (The whole city is proof positive that hating fat people is the last remaining ‘acceptable’ prejudice. Yikes, right?)
And I’m one of the lucky ones; the vitriol infini-fats, and plus size POC and GNC people suffer is beyond cruel. If you squint I’m an ‘hourglass’ shape, (and I’m not going to lie, my face is super cute which doesn’t hurt). I can fake being thinner than I am in pictures. If I stick with above the waist selfies or angle things just right I look more conventionally attractive.
God, I was looking for a podcast and ended up on one that was recapping the oscars (Ringer’s ‘The Big Picture’), and then one of them said that Endgame was a good movie, and I just had to turn it off.
Am I wrong? I don’t really understand how someone can call Endgame a good movie. It was up for best SFX, but even those were just flash. It had an infinite budget, but there was nothing original or interesting about their effects at all.
And the story sucked; it was completely out of character for each protagonist, it was filled with weird callbacks for the audience that didn’t hit nearly as well as they could’ve if they were well written, and the entire time travel thing was poorly executed at best.
I used to be a real MCU fan, but I literally just dropped it after Endgame. That’s the sign of a bad movie if nothing else. I’m still mad about it because I was invested in those characters and those stories and the payout was just trash. I’m still a big Captain America fan, but really only the fandom version of him now; his ending was completely ruined.
God even the costuming and hair/makeup wasn’t good or in-character. I just can’t.
Honestly, I’m of the opinion of ‘take it or leave it’ when it comes to the Oscars. The Academy isn’t out of touch per se, but as a female screenwriter, I feel left out to say the least. Obviously the dream is to win an oscar; that’s the American film industry thing, but there’s a part of me that’s convinced I may never get there because of the way women and POC have been snubbed in the past. This year was no different of course, but there were a few great flashes.
And because I like fashion, I’m starting off with fashion. Because fashion is fun.