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.
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.