Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Study of Gender Bias in Theater Throws Up an Unexpected Twist

The New York Times has this article on gender bias that unearths this surprise: female literary managers and artistic directors are more likely to rate as poor a female-written play than a male one, and are therefore partly responsible for the disparity between the number of male vs. female plays produced.

Other findings from the study conducted by Emily Glassberg Sands, Princeton student: men are more prolific than women and submit more work... which provides a rather more mundane assessment of why more women's work isn't produced. Interestingly enough, however, in the last ten years female written shows have performed better on Broadway. (Plays and musicals by women sold 16 percent more tickets a week and were 18 percent more profitable over all.)

Finally plays featuring women are less likely to be produced.

Any parallels over in Hollywoodland, ya think?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Further Writers Group Adventures of Third World Girl

Just like the projects in my life, my writers group has entered this weird holding pattern. Instead of the weekly, different participants every seven days, the group has gone back to the infinitely more sane bi-weekly schedule but there's the same volatility in its make up.

I have no idea who'll show week to week. Sometimes it feels like it's just me, the group leader, and a background cast. This kind of makes for vastly different chemistry session to session which I find frustrating because the quality of the feedback is unpredictable.

Last night for example, we had a new addition...let me call her The Holder-Forth. She's the one in the group who has to tell you she's read for contests, knows A-list actors, and inform you of how they do it in "the business". The thing is she was whip smart and gave good feedback and I really hope she returns but she bugged me in one particular, all too familiar way.

Allow me to illustrate.

My script, unsurprisingly, is set in my home country because it's the Little Movie I Want to Direct and I figure the only hope I have of getting it made is to call on every bit of goodwill I've managed to accumulate on the island. Holder-Forth seized on the script's concept and started to wax poetic about the kinds of conflicts I might be exploring seeing as the story involves a girl based in London returning to her island home. "I imagine there'd be quite a contrast between her life in London and on the economically depressed island of Barbados."

I bristled but I let it go. What I really should have said is tell me more about my economically depressed island, Holder-Forth. Do they have houses or does everyone still live in mud huts? It turned out I didn't have to invite her to do so, however, because later on in the feedback she expressed a level of perplexity at why all the characters in the movie didn't know each other. "They live on the same island, right?" she said.

I gently tried to explain to her that my particular island, the "economically depressed island of Barbados" actually had more than a quarter million people on it and therefore not all the characters in my movie know each other. It was possible for people to be strangers and meet for the first time. She shrugged and said, "I'm just telling you what the perception in Hollywood is."

So now I know.

Some days more than others I think I need to hurry up and write my goat racing comedy on an economically depressed island where everybody knows each other because Hollywood would totally get that and then I could sell out and go live in Cobble Hill.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The "I Must Make This Movie" Draft of the Budget

Just got back from meeting with the line producer on crazy Bollywood musical.

We're in the process of doing the "I Must Make This Movie" draft of the budget, down from the optimistic, maybe this recession will go away, mid-budget draft he wrote a month ago. We're also doing this paring down because the music artist who's attached to the movie has a window next year to make this thing and so we've got to shoot for it. (He's usually booked year round.)

I've spent a lot of time waiting for permission from other people to make this movie but the thing is sometimes your story begins when YOU begin. I keep giving myself reasons not to move ahead with this project but at every turn the reasons dissolve. Just when I'm losing faith, the right people appear to push the boulder a little further up the hill.

Like a producer said at some IFP panel I went to a couple years ago, the first thing you've got to do in your capacity as producer is greenlight the freakin' movie. Sure you can have more than one plan and budget for it: the Dream Budget, the Mid-Budget and the I Must Make This Movie Budget but in the end, you've got to give yourself that start date and go for it. And that's what we've done.

Now we sink or swim.

Image by moleitau

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

An End of Draft(s) Mope

I've just finished rewrites and a first draft on three projects in various stages of development, projects that are all terribly familiar in their own way. (The first draft for Little Movie I Want to Direct is actually an adaptation from one of my short stories.)

For the first time in a long time I have to think about what I want to work on next...and nothing comes to mind. Sure I've got ideas, titles, characters, concepts I think might be cool to explore but do I feel like dedicating months, years to whipping these little wisps into something significant that I care about? Right

Instead I sit and think about why things take so long to happen, primarily with crazy Bollywood musical... why everything just seems to be in a giant holding pattern for the summer. I'm trying my best to snap out of it and move on since too much "mope" is the enemy of the hope and resilience you need to get anything produced, especially these days.

This leaves me putting one foot in front of the other, servicing the busy day job and trying my best not to pay attention to the fact that half of 2009 is gone.


Friday, June 12, 2009

The Death of the Adult Drama

At the PGA's recent "Produced By" conference, producer Kathy Kennedy ("Diving Bell and the Butterfly", "Persepolis", "Curious Case of Benjamin Button") underscored the sad outlook for adult movies like "The Soloist", "State of Play" and "Duplicity"... all featuring bankable actors, all of which died at the box office.

What studios want more than ever is the big budget, four quadrant tentpole movie. Safe, safe, safe. This way even when a project flops execs can shrug, say "Who knew Terminator 4 wasn't going to be a juggernaut?" and keep their jobs.

In short, indies are back to being indies again.

But why have older audiences, the core audience for the subtle stuff, abandoned the Oscar bait movie? Is it a question of recent releases being underwhelming, folks looking for escapist flicks given the bleak economic times or is something else at play?

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Missing Brad & Austin

It's Murphy's Law that everything that can go wrong, will, right? Well today, in between working the day job, I was planning a quick trip to the post office to toss my scripts in the ring for the Austin Screenwriting Contest. (Today was their deadline.) I've missed every other contest this year being focused on producing the crazy Bollywood movie but this year I'd love to go to Austin and it seemed like a good idea to enter something never know.

I don't know why Austin is so old fashioned, but you can't do an online submission. They make you print pages, three hole punch, fasten and stand in line at a brick and mortar post office! I guess I wasn't aware of how out of practice I was at this job until today.

It's partially my fault. I doubled my workload, deciding I might as well submit a new script in addition to the old problem child screenplay that I've rewritten so much I no longer have perspective on. More than anything, I'm curious to see how "new script" fares and since Austin now offers notes on second round scripts I figured it couldn't hurt to see what their readers think... in the unlikely event that it advances.

Submitting two scripts meant more time spent collating, three hole punching, filling out application forms, attaching checks, writing synopses, but with an iron like will I did it. And then at the point when all I had to do was fasten those suckers, drop them in an envelope and send the whole hulking package to Texas... I realized a brad was missing.

Okay. Don't panic. I'm in the greatest city on earth. I'm sure I can find a box of brads/ fasteners, right? I tried a nearby Office Depot which yes! had fasteners but it was one box of the sad, tiny, one inch ones. I toyed with the idea of trying to use one of these but it looked ridiculous, didn't hold the pages properly and would probably just enrage the poor Austin reader who would be being deluged with a bunch of last minute scripts.

Having no luck with the generic office store I figured I'd try the specialty shop...the Drama Bookshop which BTW sells a great collection of books on film, theater and acting. Unfortunately when I asked about brads, the guy at the register looked at me like I was speaking in iambic pentameter. One of the old timers came out of the back eventually and said, "Yeah, I remember when we used to sell those," and then shrugged an "I have no idea who still sells those things." I felt like the last, obsolete screenwriter in New York City.

Still I became aware of the fact that I was in a shop with actors in New York! Maybe I'd find someone flipping through their "Ugly Betty" or "Law and Order" episode. I figured I could tell them my plight, appeal to their sympathy or simply, if worse came to worse, overpower them, swipe the single brad and sprint to the post office. No such luck. The shop was full of theater people.

Thinking I'd have to head all the way back to Brooklyn, I lucked out and found the missing brad on the floor of my car. Oh happy accident... I headed to a Chelsea post office figuring it might be quieter than Midtown but everyone and their mama was mailing out stuff. It felt like I stood in line forever but the relief when the lady took my envelope and gave me my delivery confirmation... joy unimaginable.

And on my way out of the post office, I saw a guy with bedhead hair in a plaid shirt and shorts, hustling to the double doors, his face streaked with a purple bruise. I looked down at the brown, padded envelope in his hand and saw the first line of the address scrawled on it...Austin Film Festival. I couldn't help but wonder what gave him the bruise...perhaps he'd taken a nasty tumble onto his three hole punch(?)

The point is even though I hardly ever enter contests, a couple of the brass rings like Austin I love, because they remind you you're part of the screenwriting community. Check out the message boards around submission and notification dates and there's kinship in commiserating and congratulating...You get a big fat reminder you're not alone in a line of work that can often be so lonesome. I think that's a pretty neat prize.