Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Male screenwriter fantasy

Sometimes when I'm reading a script for coverage, I want to grab a red sharpie and scrawl MALE SCREENWRITER FANTASY across the title page before tossing it into the trash. What I mean by MSF is that instead of writing real, well-developed, multi-dimensional women, male screenwriters sometimes write a woman they wish existed. This often manifests itself in overt sexuality, like the "ample cleavage" cliche that The Bitter Script Reader has blogged about.

Some examples of MSF:
1. All the women in your script sleep with (or attempt to sleep with) your male protagonist, even though he is an average-looking slacker with no job, purpose or attractive qualities.
2. Your physical descriptions of female characters are all highly sexualized, even if the characters are only in one scene and we never see any of their sex lives. Do we really need to know that FEMALE COP #1 has a great rack? (This especially bugs me because I bet you don't get into this kind of detail with your male characters.) Describing them as attractive is fine; I know that actors want to play attractive people. It's the over-sexualization that's problematic.
3. Sex scenes are graphic and/or numerous, even though they have nothing to do with the plot.
4. Women are completely helpless and need your male characters to save them from everything.

To be fair, I'm sure there is plenty of Female Screenwriter Fantasy out there...maybe I just don't see as much of it since male screenwriters still outnumber female ones in Hollywood. I admit that I've been guilty of writing male characters who would fit my own fantasies by being too perfect. For me, they're usually thoughtful, handsome, charming, brilliant, hilarious, employed guys who actively pursue their goals. (Somehow I think that's less offensive than misogyny, but I'm working on it nonetheless.) Writing about fantasies isn't always a bad thing, since wish fulfillment is part of a lot of great movies. But like great villains, all great characters - love interests, sidekicks, cops we see for ten seconds - should be the heroes of their own stories, not just the fantasies of writers.

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Adaddinsane said...

Not me, ma'am. Oh no, my females are always effective, dominant, wearing leather...


Adria Lang said...
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Carlos Matthews Hernandez said...

Ah, the amount of head shaking I do whenever I read anything that resembles what you're talking about, Amanda. And I'm not even talking about scripts either!

It's hard enough having to disprove male stereotypes out in the real world. Now I have to do it in the writing room?

Thank you, men. You make me proud.

Eve Montana said...

I find it more hilarious (read: not really) when the girl in these movies is described as "beautiful, but doesn't know it yet."

How about you show us in action instead of spelling it out? All that means is that they are going to cast a brunette instead of a blond.

Little Miss Nomad said...

The male screenwriter fantasy problem is rampant, and those scripts still get in doors. Amazing to me.

For my part, I sometimes underdescribe characters physically. If you can't see the character by his/her actions and dialogue, then I'm not doing my job.

Emily Blake said...

Amen. I also hate when the male characters get all kinds of interesting descriptions in their introduction, but the women are described solely by their hair color.

The Bitter Script Reader said...

I tend to use the abbreviation "NCS" for cases like this, as in "Needs Cold Shower."

Adaddinsane beat me to the inverse of this cliche, which is making a woman seemingly "empowered" while the script still goes over the top in sexualizing her.

There's nothing wrong with a sexy character. The problem tends to be when EVERY female character in the script is treated the same way. If you've got a character who owns her sexuality, that's great. Just maybe balance her with one who's more modest or introverted. Let the reader know that you are capable of writing several different shades of women.

Damsels in distress will pop up now and then, but maybe contrast them with an asskicker like Sarah on "Chuck" or Sydney on "Alias."

Of course the other "Male Screenwriter Fantasy" I see a lot is the "geeky girl." You'll recognize her by the fact she wears a vintage comic book T-shirt and is introduced via a debate about the merits of the Battlestar: Galactica reboot. Bonus points if she's got "hot librarian glasses" and a Hello Kitty backpack.

Oddly, when women indulge and create their "ideal" guy, the result is usually just a boring, bland character. Weird.

Patrick O'Riley said...

I have yet to encounter the Female Screenwriter Fantasy...

"MALE COP #1 appreciates everything his wife does for him."

Greg M said...

That is hardcore male privilege at work.

This is why I made sure I had readers of both genders read the beta test of my novel "The Lords of Perth," and specifically asked about the three-dimensionality of the female characters.

Also made sure my low-budget screenplay "Warehouse-Five" passes the Bechdel test. It has one smart, competent female lead who is utterly uninterested in having a boyfriend, and is surrounded by characters who don't think anything's strange about this. (The other female lead is equally smart and competent, but does go on a date with the main character. However, *she* ends up being the one who rescues *him* at the end. So there is that.)

Anthony Mango said...

There's a fine line, though. If you stray too far into doing the opposite for the sake of not doing any of those things listed above, you come across as the person that is trying too hard. Look at all these action movies that have come out over the years where they basically use the model "this woman isn't a helpless chick, she's the badass and won't take anything from any man". How many of them went on to be anything but bombs? The good ones do it well (James Cameron is particularly good), everyone else does it horribly and it comes off even worse than the stereotypical male-dominated entries. Overcompensation out of fear, exposing it all anyway.

Plus, what about all those stories written by women that idolize the protagonist in every way? Smarter than everyone, attractive, strong-willed, yet "never gets appreciated for it" despite how every scene beats the concept into your head? She'll stick up for herself against the bad guy and end up dating the pretty boy who just happens to be perfect in all traits. Just as rarely as the damsel in distress being an ugly woman is it that the woman in a romantic comedy ends up going for the ugly guy (unless he's "really NOT ugly once you give him that bad boy haircut").

It goes both ways...but in terms of the writing described in the original post, I wholeheartedly agree. That stuff is drivel.

El Knid said...

There is a female equivalent -- I've seen it! Not in scripts, though, but in short stories from back in undergrad writing workshops. I went to a former women's school with an artsy reputation. Every freshman girl in every writing workshop I took wrote at least one story about a quirky, precocious girl between 17 and 22 who was too smart/thoughtful/eccentric/spiritual for her square surroundings who then meets the one dreamy guy, usually an artist or musician, who is the only one who recognizes her for the beautiful and special person that she is. Only there's some arbitrary obstacle in the way of their burgeoning love...

Of course, in no time, these girls would pick up all the cues, and become the plot-eschewing Raymond-Carverites that writing programs tend to chew out. If they didn't... well, maybe they ended up becoming billionaires by writing YA novels about vampires.

Also, there's an alt-male equivalent of the Male Screenwriter Fantasy, which an Onion AV Club writer once dubbed the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl."

Jeff said...

this isn't quite as simple as male screenwriter fantasy. I've read female written scripts that do this. in fact, the most blatant example i have ever seen was from a girl. as a society, we tend to see woman through a sexual lens. It filters into our language, and then onto the pages of our screenplays.

even still, it is obviously true that men are more guilty of this than women. But really what you're reacting to is that men have had far more screenplays produced than woman. which sucks.

One thing I do object to is the whole, women objectify too but it is okay. If you take political offense to men writing fantasies of women, than you need to recognize that it is shouldn't be done on the other side. The well built, square jawed, athletic, perfect haired, wealthy, kind-but masculine-ideal is just as hard for human beings to achieve.

I don't take too much offense to either, people have a right to their fantasies, though I would say the the male fantasy is a little played out.

Ultimately, men aren't going to write that many incredibly balanced roles for woman. Woman need to. Men understand woman about as much as woman understand me.

Jeff said...
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Paul A Newman said...

Women write just as much Female Fantasy stuff as guys do. That's why they're called chick flicks. I mean, do you really think men watch Gray's Anatomy thinking they are well rounded male characters? How many rom-coms are there where the successful guy meets the average girl, but then sees how special she is in her heart and falls in love with her (tear). And it always ends with the guy rushing to the girl and giving some big romantic speech. Or how about in Gray's Anatomy when the doctor apologises to his wife after she cheated on him with his best friend. She cheats on him and yet somehow it's still all his fault! That's really the ultimate female fantasy -- not sex, just a man who will admit he is wrong.

Guys think chick flicks are crap. Women think men's movies are BS. You can either rail against it or accept the idea that we are all entitled to our fantasies.


Unknown said...

I had to endure a reading of a male screenwriter fantasy script a while ago. There were actually a few out-loud 'pah's and eye rolling from the women in the audience after the first few stunning 20 year olds threw themselves at the grumpy, balding, 40-something male protagonist... who just happened to be a writer! Eugh.

That said, in the feature I'm hopefully finishing today (which is naturally why I'm here commenting...) there is a hot Swedish guy. Now, it's not female screenwriter fantasy strictly as he's definitely not someone you'd want to be with (it's a thriller), but he is hot. And Swedish. Someone in my writer's group jokingly called it my Swedish Wank Fantasy script a while ago, and the name stuck as a joke between us.

So now I'm paranoid that when I'm pitching it, that's the title that will slip out! Which will serve me right really...

Tanya said...

Great post, Amanda! It's a point that needs to be made. I'm finding the same problem not only with movies/scripts but also in some novels I beta read for other writers. And while yes it's true that we females are also guilty of writing our own fantasies (you made me crack up with that one), it's definitely more noticeable with men in the film world.

Which is why it's a good thing to have the opposite gender read your work. ;)