Monthly Archives: January 2014

Sexism by design


I try to write an even mix of male and female characters. I know the Bechdel test is a throwaway gag and just a talking point, not a serious yardstick … but I like to pass it if I can. But sometimes, it just doesn’t happen. Sometimes the design of the story conspires against me and the characters have to be specific genders. Sometimes, it means only having one major female character by default.

For example, a script I’ve been working on recently came out this way. I tried to even the genders out a bit … but just couldn’t, not with the story I was supposed to be writing. Basically, it’s a fantasy feature based on a pre-existing male character.

The protagonist has been male for hundreds of years. There is no female equivalent of him. This story tells of his origins, how he came to be him. Starting him off as a woman and having him change into a man would be odd. Similarly, replacing him with a woman or explaining he was always a woman and people got the legend wrong … it’s not a bad idea for a film, but it’s not the film the producer wanted.


I should probably point out here, the producer is a woman.

The protagonist is a man. There’s no way around that.

Next up is his love interest – she’s a woman. She could be a man, I guess; but given who this story is about, then the controversy that would cause would overshadow everything else about this story for no good reason and would actually be depriving the story of the only female character. Just to be “shocking”.

There are two villains. The main, behind the scenes controlling one and the one who does all the physical fighting.

For this is an action-adventure yarn.

Think of them as Star Wars’ Emperor and Darth Vader.


The Emperor character could be a woman. Easily. The character is a legendary figure also, but there are male and female versions of this anthropomorphic personification in myth. So yeah, she can be a she.

Except, there have been three very popular films out recently with the female version of this character. Oh, and a fourth one just came out recently. The female version has been done, a lot. So much, in fact, that it’s becoming hard to find a new angle on that character.

The male version, to the best of my knowledge has never been done on screen before.


Add to that the fact the Vader-villain is also over-done in recent years and I felt I was facing a problem. I think I can get away with my version of the Vader-character because my version is different to everyone else’s. I don’t believe I can get away with two seen-it-before characters … so the Emperor-villain becomes a man.

The Vader-villain I could create a female version of. It would be fresh and new and more interesting … but … and this is probably just as sexist as making him a him … the Vader-villain has to be physically beaten up by the male protagonist and people tend to balk at boy-on-girl violence.

I sort of understand that, but I also find it a bit weird.


Boy-on-boy violence – that’s fine. Who doesn’t want to see guys kicking the crap out of each other? In an action setting, that is.

Girl-on-girl violence – yep, that’s fine. In almost all cases.

Girl-on-boy? – That’s a weird one – it often manifests itself as a slap in an otherwise non-violent movie. During a domestic argument, it’s apparently perfectly acceptable for a woman to strike a man. He probably deserves it.

But if it’s boy-on-girl? If the man slaps the woman in the same situation … no one is comfortable with that unless there’s extreme provocation. And possibly not even then.

Lois punched

I guess it’s all about generalities. Generally, men are physically stronger than women. Generally. Not always. Generally it’s hard for the weaker to bully the stronger. Generally. Still not always. So maybe a strong person hitting a weaker person looks like bullying, no matter the gender?

For whatever reason, whenever I’ve been completely equal-opportunities with violence in a script, the producers get upset about it. Unless it’s a female-protagonist martial arts film, in which case it’s absolutely fine.

Male protagonist hitting female antagonist?

Makes people nervous and no one wants to spend money nervously.

Sledge Hammer! It's fucking Sledge Hammer! On a T-Shirt! I fucking love Sledge Hammer, I does!

I’m not saying this is the right attitude to have, just observing it exists.

So the Vader-villain had to be male too.

Who’s left?

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The protagonist has two mentors – a physical one and a mental one. The physical one was the producer’s idea and she wanted him to be male. I didn’t get a choice on that one. Plus, as part of the story, our male protagonist gets mistaken for his mentor … so kind of had to be male. Not really, but I was tying myself up in knots trying to make it work when it was explicitly against the producer’s wishes.

Just pointless.


The other mentor, the mental one … I can’t think of any story reason why he had to be a man; but there is a personal one. I wanted a specific actor for the role. I’ve had him in mind for years, but never found a space for him in anything I’ve written. I really, really wanted to write this role for him.

Yes, it’s selfish and probably sexist … but … well, there we go.

And that’s how it happened.

Some of the minor characters are women. Some (because it’s a fantasy) are gender neutral. But overall, the majority of the cast are men because that’s (kind of) what the story demanded.

Does that make me happy?



I have a daughter who I want to write positive role models for. I want her to have the kind of heroes in her life that I had growing up. I want them to be women who aren’t scantily dressed and who don’t use their sexuality to get them out of tricky situations. Well, not all of them all the time anyway. I also feel there’s nothing wrong with a bit of scantiness and sexual wiles now and then, so long as it’s appropriate to the story and not all the women all of the time.

And the ultimate truth is I work on a lot of scripts. This isn’t the only script I’m going to write and it may never get made. Overall, I try to write as many roles for women as I do for men. That doesn’t mean every film has to be exactly fifty-fifty.

At least, I don’t think it does?

Does it?


Categories: Industry Musings, My Way, Random Witterings | 5 Comments

Buy my opinions, they’re no use to me!


I’m not a big fan of the ‘teach writers how to write’ industry, mainly because it’s largely taught by people who failed at being scriptwriters.

Now I’m not saying you have to be able to do in order to teach. Nor am I saying only the ultra-successful have anything useful to say about your script.

Everyone can form an opinion and everyone’s opinion is right from a certain point of view. Paying people for that opinion isn’t stupid or wrong so long as you know how valuable that opinion is.


Andrew Ellard‘s tweetnotes almost always align with my own opinions. I would be comfortable taking notes from him, because I’ve read his opinions and I trust he would be able to point out all the stupid flaws and mistakes I make whilst writing – the ones I can see in other people’s work, but rarely in my own (because knocking something down is far easier than building it in the first place).

His opinion, to me, would be worth paying for.

Similarly, paying for script notes from any of the plethora of script readers who’ve set up shop on the net is probably useful/valuable – depending on the individual. They don’t have to be successful as a writer to be successful as a reader. The amount you’re prepared to pay them depends solely on how valuable you think their notes are.


Recognising a bad script is not the same thing as writing a good one. Take all the advice/opinions you can get on the former … be very selective about who you believe for the latter.

The people who annoy me are the ones who profess to be able to teach you how to sell scripts, get an agent or build a career when they have been unable to do any of those things for themselves.

A scriptwriter who gives up because they weren’t getting anywhere shouldn’t be writing books or hosting seminars telling other people how to build a career.

Actually, no. That’s not right, is it?


Writers probably shouldn’t be paying for books or seminars by people who have no experience in that area.

I say probably because, fuck it, it’s your money – spend it how you want.

But why would you want to pay for insider, industry insight from people who have never been inside the industry? If they can’t sell a script, how do they know how to help you do it? If they can’t get an agent, why is their method for getting one worth paying for? If they were unable to build a career, they’re unlikely to have any useful advice about how you can build one.

Or rather, they may have useful advice – but it’s not theirs and they probably read it online somewhere for free. It’ll take you five minutes of Googling to find it yourself.

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Having said that, there are a few valuable voices in a sea of parasites. There are working writers out there who are more than happy to share their opinions, advice and experiences.

Danny Stack is one such chap. Danny’s the real deal – a writer who makes money from writing. A writer with an agent and a career who actually has something useful and interesting to say.


On top of that, he’s a really nice bloke.

And he’s running a course at Lighthouse in Poole next month.

In his own words:

I’m VERY EXCITED as it’s my first ever course bespoke to me and my experiences (instead of being asked to host a course or workshop for other people which is usually the way). I’m going to share what it’s like making a living as a screenwriter, the practical nuts and bolts that I think everyone should know, and my own personal ups and downs of my career so far.

Doesn’t that sound lovely?

Full details of the course can be found here or you can book tickets here.

The course is on the 23rd of Feb and costs £85, but there’s a £13 discount if you quote SCREENWRITING on the phone or over the counter.



If you live nearby, you should think about checking it out. If you don’t live nearby, consider it a mini-holiday (Poole’s lovely – mostly) . And if neither of those options sounds palatable, then you should at least check out Danny and Tim‘s podcast because it’s free, funny, interesting and informative. And free.


Categories: Industry Musings, Random Witterings, Someone Else's Way | 2 Comments

January and on


Hooray, it’s 2014 and has been for a few weeks.

Happy slightly-less-new-than-it-was-two-weeks-ago year!

How was the whole Christmas/New Year thing for you? Mine was pretty cool. I know Christmas is supposed to be about the giving, but this year I actually got presents I wanted, so that makes it cool.

2013-12-25 11.01.46

And New Year’s eve we had an incident with a firework which resulted in me and my mate being chased around his garden by a boxful of fiery death … which was also cool. And fucking scary.

But that was so last year.

This is this year and already I’m off to a great start. I’m happily ensconced on my Secret Writing Island and building up a nice head of script-speed.

2014-01-09 10.59.50

Before plunging back into a not-quite-spec script I’ve been picking at between paid assignments for six months now, I decided to give myself a little post-festive break and crank out the first 10 pages of something I’ve wanted to write for a while for the Red Planet Prize.*

Not that I know why I bother – the first ten pages of everything I’ve ever written has been utter shit until I’ve finished at least six or seven complete drafts. I find, no matter how much I plan, plot or outline, my understanding of what needs to go into those first ten pages shifts so much during the writing process that it’s pretty much a waste of time writing them first.

If I had any sense, I’d leave them well alone until I’d written and re-written all the other pages several times … but I guess I haven’t because I never do. So entering a competition which relies solely on the first ten pages is pretty pointless for me unless I’m about around half-a-dozen drafts in.

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Sometimes not even then.

But you know what? Fuck it. It’s a free competition with an awesome prize, but mainly it’s a catalyst to get the script out of my head and onto the drawing board. Or keyboard.

By the way, I’m not saying I just scribbled down ten pages and sent it in without caring, because I think that’s probably a pretty disrespectful thing to do to the poor bastards who have to read through reams and reams of scripts looking for the diamonds in the rough.

That would be tantamount to me just deciding to make someone’s life a little bit worse on purpose, just in case I might be experiencing an unexpected twinge of genius on that day.

I never twinge.

So no, it wasn’t a rough ten pages – it was the best I could make them … on the proviso mine are usually pretty poor until I’ve been through the whole story several times.

Which, actually, now I come to write it down like this seems just as bad.

Hmm … not sure if I’ve been a bit unpleasant there or not?


Oh, we’ll see.

To be honest, I always feel guilty entering competitions anyway. I sort of feel like I’m just taking up valuable space which could be utilised by newer writers without any other contacts. I’m quite capable of generating work for myself, so should I be entering these things?

Well … yes. Because I’m a complete and utter industry nobody.

And I want to.

Because it’s a great competition.

So that was last Tuesday.

Since then I’ve also finished the not-quite-spec script and it’s suddenly turned a corner. I was beginning to think I was going to have to perform a complete character-ectomy because the bastards just weren’t doing what I wanted them to do … when a chance line suddenly made it all click into place.

And now that’s gone off to the producer (hence it being a not-quite-spec) for evisceration.

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So yay for January!

Two weeks in and two projects ticked off.

Writing! Lots of it!

And progress!

In the right direction as opposed to the horrible backwards kind.

Happy 2014, write like the wind!

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*My entry starts at a location I’ve tried to use in scripts for years. I have photos of it on my phone, which I bore people with at every and any opportunity and every single person I’ve shown it to has at least faked interest and enthusiasm. It’s a great location, one which really adds to a script, one which (to my knowledge) has never, ever been seen on TV or film … until yesterday, when it was in Sherlock.


Now every fucker’s seen it.


Anyone reading the script yesterday would probably have googled the location thinking I’d made it up and been amazed (or at least mildly surprised) to find out I hadn’t. Anyone reading it today will find it passé – they’ve seen it before, everyone knows about that for fuck’s sake! Why don’t you try being original for once?


What a difference a day makes.

Oh look, it even mentions Sherlock on the Wikipedia page now too. Lovely.

Categories: Progress, Random Witterings | 3 Comments

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