Gender as represented in spec script sales

June 20th, 2013 by

Recently we have seen quite a few studies and analysis pointing out gender inequity in the entertainment business including independent films, television, even the theater. Now we can add spec scripts to the mix.

Kudos to Susana Orozco who went through every single transaction in The Definitive Spec Script Sales List from 1991-2012 and discovered this:


The results are generally consistent with other areas of significant under-representation with women.

What is the deal here? Does this mean there are fewer women interested in screenwriting? For example, only 28.9% of applicants for the 2013 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting were women, but women writers involved in only one out of eight spec script sales translates into 13%. And if the trend noted above is correct, the numbers are actually going down.

Is this situation systemic? If so, what can be done about it? What are your thoughts on the matter?

Many thanks to Susana Orozco for taking the time and effort to aggregate this data.

Note: It is impossible to track every single spec spec transaction. The numbers here are based on the best information available.

Comment Archive

54 thoughts on “Gender as represented in spec script sales

  1. I find these statistics fascinating. I can’t help wondering if these numbers represent a greater lack of interest in screenwriting among women, a greater lack of time to pursue creative endeavors among women, a greater absence of quality in scripts written by women, or a greater absence of avenues for women to break into the business.

    From what I can remember, the ratio of males to females in my courses in film school in the early 90s tended to be about even. On the other hand, I taught screenwriting in Chicago for several years 10ish years ago, and, although I had not thought about it until reading this post, I would say more male students than female students tended to enroll in my classes.

    As for my own experience as a writer, I think the only reason I fail to devote more time to creative writing is the fact that I write copy for an advertising agency all day (dull, miserable work – I don’t recommend it), and by the time I get home, the LAST thing I want to do is sit in front of a computer and “work” more. I think this is a personal circumstance, though, so I couldn’t speculate as to why other women might not be writing when they have the opportunity.

    1. Scott says:

      Kristin, your comment got me thinking about the ratio of female-to-male students I’ve taught, either through UCLA, UNC or SMC. If I have the time, I’ll try to go through the rosters (I am talking about literally hundreds and hundreds of writers). But my hazy impression is it may tend to be a bit more male-oriented, but not much.

      I remember leading a 4-day writers workshop in Westwood with 19 writers, 18 of them women! Obviously unusual, but noteworthy.

      Interesting, too, the breakdown of the 10 finalists for The Quest Initiative: 6 women [one writing duo] and 5 men.

      But I wonder if the number of female applicants for the Nicholl Fellowship is indicative of a larger reality, that there simply are more men than women pursuing screenwriting. Or if that number is anomaly this year.

      I’m going to follow up on this post next week with one featuring a bunch of links to articles and studies spotlighting the issue of diversity in the writing profession. None of this will create solutions necessarily, but at least raise awareness which may contribute to a long-term change.

      1. Lydia Mulvey says:

        Scott, the number of female entrants in the Nicholl this year is slightly down on last year.

        However, the encouraging thing about the Nicholl is that the number of women who receive a fellowship is about the same ratio (give or take) as the number of female entrants. 36 of the 138 Academy Fellows are women.

        So in contests where the scripts are read blind, without the reader knowing the gender, the female-written scripts perform just as well as the male.

  2. As a woman writer, here are my observations:
    1. If you hold a dayjob and are married and have children, your writing time is severely limited (if you let it). People remark to me all the time, “I don’t know how you find time to do all of that.” I find the time because I want to change my life and that’s something that requires more than sitting idly by.
    2. Women are more afraid to take risks than men. There are several risks involved in writing, getting your stuff out there, having people like/reject it, etc.
    3. In line with number 2, my writing group though mostly women they have not taken that step to publish anything because they second guess themselves and can’t get out of their own heads.
    That’s just my 2 cents and my own personal experiences.

    1. Scott says:

      Re #1: I commend you for your persistence and effort. There really is no other way around it, to succeed as a writer, one has to put in the hours at learning and practicing the craft, and pounding out pages.

      Re #2 and #3: No way around that either. A writer cannot hope to sell anything if they don’t get it out there in a position to be sold. Second-guessing is probably non-gender specific as I’ve dealt with plenty of male writers who have the same issue. I’ve certain second-guessed myself countless times on projects. There’s no real quantifiable solution to this. You write what you think works. You get feedback from knowledgeable people including professional readers, you weigh their criticisms and decide which you think are legitimate, you rewrite, continue that loop until you feel like this is as good as it gets for right now, then put it out there for reps and buyers to read.

      The thing is – and all working screenwriters know this – you’re going to have to rewrite it anyway. If a rep takes you on, they will offer you some changes you should make. When the script goes out and sells, the buyers will have you make changes. Hell, even when they shoot the movie, each day there can be changes to the dialogue and action, depending upon production considerations.

      A script is like a moving target, not something etched in stone. So while it does pay to take your script to the highest level of craftmanship possible, at the end of the day, it’s going to be rewritten, so we can never be too precious with our screenwriting.

      Anyhow thanks for your comments. I’ll bet many women – and men! – can relate to something of what you have described.

      Good luck with the writing!

  3. UpandComing says:

    I think the problem includes several of the factors mentioned here, but also another thing – I think women are less likely to write specs in the genres that are in demand right now (action, horror, thriller) and more likely to write dramas, comedies, and romance specs. I don’t know if there are any studies/reports to back this up (maybe Nicholl has done such an analysis for its entrants) but if true, it would certainly limit sales potential.

    1. Scott says:

      UpandComing, I think that is definitely one major factor. Obviously we get into generalities here, i.e., men write action, horror, thrillers, women write dramas, comedies, romance, but as a starting point for at least SOME conversation on this topic, why not accept that as a theoretical ‘reality’.

      You can go here for my breakdown of spec script sales by genre in 2012. Here are the totals:

      ACTION 29
      Action Thriller 12
      Action Crime 1
      Action Fantasy 1
      Action Heist 1
      Action Romance 1
      Action Supernatural 1

      THRILLER 20
      Contained Thriller 1
      Crime Thriller 1
      Psychological Thriller 1
      Supernatural Thriller 1

      COMEDY 20
      Romantic Comedy 6
      Action Comedy 2

      Science Fiction Thriller 2
      Science Fiction Action 1
      Science Fiction Comedy 1
      Science Fiction Romance 1

      DRAMA 12
      Drama Adventure 1
      Drama Romance 1

      HORROR 9
      Horror Thriller 4
      Horror Supernatural 2


      Action and Thriller just about 50% of all spec sales in the year. If, in fact, most of those were written by men, and that is what Hollywood is buying [primarily] for any number of reasons, not the least of which is the success of these visually oriented movies in the international marketplace, then that would appear to be a significant reason.

      One odd thing is, of course, is that women comprise a majority of the population here in the U.S., and I believe also make up a majority of moviegoers. Does this get back in part to the age-old issue about Hollywood makes what people watch, so if more men and women supported adult dramas, romantic comedies, female oriented comedies and the like, that would create more of desire on the studio and financiers’ parts to buy those type of spec scripts, thus increasing the pool for women writers?

      1. UpandComing says:

        I definitely think that accepting this as a theoretical reality is a good starting point.

        I think Hollywood indeed makes what people watch, so the more that people watch action/thriller/horror, the more of those specs Hollywood buys, the more of those movies come out, and the less options people have for dramas/comedies/romances in their theaters; and the cycle continues.

        Your thoughts on women as a percentage of the population/movie-going audience are interesting. My thoughts:

        1) I think despite their makeup of the population/audience, women are much more likely to see (and like) action/thriller/horror films than men are likely to for dramas/comedies/romances.

        2) I think there might have been a time when trends among female movie-goers in the U.S. had a stronger influence – like the golden era of romcoms in the nineties. But since so much box office now comes from the international space (I think 70%?), it doesn’t matter even if a lot of women (or even men) in the U.S. wanted to see more of a given genre – all that matters now is that movies that are more visually-oriented (as you say) and less dialogue-driven (such as action/thriller/horror films) translate better abroad. So basically, the tastes of the U.S. market don’t matter as much as they used to.

        BTW, this is my first comment on the site, but I’ve been a loyal reader of GITS for about a year now. Just want to take the time to thank you for this invaluable resource; I’ve learned more than I could ever imagine and I recommend it to every writer I come across. We are lucky beyond words to have you. I’ll be sure to give you a shout-out in my Oscar speech :)

      2. Laura Durkay says:

        I’m a female writer-director who writes thrillers, action, sci-fi and will be writing my first horror script this fall. I can’t say that I’ve found it any easier to work in these genres, which are the genres I love. (As it happens, my two paid writing assignments so far have been a contemporary drama and a historical drama/thriller, both still in development.)

        I don’t know if the data exists to do this, but in addition to a breakdown of the gender of writers, I would love to see a breakdown of the gender of the script’s protagonist, because I’d imagine that women are more likely to write scripts with female protagonists. In addition to biases (usually implicit, sometimes explicit) against women at every level of the film industry, I think there is a serious bias against female protagonists as not being “as marketable” as male protagonists. This is even more true in what are considered male-oriented genres (action, thriller, sci-fi, horror), despite the success of properties like The Hunger Games, the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo franchise, and every horror movie with an ass-kicking “final girl” ever. There’s still a strong assumption that women will identify with a male protagonist, but not the other way around.

        A while ago I made a conscious decision to only write female protagonists, unless there was a compelling reason why the script needed to be about a dude, because fuck it, I was fed up with the absence of three-dimensional female characters in the genres I love. I’ve been told that I should write male protagonists because it will make my scripts easier to sell. I’ve also been told “I thought your script was written by a man,” meant as a compliment, by a female judge in a screenwriting development lab that will remain nameless.

        These biases can be so deeply ingrained it’s hard to know where to start, other than everyone who cares about this issue in the film industry making a conscious effort to hire women, cast women, write three-dimensional women and actively foster more female talent.

        1. Shaula Evans says:

          > …I think there is a serious bias against female protagonists as not being “as marketable” as male protagonists.

          Laura, are you familiar with the Sundance Institute Study on Women in Film by Stacy Smith of USC? Amazing study, fascinating reading.

          They found that having a female lead has NO EFFECT on domestic box office success. INTERNATIONALLY these films make MORE money.

          I agree that there’s a bizarre, unsubstantiated bias against female leads–I’m not arguing with you on that point at all–but the good news is that the data shows these movies make money.

          I hope you find that heartening as you keep writing kick-ass lead roles for women. (And thank you for doing it!)

          1. Laura Durkay says:

            Hi Shaula,
            Thank you! I did know of that study, but I wasn’t aware of the stats on female leads. That is really, really useful data to have. Of course, you can have all the data and success stories in your pocket and still not have your movie greenlit…but it’s still good to know. And thank you for your encouragement. :-)

  4. What if the problem is not the supply of women writers, but rather the demand for what women write?

    This list only reflects what was sold, not what was “on the market”.

    1. Scott says:

      Yes, please see my comments on genre below.

  5. I was always very imaginative and daydreamy and it was bitch slapped rather early.

    I wasn’t allowed to be adventurous and daring and “moody” because it was weird and I wouldn’t have been accepted or I would have been seen as a total bitch. OR, I’d have been judged on my choice of writing (which I was very early on) as inappropriate for a girl, thus the complete halt.

    Also, boys. I really liked boys. And even though I was a total tomboy (I related with their aggression and call to arms and need for adrenaline and constant excitement), I wore skirts and dresses, and I was expected to act like a girl and shut up and be girly. That always annoyed the crap outta me.

    It sounds so Victorian, but that was the name of the game in the 80s and 90s. I wasn’t a trailblazer, but I had it in me. Heaven forbid a girl had opinions or instigated a battle without being seen as psycho rage-o hormone girl.

    FF through me writing several stories and losing them and they had the angst I would’ve wanted to portray exactly at that age (mid 20s) and now I’m married with kids… and my life is kids and f’ing Dora and I’m supposed to be a mom and doting (which I am, thank you), but these daydreamy feelings and my imagination are supposed to have subsided by now.

    Nope. I still wanna thrash through the forest and ride the Baja sands and jump from planes and…

    So I’ll just write about it.

    Also, I think that most women (maybe?) identify with Rom-Coms? I don’t. I liked 24 when it first debuted. Alias was my favorite. Badass. I remember being forced to see Titanic – it was torture. I ‘get’ love and soft and sensitive, I do, but there’s more to being dainty and I want ppl to know about it.

    So I’mma write it.

    Why did I wait so long? Kids, jobs, bullshit… angst, repression, guilt…

    We’re supposed to be mommys and homemakers or eager professionals and we get caught up in that (not saying that we hate it, just that we’re the ones made to forget who we are for the sake of kids and family) and we lose sight of what made us who we are.

    Bring on the young female writers. I bet the next gen will be fierce – at least I hope so. I don’t write stories that my girlfriends want to read unless they’re as funny and raunchy and privy to weirdness as I am… but I can be demure and caring and empathetic and I can relate to characters, I think, more than men would (but that’s just me) because I’m not afraid to admit my own feelings and angst, and I’m not afraid to look at and acknowledge things that many women (conservative types) won’t give a second glance at.

    But… that’s just me. I’m the girl with one finger up her nose and one middle finger in the air telling everyone to F OFF, I’LL DO WHAT I WANT.

    Also, it’s vulnerable. Writing brings on judgement and awkward feelings and regret and rejection and… girls don’t generally tend to gravitate towards that.

    1. Scott says:

      D-O, your post made my day! I feel your frustration, but the way you said it just made me laugh and smile, smile and laugh. Great stuff. If you can bring THAT to your fiction-writing, you can be flipping off a whole lot of people with one hand while thumbing through wads o’ cash in the other.

      Any time I intersect with a woman writer who has some interest in and talent for writing action, action thrillers, I’m all over them to do that. Here’s a funny thing: Perceptions about genders and writing cut both ways. If women are perceived to be better at writing characters than men — and while that is a hugely broad generalization, I believe you would find a lot of people working in Hollywood development circles who basically subscribe to this theory — then if a woman writer comes along who can also write the hell out of action or thrills, you have the best of both worlds: A writer who can service a great plot with lots of action while at the same time delivering enough in the way of character to create a script that can attract talent and resonate with an audience.

      So while I wouldn’t advise a female who does NOT like writing action or thrillers to take those up just because they’re hot genres, if a woman DOES like that kind of material, go the hell for it. If we’re looking for lines of least resistance to increase the diversity of successful Hollywood writers, that’s called Write What They’re Buying which is bar none the easiest route to go.

      But again only if the writer REALLY feels a passion for that kind of material.

      Anyway here’s to you finding the time to get away from “f’ing Dora” long enough to write an awesome spec script!

      1. ya know what? that response right there is enough (WHOOOOOOOSH!) writing joo-joo to keep me going. seriously! i hugged my iPad after reading that :) it’s all i needed to hear!

        when there aren’t many people who know what you’re up to or who’d judge the crap outta you for even trying what i’m doing at this juncture, that vote of confidence was greatness!

        and for someone who doubted the hell out of the loglines she sent in to the Quest (oh they suuuuucked), it let me know i can still get the point across with just the right amount of pissed-off snark to not quite piss people off… yet.

        thanks, Scott.

        p.s… i signed in via Twitter thinking it would go to my normal “now” Twitter thing and it didn’t. it’s me, Despina a.k.a @TheWrookie.

        1. Erica R Maier says:

          Well, Despina, you CLEARLY have a voice. I was reading these responses on my phone, and they’re stacked differently when viewed on mobile mode, so I hadn’t scrolled all the way down when I read your initial post. I looked back a couple times at the Dress_Obsessed name, with furrowed brow, in total confusion, thinking, “This SOUNDS so much like Despina, how is this NOT her?” LOL :) Clear voice. Love that.

          1. hahaaaa… I didn’t even think about it ’til I saw his response addressed ‘D-O’ and I was like YO, IT’S ME!

            and Thank You! If nothing else, at least I have a ‘voice’ :)

    2. HAHAHA! Your post brightened up my evening. Thanks.

  6. Looking at the collected data, you wonder if it’s just that male writers have more luck in selling their specs. Because we don’t have the number of specs NOT sold during the years to compare we’ll never know for sure. But when you put these numbers together with the Nicholl representation, then you realize that there is a disparity here.

    This idea that genres are divided amongst the sexes is old-fashioned. Hollywood execs need to stop thinking this way. “The Avengers” did not have the biggest opening weekend ever because only males went to see it. I paid twice that weekend. Kathryn Bigelow is an Oscar-winning director of action films. Even in other mediums, women are succeeding. Gail Simone is a much-beloved writer of comic books.

    The problem, I think, is that there just aren’t enough of women helping women, coupled with the fact that there aren’t enough men helping women. These things trickle down. The same could be said for minorities. Not enough representation on the higher level means it won’t make a big difference in the lower level either.

    A note about writing: We can always make time for writing. I think every writer (male or female) knows this. If you have a story you are deeply passionate about then you will write it. Studies show that our generation is waiting longer to get married and have kids. I am one of those people. I am 30 years old, unmarried and childless. Yes, we have busy lives. But when one of my best friends has five children, a husband, two dogs, and a home to take care of and she STILL finished her thrilling first novel, then that means that I can push myself too.

    1. Scott says:

      Susana, this issue about women helping women in Hollywood has been a topic for decades. Some of the most powerful people in the Hollywood film community are women. Amy Pascal has been head of production at Sony for years and years. I’m sure we’ve all seen the special articles in the trades about women in Hollywood meeting about precisely these issues. Not sure what, if any, actual formal initiatives they’ve created, but obviously given the numbers across the board — screenwriters, TV writers, actors, roles, execs — folks have yet to find the solution.

      Call me naive, but at least in terms of writing, I will ALWAYS believe that if someone writes a GREAT script, it will find its way to a buyer and get made. That is regardless of race, creed, color, gender, sexual orientation. Hollywood’s favorite color is green. And if you write something they think will make them money, that’s all they see in you: green.

      So as writers, we always have that opening.

      That said right now the way the business is structured, there is far less room for diverse slates of movies, the studios have opted for a severely bifurcated business model: big budget franchise movies on the one end, low budget genre films on the other. Financiers exist to feed the middle, but gone are the days when studios would create a diverse slate of movies willing to go for singles, doubles, triples, home runs and grand slams. Now all they want are grand slams.

      So a big part of this is, as noted, about the type of spec scripts [and projects in general] they are buying.

      Also as noted, international box office is having a huge impact as it would generating 70-75% of B.O. revenues.

      Maybe one thing that can happen is someone like Megan Ellison (Annapurna) to come along, someone with those type of financial resources who said, “You know what? I’m going to go at this issue head-on. Develop a slate of movies aimed squarely at women audience. Good quality movies in different genres.”

      Of course that could flop. Alternatively what if it ‘awakened’ a response by women in film after film. Imagine a slate of movies that included The Help, Bridesmaids, Hanna, The Hunger Games.

      To be continued…

  7. Shaula Evans says:

    > What is the deal here? Does this mean there are fewer women interested in screenwriting?

    This is a question, or a kind of question, that comes up in “where are the women” conversations in any field. And on one level, it feels fair to ask. But if you extend it to other fields or other groups, it starts to feel problematic. E.g., “Does this mean there are fewer [women/blacks/Jews/gays] interested in [screenwriting/Ivy League schools/high paying jobs/executive positions/politics/full participation in society]?” And one of the reasons it’s problematic is is pins responsibility for the situation on individual women (or members of the group in question) instead of looking at the systemic factors at play.

    In social psychology, this emphasis on individual responsibility to the exclusion of wider social factors is referred to as choicism, as opposed to situationism. Related terms are the “choice myth” and “illusion of choice”. For anyone interested in the topic, Choicism: how the common American belief that individual choice drives all actions blinds people to the sociocultural sources of inequality is a great starting point.

    Scott: I know you brought up the question in good faith and this isn’t a slap! I’m deeply grateful to you for your commitment to women and other underrepresented screenwriters and I know you’re acting in good faith here. I just wanted to point out the baggage that goes with that particular question and share some helpful resources for the discussion.

    Back to the big question: “What’s the deal here”?

    – In societies where women have higher social status, more social welfare support as mothers, greater reproductive self-determination, and more earning power, they participate more fully in society including in the manufacture of cultural products–there’s lots of global comparative data indexing women’s status and social participation, and if you dig a little, you can find some similar research on other under-represented groups, too.

    – One of the critical dynamics in play here is implicit bias (when someone consciously rejects stereotypes and supports anti-discrimination efforts but also holds negative associations in his/her mind unconsciously). There are a plethora of studies (and I use the term plethora knowing what it means) showing that the same scientific paper / resume / job application / orchestra audition is rated higher when it is associated with a name interpreted as belonging to a white male than to a woman or person of color. We would like to believe that our work “speak for itself” and you “just have to write a good script”–while those ideas are emotionally comforting, they are supported by data. (It’s a myth that’s hard to let go of because we really want to believe it and the alternative is uncomfortable for everyone.)

    – At an organizational level, the way to control for implicit bias is to institute blind submissions. At an individual level, it may be worth considering using a pen name (which comes with its own pros and cons, and keeping in mind the limited scope and effectiveness of individual strategies in the face of systemic problems).

    – On the other hand, mentor relationships (and going beyond mentoring to be an active advocate) make a huge difference and are a documented effective strategy. If you are an ally, being a mentor to women and other under-represented writers is a way you can make a huge difference. If you are an under-represented writer yourself, actively cultivating mentor relationships with people both senior and junior to you in the business (and even horizontal mentorship for that matter) is a smart, productive strategy.

    I’m grateful that you and Susana have added to the hard data on this topic, Scott. These conversations tend to be muddied and derailed by anecdata and points of resistance and it is *wonderful* to have real numbers to work with.

    Thank you very much to Susana for analyzing the data, Terry for creating the inforgraphic, and Scott for providing a platform for this important discussion.

    1. Scott says:

      Shaula, thanks for weighing in. I’m so damned busy with everything in my life, it’s hard for me to step back and take a meta view on most subjects, so I appreciate you providing insight because I know you have been deeply involved in discussions re these issues.

      Would you have any links any Black Board discussions of relevance?

      1. Shaula Evans says:

        Scott, you’re one of the busiest people I know, and the fact that you make the time for this kind of hand-on discussion is such a huge benefit to our community and the industry. Thank you.

        And thanks for asking about relevant discussions at The Black Board. This is a topic close to our hearts at the Board, too, so I’ve got a few related links I can share:

        * Let’s talk about mentoring

        * The pros and cons of pen names

        * Under-Representation in Screenwriting (a BIG discussion rich in data, links, and citations)

    2. devt says:

      I’m thrilled to see these figures, thank you Susanna! “We would like to believe that our work “speak for itself” and you “just have to write a good script”–while those ideas are emotionally comforting, they are supported by data. (It’s a myth that’s hard to let go of because we really want to believe it and the alternative is uncomfortable for everyone.)” Shaula, do you mean ‘supported by data’ or maybe ‘unsupported by data’? Last week I enjoyed this clip from Alisa Valdes about her Dirty Girls Social Club script and though it too is ‘anecdotal’ the behaviours it described rang true to me from other contexts: In New Zealand, women and men are equally represented in the main scriptwriting MA course and women win the annual class prize more often than men. Peter Jackson co-writes with two women. South Pacific Pictures, the largest other film & TV producer has a policy to employ ‘the best’ and a high proportion of women scriptwriters for its very successful TV series and its most successful movie ever, Whale Rider, was written and directed by a woman, Niki Caro. SPP is about to release White Lies, an adaptation of a work by the same novelist who wrote Whale Rider. It too is written an directed by a woman, Mexican director Dana Rotberg, now living in New Zealand. Women won our major scriptwriting awards last year. And of course, there is Jane Campion. BUT the numbers of produced features written by women, whether state-funded or indie, is under 20% of the total. I’ve been trying to understand why for 7 years now and support Shaula’s analysis. I also know that often it doesn’t help to have women in decision-making positions; in general we’ve all been socialised to support the ‘golden boy’. And many women who write/direct get sucked into producing roles, often to support the men in their lives or to try to make a living. Others of us need to follow Jane Campion’s advice and ‘put on our suits of armor and get going’!

      1. Shaula Evans says:

        Yup, you’re right. (In what you say, plus about my typo; alas my editing window has expired.) Jane Campion is a great role model.

  8. Sulkingmoon says:

    I’m a female screenwriter that has been trying to get my foot in the door forever. Hollywood does NOT want to read the screenplays from us at all! I even meet people from the business and they never attempt to read any of my screenplays. For the record, you wrote the word young in that article. Well, I’m 42 now. I think it is important to attempt not to age discriminate as well. That is just my opinion.

    1. WriterCarmen says:

      Why not put a script of yours on the Blacklist site and pay for a few reads, and make sure to leave your first name as just an initial. Then you’ll know if your gender is the issue.

  9. Femme_Mal says:

    There are additional factors affecting gender equity; some of these factors are anecdotal without access to existing underlying data.

    * Composition of funding entities – is the traditional film industry funding mechanism comprised primarily of men as it is in the majority of other business? Gatekeepers for financing may be more comfortable with loaning to persons like themselves, innately reducing *perceived* risk by eliminating a variable, whether supported by data or not.

    * How much of financing is driven by the chase for the elusive “white whale” — the 18-25 year old white male demographic, whose numbers have been decreasing with regard to TV audiences for over a decade. The fall off in this audience is due to both a generational shift from Boomer/Gen-X to Gen-X/Millenial population; at the same time, other emerging internet-based entertainment has pulled at this same group. Films attractive to this audience are more likely to be blockbuster action/thriller movies. In terms of profitability, they can be very risky yet finance does not appear to respond early enough to the threat (see Disney’s John Carter as an example).

    * How much of the problem of magnitude is driven by perception? Looking at the Top 100 Movies by Box Office Sales, (34) of the films were based on books by female authors, or had female screenwriters on the team. Is the perception of profitability by gender skewed in such a way that financiers do not see the value of female writing (whether book/story/screenplay)?

    I pulled together a list of films that were in the Top 100 Box Office, had a female author or female screenwriter on the team. Note at the link provided below the lack of female directors as well as orchestrators and music supervisors. Clearly there’s a problem with diversity in other non-writing capacities.

    The list highlights three challenges, in my opinion:

    * Female authors’ works do not uniformly obtain diversity in team membership once film enters production (ex: J.K. Rowling’s books);

    * Audiences as well as film industry’s finance entities may not be aware of female writers contributions (ex. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Lord of the Rings trilogy/Hobbit) as well as profitability;

    * Successful female teams may not be able to continue their work over a series, in spite of success (ex: Twilight Saga, profitability of which made Summit Entertainment’s fortunes).

    The Depressing Gender Gap at the Nation’s Top 71 Venture Capital Firms (, 12-MAY-2012)

    Millenials: A Portrait of Generation Next (Whitepaper, Pew Research Center, c. 2010)
    (see pg. 35, Internet rivals TV for main news source among Millenials and Gen Xers)

    Spreadsheet, Films with female authors or screenwriters on team out of Top 100 Box Office Hits (source: IMDB, 20-JUN-2013)

    1. Shaula Evans says:

      Femme_Mal, any conversation always gets more interesting when you show up. Those links are fantastic. Thanks very much for them.

  10. I suspect that the pattern here is similar as for other careers in which women are under-represented. I’ve talked to a few working women screenwriters and directors, and I’ve read whatever studies I can find on women not just in the film business but also in game development.

    What I’ve seen is that women are being hired at a lower rate than their male peers, even when the lesser participation is factored in. This then feeds into women self-selecting themselves out.

    Women in film school are told that they should consider becoming a producer, because women don’t get hired as directors and writers – and so they shift focus or drop out. Girls in middle school and high school start to hear messages about how hard it is for women in science jobs, or get social images that they aren’t feminine. Girls who were previously great in math and science, or interested in programming, move away from it.

    And competitive fields like game development and movie making are project-focused and deadline-driven. Top directors like Spielberg and Ron Howard have talked about how it cost them closeness with their family. They may spend 3 years on a project, from development to release, work long hours, and maybe even not see their friends or family for months at a time. This is true of game development as well. And women are less likely to be willing to make that kind of sacrifice.

    This is a problem in many corporations when it comes to Women as leaders. The smartest suggestion I’ve seen there has been to change the way the workplace is run. Allow more working from home, flexible schedules, shift-sharing. Have more family support on site. The benefit is not just to women, but allows men to better balance their work and family life.

    The interesting thing, which often gets missed when companies are looking at the money this kind of approach costs, is that workers with this type of flexibility are much more productive. Greater autonomy=more and better quality work.

    Perhaps there’s some similar way to look at work in the film industry…in fact, a cultural shift away from “hard work” to valuing both family and *quality* of work can shift things in a way that will make success more accessible to women…and make it so that fewer successful men are strangers to their family.

    1. Shaula Evans says:

      Hi, Laura. You raise a bunch of great points here and I want to single one out in particular:

      > Women in film school are told that they should consider becoming a producer, because women don’t get hired as directors and writers – and so they shift focus or drop out. Girls in middle school and high school start to hear messages about how hard it is for women in science jobs, or get social images that they aren’t feminine. Girls who were previously great in math and science, or interested in programming, move away from it.

      Aha! The perennial pipeline problem. We worry about the numbers at the end of a long process but attraction and retention all the way along are important.

      I’ve been watching what STEM fields are doing to get and keep more women involved in their industries and there’s some smart stuff going on. Most notably, rather than worrying just about women in the profession, they are looking at getting and keeping women involved with STEM in higher ed and public education, plus the visibility of women as role models in the field and the nature of images and representation of STEM professionals to kids.

      General rule on pipeline problems: the earlier the intervention, the more effective. Screenwriting and filmmaking could learn a lot from what STEM is doing.

      PS With all of their focus on work-life balance, I wonder if Millennials will bring some of the cultural changes you’re suggesting as part of a wave of generational change.

      1. Femme_Mal says:

        Laura’s point about self-selection is very important, as is yours about the outreach efforts to further women in STEM.

        Girls self-select out of STEM fields of study as early as third grade. A lack of highly visible role models along negative social messaging discourages interest.

        I’ve seen it as a woman with a tech background raising a daughter who is pursuing biomedical engineering. It’s almost like clicking on a lightbulb — girls suddenly avoid anything related to math and science. Those who stay in fight strong cultural head winds even into and through college.

        An additional recent challenge for girls (as well as boys) entering the arts is the defunding of curriculum perceived as non-core. Skills related to videography and graphic presentation are geared toward tightly defined programs intended to shape kids into business drones, not artists.

        There is an overlap between STEM and screenwriting and filmmaking; the link becomes stronger as the arts integrate digital technology in production. It would be great to find a way to encourage curriculum development hitting this sweet spot.

        But role models will have to encourage students to seek this out; this takes us right back to the dearth of icons girls look to for guidance. Given this gap, it could be years before we can get the pipeline filled without intensive investment as soon as possible.

  11. Wow. Now that I’m on a laptop and can come back and follow the trail of comments, this has been hugely eye-opening. I never realized these feelings were out there or that there was such a divide. Very interesting.

  12. […] to Suzana Orozco’s analysis of recent sales of spec scripts — scripts written with no deal in place (hence speculative) […]

  13. Femme_Mal says:

    Sometimes the sexism and discouragement is straight up, in our faces. The New Yorker’s Richard Brody noted via Twitter such an occurrence featured in a Le Monde article by Clemetine Gallot:

    Richard Brody ‏@tnyfrontrow 9:41 AM – 23 Jun 13
    “One day, I read one of my screenplays to the
    playwright Sam Shepard, who said, ‘You’re
    very pretty, my dear, don’t ever write.’…”

    Richard Brody ‏@tnyfrontrow 9:42 AM – 23 Jun 13
    “…I can joke about it today, but that
    blocked me for years.”—Julie Delpy,
    interviewed by @ClementineNYC

    There was a followup exchange between Jenni Miller, Richard Brody, and Le Monde’s Clementine Gallot:

    Jenni Miller ‏@msjennimiller 9:55 AM – 23 Jun 13
    @tnyfrontrow @ClementineNYC it’s so sad how
    an offhand comment like that can block a
    writer for years. in addition to the gross

    Richard Brody ‏@tnyfrontrow 10:20 AM – 23 Jun 13
    @msjennimiller @ClementineNYC Yes, shocking
    sexism; I understand how a small remark can
    shift the course of a life.

    Richard Brody ‏@tnyfrontrow 11:38 AM – 23 Jun 13
    @ClementineNYC @msjennimiller It’s almost a
    Freudian slip that she doesn’t mention Sofia
    Coppola; but I think there’s a related

    Richard Brody ‏@tnyfrontrow 11:40 AM – 23 Jun 13
    @ClementineNYC @msjennimiller …regarding
    genre: ghettoizing women directors in
    relationship movies, which studios hardly
    make these days.

    The “pink ghetto” is not limited to screenwriting, as the recently revealed in Wikipedia’s segregation of American novelists and women novelists. Some men do see the sexism and the segregation and point it out; more effort is needed. Our challenge as female screenwriters is to use the critical mass we build as a unified body, but discourage segregation.

    With regard to Delpy’s blockage, I suspect in the absence of adequate validation from other peers in her cohort, she may have weighted Shepard’s comment too heavily, especially since he is well-established and old enough to be her father. We need to encourage a sense of righteous rebellion to breakthrough the perception of elders’ commentary as set in stone.

  14. […] to Suzana Orozco’s analysis of recent sales of spec scripts — scripts written with no deal in place (hence […]

  15. […] Go Into The Story recently posted this little diagram to chart gender and spec sales: […]

  16. bknubian says:

    About 8yrs. ago during an agent meeting, the agent quite nicely told me that I was very talented but he already had my “type” in his roster of actors. But when he had an opening he’ll call me. Now if that was the first time I heard that I would’ve thought that was just a “brush off”. After sporadic work and comments like that one, I made it my mission that I was going to be part of the solution. Creating interesting female-driven scripts.
    I would hate to see the statistics for minority females.
    God bless Mr. Perry but we need additional voices!
    I remain optimistic about the current state of female screenwriters and females on-screen. It only takes one. One great female driven film that sets the precedent for audience reception and box office. BRIDESMAIDS helped in this effort. The status quo will be rocked. Right now television is where the interesting is being done. Could be the straw that breaks through to real change in features. Whichever, my sistas write! Write!

  17. […] Board (our online screenwriting community run by tireless administrator Shaula Evans. Check out their work on gender and the spec script market for but one example of their extraordinary […]

  18. […] week, a chart appeared on the popular screenwriting website Go Into the Story analyzing gender inequity among […]

  19. […] Susana Orozoco found that women screenwriters’ scripts currently make up a smaller percentage of speculative […]

  20. […] to Suzana Orozco’s analysis of recent sales of spec scripts — scripts written with no deal in place (hence speculative) — […]

  21. […] sexism in publishing (catch up here and here). Now take a look at Susana Orozco’s analysis infographic of “spexism” (sales of spec scripts written by women), and stay for the comment conversation. Also recommended: […]

  22. […] Orozco has recently laid out the gender inequity in “spec script” sales. Spec, or speculative, scripts are penned without any deals in place, with the hopes that  a […]

  23. […] Susana Orozoco found that women screenwriters’ scripts currently make up a smaller percentage of speculative […]

  24. […] to Suzana Orozco’s analysis of recent sales of spec scripts — scripts written with no deal in place (hence speculative) […]

  25. […] Gender as represented in spec script sales | Go Into The Story: Wonder why you don’t see more sci fi films written by women? @SusanDelCampo has written a groundbreaking analysis gender & spec script sales […]

  26. […] graphic shows “gender as represented in spec script sales“. It is […]

  27. To get a sale a writer must get good feedback and recommendations from readers.
    1) Are most of the readers males?
    2) If most readers are not males are they females thtat hate women or looking for males?
    3) Could it be women feel like they have to put out sexually and or compete with other women in ways other than for their worth as writers?

  28. […] This article and graphic show why women in the entertainment business tend to be unequally represented. If men are the one’s writing the majority of the stories, of course they’re all about men and what men relate to. […]

  29. […] expend a fair amount of blog energy on how things are tougher for women screenwriters, and the studies that back me […]

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