Monday, 1 July 2013

"Spexism" and the Decline of Women-Penned Specs in Hollywood


Recently my colleagues at The Black List, with the help of Susana Orozoco, released a visual analysis of spec script sales over the past two decades. Speculative screenplays, known in the entertainment industry as "specs," are scripts penned by a writer with no initial compensation and "the intent of selling the final product on the open market." As several sources have already noted, "women writers' scripts currently make up a smaller percentage of spec sales than at any time in the last two decades." Certainly this is a disheartening figure, one that reaffirms the egregious state of the industry for women and the immense progress that must be made for us to stand on equal footing with men. 

Perhaps even more dismaying is the fact that more than ten years ago women screenwriters were selling nearly twice as many specs as they are now. 

Some have theorized this could be due to:

• The collapse of home video sales

• Studios' increased stake in tentpole franchises

• The initial decline of the spec market from its heyday of the mid-1990s

• Women's perceived "attraction" to different genres (comedy, romantic comedy, drama) than men, who are more believed to have the dominant interest in commercial, male-oriented projects

• The assumption that fewer women are interested in pursuing screenwriting during their education or as a career (28.9% of applicants for the Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting this year were women)

A recent study from the Sundance Institute and Women in Film, however, sheds more light on the subject with hard data:

A sample of 51 independent filmmakers and executives/high-level talent spontaneously mentioned five major areas that hamper women’s career development:

• Gendered Financial Barriers (43.1%) 

(a) Independent narrative film relies on a funding structure that is primarily operated by males. 

(b) Female-helmed projects are perceived to lack commercial viability. 

(c) Women are viewed as less confident when they ask for film financing.

• Male-dominated networks (39.2%) 

• Stereotyping on set (15.7%) 

• Work and family balance (19.6%) 

• Exclusionary hiring decisions (13.7%)

Moreover, the most frequently suggested ways to change the status quo are:

• Mentoring and encouragement for early career women (36.7%) 

• Improving access to finance (26.5%) 

• Raising awareness of the problem (20.4%)

As the study notes, "this last strategy may be particularly salient, given that some respondents indicated their belief that gender inequality is improving over time or is not any worse than in other industries."

But this assumption of improvement may not be accurate. If the spec sales trend continues, the numbers are actually going down. As a result there's a real sense of urgency that comes with this analysis; a need to work together to find timely solutions.

What are YOUR ideas? Do you agree with the study's suggestions of how to include more women in the industry or are there other approaches that haven't yet been considered? Sound off below. 


1 comment:

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