Welcome to Auteuse Theory

Welcome to Auteuse Theory. The purpose of this blog is to allow us to think about and write about a range of films made by women, from silent re-discoveries to the latest releases, from activist documentaries to mainstream Hollywood features, taking in examples from across the globe, whether famous or obscure. We have no desire to force ham-fisted links between very different films and very different filmmakers, to insist that they fit some pre-designated template of women’s cinema. Quite the opposite; we want to explore the diversity of forms taken by women’s filmmaking across different nations and eras. So why focus on women as a separate category at all? Why isolate their films from those of their male peers and think about them as some kind of exceptional or special case? Well, there’s still the matter of persistent inequality of opportunity within certain key authorial roles in the film industries. We all know the stats: even now, post-Bigelow Oscar win, women only constitute 10% of directors globally, and 15% of screenwriters. This is an improvement on previous years but it’s still (obviously!) a very minor proportion of the whole. As the British director Lynne Ramsay has commented, it’s ‘a bit like a country not being filmed – and that country not having a voice. It really does matter.’ And although we are very reluctant to make simple equations between the fact of there being a woman being at the helm of a film and that film offering a more complex picture of femininity (there have always been battalions of male directors who are very good at telling female-focussed stories), there is nonetheless plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that this is often true.

Our main subject is film but we will inevitably make forays into television and other media from time to time. We will be focussing predominantly on films directed by women, but we’re also interested in including films which demonstrate female authorship in other ways (writing, producing or performance). And we won’t be thinking about those films solely as women’s films. We don’t want to ghettoise them, so we’ll be connecting them to the time and place of their production, or their place within a genre or a movement, as much as we connect them to each other. There will be no rhyme or reason to the films that we discuss or the order in which they appear, instead we’ll be hoping for serendipitous connections, unexpected correspondences, sharp contrasts, strange juxtapositions; in other words, a blog that aims to be perpetually different and surprising. Most of the writing will be undertaken by the two main authors but interspersed with guest reviews from others who will each bring a fresh perspective.

And, finally, why the title Auteuse Theory? We were scouting around for a name that indicated a response to the old-fashioned auteur theory, and its insistence on ‘virility’ as a marker of directorial quality (all that Hawks and Ford worship). Women hadn’t only been marginalised in the making of films but the select few who had managed to break through were often given short shrift in the founding critical histories of film (with the exception of the highly problematic case of Leni Riefenstahl), until feminist scholars put Arzner, Weber, Guy-Blache, Lupino and Varda back into the picture. And this work of excavation and rediscovery continues – see the Women Film Pioneers and Women and Silent British Cinema websites for ongoing examples. We are aware of the problems of using the French feminised form of a professional name, drawing a gendered distinction between male and female practitioners (just as some publications reject the word actress in favour of actor for both men and women), but in the spirit of subversion, we wanted to occupy and feminise a word - auteur - which still sits at the heart of so much film scholarship and film appreciation. And although the blog is called Auteuse Theory, it might be more appropriate to think in terms of 'theories', the more intellectually generous plural form. These are some theories and thoughts and ideas arising from watching these films made by women. We hope you enjoy reading them…

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. 


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