Today's The Day! The Bitch Pack, ‘changing women's representation on screen – starting with the written page’, has just announced the results of its first annual Bitch List (scripts with Brilliant, Intriguing, Creative, Tenacious Heroines). It's a tally of industry votes for scripts seen (but not yet produced) in 2012 that pass The Bechdel Test Each script must have:
1. At least two [named] women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man.
It's a fine occasion and complements the Bitch Pack’s award at Shriekfest, for a horror screenplay that passes the Bechdel Test.
The Bitch Pack is not alone in its activism. The Writers Guild of America West (WGAW) diversity reports first exposed me to activism within that huge film industry based on the United States' west coast. Every two years, the reports examine trends in film and television employment and earnings and they continue to find that white men are given many more opportunities than women and minority writers. The WGAW has also established programmes that it hopes will effect change. Then I learned about the California-based long-haul work of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media, Miss Representation and various academic researchers. But in the last year, the momentum has quickened. More women in the industry have established initiatives to advance the interests of their colleagues. And I'm excited about them all.
There's an alliance to support independent women filmmakers working in both narrative and documentary feature film has blossomed between Women in Film (LA) and Sundance and now includes a research partnership with Stacey Smith at the University of Southern California. There's Women Directors: Navigating The Hollywood Boys’ Club, a ‘moderated web forum for international film and television directors to share their real experiences with discrimination and explore laws protecting employment equality, as well as strategies to strive for global parity.’ Set up by Maria Giese, a member of the Directors Guild of America, and Heidi Honeycutt from the Viscera Organization (another fine recent initiative for women filmmakers), its blog includes carefully argued posts like More Women Directors But How? from distinguished director Martha Coolidge, and Maria Giese’s Women Directors Fighting for Parity, which explains why some diversity programmes fail. And so on... (Always happy to hear of more...) But today's the Bitch Pack's day.
Knowing that women within the industry who work for change take huge risks when they speak out, I admire their courage. And I was delighted when Thuc Nguyen agreed to answer some questions for the Bitch Pack: I believe that organizations like the Bitch Pack will profoundly influence the opportunities for women who write movies over the next decade, not just in the United States but globally. We need to know about them and to support their work. Thuc calls for support from film festivals and other entities. She hopes that they will join professional film production companies, agencies and management companies to help the Bitch Pack identify 'well constructed Bechdel Test passing screenplays that go beyond the mere passing of the test'. Can you help?
How did the Bitch Pack start and who was involved? I think your group now includes women and men? Who are they and do you know what their motivations are? How did you get involved?
The Bitch Pack started after I read about the Bechdel Test and was extremely dissatisfied with some people in my writing class at a Cal State creating disposable female characters which they also mocked.
The Bitch Pack is our group of people who support the mission and our members who get together in town (in LA) to do things together.
The Bitch List is something we're aiming to put out on annually, based on the other screenplay lists that circulate in Hollywood, ours being with the Bechdel Test angle.
Our group now does include all genders and various ethnicities with a strong showing of Chapman University Master of Fine Arts students in directing and screenwriting. Our members routinely get together to discuss the state of film and how we can try to change it with the content we hope to create.
What are your hopes and your primary strategies and how are they working out?
We had hoped to bring awareness to the Hollywood community (because we are based in Los Angeles) about the dearth of female dialogue in films that do get made and show decision makers there are people out there who see film as a world changing media with the power to affect the way people think about women.
We made some traction at Shriekfest with the help of Denise Gossett, as you mentioned and we are so fortunate to be taken under the wing of the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative (LA-FPI, which has members who also write for the screen).
We also have role models like Sandy Carpenter and Susan Cartsonis who advocate for women in film and even comics – spanning written content.
However, we are still having trouble with direct contact to those who make the choices of what films are produced. We would love more executives to take pledges to be more aware of what they are putting out into the world for people to see.
Where do see the place of The Bitch Pack, within the industry, and within the women’s activist context?
We are definitely in the era of 4th wave feminism (and our male supporters and members are just as staunch feminists as our female ones). Fourth wave utilizes the internet, so we are on Twitter and Facebook to try and promote our mission and goals.
Our community and members have fantastic personal voices and with the idea of promoting female characters and creating content that does so – we will carry our message through our work.
“The industry” per se as it is stands much with the status quo, but we understand that things take time and we hope our advocates will spread the word to script readers and executives that it's important for all kinds of film viewers to see women as more three-dimensional, instead of the usual archetypes that are presented due to a lack of diversity in content that is chosen for production and distribution.
You’ve developed a whole range of alliances. Why is that? How do they help?
Definitely - again we are so lucky to be able to bring awareness through various groups and genres. As you know – horror fans via Shriekfest, academia through student filmmakers, predominantly female readers via Bust Magazine, feminists via Legendary Women (started by a Duke University alumna), and popular culture buffs and theoreticians via Pop Change (started by a USC-Annenberg alumna).
LA-FPI has really given us a boost with starting out 2013 with an event at Samuel French in Hollywood, the storied book shop with roots in London and New York City. We truly look forward to building with those who have taken the time for us and who have sought us out. We are ever so thankful to have the support of those who honor the power of the pen and understand that change does happen through words first and that this can be translated to moving images as well.
I especially love it that you’re working with the LA-FPI. What are you doing with them and why? What do you have in common and where are your differences, apart from the obvious one that LAFPI writes for the stage?
We absolutely love them and look forward to bonding more. They've gotten us out to see live productions of female writer/performers in our city and given us a more well rounded perspective on our collective struggle.
They are also extremely well organized and their promotional arm online and offline is very impressive. We so need that enthusiasm and boost to keep us going, as we are still quite a fledgling group and LA-FPI is a bastion of strength and endurance against the odds for us. We look up to them and their model of excellence despite adversity and sexism.
What’s been the response from the industry, to the Bitch Pack and the Bitch List?
There was initial support via Twitter of some industry members, however our enlistment of voters for our list was honestly not as we had hoped.
We require people to keep track of us more than the other lists in town (which we wildly support) which have people rank “best” or “best in horror” for un-produced screenplays for example.
We need people to identify Bechdel Test passing scenes and then rank them in their subjective opinion of “best”. For this year, we have chosen to go with writer submitted screenplays, where we asked for Bechdel Test passing scene pages and ranked the scripts in no particular order after that. We support writers who consciously made the decisions to write these scenes and whose intent is to showcase female characters.
What inspired the Bitch List? Why do scripts matter? What do you hope will change because of the Bitch List?
Hearing people bitch during awards season inspired the Bitch List! Every year around this time, reports come out about how few films from the year before, or nominated films show honest portrayals of women or pass the Bechdel Test.
Screenplays are where it all begins, as is not completely recognized. The writers' decisions on the page affect how everything will go, then of course notes from producers and executives change that course. Change must begin first with the written word when it comes to film.
We hope to engage an international film community to contribute to the next Bitch List. Because we are predominantly students or recent students, we are still struggling and are busy with our day to day gigging, attempted gigging.
We have the concept and ideas of how things work, but we surely do need the help with organization and reading. We would love film festivals and other such entities to join professional film production companies, agencies and management companies to help us identify well constructed Bechdel Test passing screenplays that go beyond just the mere passing of the test itself.
Why do you think such a high proportion of scripts on the Bitch List are written by men?
Seems like men are wising up to the fact (or have always known) that women are amazing and that a female audience is key in having a successful film project. Also, male writers are great observers of women with a different view that women commenting on our own behavior, relationships, dynamics... We are so lucky for our guys and our male supporters - mainly Robert Dillon who has been a key voice for us on Twitter.
Tell me about your own background and place in the industry. Were you brought up around the industry? Do you write scripts yourself? What’s your day job? What have your experiences in the industry taught you? Are you a feminist? What are your personal goals?
Personally, I am a complete outsider who grew up in the woods of the Mid-Atlantic United States. I was brought up around government and military. If it were not for the kindness of Evan Charnov, I would know nothing about “the industry”. I did not come to Los Angeles to participate in it. I moved to LA after 9/11 from New York City and intended only to be here briefly, but things didn't turn out that way.
I do write screenplays. My very long time friend, director Noam Gonick, enlisted me to write a historical drama for him. It's called 1886 and features a strong ethnic female character, Lucy Parsons, and her female friends who set up the labor rights movement in the US as part of The Chicago Anarchists. Being an ethnic, female, double minority, I am honored to help Noam bring this story to life. Our goal is to bring this to the screen. We are humbled to have the help of producer Cathy Gesualdo and the cheering of cinematographer Haskell Wexler, as we continue the latest cycle of rewrites.
My day job for Evan was being his assistant for a Bruckheimer / Warner Brothers television show that was bizarrely short lived. I have done all kinds of work in LA- in commercials and most recently translation work for a production company that is making segments for PBS's This American Life.
My experiences in the industry thus far are that you really do need a strong support system so as to not let things get you down. I was lucky to be protected by much of the politics of day to day production work by Evan. I am extremely glad to be in league with a trusted friend in Noam on our journey to bring Lucy Parsons and her depth back to these modern times for a modern audience.
What exactly is your role in the Bitch Pack? Are you paid? How do you manage the work and your day job? As the ‘face’ of the Bitch Pack, what are the benefits for you? Do you think that your work with the Bitch Pack will affect your access to opportunities? Where does your personal support come from?
The Bitch Pack is all volunteer. We try our hardest to carry out our joint initiatives that fulfill our mission.
As for a face – I try to hide as much as possible. I got Franki Butler to hand out our award at Shriekfest! I prefer to be behind the scenes and showcase our members on our Facebook page. I would love to just be a hermit-ly writer, with my dog by my side. You can ask my friends - most of the time, I just hate to leave the house.
Where do you see the Bitch Pack’s future? And yours?
It's very easy for young ideas to fail due to lack of time and lack of support. We have been given such endearing support from co-believers in the importance of having media that doesn't put women down or completely neglect them. I can only hope that we get more boosts in continuing our mission with others, and increasingly louder voices to help us. We're learning a lot and hope to continue to have others show us how to fight the good fight with them.
As for me, I understand that being a paid screenwriter is like getting into the NBA (National Basketball Association), ie very difficult ~ 2% of the human population?
I liken myself to hopefully being a Spud Webb one day. He's a 5 foot 5 inch guard from my dad and uncle's alma mater (NC State) who played among the giants and somehow managed to get in the NBA. Go Spud – my idol! Practice practice practice, building positive relationships and more endurance than others is how it's got to be when you're the little guy.
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