An actor going to movie premier "attends", an actress "showcases her lithe body" - what I'm saying is: how do I showcase my lithe body?— Jemaine Clement (@AJemaineClement) October 26, 2015
You make me smile.
I love it when I see you in the neighbourhood. Once every couple of years or so.
Wheeling the most elegant little pale blue bike I've ever seen, past New World.
At the polling booth at Clyde Quay School.
Striding past me, outside the fish and chippery in Majoribanks Street.
I love the way you show the neighbourhood, in What We Do in the Shadows. The first horror I ever watched (I am a wuss, a generic ancient person with shopping bags, waiting for the number 20 bus to go up Hawker Street; eating spicy eggplant at Cha; buying double ice cream cones at Kaffee Eis; in and out of the Paramount and the Embassy.)
I loved your Cure Kids project.
And I totally loved your work in People Places Things – kept reaching for 'Rewind' to have another look-and-listen, but there wasn't one on my Embassy armrest. The day after I saw People Places Things I saw another film about an artist parent, Ricki & the Flash, where no performance – except in a fabulous scene between Meryl Streep and Audra McDonald – engaged me in the same way.
I'll always watch everything and anything you do onscreen.
So of course when I saw a big feature about you in the paper last month I read it immediately and avidly. And wasn't surprised that you said–
But sexism is definitely rife in Hollywood and, as a comedian and writer I'm starting to feel the responsibility to make female roles, to put them in further, to do more with female roles.'Go Jemaine!' I exclaimed. 'I thought so. Working globally, you're a New Zealand ally for women-in-film. Speaking up and out! Yes!' But then I read your next statement–
I wish...there were more female producers and writers.And I sighed. Does that ellipsis indicate that you paused for thought, or that something significant's been edited out? I don't know. I could ask, I guess. But if that's in any way your view it's probably the view of others, too. And once it's in the paper, it'll influence the views of even more people.
So regardless, I thought I'd let you know and those others know that there are lots of women writers right here in New Zealand. More than enough, who just need half a chance. (There are lots of women producers too, about half all New Zealand producers.)
A couple of years back, I agreed to write about screenwriting in New Zealand, for a book that's just come out. This one. It costs $249.40 in hardcover and $228.02 on Kindle, so I doubt that we'll see it in airports or at Unity Books or buy it to read on the bus. (& see *ENDNOTE below)
In my essay, reproduced below, I focused on the feature development process and surveyed a group of women screenwriters. I've now added some notes in square brackets, lengthened some of the quotations and added references I can't find links for.
My thinking's changed since I submitted the essay eighteen months ago, perhaps most in relation to how some women tell stories 'differently' (see here and here). I've come to appreciate New Zealand's strong cohort of women performers who are talented writers and/or directors (scroll towards the bottom here). I'm now pretty certain that New Zealand-based producers, women and men, prefer to produce scripts by and/or about men. And there's a new ongoing vibrancy that supports women screenwriters in various women's film collectives, like Film Fatales in Wellington and the Waking Dream Collective in Auckland. That makes a big difference.
I don't much like what I wrote because it's kinda academic, in an attempt to fit the book's culture; and because when I write about women screenwriters collectively, I prefer to think about them in relation to all the screens, rather than privileging that big one in the cinema, even though I love it. If I did it over again, almost two years later, there are many more writers I'd invite to contribute to my research. There are new ones all the time.
But here it is, because I think it shows that – as well as the Academy Award winners we already know about and the few women writers whose features have made it to the screen – there are plenty of hard-working women writers with lots of great stories to tell. But we fall by the wayside: after we learn to write scripts; when we search for producers; when the NZFC and others assess our work; when family commitments take over.
The women I surveyed had almost all written several feature screenplays and from the descriptions they provided they were almost all stories I'd love to see onscreen. By far the majority of those screenplays have women protagonists. It's time for these writers and the others like them to be acknowledged, celebrated, cherished, nourished and funded.
For further reading, especially about that 'differently' thing, look out for Sophie Mayer's book, Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema, just launched.
|Sophie Mayer cuts her launch cake, last week|
New Zealand, with its tiny population of 4.4 million, is exceptional because three of its women screenwriters, Jane Campion, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, have won Academy Awards for their screenplays. Nevertheless, in general New Zealand women screenwriters participate in feature filmmaking at a low level that is consistent with the experience of women in other parts of the world.
This essay asks why this is so, in the first country in the world to give women the vote, in a cultural context where women writers flourish and with a film history where feature films written by women have been exceptionally successful in global terms. It argues that an understanding of women screenwriters’ experiences of the feature development process (often referred to as ‘development hell’) is crucial to increasing their participation and uses information from the eight-year Development Project (details below) to explore women’s engagement with the state funding body, the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC). It concludes that it will be challenging, even in New Zealand, to ensure that women contribute fully to what Mary Beard calls ‘authoritative public speech’ as expressed in feature filmmaking.
In The public voice of women, Mary Beard writes about the historical silencing of women, explaining that in Homeric Greek 'muthos' (from which the English word 'myth' derives, a highly relevant term for women screenwriters) –
...signals authoritative public speech (not the kind of chatting, prattling or gossip that anyone – women included, or especially women – could do).Although in some respects things have changed since Homer wrote the Odyssey, globally, it appears that writing and directing films is one of the few expressions of authoritative public speech that remains the 'business of men'.
New Zealand’s human rights obligations require the NZFC to ensure that women who want to engage with feature filmmaking as writers and directors, can do so. It must invest equally in women and men. But until very recently the organisation has not attempted to measure women’s participation and still has no gender policy. It has also failed to invest in films with women as protagonists, another element in the public voice of women.
Over the last decade women wrote only twenty-three percent of all narrative feature films produced with investment from the NZFC and only fourteen percent of the narrative films it funded had a woman protagonist. In the four years to June 2013, of 21 NZFC-funded features 23 percent had women writers and 6 percent had women protagonists. Women appear to do better where there is a lower budget.
In the NZFC’s low-budget feature funding of seven low-budget films, two (33 percent) had women writers and a third one had a woman co-writer, so women writers contributed to 47 percent of the films and two, 28 percent, had women protagonists. Furthermore, in the development process, projects with women writers may request less money or be allocated less. An analysis of development investment funding over the last four years shows that the NZFC has funded projects written by women in about the same numbers as for completed features over the last decade, but invested a smaller amount in projects women wrote. If however women wrote with men, their share of the amount invested rose.
Giving everyone a ‘fair go’ is part of New Zealand’s national psyche although it is often imperfectly practised. New Zealand was founded on Te Tiriti o Watangi/ the Treaty of Waitangi signed by Maori and the Crown in 1840 and in recent decades the Crown has made a solid effort to uphold Maori rights under the treaty and to compensate Maori for breaches of the treaty. Its New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 sets out the range of rights available to all New Zealanders that derive from the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These include the right to be free from discrimination and ‘[require] the Government and anyone carrying out a public function to observe these rights, and to justify any limits placed on them’. New Zealand has also agreed to take ‘all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women’ in the ‘cultural field’, through ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Perhaps this commitment to human rights principles is why, according to The Economist, New Zealand is the best country in the world to be a working woman.
Women writers for the page thrive in this environment. In the last decade’s national book awards, women won eight out of ten awards for fiction and seven out of ten awards for poetry, within a rigorously run structure where the group of selectors changes every year. The three New Zealand writers who have won major international awards are all women. Two are Maori, Keri Hulme who won the Booker Prize in 1985 and Patricia Grace who won the Neudstadt Prize in 2008. Both write work that is rich with unforgettable women characters. The third is Eleanor Catton, who won the Booker Prize in 2013 for her second novel mostly about men, but whose first novel, The Rehearsal (2008), is full of women.
Women writers do well in television drama [and webseries], too, where there are many fully realised women characters. Unlike the NZFC, which has no gender imperatives, New Zealand On Air (NZOA), the state funding agency for local television (and radio, music and digital media), is required to consider diverse audiences, including women as an audience. Women writers thrive within South Pacific Pictures (SPP), the major screen production company which NZOA has funded to produce many hours of television drama over the last twenty-five years, where the head writer is the legendary Rachel Lang. (SPP also makes feature films with women writers and complex, interesting women protagonists, including Niki Caro’s Whale Rider (2003), Roseanne Liang’s My Wedding & Other Secrets (2011), co-written with Angeline Loo, and Dana Rotberg’s White Lies| Tuakiri Huna (2013).
New Zealand women screenwriters are versatile. One of SPP’s regular writers of television drama, Kate McDermott, wrote the feature Kawa (2010), produced by Conbrio. Women writers well known for their work in other mediums, including NZOA-funded drama series and telemovies, are also attached to feature projects that the NZFC has funded for development in the last four years. Fiona Samuel is one. She started as an actor and is also a playwright, is a prolific writer of episodic television and has written and directed two telemovies, Piece of My Heart (2009) and Bliss (2011). Novelist Emily Perkins is adapting Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal, to be directed by Alison Maclean [now in post-production].
Within this cultural context, New Zealand women’s Academy Awards for their screenplays are no surprise. Nor is it a surprise that each of the three winners is vocal about the portrayal of women characters. Writer/director/producer Jane Campion’s success with The Piano (1993) came first. Written with a woman as protagonist, it won many awards, including – the only woman winner to date – the Palme d’Or in 1994. In the same year, Campion – based in Sydney Australia for many years – won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (one of only seven women ever) and was nominated as Best Director, the second of only four women ever to be nominated. As a whole, her body of work reflects a consistent inquiry into women’s lives and her most recent screenwriting continues this focus in the television mini-series Top of The Lake (2013), which she wrote with Gerard Lee, directed with Garth Davis and executive produced. Her many statements about women filmmakers also provide local screenwriters with authoritative support. For example, in 2007 she wrote in an email to support the Gender and Women’s Studies programme at Victoria University of Wellington: "Women may be 50% of the population but they gave birth to the whole world, why wouldn't we want to know what they think and feel?"
Fran Walsh, whose first writing credits were for telemovie It’s Lizzie To Those Close (1983) and the Worzel Gummidge Down Under series (1986-1989) has written and produced with her life partner, director Peter Jackson, since Meet The Feebles (1989). Their co-written Heavenly Creatures (1994) was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1995. With Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson she received a second nomination, for Best Adapted Screenplay for Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) in 2002 and in 2004 she won Best Adapted Screenplay as well as Best Picture and Best Original Song, for Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003). Philippa Boyens started in theatre and first wrote with Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson on the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003), brought in as a ‘hardcore Tolkien fan’ (Barnes 2012). She continued with them as a writer and began to produce as well, with King Kong (2005), The Lovely Bones (2009) and The Hobbit trilogy (2012-2014).
In one interview, Philippa Boyens gives her view of the screenwriter’s role when not also the director: “You need to write for the director…a vision that the director has”. This view, which offers an interesting challenge for a woman screenwriters who develops any script without a director attached, is expanded on in a New York Times article based around a rare joint interview with Boyens and Walsh, where the journalist describes the contributions of each of the partners–
Ms. Walsh has a knack for conveying emotion, Ms. Boyens excels at structure (and line readings), and Mr. Jackson is the visual genius.With two exceptions, Heavenly Creatures and The Lovely Bones, the characters in Peter Jackson’s films are overwhelmingly male and the portrayal of women is an issue for both women. The New York Times article refers to Fran Walsh as ‘pestering’ Peter Jackson to make Heavenly Creatures, about two young women, even though he ‘wasn’t thrilled with the idea’ and Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens have an exchange that shows that ‘feminine energy’ is important to them and that they will introduce it when necessary–
'In Tolkien’s largely female-free Hobbit,' Ms. Boyens said, 'The lack of feminine energy becomes very evident.' 'And oppressive,' Ms. Walsh added.To work toward a solution they added a Lord of the Rings character – the ethereal elf Galadriel, played by Cate Blanchett – to the Hobbit story…
Ms. Walsh and Ms. Boyens said it was important to them, both as storytellers and as women, to add a female character who could bring more emotional depth to the spectacle. 'That’s really important if you are going to touch the audience in a meaningful way,' Ms. Boyens said.Other New Zealand women screenwriters who provide models for New Zealanders and who have international audiences include writer/ directors Niki Caro and Christine Jeffs. Niki Caro is best known for Whale Rider and as director of North Country (2005) and McFarland (2014) but also wrote and directed Memory & Desire (1998) and A Heavenly Vintage (2009). She wrote and directed for the New Zealand television series Mercy Peak (2001-2002) and was a writer on another series, Being Eve (2001). Christine Jeffs wrote and directed Rain (2001) about the coming-of-age of a thirteen year old girl but since then has directed films written by others.
There’s other evidence that New Zealand is rich in talented women screenwriters. Five features written or co-written by women, four of them with unforgettable female protagonists, are among the New Zealand box office top-performing twelve features (New Zealand Film Commission 2013): Once Were Warriors; Whale Rider; Second-Hand Wedding (2008, Linda Niccol), The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls (2008, Leanne Pooley, documentary) and Home By Christmas (2010, Gaylene Preston). That’s forty-one percent [the most recent top twelve includes only four– Once Were Warriors, Whale Rider, Second-Hand Wedding and The Piano].
Women do well in screenwriting education, too. In the scriptwriting masters course at the renowned International Institute of Modern Letters (where Eleanor Catton studied in the writing-for-the-page stream) they are almost exactly half the participants and have won sixty percent of the annual prizes, for full-length works for stage or screen (as at 2013). [I now know that there are also some very interesting women feature writers graduating from the masters in creative writing at the Auckland University of Technology]. When SPP invited applicants for an Emerging Writers Lab in 2011, eighty-six of one hundred and seventy five applicants and five of the ten selected were women.
One piece of New Zealand Film Commission research, in 2007, demonstrated that women-written short films the NZFC have invested in, within a programme designed to develop talent, were more successful in gaining entry into A-list festivals than those written by men: 60 percent of women-written short films in comparison with 48 percent of those written by men. Finally, in New Zealand’s two years old version of the Black List, the Best Unproduced Script Award, administered by the New Zealand Writers Guild (NZWG), where judges read the scripts ‘blind’, 50 percent of the finalists have been women. In the award’s first year, women wrote seven of the ten final scripts and two of them contributed more than one: Casey Whelan wrote two and Linda Niccol three. [In 2015 Anna Nuria Francino & Siobhan Marshall won for their Bara and in another welcome result, Roseanne Liang won Best Television Comedy Episode for an episode of her webseries: Flat3: The Game.]
When I commenced my PhD research, women writers and directors told me many stories about their frustrations within the NZFC development process, but only two were willing to speak on the record. They feared that if they spoke out against the NZFC, even anonymously, it would affect their funding opportunities. Fortunately, although the NZFC’s then (2006) Chief Executive, Ruth Harley, did not believe it had a gender problem, she opened the organization’s files to me.
I discovered that women writers were attached to up to 30 percent of early development applications and their projects received funding roughly in proportion to the applications made. But as projects proceeded through development towards NZFC-funded production, fewer and fewer had women attached although when these projects did apply they continued to be funded in the same proportion. This decline may be because towards the end of development, global film systems become influential. Then (as now) to be eligible for NZFC production funding, projects had to have a distributor attached and until very recently, the general belief has been that films about women are unattractive to audiences. This may have affected the distribution options for high quality work written by and about women, unless the films were also Maori, like Once Were Warriors and Whale Rider.
Yes, Ruth Harley agreed, there was a problem. She left to be CEO at Screen Australia. I completed my PhD mystified about why women writers were not attached in greater numbers to projects that applied for early development funding and unsure about why their participation continued to fall the closer projects came to production. I also understood that the NZFC was unlikely to initiate the regular collection of gender statistics and very unlikely to follow the example of other countries like Sweden where the Swedish Film Institute works towards gender parity in its allocation of funding for development [and has now reached gender parity].
I continued to wonder, as self- and crowd-funded feature filmmaking blossomed, why so few women writers and directors participated in that: Andrea Bosshard (with Shane Loader) on Taking the Waewae Express (2008) and Hook, Line & Sinker (2011), Athina Tsoulis with Jinx Sister (2008), following I’ll Make You Happy (1998) and Marama Killen with Kaikahu Road (2011). [This seems to be changing: see, for example the webseries work of The Candle Wasters and others; and the features by Fiona Jackson, who wrote and produced Penny Black, debuting at the Arohanui Film Festival this weekend; Rose Goldthorp's group of features – she plans to pay people by her fifth!; Michelle Joy Lloyd's Sunday; and two features that Amanda Philips has written and produced, now in post-production.]
Post-doctorally, the Development Project became a different kind of exploration. In my Wellywood Woman blog I interviewed women whose features were released in New Zealand and elsewhere about the development of their films, participated in international activist networks and continued, as in my thesis, to document the development of my own fictions for various media including film. For this essay, I turned again turned to my fellow writers, some of them also directors, and attempted to update the statistics.
By cross-checking with others I made a list of around sixty women who might be serious writers of feature films. I whittled that down to thirty-seven whom I invited to complete a questionnaire [more about the process here]. To my surprise, twenty-six did so, from very well-established writers of produced features to women who have not yet had a feature script produced although they have other writing credits in film, television or theatre.
Respondents came from three generations, with a diversity of publicly acknowledged identities. Maori writers are represented in a proportion slightly larger than their one-in-seven presence in the population as a whole. There are four queer writers and nine who have participated in the various diasporas in and out of New Zealand during the last decades. I asked participants questions about their feature scripts and full treatments (not documentaries, not telemovies) over the last decade (numbers, genre, protagonist gender), about their contact with the NZFC and their perceptions of the NZFC development processes, about the role of advocates for them at the NZFC, about their directors and producers, about the relationships between their feature film writing and their writing for other platforms including fiction for the page, about the proportion of their incomes that come from feature film writing, about heartbreak and about what keeps them going, what helps and what hinders. Some questionnaires were supplemented by email, phone and in person conversations.
The statistical update (summarized in Figure 1 above) created from the NZFC Annual Reports 2010-2013 showed that projects with women writers were most strongly represented at the very early Writer Loan/Seed Development level where writers can apply before they have producers or directors (if not writing to direct), with 29 percent of both projects submitted and investment made and a further 8 percent co-written with men receiving 7 percent of the investment. To compare these results with my earlier research, I invited the NZFC to update my statistics on the gender of those who applied for development funding. These became available just as I completed this essay and will inform further analysis of the statistics already available, in conjunction with the responses to the questionnaire.
Preliminary analysis of the questionnaire responses does not illuminate women’s low participation in the NZFC feature development process. However, the NZFC recently devolved its Seed Fund for writers to the NZWG. In the only round to date, women made 40 percent of the submissions and wrote two of the three selected projects, a much better gender result than when the NZFC ran the programme. As for the guild’s Best Unproduced Script Award, the assessors blind read the submitted scripts. This may indicate that women feel more confident to apply when they know that their work is anonymous to assessors and that their confidence in the blind process – which cannot be sustained beyond very early development – is justified. It is also possible that women writers’ participation consistently drops off during the long development process because on they struggle to find [and retai producers.[As I mentioned earlier I'm now convinced that producers –women and men – tend to be less interested in and committed to scripts by and about women than those by and about men, especially if they are written 'differently'.]
But the responses showed that 'classic' gender issues continue to affect women's writing practices as strongly as ever [and more so than for writers for the page, I believe]. The most often referred to was domestic culture, especially in relation to children. Yes, there are women who have outstanding support for their work in their domestic lives, from partners, from extended family. Some are able to take that for granted and this appears to make a significant difference to their progress and to their resilience when they meet inevitable setbacks. There are also women who are supported to a lesser extent, particularly by partners who subsidise the family income. But other women with children run their households and their careers while their partners run only their careers. Here's the fullest account of this relatively common 21st century experience–
I run the lives of myself and the children, whereas [my partner], who is in the same business as me but not a writer, essentially runs one life – his own. He does domestic work when he’s home, but if he’s working he’s not home and he doesn’t think how it’s all going to run – how it will all be possible. He knows I will run it and he doesn’t think about how. When I am working, I have to delegate childcare and transport and meals and all the rest of it to someone else, actually figure out who is going to do it, organise that person and most times pay them. The brain-space and energy that this takes is something I think most men have no awareness of. Women accept that they are the bottom line for their children because it’s the bedrock truth – we want them to be happy and secure and well-cared-for and so we do the work, and men see us doing it and they think – sweet! That’s taken care of, I can just get on with what I do. And that would make life a whole lot simpler, to have someone else taking care of it.More from another writer, about how domestic privilege may affect how men work on their careers–
But I, along with every other working mother I know, would much rather have this double workload than be without my children. And because insisting that the load be equally shared just feels like the road to a lot of arguing and resentment and an unhappy home, a bad atmosphere. Fifty years of feminism hasn’t chipped away at this one all that much! But I’d still rather be a woman today than at any other time in history, with the choices I have and the ability to make my own living and have children...I don’t see men being privileged in my working life but I do see them being enormously privileged in their domestic lives! And I think women allow them to be privileged because we love our children.
The pressures have been different — [my partner] doesn’t feel torn down the middle by the emotional demands of children and creative work — but the pressure for him to earn money at the expense of following his passion has been intense... [He] has been doggedly determined, and has put himself out there with producers and networking in ways I never have — and probably never would — and he’s starting to see results but it has been a long, hard road. I have seen him thwarted by issues that have nothing to do with gender, but that perhaps a lot of women, especially those with children, don’t have the time or energy to persist with. A lot of what passes for filmmaking in this country is ninety percent bullshit and ego (people with no craft skills or rigour talking up their latest project over a beer at [a fashionable bar]) and it’s a side of the industry I have no time or patience for. ([My partner] comes up against this problem time and again but he’s more prepared to drink the [fashionable bar] beers…☺) However, I think if you look at the other ten percent, at who is making films in a serious way, without all the bullshit – the quiet achievers – you’ll find a lot of them are women... I too will be taking the stealth approach.Do these cultural differences affect women's participation in 48 Hours, too, that blokey bastion? [And our participation in no-budget filmmaking, especially as women in general earn hundreds of thousands of dollars less than men over our lifetimes?] They certainly seem to affect women screenwriters without children, when they consider having children–
I have had very slow periods where work is not forthcoming, and have been rather poor at times, but have not had to seriously consider giving up what I love doing (and hope I’ll never have to!) In this way I do not think I am any different to the men I know who write feature films – we are all trying to fit writing around our day jobs, friends, partners and families, and are trying to balance our need for financial security with our need [for] creative fulfilment. I am lucky to have a supportive partner with a ‘regular job’ whose pay check we can hopefully continue to rely on, even if mine is entirely unreliable!
I am thinking more and more about what having a family of my own would mean for my writing and the progression of my career.
My home is currently also my workspace – an arrangement that would be much more difficult with children around (although some women, like my marvellous script editor seem to manage this well – [our meetings] are constantly interrupted by small voices calling out to her from the other room!)
While I imagine I’ll be able to continue working on projects with flexible deadlines, I worry about whether I would be able to continue doing TV work, which requires weeks of solid time in the writers room. I also wonder whether I will stop getting offers of work as soon as I make the decision to have children. I don’t believe that this is the way it has to be, and hope that if [I work] with other women we will be able to find ways to continue making films and telling stories in ways that suit us and the lifestyles we choose to have.There were two major surprises in the responses to my questionnaire. One was the consistency of answers to ‘What keeps you going?’ The first response to ‘What keeps you going?’ was almost invariably some version of 'Me'. Two referred to 'compulsion', expressed in another way by a third–
What keeps me going is an inner drive to never just be ‘normal’ that I’ve always had. It is unbearable for me to think about a life where I wasn’t working towards something more creatively. It is not about fame or fortune, it is about getting to the point where I know I am an expert at my craft, which I am many years away from.
I suspect this all comes from growing up in a small, boring town with lovely (but very ordinary) parents. I can’t tell you where the needing more than that came from, it’s there and it’s in my best friend from that small town too (he’s working towards the same career as me in [another city]). This is how I know it’s nothing to do with our genders – it’s just who we are. I actually have no idea what drives my other screenwriter friends (male or female), but I guess it probably all comes from a similar place.This participant also referred to something that hampers many who are not wholly or partly supported by their domestic partners, because no-one in New Zealand except Walsh and Boyens makes a living from writing feature films, though some do when they combine it with writing for television–
Time is my biggest issue, because I need to work 40 hours a week at a job that isn’t screenwriting to pay my rent and put food in the cat’s bowl and so on [and being a woman she is likely to earn less than a man in similar circumstances]. This means I work very long days sometimes in order to cram in my day job, and some screenwriting, and meetings for other projects. But, as I said above, it is not an option for me not do these things, and that’s fine by me.The drive that keeps this participant going [she is now employed as a full-time screenwriter] is described from another perspective in another’s response to ‘What keeps you going?’–
Ideas that won't leave my head that magically link into the story I'm trying to tell. The voice won't stop until it’s on the page. From those two moments, the emotional strength and self confidence required to deliver are the most difficult things (Dianna Fuemana).The second surprise was the high ratio of scripts with women protagonists in the participants’ listings of the feature screenplays they had written in the last ten years. Although only one participant explicitly expressed a desire to tell stories about women as something important to her, 71 percent of these women’s scripts had women or girls as protagonists [a couple of late responses to the questionnaire pushed the proportion of female protagonists to almost 80 percent] and a further 18 percent had multiple protagonists, of whom about 60 percent were female. This contrasts with the 14 percent of female protagonists in the narrative films the NZFC funded for production over the last decade and is something to explore further, especially in view of a statement by Donna Malane of Lippy Pictures. She and her writing partner Paula Boock both write novels with female protagonists but the five telemovies they have written since 2007 feature men. Malane says–
To be honest, I’m not used to writing female protagonists in my screenwriting. For some reason, Paula Boock [and I] end up telling stories that are primarily about men. And it’s quite bizarre really, because there aren’t many writer/producers around and Paula and I formed Lippy Pictures and then we’ve gone on making male-dominated stories and it’s a bit of a joke actually It’s just embarrassing because we would love to write stories for and about women but […] somehow these ones we develop just seem to be about men.Is it possible that just as women writing with men may advantage themselves in the NZFC processes, so may women who write about men? There’s some evidence from the questionnaires and related conversations that some projects with female protagonists have reached advanced development and been rejected for further funding because the audiences are not there for features about women and girls. The most brutal example of this kind of response, from someone not necessarily at the NZFC, was–
I said it [the protagonist] was a little girl. They snorted through their nose and looked away. 'Well there you go,' they said, 'Who cares about a little girl?'This statistical and anecdotal evidence suggests that systemic bias exists within the NZFC independently of who works there. The NZWG results reinforce the validity of the suggestion. But more investigation is needed, because of the diverse views of similar experiences. A recent newspaper report about the screenwriter, fiction writer and director Linda Niccol supports the argument that discrimination exists at the NZFC. Niccol, who had three scripts among the ten finalists in the NZWG Unproduced Script Award in 2013 and co-wrote Secondhand Wedding, which, not funded for production by the NZFC, holds eighth place [now eleventh] in the top-performing New Zealand features, had just returned from the United States premiere of her short film The Handkerchief. According to the report, the NZFC declined multiple funding applications and–
I got quite obsessed with the whole thing and the more I got rejected…the more I was determined to see it made.She crowd-funded and the report highlights the lengths that women will go to when they are determined [Linda now has projects she's developing outside New Zealand. And other women screenwriters, like Anita Ross, are doing the same.]
But a couple of women, who have achieved considerable success in other mediums and who described ongoing struggles to find NZFC funding for their feature film projects, were adamant that despite this nothing hindered their progress. One well-established screenwriter’s response to the ‘What keeps you going, what helps, hinders?’ question, although she had earlier written that her projects had languished in or been thwarted by the NZFC development process, was–
I’m proud of what I’ve achieved as a writer...I haven’t felt hampered.To better understand women’s participation in the NZFC development process and enforce New Zealand women screenwriters’ right to an ‘authoritative public voice’, including their portrayals of female protagonists, more public debate and some gender-based NZFC initiatives are necessary.
(1) The Development Project started as a creative writing PhD. As a graduate of Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters scriptwriting MA and winner of my year’s award for the best portfolio, and a longtime activist among women artists and writers, I wanted to explore why women wrote and directed so few New Zealand feature films. Since 2009 the project has been internationally oriented, based [here] at the Wellywood Woman blog and its associated social media accounts.
(2) All figures –unless otherwise credited – come from Evans 2006-2014.
(3) All film references have been checked on the Internet Movie Data Base and NZOnScreen. Where there is a conflict of information the default authority is NZOnScreen – which has excellent entries on many New Zealand women screenwriters.
Author biography (because it makes me smile)
Marian Evans, writer, activist, academic, filmmaker and former lawyer is based at the Wellywood Woman blog, ‘for women who make movies and for the people who love them’, and its associated social media accounts. [Written about in] Indiewire as a Heroine of Cinema for her work that traverses the divide between theory and practice, her primary affiliation is to women film activists around the world. She looks forward to becoming ‘only’ a writer and filmmaker.
References not linked within text
Evans, M. (2006-2014), Development Project: Emails, Recordings, Spreadsheets and Tables. Unpublished database.
Evans, M. (2014), Development Project: Questionnaires and Spreadsheets. Unpublished database.
Evans, M. (2015), ‘Women Directors of Feature Films in New Zealand’ in Directory of World Cinema: Australia and New Zealand 2, eds B. Goldsmith, M.D. Ryan and G. Lealand, Bristol: Intellect.
New Zealand Film Commission (2007), Review of NZFC Short Film Strategy, Wellington: New Zealand Film Commission.
New Zealand Film Commission (2013), Top Twelve Films Released at the Box Office, accessed 20 April 2014, but no longer online.
NZonScreen (2012), ‘Fiona Samuel, Writer, Director’, accessed 20 April 2014.
NZonScreen (2012), ‘Fran Walsh: Writer, Producer’, accessed 20 April 2014.
NZonScreen (2012), ‘Philippa Boyens: Writer’, accessed 20 April 2014.
Shepard, D. (2000), Reframing Women: A History of New Zealand Film, Auckland: HarperCollins.
Shepard, D. (2005), ‘Shadow play: The film-making partnership of Rudall & Ramai Hayward’, in D. Shepard (ed) Between the Lives: Partners in Art, Auckland: Auckland University Press, pp.113-135.
So there it is. Less than perfect. Lots of data in those survey responses that I haven't referred to. But I hope it's useful. To someone.
Warm thanks, as always, to all those who responded to my questionnaire. And to you, Jemaine. And, as always, I'm happy to hear from anyone who has a question or comment, who disagrees or thinks I've made an error. My proofing isn't always perfect; and sometimes I make other mistakes.
I was delighted with this response from Jemaine–
And then, from Ben Fransham, some RTs and this–
And then from Jonathan King–
@devt I was tweeting about this *days* ago! ;-) @benfransham @AJemaineClement pic.twitter.com/iUX7IjlclK— Jonathan King (@MrJonathanKing) November 2, 2015
I've suggested that these tweeps take a delegation of supportive #meninfilm to persuade the NZFC board to enact a gender equity policy. Who'd like to join them? Danny Mulheron? Geoff Murphy? Lee Tamahori? Oscar Kightley? Peter Burger? Peter Jackson? The Sarkies brothers? Steve Barr? Roger Donaldson? Taika Waititi? Vincent Ward? There's a long long list of possibilities... including men producers.
The other lovely responses come from the participants. They think I've done them justice. And that matters most of all. For example, from a woman I don't know at all, except through this project–
Awesome work! Solid lens. Thank you for being our voice out there. You do it real good.This kind of generous feedback makes me want to publish *everything* the participants wrote in their responses to my questions. They are wonderful wonderful wonderful women. And I can't wait to see more of their films.
March 2016: And when I did see the book, eventually, the editors had decided to use someone else's New Zealand entry! Without telling me. A weird moment, because the last I'd heard, in October 2014, was– 'The work has gone into [the publisher]... Your work is a great addition. We don't need changes. We expect the editor's work back I would assume by the end of the year. So the answer is yes -- your work is in the book. Once we hear from [the publisher] re: their schedule, I will let everyone know.'