I was recently asked to write a guest column for The Writer’s Dig (edited by Brian Klems) on the Writer’s Digest website. The topic was “How to Succeed as a Female Writer in TV & Film”. The title caused me to start humming a few bars from a famous musical while I gave the best advice I could.
Being asked, “How to succeed as a female writer in TV & film” makes me hum a few bars from almost any song from the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Not because you don’t need to try – and try hard – to succeed as a female (or any gendered) writer in TV & film – but because several of the clichés in the songs still ring true.
You have to “Alertly Seize Your Opportunities”, learn the “Company Way”, insist to any still-cave-dwelling males who may come your way that a writer’s assistant “is not a toy” (nor is she – or he – meant to fetch your dry cleaning or work overtime for no pay while the producer reaps all the benefits of sending a well-formatted script to the network executives for approval). You should adjust to workdays being “Long Days” and learn “How to Handle a Disaster” (like actors throwing scripts in the trash or writers throwing things across the room). You should be comfortable with the idea that there still is a bit of a “Brotherhood of Man” atmosphere in writers rooms which are still 80/20 male/female. (Having grown up with brothers or a good set of guy friends – or having played high school sports helps.) But most of all you have to remember to “Believe in You” because no one else – not your agent, not your manager, not your producer, and sometimes not your family – will always be in your corner.
If you survived that paragraph and still want to be in the business, good. Such a reality check is necessary because dreams don’t come cheap – but they do come if you keep at your writing and keep making connections along the way. That said, writers take many paths to their careers. I’ve known ski instructors who passed spec scripts off to the wives of producers who eventually hired them. I’ve known limo drivers to producers who gained their trust traveling the 405 for a year and I’ve known writers who passed spec movie scripts to the boyfriends of former college roommates who happened to be directors. (I’m still waiting for the story of the female writer who gets to pass her script off to the former female college roommate who happens to be a director so we can skip this middle-girlfriend step.)