Why I Dig Power Chicks in Hollywood
I’ve been hesitant to write a blog on this topic, mostly because I don’t want to come off sounding like some whiny, ungrateful, bra-burning feminist in Hollywood.
When the article about Barret Swatek and I came out in Script Magazine last month (see the Web Innovators article below), I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did they decide to profile two women, but two women who choose to act in their material.
Now I don’t know about everyone else, but whenever I’m in a pitch room, I always tiptoe around the acting part. In the past, it’s the first thing I’ve been willing to give up in the deal making process. Not because I don’t want to be in front of the camera, but because subconsciously I’m hoping that giving up the acting will allow me to be perceived more seriously as a writer/producer.
Now I’ve never met Barret Swatek, but after talking to some of the other female actress/writer/producer/web creators out there, I’m fairly confident that we would have more than a few things to bond about over margaritas. It’s called What’s Your Story? How I Fight The Actress/Writer/Producer Stigma. I’m sure the conversation would make a decent one hour companion piece to Inside the Actor’s Studio.
Tina Fey broke the mold on a macro level by creating, and starring, in unconventional TV and feature comedies. On the unscripted side, Chelsea Handler, Kathy Griffin, and Tyra Banks have redefined the traditional talk show model. And in the dawn of the ‘Content Creation Age’, we have seen a totally new femme fatale emerge.
She knows how to write, produce, and act. She knows how to location scout, wield an HVX, and export quicktime files for different media players. She knows how to market via multiple distribution platforms and how to interact with her audience. And she knows how to do this for pennies on the dollar. Who is she?
Her name is Felicia Day. And Casey McKinnon. And Shira Lazar. And Brigitte Dale. And Taryn O’Neill. And there are many more.
Just one day, I’d like to invite them all over for a sleepover. OMG. To be able to discuss camera lenses, distribution platforms, and wordpress templates all in one night! (It’s no secret that my biggest crushes are on chicks who know how to write their own jokes and code their own websites.)
These women do it all. And yet, I wonder if they feel the same way I do. Do they ever feel they have to compromise that perfect role in order to run the ship?
I find myself facing a similar comment, over and over – “How smart of you – to produce and write your own material so that you can cast yourself as the star!” The notion that I’m merely creating something so that Taryn the actress can quietly slip onto the screen…it makes me cringe.
I can’t deny that there is a growing trend in all of this actress/writer/producer stuff. There is a quiet rule in Hollywood – if you want to get a project made, attach a star by offering them a vanity producing credit. This practice has dramatically increased with the rise of independent films – you want an expensive actor for much less than their quote? Offer them a coveted “Producer” credit! Hooray! Deal done.
Everyone wants to feel valued (actors probably more than anyone), so it’s no wonder they jump at the chance to prove that they’re not just showing up to set and lending a pretty face.
The problem occurs when these actors don’t actually do anything.
While there are some who perform real producer duties, those who don’t simply propel a stigma that actors can’t actually be valuable as writers or producers as well.
Now here’s where I hate to be presumptious, but I feel like this unfortunate view is applied more to women than men. Perhaps because women actresses, on average, have less Hollywood leverage than males. (It’s a fact that male stars bring in more at the box office than females.) Or perhaps because men have a longer history of writing, producing, and starring in their own material. From Charlie Chaplin to the Wayans Brothers – dudes have been at it for awhile. Though more and more women are emerging as creative powerhouses, the numbers are far less.
Regardless of who gets the shit end of the stick, this has been a source of frustration for me. Everytime I create something new, these are the three thought points that consistently run through my head during the pitch process:
1. I must prove that I am not a fraud. While this fear may very well stem from some stupid but clearly crucial moment of past insecurity (i.e. getting booted off American Idol or losing the 8th Grade presidential election to a kid who moonwalked in lieu of an actual speech), the point is: my fear exists.
And so, I embark on trying to prove to you (the studio exec, the prospective director, the actor I want to attach, etc) that I do have skills as a writer/producer. If I am pitching you, this may include: demonstrating my knowledge of three act structure, the legalities of content ownership, optimum export settings for video, blah blah blah. Ready to kill me yet? I know, I want to kill me too.
Why must I feel the need to make sure the person sitting on the other side of that desk knows, that I know, of all things, how to chroma key??
If I am successful in proving #1, then I move onto #2:
2. I must convince everyone on set that I’m not a typical female control freaks. Truth is, I can be quite, err, Type A…but I’m aware of the fine line between leader and bitch. This means trying my hardest not to sound “bossy” and then ordering cupcakes for everyone on set to prove that I’m sort of cool. WHAT?! Males don’t do this nonsense.
3. I must prove that I love the story more than the act. In other words, I’ll sacrifice my on-screen role. The truth is, it is more important for me to tell a story that I care about than fulfill my desire of acting part of it out. But I also shouldn’t have to diminish my passion for acting in the process. In an effort to prove my writing/producing abilities, I wind up selling myself short in the on screen department.
Ok. So I’ve accomplished #1, #2, and #3. Now I can pitch you my brilliant idea.
GRRR! I’m obviously frustrating myself with my silly mental song-and-dance routine. Is it just me, or do other actress/writer/producers feel they have a similar need to diminish their in-front-of-the-camera passions and abilities to be taken seriously as a writer/producer? Do men experience this??
I’m curious to know everyone’s thoughts. Does it diminish a writer or producer, in your eyes, if she is simultaneously acting in her own projects? And for those of you out there who “do it all” (MALES AND FEMALES) and don’t want to sacrifice any part of the process, do you find yourself feeling less-respected in one area than another?