Tuesday, March 26, 2013

We are women of action

I have trouble these days figuring out what I should write about here. There's a lot of stuff I'd like to talk about but can't, and then sometimes I start writing about something and realize that nobody is going to give a rat's ass. So I turned to Twitter, and asked for suggestions. I got this excellent response from Monique:

Are women credible action/scifi writers? Action is the bread&butter of spec market. Why aren't there more women writing in this genre? Or are there? I honestly don't know.

Women are supposed to write romantic comedies, obviously. Because we are pretty and gentle and we don't poop.

Clearly I'm going to say that yes, women can be credible action writers because I am one. In fact, I'm willing to bet I know more about guns and fighting techniques than most of my male counterparts. Some of that I can credit to my in-house technical adviser, The Beefcake, but I knew how to throw a punch long before I met him. I taught him how to pull off a successful roundhouse. He taught me how to combat load a Sig Sauer. And that's how our marriage works.

I love writing fight scenes. To me, those are not just the most fun thing in the world, but the easiest. My fight scenes are the only part of the script that remain largely intact from draft one to the end.

But I'm not alone. As time goes by, more and more women work their way into the spec market with action scripts. It seems like once a month I get an email from a woman who's working on an action script and is glad to know she's not the only one. Ashleigh Powell sold the excellent Somacell last year. Jane Goldman co-wrote Kickass. And if you go back through the history of action films, you'll find female names popping up every now and then. We're not overly common, but we're there.

So why aren't there more women in the action field? I'm no sociologist - in fact I slept through most of that horrid sociology class I took from that sexist asshole of a teacher in college - but I'd wager there's a cultural element at play. Girls aren't supposed to fight, or if they do, they're supposed to pull hair and scratch, not beat the tar out of somebody with their fists and feet.

Hell, look at the women who are considered badass in film. Linda Hamilton and Gina Carano aside, how many female action stars have any muscle tone at all? They're usually waifs who can somehow carry huge guns and beat up guys twice their size by flipping around and being sexy. Because girls can only be tough as long as they're still demure. Many of these are actresses I love so much, but I spend the whole movie wishing they'd do some pushups once in a while.

But that's a whole other rant.

The script that got me noticed is a romantic action comedy, so most of the time when I meet someone who's read it, they assume I'm a comedy writer. I get pitched romantic comedies. To their credit, whenever I clarify that I'm more into Seven Psychopaths than 27 Dresses, they almost happily shift gears. Usually they light up, excited to see a woman who can hold a conversation about the brilliance of Pitch Black or quote lines from Grosse Pointe Blank. I had sort of assumed I'd be stereotyped and pushed into some kind of romantic comedy corner, but it's been the opposite. I've received nothing but respect for what I do. Even the male producers think it's cool.

So why don't more women write in the action genre? A few reasons, I'd wager. For one thing, they just don't like action movies as much, for whatever reason. I forget what it was I dragged The Beefcake to see a while ago - Expendables 2 maybe? Either way, it was some glorious celebration of testosterone, and it was a matinee, and I think there were maybe two other girls in the theater? But the girls that were there were really enthusiastic, much like the only straight guy on Project Runway likes to make sure we all know how much he loves vagina.

So women are rare in this field, but not invisible. I honestly thought when I broke in that I'd be all alone - I'd the the only woman who knew how to write a quality action film. So imagine my surprise when I saw that announcement about Somacell. I was so excited. We are legion. We are.... at least two, anyway. And if there are two, there are others out there working their way here. We should all go out together and have girl nights that end in bar fights.


  1. I love action movies, even the dumb ones. Case in point, I sat through Cowboys & Aliens all the way to the bitter end. I'm eagerly awaiting the day Hansel & Gretel is available on Netflix. And I have involved fantasies of getting into fights with guys and kicking ass (that's normal, right?). I'm attempting my first action spec - success of execution still to be determined but it sure is more fun to write than a drama.

  2. I think people generally like to watch "women who can kick ass" because they're unexpected, they go against the gender stereotypes for female characters. Sadly, however, this has become just another Hollywood cliche. At one time, kick-ass women were rare and remarkable - Ripley in Alien, Sarah Connor in Terminator 2, etc. But at this point it's become another overused character type that is often thrown into scripts without the writer taking the time to make them unique and interesting. To surprise us these days a kick-ass woman needs to have a little more depth. (Or she needs to be unusual in some surprising way. i.e., Hit Girl from Kick-Ass, who shocks the audience because of her age.)

    If you're looking for a good actress who kicks ass on TV right now, put Ivana Milicevic on your list. Her current role on Banshee has her busting heads in a decidedly not-girly way. Her fight scene in episode eight is brutal and epic. (And maybe it goes without saying, but if you're not watching Banshee, you absolutely need to do so asap.)

  3. I am contemplating trying out my first action script!

  4. Emily,

    I think you are focusing on the wrong thing. You might very well be more well-versed in gun and fighting techniques than even Shane Black, but that's not what's important in action films. In fact, I would say the action part of the writing is the least important part of it. They have amazing action teams these days that can dream up of the most amazing set pieces. We go to movies because we want to feel a certain way. Fans love Dirty Harry movies and vigilante movies like that Jodie Foster revenge movie because they want to feel a sense of justice. Certain action writers that I love happen to have captured the very tone, story premise and characters that I'm interested in. As for the sleek female action heroes, I think it's an interesting trend. The best terminator villain was the sleek one in the sequel. He was skinny, but he looked really fast. James Bond realistically is a lot smaller and weaker than his villains, but the movies are trying to sell you cool and a fantasy lifestyle of intrigue. Those small female action heroes may give up about 100 pounds, but they are presented as if they are faster and more athletic than inefficient goons that can't even get a punch or shot off.

  5. JD: I don't think the woman in an action movie is inherently a cliche anymore than the man in a romantic comedy is a cliche. It's a character for better or worse. Sadly, it's often for worse, as you point out.

    Monique and Lisa - good luck. Kick its ass.

    Paul, I think it comes down to believability. Fight scenes require as much thought as any other scene, and when they're written by someone who knows the terminology, they tend to be better and more creative. And I should clarify, I was not comparing myself to Shane Black. I would never. The man is a genius.

    As for the size of the hero, the T1000 works because he's a robot. He can be any size and still be believable. When you have a woman with spaghetti arms holding up a huge gun and beating up dudes twice her size without any real explanation, I just find that hard to believe. It's harder for me to enjoy a story when I'm constantly rolling my eyes at the unrealistic expectations.

    But that's me. Clearly that doesn't bother everybody.

  6. I only brought up Shane Black (not as a comparison) but just as an example of someone who doesn't have any expertise in weaponry or fighting techniques...but someone who delivered the type of tone and characters that seem to really entertain action audiences. Well, Charlie's Agngels did really annoy me so you're not totally alone. You can only stretch believability so far. These 90 pound girls decide to only fly through the air and disable bad guys instead of using guns (just because Drew Barrymore doesn't believe in violence). I think the trend has to do more with bankability of the stars and try to put eyecandy for the viewers. But, I admit I do like the sexy sleek type of action hero now. Kate Beckinsdale and Daniel Craig look better than the obvious muscle bound hero.

  7. I believe a lot of female writers and directors just need to know they CAN write and direct action - or anything they please. As someone who's employed several female writers (for radio commercials) I've usually have to assure them that they were hired for their expertise so they should just write it how they see it and, if they must. apologise for not being "girly" later. This article was spot-on, in my view: http://jezebel.com/5983756/ive-spent-12-years-surrounded-by-hollywood-peen-where-are-the-women-directors

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  9. Erhum, thought i'd rephrase this better.

    Ok so. I like seeing female action heroes. The modern day division of the sexes is exactly that, a modern day thing. It started with plowing, apparently. Cause it takes strength to do that, combine that with the increased amount of children during the agricultural period, and so woman stayed at home to raise children (and be pregnant) and men worked the fields to plow.

    Previously, during our hundreds of thousands of years of hunter gathering. Men (mostly) didn't hunt while woman gathered. Both genders did both, and the tribes (modern ones) that have both genders hunting together have the highest success rate for their hunts.

    Having said that, I take a Dungeons and Dragons approach to characters and fight scenes. You can be strength based (think Arnie or Stallone) or dexterity based (think Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan), but you do actually need a bit of both and I do think the current trend in female action heroes neglects the strength stuff a bit.

    Still I feel like I gotta stand up for skinny people here a bit... I was 125lbs in high school (57kgs), 6 foot tall and I won shot putt both senior years. Force = mass x acceleration. So if you're fast enough, then you don't need mass. (both would be best of course). So a chick beating up a guy twice her size... unusual, but not impossible.

    ps:- Yeah i'm like a mutant or something, but it is possible.


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