Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Screw the odds

When I first started sending pages around, people told me over and over that nobody would make an action movie with a female lead. It was pointless, they said. Write about men. Forget women.

But I've never been one to listen to odds of failure. I'm pretty convinced that I can do any goddamn thing I want to. Except calculus. Because fuck limits and shit.

Anyway, I wrote action scripts with female leads. And after Salt came out, a lot of people started talking about how they were going to try an action movie with a female lead. I bet some of those same people who told me not to bother were now trying it out.

Salt didn't exactly blast the market open, though. Other attempts barely made back their money. So the lesson became, only write a female-lead action movie if it stars Angelina.

Piffle, I say.

The day will come. So I keep writing. I get meetings. Eventually I'll get a deal. A movie will be made. It will fail or succeed or break even. I will keep writing. A movie will get made.

And one day, either from my work or that of someone else, a film will break through that will silence every asshole who ever said women couldn't be action stars. I'm looking at you, Chloe Moretz. Oh yes, I've got plans for you.

There will always be a thousand reasons you could fail, and there will always be plenty of people ready to tell you how. They'll shout it at you from the rooftops. They'll whisper doubt in your ear in quiet corners. They'll gleefully plant the evidence in front of you, happy to "just be realistic" in your face.

You can listen to them and doubt everything. You can quit, or you can change your ways, or you can analyze your odds or you can figure out how to game the system.

Or you can nod and smile and get back to work. Write your best screenplay. Be the one who proves everybody wrong.

Don't get me wrong, I write scripts with male leads too. The majority of action scripts are written with men in the lead; I'd be doing myself a disservice to stick to one gender, and I am certainly capable of writing great parts for men. But I still write the movie I want to see - the type of film that will take advantage of the Gina Caranos of the world.

Breaking into the movie industry is tough. People come out here every year armed with a script or two, convinced that all they need is a year to become Diablo Cody, and that's just not how it works. Most likely, it will take a lot of work and a lot of time.

So accept that. It will be tough. It will take years. It will take several scripts. You will have a few false starts. Once you just accept that as part of the cost, it's not that big a deal. If you expect it to be immediate, you're going to spend a lot of time languishing in disappointment.

So once you know what you're in for, push that aside and write. Just fucking write. Write what you want to see, write the best material you possibly can.

I never listen to the odds. I tune them out, put on my writing playlist and get back to work imagining how Emma Stone is going to kick ass in my next script.

Because there is only one thing stronger than the odds - hard fucking work.


  1. SALT was written for a man. I believe Tom Cruise was originally tagged to star. The script was rewritten when Angelina expressed an interest.

    At the time she was pretty much the only female that could open an action movie. Since then, she's tanked that.

    Although, Chloe, the Fanning sisters, and Amy Smart are kinda in there -- possibly Emma Stone too. They just need a vehicle.

    Sadly, writing a genre spec script with a female lead is problematic.

    It has more to do with the investors/getting money behind the script than it has to do with quality or possible actresses that could play the part.

    That's still a boys club. And the notion (right or wrong) is that they want a strong male lead paired up with a hot, sexy co-star.

    The irony is -- the book market LOVES female leads.

    P.S. -- You can also flip the odds argument around. The odds are so astronomically low to get a spec made in the first place, that you might as well write whatever you want. You'll be happier.

  2. James, I cannot tell you how much joy it brings me to see that the very first response to this post is to tell me how impossible the odds are.

  3. Can I add a tangent to your rant? A rangent?

    People who tell you that you are going to fail based on their personal, narrow definition of success.

  4. You so totally rock sister!

  5. we wrote a female action lead because we wanted a woman to be strong and vulnerable and scared and indecisive and resilient and lost and brooding all at the same time.

    We also wanted to show a woman outsmarting men. Not going toe to toe with them -- like a 125 pound woman is actually going to knock out a 225 pound seal with 50 kills under his belt.

    But what she can do, is outsmart him, smash him over the head with a frying pan, claw his eyes out, push him down the stairs, throw a maltov coctail on their asses. And still be scared shitless.

    And have to choose between her kid, and 100,000 thousand kids. what would you do?

    That's why we wrote a woman in the lead. Not Barbie with Sonny's Liston's right hook. Or some ass kicking GI-JANE, but a girl who played sports, rode snowmobiles, had a couple brothers. Still has skin'd knees and elbows.

    That girl protects her family from a sadistic, male hit team, and never once does she stand toe-to-toe with these guys cause they'd demolish her. our hero is someone who isn't quite what they need to be; but somehow endures. Everybody can't be superman.

    And that has made all the difference.

    Nice missive emily, good luck.


  6. Damn right. To everybody. Good luck, Rustin. Do it up. Somebody has to.

  7. YES! Odds don't mean anything when you have passion!

  8. Women are a huge force in driving ticket sales. There was a study somewhere that they're more likely the decision maker on which movies to see if it's a couple going to the movies. Studios seem obsessed with the magic formula for hits and will just follow which ever formula that was the last hit. There are huge franchises that cater to women, but unfortunately, it hasn't been in the female lead action genre. Though, I always loved the Jodie Foster movies... she always plays this super cunning underdog person that outwits some real menacing characters who underestimate her. I also see a lot of female leads in genre pictures like Kate Beckinsdale who looks super cool in those movies.

  9. I too have written action specs with female leads and heard all the naysayers, lived with the rejection, and continue to do so. So if that's the rule, there has to be "the exception that proves the rule" -- so we have to strive to be exceptional. I refuse to quit, but I might try TV!

  10. Haha -- I didn't mean to come off as a downer. Nor did I mean to illustrate the impossibility of the odds.

    My point was -- ignore them.

    Your odds of success between doing what you want and what people tell you are damn near identical. And you'll do a better job and be happier doing what you want.

  11. Two years ago my writing partner, Annika and I began writing an action script with a male and female lead in their sixties.

    EVERYONE told us to change their age.

    We didn't listen.

    Two months ago our script became the 34th spec script sold. No manager. No agent.

    Stick to your guns.

  12. Also, we wrote the whole script over Skype, in two different time zones and over seas as I live in Sweden. That's definitely going against the odds.

  13. Now THAT is the best story I've heard all day.

  14. I would like to offer a slightly different viewpoint...

    The time is actually NOW for the female action protagonist. Because male ones are simply fucking boring. Unless, like, the Coen Brothers decided to do an action film...(I'd like to think John Goodman would be their 'action' star, huffing and puffing and checking his pulse as he tries and mostly fails to chase down terrorists, car thieves, et al)

    But what more can possibly be said about the male action hero? Even those three words are fucking cliche at this point. It's a parody of itself and yet I'm shocked by how many writers and filmmakers keep trying to push this shoddy, tired, wet, hole-filled envelope.

    To me it just feels like a major sea change is in the works. Hell, what made RED such a success wasn't the action setpieces, it was the fact that the geriatric set finally had a piece of the action film pie.

    Which was different.

    Same with those ridiculous Expendables movies. There's no reason we should buy these geezers toting big honkin' shoulder cannons and tearing through entire battalions with their bare hands. But it worked for a lot of people.

    Because it was different. (hence, INTERESTING.)

    I remember when The Long Kiss Goodnight hit in '96. I distinctly recall some of the guys who rented copies at my video store being totally put off by it...and being the cocky clerk that I was, I'd say, "But it's fine when Willis and Schwarzenegger do it huh?"

    Carry on. When you think about it, the game is yours to lose, really, because you're up against 200 specs with the 'alcoholic divorcee who is misunderstood on the force, breaks all the rules, but his hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold girlfriend understands him and when the terrorist threat hits, her bordello is in the crossfire and...and...and..."


  15. I would love to see Summer Glau kick ass too.

  16. Emily,

    A little off topic, but...

    What did you think of Man of Steel?

  17. Interesting perspective, Jeffrey.

    I always love seeing Summer Glau kick ass.

    And I have not yet seen Man of Steel.

  18. Hear hear! I was at a pitch event last week, and someone pitched a sci-fi film with a female space commander. Got the exact reaction you're talking about here from one producer, and I went up to the author and told her that she'd be a fool to change the one thing that made her script different. If you're running low on eggs, the solution isn't to eat more chickens. I think that analogy works.

  19. Salt was so good. I love Angelina. But Noomi Rapace also just kills as an action star. And she is completely believable as someone who can hold her own, just by strength and agility and wits.
    It seems to me that the problem is advertising and promotion. Look at End of Watch. An incredibly exciting action pic with handsome male leads. Zero promotion, so its on Netflix already.
    I'm more convinced that the new way to do things is microbudget and direct to viewer, either over the internet or cell phone, what ever.
    I think the new $ for films will be coming from Netflix and Verizon and ATT, ITunes, etc. Its all about Content and Distribution.


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