Thursday, July 24, 2014

Simon Davidson/ Women in the TV industry

This is on my

Jul. 9 Simon Davidson: I cut out this National Post article “I wondered if this was all about money” by Katherine Monk on Mar. 2, 2012.  I copy and pasted the whole article and bolded the parts I really liked: 

Simon Davidson isn’t really a betting man, but he made his biggest wager ever on The Odds — a dramatic Canadian feature set against the backdrop of teenage gambling. The Odds is Davidson’s first feature, and while the Vancouver-based director had turned out several successful shorts, he wasn’t sure if he was ready for the full-length gambit.

“It took me over a year to write the script, and when I finished, I wasn’t sure if it was all that good,” he says.

To hone his voice, Davidson says he made another short film. “For the feature, I knew I wanted to make something crime-y,” he says. “Then I read this story of a guy who bet on NBA games with his friends. He became a sort of bookie, and, at first, it was all for fun. But when his friends started to lose, he still wanted to get paid.”

Eventually, the bookie takes it to the bloody end: He kills his friends when they default on their debts.

“I was fascinated by this story, because it was true,” says Davidson, a University of Calgary English literature grad who went on to study at the Vancouver Film School (VFS). “I actually wrote the treatment for The Odds right after VFS, but left it. It wasn’t until three or four years later, when I was in Costa Rica, that I thought I should go back to it again and write a new draft.”

Davidson says he’s finally become comfortable with the creative process, no matter how frustrating or repetitive it can get, because some projects ripen at different times. And you can’t force it if you want good results. “Each story has to come out of you. And the ‘why’ of it is important to me,” he says. “That’s why I love making movies in Canada, because it’s such a different approach. We have a small and very passionate community of filmmakers in this country, and because it’s so hard to make movies here, the people who do it are committed.”

Davidson, who used to cut Flash Gordon episodes, says he has friends editing big movies in the U.S., but they’re not reaping the same life rewards as he is in Canada. “They may be working on an $80-million movie, but they have no real role in how it turns out. They’re just a very small part of a very big machine,” he says. “In Canada, the machine is that much smaller, and the financing is that much harder, but you can make the movie that’s in your heart — as long as it doesn’t require dolly tracks or a crane shot.”

Davidson says teen gambling yanked him by the aorta, because it touches on the ambiguous thread of teen morality and next-generation entitlement.
“I think this is a new trend in North America, not just Canada, so it resonates beyond our borders,” he says. “I met teens who were involved in this world. They were honest. And I realized a lot of this reminded me of my own story and my own teen hero. I fictionalized some of it to make it about gambling, but I think the central themes stand.”

Davidson says the coming-of-age theme is dominant, but really, the monolithic topic boils down to making decisions, moment by moment.

“I wondered if this was all about money, when I started writing the script,” he says. “And obviously, money has something to do with gambling. But the addiction and the compulsion come from someplace else. It’s about a feeling of control.”

He says it all makes for a good metaphor on the art of growing up and assuming responsibility for your actions, but he hopes his movie reflects some of the particulars of our current reality.
“If you’re really engaged in the game, you may not be engaging in your own life. … So even if you’re winning at the table, chances are, you’re losing somewhere else far more important.”

Women in the TV industry: I cut out this Globe and Mail article “You’ve come a long way- maybe” by Kate Taylor on Oct. 8, 2011.  Here are some excerpts:

The most recent employment numbers from the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) found that women made up only 28 per cent of TV writers between 2005 and 2009. And the numbers appear to be getting worse: A survey by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University estimates that the number of women writers dropped to 15 per cent in 2010-11 from 29 per cent the previous year.

Currently only 32 per cent of the active members of the Writers Guild of Canada are women.

“You have an industry that is incredibly intense in terms of pressure to produce,” says Darnell Hunt, the UCLA sociology professor who crunches the WGAW numbers. “You make a TV show, you don’t have many opportunities to get it right. Show runners [head writers, who oversee the rooms] hire teams they feel extremely comfortable with, people who look like them. Nine times out of 10 that means white men are hiring white men. You may have a token woman or a token minority, but women and people of colour are having a hard time being welcomed into the club.”

Alexandra Zarowny, like Hunt, argues that it’s all about comfort: “There is a big cone of silence that drops over a story room. People can say anything to each other. Guys have said to me they feel constricted if there is a woman in the room: How honest can they be about their thought process?”

The trick women learn – especially in the notoriously competitive field of comedy, where women are stereotyped as being less funny than men – is to go straight for the dirty jokes and erotic content. “There is a tendency to go blue right away,” says Rebecca Addelman, a Canadian comedy writer working in Los Angeles, “to prove right away that you are not some wallflower who can’t handle a joke about a hand job, to prove you are there to be funny, to do what they are all doing.”

But aside from telling dirty jokes, do women behind the scenes deliver less-stereotypical female characters on the screen?

“There seems to be a demand for female characters, and strongly written female characters are doing well on television,” notes Adrienne Mitchell, the executive producer and director of Bomb Girls.

Tassie Cameron, who has created the Global hit cop series Rookie Blue with two other women, Ellen Vanstone and Morwyn Brebner. The show about neophyte police officers in Toronto follows as many female as male characters.

“The cop shows, the lawyer shows, they want to make sure they have a woman in the room for character development, for story development,” Cameron says, adding about her own show, “Whether we are addressing big issues of discrimination or not, a traditional male world like policing is interesting to explore from a female perspective, the rookie female cop. There is even more tension.”

On programs with no female writers, women made up 39 per cent of the characters; that number rose to 43 per cent when there was at least one woman in the room.

Still, female TV writers know there is no rule of good writing that says you have to have the same gender as your characters. “It’s up to the individual. I know women who create women who are only appendages and victims,” says Hollywood writer Nancy Miller, the creator of the title character on Saving Grace.

Conversely, women can create very powerful fictional men. It was three women, Mitchell, Janis Lundman and writer Laurie Finstad Knizhnik, who created the violent Canadian series Durham County, starring Hugh Dillon as deeply flawed cop Mike Sweeney. The fact that women had created such a dark show caused much comment when Durham County first appeared in 2007.

“For centuries male writers have been able to show women themselves. Now when you have women create strong male characters, it is a bit of a shock,” observes Lundman, producer on that series and on Bomb Girls.

The reality is that most TV shows, written by groups of writers rather than single authors, are formulaic: TV writers are often working with characters they did not create themselves, and have to be ready to write whatever they are handed.

Still, those who want to see more balance in the writer’s room believe it will affect how women and minorities are depicted on TV, adding not only a diversity of characters but different storylines and new points of view. “This is not just entertainment. This is about how a nation presents itself,” Hunt says.

“Broadcast regulators need to step in and demand progress.”

Hunt also says the networks tend to say the diversity problem can be solved only by the autonomous show runners, who pick their own writers. The show runners, meanwhile, say the networks, whose money is on the line, breathe down their necks, vetting what writers they choose.

NBC’s prime-time entertainment president Angela Bromstad – who has since been shown the door at NBC – to make his writing room half female. “I think we have to stop thinking of it as a quota thing and think of it as a common-sense thing,” he told the website A.V. Club, explaining that, while he had to hunt harder to find women writers, they brought a new energy to his writing staff that he really appreciated.

My opinion: It was a good and informative article.  It discusses how there have been lots of progress with women TV writers, but still a lot of struggle.

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