Tag Archives: gender

Beyond the chick-flick: 8 ways to improve female-driven films, by Pilar Alessandra

18 Nov

Pilar-Alessandra-ready-to-speak-at-the-LSFPilar Alessandra is one of my favourite film lecturers: bright, engaging, great at audience participation. I recently bought her book The Coffee Break Screenwriter: Writing Your Script Ten Minutes A Time, and it’s full of useful exercises to give you a deeper understanding of character and plot. At the London Screenwriters’ Festival recently she held a seminar on Beyond The Chick Flick: Writing The Female-Driven Screenplay. Here are the best bits:

1. Films with women as leads sell. At long last. There’s Bridesmaids, The Heat, Hunger Games, Gravity. And TV, Pilar points out, is even better at giving meaty parts for women.

2. Embrace the difference. Famously, the part of Ripley in Alien was written for a man, but changed at the last minute to a woman. That created one of the most enduring and strongest heroines in modern cinema. But, says, Pilar, to adopt that strategy wholesale means missing out on gender differences and expectations that can add depth to a screenplay. In Aliens, knowing now that the protagonist was a woman, the writers used that fact to create an instant bond with the young girl Newt, which might have been less convincing in a male protagonist.

Another example Pilar used was Kill Bill, in the scene where Uma Thurman fights Copperhead in her home: they use frying pans and kitchen knives as impromptu weapons; then, when a schoolbus pulls up and Copperhead’s child enters the living room, they both stop fighting and pretend nothing’s wrong. “So have a fight scene, but don’t forget they are women, as that can bring something extra to the scene.”

3. Use gender stereotypes – but flip them. Pilar asked the audience to shout out some negative stereotypes associated with women. Most men in the audience kept very quiet at this point! The women, however, had no problem shouting things out. Then Pilar flipped showed how negatives could be re-read as positives. Emotional could be read as caring; bitchy as forthright; indecisive as cautious; gossipy as well informed.

She then used the example of Juno, which was aware of the stereotypes but inverted them all to make a more interesting and surprising film. You expect pregnant teens to be uneducated; Juno was super-articulate. Cheerleaders are usually shallow; in Juno she is supportive. The boyfriend of a pregnant teen is usually a womaniser; here it’s him who was seduced by Juno, and he’s willing to help. Parents of pregnant teens are meant to be ashamed; here they are resigned and amused. “Flipping the stereotypes on their head was enough to make a popular movie.”

4. Ask yourself: “What would a guy do?” Pilar encourages the writer to look at “masculine activity” and see if it works better. So: a female protagonist might be expected to make a careful plan and manipulate a key character into giving her information. A man might simply break into the office and steal the computer. Confounding expectations is always interesting to the audience. By the same token, when writing a male character, ask yourself sometimes what a woman might do.

5. Spin the male-driven template. Million-Dollar Baby could be pitched as “Rocky – with a female lead”. How about trying that with The Godfather? Or Star Wars?

6. Spin the female-driven template. Cinderella saves the world; Pocahontas leads a movement.

7. Don’t be flowery. When writing a female-driven screenplay, be especially careful not to be flowery in the descriptions: make the scene directions “macho”, a bold, sharp read.

8. Don’t be frightened of flaw. “Flaw is interesting. Don’t make your women too perfect.”

Read Pilar Alessandra on Creating Character, from last year’s London Screenwriters’ Festival.

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Victoria Coren’s historic double EPT win, and why gender still matters in poker

21 Apr

 

Victoria Coren

Victoria Coren Mitchell, with the hand that won her second EPT

So Vicky Coren (or rather Victoria Coren Mitchell, as she now is), won the European Poker Tour last night, taking home nearly £400,000. Absolutely bloody brilliant. In 2006 Coren became the first woman to win the EPT. Now she’s made history on gender-neutral terms as the first person ever to win it twice.

Gender shouldn’t matter in poker, but it still does. Play any tournament, and you’ll see an average of one woman for every table of 10. Go to a cash game in a casino outside Vegas, and you may find fewer still.

Why? Coren herself describes in her excellent memoir For Richer, For Poorer the initial fear at stepping into the all-male preserve of the Victoria Casino: “My second trip is by myself… I peep through the partition wall. There, just visible through the volcanic cloud of smoke, is the same cliquey gaggle of old men. A couple of them peer suspiciously at me. My stomach clenches with fear. I go back down the stairs, find my car, and go home.”

The smoke may have lifted, and the old men have mostly been replaced by young bucks in T-shirts and shades, but poker rooms can still be an intimidating environment for women. They are assumed to be conservative players, so more aggressive players will often re-raise them with marginal hands in the expectation of forcing a fold. The more attractive female players will get hit on mercilessly, and it’s not uncommon to hear jokes about “nice pairs” and “straddling” as soon as they step away from the table. Poker tournaments and the lesser websites (not PokerStars or Full Tilt, thankfully) are still often shamelessly promoted with bikini-clad dolly birds, as though we hadn’t left the ‘70s.

More insidiously, I have had several negative conversations about Vicky Coren at the poker table. It starts when they ask me how I got into poker. “I was taken to a home game by fellow journo Jon Ronson about ten years ago,” I explain. “I’d never played Texas Hold ‘Em, and was totally out of my depth. But as our host dispensed tips on how I should have played the hand, I realised how fascinating the game really was, how much I had to learn. The host was Vicky Coren.”

Three times this story has been met with derisory comments about Vicky’s skill, the implication being that she’s only famous because she’s a woman. This is strange, because Coren is a very good player. I’ve played against her a few times now, the last time in a media tournament at the Hippodrome Casino, with Vicky on my left and her fellow British PokerStars Pro Liz Boeree on my right. She can bluff when she has to, her reads are good, she is self-critical, and, as she said when I interviewed her for the second time last year, “As to my strategy, the old rules still apply: play aggressively at a passive table and patiently at an aggressive table.”

She is also unfailingly charming to everyone at the table. So why diss her? Everyday sexism is the only answer I can come up with.

So to all the unreconstructed Neanderthals out there, I hope Victoria Coren’s historic EPT double win sends a message: you don’t need to have a penis to play poker; but it can stop you being a dick.