At the kick-off meeting for Big Vision Empty Wallet's 2013 Screenwriting Fellowship we laughed, shared our industry horror stories, toasted our successes, and examined our creative goals. My business partner, Alex Cirillo, and I discussed how lucky we are to be working in the industry at this time when new avenues have opened to create and release your own work, possibly shifting the balance of power back to us, the creators. Three bottles of wine polished off, fruit and cheese spread devoured, and fellowship goals set, we leave the meeting invigorated and inspired to get to work. What set this kick-off meeting apart from others is that the three screenwriters that make up our 2013 Screenwriting Fellowship roster are all women, and supporting and working with other hardworking women left us with a high that had nothing to do with the wine.
The goal of BVEW's six month Screenwriting Showcase & Fellowship is to showcase the work of the Screenwriting Fellows, getting it into the hands of industry decision-makers and independent producers. By the end of the fellowship, the goal is that each script will be sold or in pre-production. It didn't surprise me one bit that all of our fellows have decided that they want to produce their own work, rather than aim to sell. As women, we often have to be producing our own work to get it made, and as a female producer/writer/entrepreneur, I definitely don't think that's a bad thing. There are now so many highly capable, creative female producers out there making a huge impact on the industry, and actively supporting and collaborating with other smart women.
Of course, the selection of three women was a topic of conversation at the fellowship meeting. As it is with most of our competitions, fellowships, and other incentives, the majority of the applicants were men - 69% to be precise. When we first launched BVEW in 2010 the percentage of female applicants to our screening opportunities and writing competitions were fewer than 25%. So what changed? Are more women willing to put themselves out there or are there more opportunities that appeal to female creatives?
Although the data regarding women in Hollywood is still bleak, I've certainly noticed a shift in New York, where I'm based. We are consistently screening cutting-edge work from female creators at our events and more of our female members are taking charge of their own careers, creating their own content, setting up pitch meetings for themselves, and not sacrificing their femininity to do so. The three fellows that we chose had projects that were not only well-written, but also very produceable at any budget level. Through the fellowship we're investing not only in these three screenplays, but also in these three powerhouse women we believe will be gamechangers given the proper guidance.
Our LA-based fellow, Lauren Schacher, has noticed an increased desire for women writers and directors there, as well. "Granted, the shift is slight, almost minute, but it's there. It's an exciting time to be a female creator in film. It seems as though people are finally hungry enough for a diversity in storytelling that women are breaking through in writing and directing and men are taking chances on more diverse female characters in their own pieces," Lauren told me over email.
Lauren is an actor and writer who can currently be seen in IFC's THE CANYONS. Her script that we selected for our fellowship, Dream Catcher, centers around a young college student who predicts a mass shooting with her dreams and seeks the help of a bitter radio personality before her premonitions hit too close to home.
At our rooftop fellowship meeting Jenna Laurenzo, who is a wonderfully talented writer/director/actor/producer, was updating us about the status of her film Rose Buds, where what begins as a typical Thanksgiving quickly unravels as Rose learns more about her family than she ever realized. In 2011, Jenna wrote and starred in the comedic web series Parker & Maggie, featured in Nylon Magazine, and she has recently been pitching her TV projects Water with Lemon, Searching for X, and Lesson Plan.
Amy Staats, an actor/writer/producer who works in both theatre and film, is setting out to produce Mr. Rawls about a teenager, DD, who has loads of friends and none of them know her secret, except for her nemesis: Mr. Rawls, her hideously boring 7th grade math teacher. What do you do when your sworn enemy turns out to be your only ally?
All three films feature strong female leads who exemplify the independent and strong thinkers that our fellows are themselves. I know all three of these films will get made, and perhaps that was what made our first fellowship meeting different from meetings we've had in the past. These women will prevail and we are so happy to be guiding them through the process.
Dani Faith Leonard is the founder and CEO of Big Vision Empty Wallet, a platform for artists and innovators to develop and showcase their work. She's also a freelance producer and sketch comedy writer.