In late July the BFI published their statistics yearbook for 2013, it sent an unwelcome call to women screenwriters and directors that their numbers were depleting. The bleak news was that only 13.4% -- 25 of 187 screenwriters -- with work produced and released in the UK in 2012 were women, a drop from 18.9% in 2011. Female directors also appeared to be at risk of extinction - only 7.8% -- 14 of 179 -- credited directors were women compared with a relatively robust 15% the year before.
The numbers didn't seem to reflect the experiences of cinemagoers, however, and it was unclear whether identifiable examples of successful films written and/or directed by women were the exceptions that prove the rule - for example, the two-fold contributions of Jane Goldman (The Woman in Black and Kick-Ass) and Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady and Shame).
To their credit, the BFI delved deeper and the results, published in the paper Succes de Plume? Female Screenwriters and Directors of UK Films 2010 - 2012 are startlingly positive for the UK's female screenwriters: although female screenwriters are under-represented on UK films (13.4% in 2012), they are disproportionately successful and are associated with 37% of the top 20 UK independent films and 30% of profitable UK independent films.
The statistics are bold and draw a wonderful conclusion for women screenwriters - you may not write that many screenplays as your male counterparts, but the ones you do write are, on the whole, more than twice as likely to be successful.
The BFI's paper provides other statistics that are very positive and follow-on logically from the revelations of women screenwriters' disproportionate success:
- a number of the successful female writers and directors are attached to more than one project during the period (e.g. Jane Goldman and Abi Morgan, cited above);
- women are more likely than men to be associated with biopics, dramas, music/dance and romance;
- films written/directed by women find an audience in women, children and seniors (men’s films had a wider audience demographic);
- and women writers and directors benefit from associations with female producers and executive producers and public sectors sources of film investment.
The last of these statistics is really important as we consider how to move forward and consolidate these numbers. Sarah Gavron, next will direct the Abi Morgan-scripted and Ruby Films-produced Suffragette in early 2014, states the obvious, "This is great news - I only hope it will encourage more women to write and direct and more executives to commission films by women."
Clearly, there is every opportunity for all producers and executive producers to actively seek out women's scripts and hire women writers - these numbers provide the evidence that they are the more likely to deliver a successful, profitable film.