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Guest Post: Write What You Don't See

Features
by Shannon Bowen
April 18, 2014 11:00 AM
3 Comments
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Still from "Cost of Living"

I started screenwriting five years ago because I was angry.

Every time I watched a movie or TV show geared towards women, it had female friends fighting over a man or being catty to each other, brimming with lip gloss and hair extensions.

However, in my real life, I was surrounded by smart, confident, badass lady friends who supported each other instead of tearing each other down. Unfortunately, five years later, I still don't see a TV show that represents the strong female friendships that I have in my life.

When Girls came out, I was so excited. Here's the show I've been waiting for: four friends trying to make it in NYC and one of them is a writer! I opened my arms wide, ready to bear hug that show, but was left with a nagging void. I totally respect how Girls is pushing so many boundaries, but it just couldn't satisfy my desire to see the intimacy of true friends.

My depression deepened. How would I ever find a show that gave me the whiskey drinkin' friends-till-the-day-we-die type of ladies that I saw everyday in my real life?

I had to write them.

So, my best bourbon-loving friend, Ellen Westberg, and I wrote a raunchy comedy/friendship love story, Chick Flick, which is now optioned by Dirty Monty Productions. I'm not sure why TV hasn't caught on yet, but every woman I know has said that the worst break-up she ever went through was with a lady friend. Women friendships go so deep that when they end, you lose a part of yourself that even the best husband in the world can't fill.

I was fired up after writing Chick Flick and scoured my cable channels to find a show on TV that had some kickass lady friends. Couldn't find any.

So, I went to the web and started watching Awkward Black Girl and Broad City. Here were the lady friendships I had been looking for!

On Awkward Black Girl, I love how J and Cece are unexpected friends who vent their feelings by rapping together. They friendship is always supportive, like when Cece helps J prepare for a date in the "interracial big leagues." But it's also realistic about when you try to be a good friend, but let a dude get in the way, like when J apologizes for blowing Cece off by bringing her doughnuts. Who hasn't showed up at their best friend's doorstep with apology pastries? I love the many subtle moments between friends in this series.

Before Broad City lit up Comedy Central with its hilarious and heartfelt comedy, I was in love with the web series. Their episode "The Commute" is one of the most brilliant representations of how two totally different people can form the most amazing friendship. 

Both of these shows highlighted wonderful, intimate moments of friendships that I saw in my everyday life, but had yet to see on TV, which is why I think they are both groundbreaking and am thrilled that the creators have gone on to bring their insight to cable TV.

So when I looked to write and direct my own web series, I first looked at the amazing work being done by these kickass series and then searched for the next void.

Everyone says to follow your dreams, but I wanted to show the dark side of following your dream without a financial cushion. Another way that I have trouble relating to GIRLS and to TV in general is that everyone has a sizable financial buffer to fall back on.

This is not my life.

I live in one of the most expensive areas of the world (the San Francisco Bay Area), my parents' finances were crushed by the 2008 recession, and I've been pulling myself out of a huge amount of debt.

It wasn't just me -- I saw my friends struggling to move forward in life shackled by enormous student debt, desperately trying to make time for art when working a 9-to-5 soul-sucking job, being evicted due to the extreme gentrification of San Francisco, and desperately searching for a place they could afford.

In response, my co-creator Dave Binegar and I wrote the web series Cost of Living and shot the first two episodes. Because we live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, we are fundraising for the rest of Season 1 on Kickstarter through April 25th.

Our second episode, "Lady Date," is literally my heart spilled out onto the screen. I took everything I didn't see on TV and threw it into this episode.  

Future episodes like "Jesus' Baby" also show things I never see on TV -- like a frank discussion about abortion during a pregnancy scare -- followed by chocolate cake and a stiff drink with your best friend, who knows that you're freaking out over nothing (we've all been there!). Even though I've experienced this in real life a million times with friends, I've yet to see it on screen. So, I'll write it.

Every time I meet a woman who wants to start screenwriting, but doesn't know where to begin. I ask, "What do you wish you saw on TV but don't see?"

Write that.

I can't wait to see what you all come up with. 

 

Shannon Bowen is a screenwriter, director, and feminist -- with a splash of bourbon. 

Bowen's first feature-length script, Chick Flick (co-written with Ellen Westberg), is a female buddy comedy that has been optioned by Dirty Monty Productions. Her second feature-length screenplay, Diamonds Aren't Forever (co-written with Brandi Sperry) is a heist film with a group of badass lady friends. Watch the first two episodes of her web series, Cost of Living, about failing adulthood and the friends that buy you whiskey. Then donate to her Kickstarter to help fund the rest of Season 1 by April 25th.

Follow all of her crazy adventures on Twitter @LittleLadyBrain.

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3 Comments

  • Therese | April 19, 2014 12:45 AMReply

    So true about Girls. Their 'friendships' look like nothing I recognize from my post-college years. The girlfriends' relationship in Nicole Holofcener's 'Walking and Talking" is still one of my favorites.

  • grrljock | April 18, 2014 12:39 PMReply

    Seconding what Sean said about Parks and Recreation below. The show even had a recent episode of Leslie testing out new best friends (in her inimitable Leslie way) to replace Ann, who's moved away. But we definitely need many, many more shows with strong female friendships as the core. Congrats on your web series, I will check it out.

  • Sean | April 18, 2014 11:28 AMReply

    Yes! Broad City and Awkward Black Girl are amazing! And I think their friendships are crucial to the bigger picture of developing female friendships in media. One of the first ones that pops into my head as being a true friendship is Ann and Leslie on Parks and Recreation. I feel like I'm watching my best friends on screen.

    And now I'll have to check out Cost of Living! I hope your screenplays end up greenlit, too!

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