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A Script Reader’s Perspective – The Impact of #MeToo and #TimesUp

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Note: A shorter but similar version of this article was posted HERE on 2/13/18

Every part of the industry has been affected by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. That’s great news. Change, while slow to happen, is happening. As a script reader, I see the industry from a development perspective. I see the business side of things and the creative development that goes hand in hand with that behind the scenes. I want to help you know specifically how the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have started to shift things in the industry, even if you’re not in the business.

I’ve read hundreds of scripts over my years as a reader. For many screenplays, I offer development notes. If you don’t know what those are, they are notes that are offered on a script to help the writer make changes to the script so that it’s stronger and/or more suitable to a particular company.

One element that is always considered is the audience. Who will this appeal to? What is the target audience? In other words, who is going to pay money to see this? Another factor that is considered is what aspects of the script might alienate an audience or frustrate them, which means a more narrow audience, possible negative reviews, which translates into lower sales, and that affects the bottom line.

This year, I read a pilot that was based on a female lead forced into signing a contract with a male character in order to save a loved one’s life. In exchange, she must marry this man and bear a child for him. As the story unfolds, our female protagonist ends up realizing she actually likes that life. She falls in love with the man forcing her into the contract, forcing her to marry and bear a child.

Now, before you start to get heated about that premise, understand that I have seen similar concepts like this before. It’s not unusual. In fact, it’s so typical that I’m about to launch an online course on writing female characters, because I’ve realized from my years as a reader and actor that there is an accepted way women are portrayed on screen in Hollywood. I see it over and over again. These types of portrayals of women are, unfortunately, the norm.

For me, representation of women on screen is extremely important, but never before have I been able to justify that a premise based on something like the aforementioned plot would not be well-received because of the audience. Never before have I been able to qualify a “pass” rating based on the climate of the industry and world. I would have hated reading it and wouldn’t have any evidence to back up why it’s a terrible show to develop unless there was something off in the analysis of the script.

Because so many women and men have spoken up and so many have allowed themselves to feel and given voice to their feelings of anger, rage, and sadness about what they experience and witness, I am now able to justify a “pass” rating on these types of narratives.

It’s because of you. It’s because you’ve spoken up. It’s because you’ve let the world know that you won’t tolerate this, and in turn, that has an effect. It hits Hollywood where the money is when we know that the audience will not want to pay to see these types of stories, and in fact, may even spread the word to others to avoid it. That, my friends, is where they start to hear you.

Your voice matters. Every time you speak up, you are affecting others. Every time you refuse to stay silent and find the courage to not back down, you are helping to make a change. The more you stand up and say you will not tolerate yourself or others being abused, harassed or treated poorly, the more change can and will happen. It all matters. You might not see it, but it is happening. Many times we are not afforded the blessing to see how our actions help others and change the world. I hope that from understanding a little bit more about the development side from what I’ve written it can help you see that you, your feelings, and your voice matter.

The industry is changing, and that gives me hope for the rest of the world. I hope it gives you hope, too.

By the way, they’re not developing that pilot into a show now.

Joanna Ke

About Joanna Ke

If grace married silliness, their child would be Joanna Ke. Joanna is an award-winning filmmaker that thrives in the industry as an actor, writer, professional script reader, and producer. She champions diverse stories led by women both behind and in front of the camera. Joanna has been creating stories ever since she was a child, performing skits for her sisters and scribbling in journals before she even know how to write. She studied the craft of screenwriting with the late, great Syd Field. As a professional script reader, she is known for her ability to masterfully analyze screenplays. Joanna runs the twitter account @femcharacters, highlighting the unfortunate way women are often portrayed on screen. She also isn’t too shabby as a stunt performer and sword fighter. Wielding her broadsword is a favorite both on camera and off.