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A Woman's Guide To Scriptwriting

September 28, 1986|FIONA LEWIS

Everyone knows everything there is to know about Hollywood. The humiliation. The crushed dreams. The fleeting exultation for the noble few. Directors directing when they can, producers stealing because they must and the writer, the infamous scribe, whining on, with his machine and his floundering ego.

To suggest that women, the winsome women who wield the pen, might have a tougher time of it in Hollywood has been known to raise a few snickers on and off the back lot. Dorothy Parker, after all, managed to hang on to her sanity and leave a few bons mots, while the giants, the Faulkners and the Fitzgeralds, were swallowed up whole. So they say. But Hollywood is tradition in the bluntest sense. And a woman out to get a job is still a woman out to get a job.

Imagine. You are reasonably presentable. You are young but you have avoided the ranks of the ravaged nymphets. You are serious indeed. Pitching is the entree to enemy territory. You will be casting your pearls, probably before lunch and before those of the Inner Sanctum. The Temple. Gods who have access to huge amounts of money. You have a unique and fabulous idea. With "major elements," with "high concept," with enormous growth of character. You've practiced the high points, the jokes, the clincher. You've dampened your roaring adrenaline with a vodka bicarb.

Ah, but what does a woman wear for the hostile crowd? A jogging suit, a Walkman, a few cracks about Warren Beatty? For the creative woman there are standards. Forget the Attorney-Chase Manhattan look. Fragile ego abounds on the other side of the fence. Fashion victims beware. Green hair and razor blades are reserved for rock stars who are rich and don't take meetings.

Try for the controlled Bohemian aura that suggests lunch with Steven Spielberg and a meaningful relationship with your dog. A briefcase is good--but it must never be opened. Executives can become uncontrollably enthusiastic when they hear an idea they are not allowed to read.

Anticipate difficult moves and booby traps. A female doing her pitch, flaunting her wit and charm and that insatiable desire to please must not be confused with a woman hustling a little extra-curricular activity. Being a vaudeville star in an executive's office before cocktail time could mean the next plane back to Milwaukee.

There is another school of thought. Not for the faint hearted. If you already have a deal at another studio--if you went to school with Debra Winger or came very close to Richard Gere once, you can try the pearls, black chiffon and no bra. This is the Russian Roulette approach. Either you get the deal--or you just get a date and everyone knows about it. If anyone kisses you on the mouth as you leave the office, forget it. Go home and take acting lessons.

Another problem. There are producers who blithely admit they'll not so much as pick up a book if there is a woman's name attached. He feels deep in his blistered heart that it's bound to be mushy stuff, a cascade of mesmerizing heroines with adaptable morals. Yes, this curious notion of female writers, atremble with feline nightmares, still flutters up and down the movie corridors of power.

Explain that: You have written extensively about men. Your soul bleeds for their unique problem created by the spiteful '70s. That you are, in fact, writing an article called "Men in Pain" for an important East Coast magazine. Quote pithy lines from Bruce Jay Friedman and Norman Mailer.

Scatter tokens of authenticity and concentrate your doe-like smile on an executive who has recently suffered a hideous divorce from a swinish actress.

To be fair, now there are Women Executives. It's not all you against them. Some are great--some are like you, greedy, ambitious and proud of it. Some are trickier, and second or third-echelon executives are panicky at best. Don't always expect teamwork. Keep your eye out for the scrubbed, straight-out-of-Yale Drama Schoolie, who only wants movies with a message and stars younger than 25.

O.K. You've got the job. You're safe. There's no writers' strike. The check's in the mail. Only one problem left: your living quarters. Working conditions for the female writer and mentally distressed must be controlled. Lounging in a breezy Spanish apartment with a view of the Pacific may create notions of jogging, Nautilus machines, muscle tone and firm breasts. Forget it. There's only so much energy. It must be directed to what's left of your brain. Health foods must be shunned. Tofu and wheat germ do nothing for the woman with an irresistible urge to maim the producer who keeps rejecting her pages. A large martini, however, has a different effect.

Better still, get out of the house and get an office. Or, turn that large stack of notes into a best seller and some other drone will have to write the screenplay. And make you extremely rich.

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