3 Female Screenwriters on Crashing the Blockbuster Boys Club: "I Want to See a Female Darth Vader"
A trio of top writers whose credits include big-budget movies — the 'Tomb Raider' reboot, 'Planet of the Apes,' 'Transformers' — discuss biased notes, creating great heroines and why Judi Dench should be an action star.
Writers Lindsey Beer, Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Amanda Silver are on a mission worthy of any of the other superprotagonists they've helped shape: bringing a woman's voice to Hollywood's most testosterone-fueled boys club, the big-budget blockbuster. Of the top 100-grossing films in 2016, a mere 13 percent had a credited female writer, but incremental change is afoot.
Beer's upcoming credits include Doug Liman's Chaos Walking and the Lin-Manuel Miranda-produced film adaptation of Kingkiller Chronicle; Robertson-Dworet penned March 2018's Tomb Raider remake and is writing the Brie Larson-starring Captain Marvel, Marvel Studios' first female-fronted standalone; and Silver, who works with husband Rick Jaffa, rebooted Planet of the Apes and Jurassic Park and has spent the past year and a half working on Disney's live-action Mulan.
In between doing their best to bring a feminist bent to interstellar conflict and heavy explosions, they gathered to discuss being members of an exclusive club of women they desperately want to help grow.
On notes from men about women
GENEVA ROBERTSON-DWORET I got really frustrated with a male director because he kept saying, "I just want her to be a normal girl." Male executives and filmmakers are still scared to give women warts — to give a woman the same specificity they'd give a male character.
LINDSEY BEER With female characters, I always get the note that they need to be "likable." They will say she seems like a … well, they won't say the B-word, but they imply the B-word. A female character can't have a chip on her shoulder the way a man can. We have so many lovable male protagonists that are the grumpy antihero, but that character as a woman is hard to push through.
On being the only woman in the writers room
AMANDA SILVER I was in a room, and there was this guy, and I don't think he was a jerk or he was even aware of what he was doing, but every time I started to say something, he would cut me off. So the next time he interrupted me, I called him out on it, immediately. It's like the bully at school: You've got to punch him in the nose.
BEER I am smaller, and my voice is quieter than these men. Geneva and I were in the Transformers room, and we were all pitching to Steven Spielberg over Skype. We were sitting at this long table, and the men had these deep voices he could actually hear.
ROBERTSON-DWORET Oh, God, that was so embarrassing. We had to get right by the camera and mic.
BEER It looked like I was making out with Spielberg over Skype. But he couldn't hear me, so I was like, "Fuck it. You and me Spielberg — we are going to have a moment."
On what makes a great block-buster heroine
SILVER Growing up, we all had favorite movies that were made by and starred men, but you squint and take on the male point of view and you enjoy it. It should work in the reverse. The female heroine should be allowed to be just as relatable for everybody, which means she will be flawed. Perfection is boring, man.
BEER Female characters also need to have motivations that aren't just a man or children. I know a male screenwriter who said he could think of 300 motivations for his male character, but all he could think about for his female character was that she had kids to go save. It's just a subconscious bias. I fall into the same thing.
ROBERTSON-DWORET I hate the setup [for men] where the nuclear weapon is about to go off, and you can either stop that or save your girlfriend. And they go save the girlfriend! Of course, they also stop the nuclear bomb. But I always think, "Wouldn't your girlfriend want you to save the city? Or is she the most selfish person ever? Why do you even date her?"
On changing the equation
SILVER You can't really define the "female perspective," but simple math tells you that if more women are writing and directing, a female perspective will emerge.
ROBERTSON-DWORET My first four jobs, I was only hired by female executives at various companies. They took the risk on me.
BEER In general, studios need to be less risk-averse. You give a female a chance, and you get Wonder Woman. You give diverse voices a chance, and you get Get Out.
On industry double standards
BEER You can only get your movie made if you get one of three or four actresses attached to it because there are only so many female stars who are considered bankable. There would be a lot more if we made more female content.
SILVER It's totally a chicken-before-the-egg situation.
ROBERTSON-DWORET [Male stars] can be into their 50s, but you are going to have a hard time selling the studio on making a $120 million action movie with a 45-year-old actress. You have Liam Neeson, but you would never have people say, "Judi Dench should really star in this action film."
SILVER I am totally on for that.
BEER It's the Bond spinoff we really need.
On the blockbuster they would like to gender-swap
BEER I want to see a female Darth Vader.
ROBERTSON-DWORET For me, it's McClane in Die Hard. He is so dry and funny. Female characters in action movies are so serious. They never seem to ever have any fun kicking ass.
This story first appeared in the 2017 Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.