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Guest Post: Gender Disparity and the Problem of Marketability

Guest Post: Gender Disparity and the Problem of Marketability

A couple years ago, I wrote a script that was made into a movie, and this summer it came out on DVD and VOD. It’s called Red Line, and it’s about the survivors of a subway crash who are trapped in the collapsed tunnel. For my
first feature film, I’m pretty proud of how it turned out, especially considering that most of us were students when we made it — we hired professionals for
our key department heads, but the rest of the crew was almost completely made up of students.

When I first went in to pitch to the producers of Red Line, I didn’t know that women screenwriters were a rare sight in Hollywood. I knew that
directing and cinematography were heavily male-dominated, but I didn’t know that same was true of producing, writing, and editing. I guess I was pretty

And to be honest, working on Red Line didn’t open my eyes at all to the gender disparity that exists in the film industry. We had women filling
all sorts of crew positions, including the line producer, editor, and ‘A’ camera operator. In fact, it wasn’t until the movie was actually released that I
became aware of how unusual it was to have had so many women in key creative roles.

So I started doing some research, reading articles and studies on all the statistics. It turns out that our cast is unusually balanced as well. I started
reading about things like the Bechdel test and the USC Annenberg study that revealed how few speaking parts women
have as well as how many sexualized ones. It became clear that women, more often than not, serve as eye candy on screen.

In Red Line, the backbone of the cast is Nicole Gale Anderson’s character, Tori. She’s strong and tenacious, never settling for the easy answer
but always searching for the truth. Nicole is a beautiful young woman, to be sure, but she’s certainly not on screen to be eye candy. She’s tough, a
fighter. She shares a couple tender moments with Kunal Sharma’s character, Al, but romance is the last thing on her mind.

When I started writing Red Line, it never occurred to me to make the protagonist anyone other than Tori, a young woman. Chalk it up to my being a
young(ish) woman, but of all the characters I came up with, she was the one I could relate to best. They always say, “write what you know.” Well, I know a
whole lot more about being a woman than I do about being a man, so it’s only natural that I should choose to bring Tori out of what is otherwise an
ensemble cast.

The sad part about all of this is that what seemed so natural and relatable to me might just be the reason Red Line didn’t get a theatrical
release. The pieces started fitting together in my mind as I uncovered the statistics – why so many distributors liked our movie but passed on it, saying
we didn’t have any “marketable” names linked to it, on screen or off. It sort of makes sense, but I have to wonder, if it had been a male-dominated cast,
would it have mattered whether they were big names? Would an action flick with mostly dudes in it have been more marketable? Or would it have been easier
to market if the women were scantily clad, there only to be ogled over by the men on set and in the audience?

I hate that these questions cross my mind. I shouldn’t have to wonder these things. I don’t want to be haunted by the idea that my next script might be
something brilliant, but no one will want to distribute it because there’s a woman in the lead who doesn’t take her clothes off.


Tara Stone wrote the screenplay for the thriller, Red Line, which was released on DVD and VOD July 2013.

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All sorts of kudos to you!

When I directed my first short last year, it was about a female detective and gender roles in general, the cast was 50/50, and I knew more talented women having a hard time getting work than guys. With all of these factors, my crew ended up about 70% women, including me as writer/director, producer, assistant director, wardrobe and set departments, extras casting . . . you get the point. You wouldn't believe how many people asked me if I was worried, or thought that was going to be a problem. Was I worried there was going to be drama, or the DP would have problems taking orders from all women, or the film (a gritty noir) would be too 'soft.'

I was worried about 1,001 things, but a crew of women was not one of them. My producer and AD were as good or better than many I've worked with on big-budget sets, and saved my ass a dozen times. My gaffer actually came to me and said what a great set we had, that it had fewer problems than many he'd been on.

None of that was *because* we're women, of course. It's because we're hard-working professionals who came in prepared and flexible. But people assumed woman crew = trouble. Just as they often assume woman-driven plot is unrelatable, or unmarketable, or too 'soft.' It's true there are some festivals out there who lean towards you film or mine because of the protagonists or women writers, but that's so slight in light of the way the rest of the industry is canted.

But you know what, you made the film, you got distribution, you learned a mountain of stuff. Now, go forth and make more!


Tara, you make some valid points *in general*. But when it comes to your movie, Red Line? Based on the trailer, your movie doesn't seem to deserve even a limited theatrical run. The points you made regarding gender disparity and marketability don't apply at all.

I think that you are far too close to your own movie to make that statement which claims that the distribution system did not release your movie because you are a female. It's more then poor production values that kept your movie from getting a limited theatrical run.

Accept the painful truth that perhaps your movie rightfully didn't deserve a theatrical release.

Joseph B.

Stick to your guns. Tarkosvky said that the minute you make a movie for money, you're lost. Think of the great filmmakers. They fought to make their movies, their way (granted most of the names I just thought of were men) but what makes the films successful in the quality not pecuniary sense is their personal nature–directors/writers wrestling with their personal identities.


Yes. We have to find other ways, additional ways to get our work and our voices out there. There's got to be a market for the movies that bring in less than a million $$$. They are certainly the ones I want to see and I will look for yours Tara.
I've have one about women that is still sitting on the shelf in the form of many DVDs. After the stress of writing, producing, directing, overseeing editing, and trying in vain to get in film festivals, I have no will left for the needed marketing, etc.
Kuddos to Gena Davis for this site.


Hi Tara – I'm also a woman screenwriter and director, and I feel your pain. I think it helps sometimes to be a young woman who hasn't yet started asking these questions, because that's the kind of fresh perspective that is needed. I've also worked for a major film financier in the last few years and, if it helps to know: when they say "marketable" names, they mean names they can take to foreign markets and pre-sell movie rights with. So even if it WAS a male-dominated cast, you probably would not have done better than you did. In fact, you did amazingly well for your first student feature: you got it off the ground and into distribution! The odds of that happening for a first feature speak very well of your talent as a writer. So hang onto your fresh perspective, and keep moving forward. Good luck!!

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