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Meryl Streep Launches Fund for Women Screenwriters Over 40

Meryl Streep Launches Fund for Women Screenwriters Over 40

One of the highlights of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival is the announcement of a new program funded by Meryl Streep to provide support and development opportunities for women screenwriters over 40. 

New York Women in Film & Television broke the news at a festival panel yesterday morning that the organization would begin accepting submissions for The Writers Lab, the only initiative in the world for over-40 women screenwriters, starting May 1. The new program will be organized by NYWIFT and IRIS, a collective of female filmmakers. A press release notes that The Writers Lab’s aim is to offer “script development for women writers over the age of 40, while granting a springboard to the next stage of production and expanding the boundaries of narrative film.” 

Terry Lawler, Executive Director of NY Women in Film and TV, explained why such a program is long overdue: “As you well know, the culture in the entertainment business is both ageist and sexist, making it doubly hard for women over 40 to get projects made. We wanted to target those women who bring their rich and varied life experiences to their projects to make sure that they have the best chance possible to finish scripts for films that will attract producers and funders. We need more authentic women over 40 on screen and the first step are great scripts that feature them. Probably not all of the writers accepted in the program will be writing about women over 40, but they will all bring the wisdom and world view that comes from life experience.”

Lawler continued, “As for Meryl, we wrote her a letter telling her about the project and she sent a check to fully fund it. We didn’t even know it was coming. It just arrived in the mail one day. We are very grateful and really admire her commitment to women in our business, especially women over 40. We also have a grant for second-time women directors over 40, so we are trying to pay attention to a group that really needs the attention.” 

Women’s voices, of course, remain highly underrepresented in entertainment. The most recent WGA report notes that women remained underrepresented by factors of nearly 2 to 1 in television and more than 3 to 1 in film in 2012. The median earnings that year for female film writers was $61,776 — significantly below the $80,000 their white male counterparts received. Put another way, “Women film writers earned just 77 cents for every dollar earned by white male film writers in 2012, down from 82 cents in 2009.” Dr. Martha Lauzen would argue that women writers are actually even more marginalized than the WGA’s research indicates; her annual study notes that women penned only 11% of films in 2014, the most recent year for which there is data. 

“After decades of ageism and sexism in our culture and in film, the complex voices of mature women are in danger of being lost entirely,” warned Lawler in a statement. “Women must address this inequality by taking ownership of our cultural narrative, which is why NYWIFT has joined forces with a new collective of powerful creatives in establishing The Writers Lab.”

Here’s more info about the lab from the press release: 

The Writers Lab will select eight promising female screenwriters over 40 for a three-day intensive script development retreat with acclaimed mentors. The Writers Lab will take place on Lake George in upstate New York at the historic Wiawaka Lodge, the oldest and longest continuously operating retreat for women in America, created in 1903.

The Writers Lab will accept submissions May 1-June 1, 2015, and will announce the eight winning female screenwriters on August 1. Submissions must be feature-length, fictional narrative scripts of any genre written by women over the age of 40, who are American citizens or permanent residents of the U.S.

The eight mentors attached to the first lab, slated for September 18-20, 2015, will include: Mary Jane Skalski (Win Win, The Station Agent), Kirsten Smith (Legally Blond, Ten Things I Hate About You), Gina Prince-Bythewood (Secret Life of Bees, Beyond the Lights), Jessica Bendinger (Bring It On, Aquamarine), and Caroline Kaplan (Boyhood, Me and You and Everyone We Know), pending scheduling.

More information can be found online at: www.NYWIFT.org

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