This week: tough questions

This is like Dear Abby, but my only expertise is in making stuff up.

Hi Emma, Something I’ve noticed in the movies a LOT is that male leads seem to be allowed to be ugly, homely, or fat. This very rarely seems to be the case with female leads. Sure, there are exceptions: America Ferrera’s roles in Ugly Betty and Real Women Have Curves, Nia Vardalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Toni Colette in Muriel’s Wedding, etc. Can a female lead be ugly, homely, or fat, and can that movie be successful? Why aren’t more female leads fat?

The entertainment industry is a balance between creativity and business. If you look at things from a business perspective, you see that people like to look at glamorous, conventionally attractive people, and so you push for stories about glamorous conventionally attractive people.

If you look at things from the creative perspective, you feel that people connect with complex, relatable characters, who are struggling through dramatic situations… no matter what these characters look like.

Can a movie with an ugly or fat female lead be successful? You answered the question yourself, with examples - the answer is yes. Is it easy to get made? Probably not. Probably it is a real struggle with the business side to get checks written to get the movie made. Probably it is an exhausting struggle.

The films you mention were director-driven and I would venture to say that having the lead be unglamorous was a fight that the director fought and won. The thing is, though, that making movies is so freakin hard to do that you sometimes have to save the knock-down drag-out fights for what is really important to you. On these movies, I imagine the representation of the women was really important to the directors… so they fought for it. Maybe other directors would have compromised and done something differently.

What I take away from this is that if I don’t see what I find important and worth fighting for represented in movies, I am probably going to have to work my way into a position where I can be the one fighting for those things to be in movies. Frustratingly, there is not much you can do talking about it online… but fortunately, technology is making filmmaking cheaper and more accessible than it has ever been before.

Finding something you care deeply enough about to make a film about it is tough. Maybe you have already found something. What is the movie you want to see? Could you imagine yourself making it and fighting for what is important to you to see?

I have several stories in various stages of completion but the main one I am currently working persists in steering itself in a Ghibli-esque direction. Any advice? Let it grow as it seems intent? I’m struggling to find an artist who can bring my vision to life. Thanks for the blog, really useful. - @eidenbeware

My advice would be follow it and see where it goes!

On the front of finding an artist who can bring your vision to life - this may come across as harsh, but if you are looking for an artist to do brilliant work, you are most likely looking for a collaborator, not someone to execute your vision. You want someone who can make what you have even better - and in order to attract talent of the caliber that can make your project really fantastically great, you should focus on making the story really excellently great. Focus on making the story the best you can possibly make it, and when it’s time to find an artist, look for someone who is already doing what you will want them to do. Already drawing things the way you imagine… and give them room to play with the great stuff you’ve set up. 

If someone had a full time job and could only eke out about an hour a day of learning time, what would be a good way to go about it? Advice on maybe planning out a regimen for each week or something like that would be appreciated, as well. (Also, I’m aware that an hour a day is woefully anemic.)

Pursuing anything on the side of a full-time job is super hard, I’m sure you know. One hour is not a lot. I’m trying to think of what I would find useful… maybe if you are interested in screenwriting, you read a script in your hour on one day, and then on the second day you write what you noticed/admired/learned/are critical of about it?

If you’re interested in drawing, just free drawing for an hour is a great exercise. It can be frustrating if you feel like you’re not good enough, but sometimes putting yourself in the frame of mind of “as long as I’ve learned something, I’ve succeeded” can make you feel better about doing terrible drawings. It’s not the drawings that count, it’s the practice.

Does that help? I would say it’s probably more useful to find a way to break up ‘doing’ into chunks of 1 hour rather than doing something like finding 1 hr videos or reading articles… Doing is the real hard part.

Do you offer workshops on story, or do you know someone else of equal caliber that does? I’m not after creds or long, expensive programs, but since I’m transitioning from one world (journalism) to this one AND since I mainly work solo (on the U.S.-Mexico border), it would be super great to learn storyboarding techniques specific to film & fiction & also meet a few other potential/future collaborators in an intensive workshop setting. Thx! devin

I’m just getting started in the idea of doing story workshops, but Matthew Luhn (story guy at Pixar) has been working with VanArts on the Pixar Artists’ Masterclass Tour where he explains the story process in animation and leads story exercises. Something like that would probably be really useful. I’m sure there are other workshops to be found online, and if you are able to make it to CTN that would be a great place to meet people & learn from them!

I don’t know of any story bootcamp kind of thing specifically… but I hope those suggestions help!

And here is one where man, I don’t even have to say anything. This is awesome:

Not a question, just a quote I wanted to share with you. This came to mind when you answered a question about salary. Back in my long-ago theater days, my favorite professor (Davey Marlin-Jones) said, “If you do a job for the money, you’ll always be underpaid.” He died about eight years ago and hardly a day goes by when I don’t think of some bit of wisdom he left behind.

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