An Actress's Thoughts

It’s the Men that Write the Scripts

It’s the Men that write the Scripts

I have no idea how many scripts for cinema and television are written by women and men respectively, but at least there are figures on how many scripts are actually shot.
In a number of investigations, like the 6- or 11-divisions-checks, I also investigated scriptwriters, today let’s look at them separately, for six groups of films:

  • Nominations for German Film Awards 2011-2015 (in all categories nominated fictional films without children’s flms)
  • Nominations for German TV Awards 2011-15 ((in all categories nominated fictional films without children’s flms)
  • Top 100 German films (cinema) 2012-14
  • ARD TATORT / German cop drama: first screenings 2011-14
  • ZDF TV movie of the week: first screenings 2012-14
  • ARD TV movie Wednesday: first screenings 2011-14



Statistics are a fairly good basis for discussions, and at the same time I notice that dealing with them for a while you sort of get accustomed to the low values “oh, these are not so bad, even shares of women above 20 % this time, oh, even more than 30 %, and partly nearly reaching 40 %!”. But of course it is “bad”. Then these figures show that in none of the years and for none of the film groups the 50 % share was reached, and not even a share of 41,7 %, which is the female share for all members of the Screen Writers’ Guild VDD.

Demanding 30 or 50 % share of power, contracts, funding and pay often lead to heated debates and sooner or later someone will argue that there are not enough suitable women available and also that (in a number of cases) the percentage in question does not reflect the share of women within the industry, the peope available, the proposals etc.

The female directors’ initiative Pro Quote Regie, that include graded demands of 30 %, 42 % and 50 % female directors in public television productions for example often are confronted with the argument that they are asking for too much, since 50 % is more than the share of women among film school graduates in directing (42 %).

But on the other hand at the moment and probably for the last decades men are overrepresented, but this is so ’normal’ that nobody notices this any more or gets uneasy because of it: in parliaments (where society is represented), in front of the camera (where stories are being told that take place in society), as professors at universities and more … and in this case, where realized scripts are concerned, disproportionately many men. If we take the share of men in the Script Writers Guild as reference – 58 %, which is clearly far less than the 73 % which is the averaged share of men for scripts in the 6 groups of films in the investigated years.

Obviously this does not mean at all that men are worse at story telling or that all men write the same scripts. Take the Danish political drama BORGEN as an example with an abundance of great female and male characters. This series is based on an idea from Adam Price who also developed and wrote most of the 30 episodes together with his two male colleagues Tobias Lindholm and Jeppe Gjervig Gram. But of course there is the risk that a future Sally Wainwright (SCOTT AND BAILEY, HAPPY VALLEY and LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX) won’t get a chance. Therefore there are a number of reasons to start investigating the reasons for this big majority of male written scripts in TV and cinemas, if this onesidedness is to be corrected (next figure shows the reverse from the first one: share of male script writers in 6 film groups, 2011 – 15):


Some months ago I evaluated the 100 top grossing German films in 2014 and realized that there is a much stronger connection between the gender of the first role on the cast list to the gender of the script writer than to that of the director (The Top 100 German Films 2014).

In this context a recently published evaluation of cartoons in the US-American magazine New Yorker is quite interesting (Someone did a statistical analysis of New Yorker cartoons, and it’s actually pretty depressing) . The results show that 70 % of all characters in the cartoons are white men. Women (and ethnical minorities) appear far far less and usually in a stereotyped manner. Not really surprising is the conclusion that the (very few) female comic artists published would be far more likely to also draw female characters.

Of course comics are not film scripts.

Age and Money

No, this is not a reference to ages or wages of actresses but to that of female scriptwriters. Some weeks back it was announced in US media (e.g. Reuters, April 20, by Maria Caspani) that actress Meryl Streep will financially support a screenwriters lab for female writers over the age of 40. This lab will be organized by Women in Film and Televison New York (NYWIFT) and will fund eight female script writers over 40.

This project can be seen as a reaction to a recent study that the percentage of female script writers in the USA is decreasing, from 17 % in 2009 to 15 % in 2014 – which is much lower than the German figures – and also that female script writers earn less money than their male colleagues.

As far as I know no well-grounded investigation on the situation of female and male script writers in Germany has been undertaken so far. But there are a lot of questions worth answering:

How many scripts by women and how many by men are made into films? How are contracts awarded? How is the age distribution of active script writers? How many write on their own, how many in teams? How about these writers’ rooms and similar structures, is that something only used for Dailies? How about the wages, is there a gender pay gap?

Some of these questions could be answered by the broadcasting corporations theoretically, but at the moment I don’t quite see this coming unfortunately.

One way to find out more about the pay situation would be, if the Screen Writers Guild VDD undertook a confidential survey among its members. Actually this is something all film unions could investigate. Money you earn is something that (in Germany) hardly anybody talks about which is a shame because the gender pay gap will decrease with growing transparency for wages.


“What is the state of gender equality“ was the topic of a discussion at last year’s 3rd World Conference of Script Writers in Warsaw, according to a short report on the website of the VDD (in German). The text continues:

Low budget feature films and badly paid documentaries are still women’s domain. The challenge of balancing children and career is still not solved, precariously paid jobs in film and TV productions are the only chance for many women to continue working in the industry. Of course also a lot of male colleagues are struck by the decline of career chances and paid work.

The article ends with a reference to a resolution – It’s Past Time: TV and Film Industry Must Address Gender Inequality – that was passed at the Warsaw Conference and that had been proposed by the Writers Guild of Canada, well worth reading.