German and British Female Authors ask Broadcasters
- In the Beginning there were Numbers
- Female Authors Write Back
- Letter of German Female Writers
- Letter of British Female Writers
For just over six years now I have been analysing and commenting on the film and television industry, and my primary concern has not been to describe the – bad – actual state, but to work for change. That’s why I make suggestions like #eyesopen, #2v6pN and of course NEROPA. And I provide basic data that others can use for their work. Speaking of which, a few weeks ago I was called by a female screenwriter who wanted to know how many TATORT scripts in 2018 had been written by women. I call that perfect timing, a few weeks before I had published my 6-divisions-check of the TATORTE 2011 to 2018 (Crimes from a Male Perspective). A slow increase in the number of women directors towards the targeted 20 % share of women is visible, but at the same time the proportion of female authors has been rapidly falling and even zero values were reached for camera and sound.
The TATORT is considered to be the highest paid 90-minute format, why should this source of income be withheld from women? Why does a broadcaster financed with public funds not act in accordance with the Basic Law and discriminate against people on the basis of their gender? And last but not least: what does it mean for the audience if the stories are (almost) only filmed and told by men? I wrote about this problem in connection with the series BABYLON BERLIN (Two German Series: BABYLON BERLIN and CLASH OF THE FUTURES), where producers and cameramen and above all three directors who also wrote the scripts were male – which had an unfavourable effect in terms of design and, of course, content. Yesterday I heard that the second season of BAD BANKS, unlike the first season, is not written by a head author (Oliver Kienle) and two staff authors (Jana Burbach and Jan Galli), but only by men. The season in which the young banker Jana Liekam (Paula Beer) and the older banker Christelle Leblanc (Désirée Nosbusch) will be in the centre. Doesn’t anyone notice this?
But back to the screenwriter‘s call.
Female Authors Write Back
So then my TATORT analyses gave the impulse for a rapidly growing informal group of German women screenwriters, who not only were outraged and wanted to talk about their experiences, but also to do something. And quite soon, among other things, the idea of writing a letter, an appeal to the ARD (German public TV channel 1) came up, I contributed a POLIZEIRUF evaluation for the same period on request (The other Top Cop Drama of ARD), and in early April letters were posted under the motto “Tatort: Drehbuch” (Crime Scene: Scripts).
The recipients were Volker Herrres, programme director of the ARD, the directors of the regional ARD stations, the equal opportunities officers of the TV stations and also the chairmen of the broadcasting councils (with the request to forward the letters to the members of the broadcasting council). The 76 signatories asked why the proportion of female authors in the ARD Sunday crime novels is so low (6.1% for TATORTE and POLIZEIRUFE together). As a reminder, women account for 48% of film school graduates in script writing, for 38.4% among those working (acc to crew united database), and the and female authors wrote 25.9% of Germany’s top 100 feature films in 2018.
And the letter? The authors say “Our country can do more!“ – and that’s true. In this case the television industry, which is financed with public funds, is in demand. Our public TV ARD can and must do more! The women script writers demand a cross-format script quota of 50/50 by 2021, and they plan to initiate a round table for a joint action plan 2019 to 2021. It sounds quite determined, straight-forward and constructive.
As far as I know there have been no reaction to this letter, and even the media haven‘t really taken up the topic yet, at least I don’t find any articles about it. It is also astonishing that the female board members of the VDD German Writers Guild did not sign the letter (you can find the complete letter as well as the first signatories below).
But before that I want to talk about another open letter, which was also written by female screenwriters, who also denounce the fact that they are strongly under-represented in television, although series written by women regularly win prizes and achieve top ratings: these are female authors in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Their open letter to the UK TV drama commissioners was published in various media over a year ago, in February 2018. But it was not sent to the recipients, and what is perhaps also surprising is that the authors did not mention any targets or quotas, did not call for equal participation. Instead, they asked questions. They asked “Why don’t you want to work with us?“
“The purpose of the letter was not to make demands but to raise the issue and start a conversation with the commissioners“, Lisa Holdsworth, co-initiator, screenwriter, and vice president of the WGGB Writers Guild of Great Britain, told me.
This letter brought on some friendly reactions from commissioners who mostly denied, downplayed or glossed over the addressed problem by assuring the writers that it was already getting better. A next step in the campaign was the publication of the Writers Guild of Great Britain Report in Gender Equality in Screenwriting (written by Alexis Kreager, with Stephen Follows. 117 pages) in May 2018, according to which women accounted for only 16% (!) of active screenwriters, and only 14% of prime time productions were written by women.
From that we have made demands and met with all the commissioners from the major UK TV channels to discuss the way forward.“ (Lisa Holdsworth). The WGGB, which launched a campaign for equal rights under the title Equality Writes, also participated in this process. Among other things, they set up a 50:50 demand that the public sponsors should commit themselves to dividing the subsidies half and half between screenplays written by women and by men by 2020. In Equality Writes you also find this:
We want equality of opportunity for all under-represented groups, for example BAME writers, LGBT+ writers, writers with disabilities and working-class writers. We believe the release of equality data is essential, so we can broaden out our campaign and ensure that writing is a profession which is fair, equal and free from discrimination.
A number of meetings with commissioners have been held, but the state of discussions are currently still confidential. One result however has already been published, it’s for the comedy sector. Last October ITV hosted an event with representatives of the RTS (Royal Television Society), WGGB, ERA 5050 (Equal Representation for Actresses), BAFTA British Academy of Film and Television Arts and of course Funny Women. It led to the start of the campaign Comedy 50:50, which aims to eliminate any gender imbalance in the comedy sector, starting with the authors’. (see also It’s Time for Comedy 50:50. edit: from 4rfv.com, ITV’s original press release no longer online).
At first glance, the British female writers’ letter appears to be much more cautious and reserved than that of their German colleagues. But because the campaign is run in different steps and levels, plus the active support from the WGGB and the subsequent direct conversations with commissioners and others in smaller or larger groups, quite a bit of momentum came up after a short time.
I am invited to participate in the conference Gender Equality in Television: Behind the Scenes and on the Screen in London in a week’s time, where there will also be a Women Behind the Camera set that focuses on both directors and script writers, related research and new campaigns, so there we should get the latest news. (I’m participating in a Women in Front of the Camera panel).
The letter from the German female writers appears to be more forward and demanding, but neither the VDD Script Writers Guild nor other groups in the industry have so far declared their solidarity and offered support, but that may still happen, – the letters have only just been posted.
Let’s hope for the female authors as well as the television audience in both countries that the discrimination against women script writers will be a thing of the past as soon as possible and that authors will be commissioned in a more diverse way.
More about this at some later point. Now let’s look at the two letters and their signatories:
Letter of German Female Writers April 2019
„Protagonism is propaganda. Protagonism is propaganda for privilege. Protagonism is propaganda that protects and perpetuates privilege“.
(Jill Soloway, US-American producer, script writer and director)
The ARD (one of two main German public broadcasters) is fortunately making a voluntary effort to increase the proportion of women among directors of fictional TV formats. But what about the proportion of women in script writing? Their share has declined alarmingly in the last three years!
For the Sunday night primetime programmes TATORT / Crime Scene and POLIZEIRUF / Police Call, for example, only 6.1% of the scripts came from female screenwriters in 2018, and 93.9% from male colleagues. In the previous year, the proportion of women was slightly higher (15.2% female and 84.8% male authors). In 2016, the ratio was 23.2% to 76.8%. This means that in the last three years only a quarter of the already small share of women has remained.
(cf.: https://schspin.stieve.com/2019/03/18/polizeirufe-und-tatorte-2011-bis-18/ )
How come there is this increase in discriminating against women? These figures cannot be dismissed with the usual phrases. A systematic and structural discrimination is evident here, and it‘s as extreme as rarely is found in other industries.
Can this negative development be explained by the fact that appointing a woman as director means that women are no longer considered for other departments? For camera and sound women, too, the figures have fallen massively; in 2018 they will even be at 0%. Are women being played off against each other here? Teams with several women in central departments should be just as possible as it used to be, of course, possible to make films with a majority of men in positions of responsibility.
In its fictional narrative, television as a mass medium reflects the values and images of our society. The more diverse and varied the better – this is what the public broadcasters’ programme mandate actually is demanding. The sovereignty of interpretation must not lie exclusively in the hands of our male colleagues. Women are not a social minority, but public broadcasting turnes them into one.
Our industry is rich in talented, qualified and experienced female screenwriters who are successfully and visibly present on the market. There are many of them. So why are they largely ignored by ARD commissioners?
In addition to artistic discrimination, there is also economic discrimination. The TATORT and POLIZEIRUF 110 are among the best paid formats on ARD. Female writers not working for these formats increases the gender pay gap. According to a study conducted by the Hans Böckler Foundation in 2016, Germany ranks third last among 28 EU states in terms of equal pay. Unfortunately, current figures show very little improvement there.
Our country can do better! Our public broadcasting, which is financed by viewers, can do better! This is about equal opportunities for women so that they can tell their stories. And it is about the fair distribution of public funds, for which you are responsible. You are in a position to put an end to this injustice, you can and must create equal opportunities – so act! Have the ARD speak out against the evident discrimination against women when commissioning contracts.
We demand a cross-format script quota of 50/50 by 2021!
We hope to win you as a supporter, and are looking forward to a constructive dialogue. For this we will initiate a round table with the goal of a joint action plan for 2019 to 2021.
(76 initial signatories)
Jenny Alten. Drehbuchautorin. VDD, VeDra – Emily Atef. Drehbuchautorin, Regisseurin – Milena Baisch. Drehbuchautorin – Daniela Baumgärtl. Drehbuchautorin – Sarah Bergmann. Drehbuchautorin, Autorin, Dramaturgin, VDD, VeDRA – Ariana Berndl. Drehbuchautorin – Esther Bernstorff. Drehbuchautorin – Susanne Bieger. Dramaturgin, Into The Wild Mentoring, PQF – Regine Bielefeldt. Drehbuchautorin – Ulrike Bliefert. Drehbuchautorin, Schauspielerin – Stephanie Blöbaum. Drehbuchautorin – Bettina Börgerding. Drehbuchautorin – Adrienne Bortoli. Drehbuchautorin – Natja Brunckhorst. Drehbuchautorin – Tanja Bubbel. Drehbuchautorin – Jana Burbach. Drehbuchautorin – Julia Charakter. Drehbuchautorin – Silja Clemens. Autorin. VDD, Kontrakt’18 – Anika Decker. Drehbuchautorin, Regisseurin, Kontrakt’18, Pussiwrita Club – Kristin Derfler, Drehbuchautorin, Vorstand Kontrakt’18, Pussiwrita Club – Karlotta Ehrenberg, Drehbuchautorin, Kontrakt’18, Pussiwrita Club – Sandra Ehlermann, Dramaturgin – Angela Gilges, Drehbuchautorin – Sabine Gröner, Drehbuchautorin – Katja Grübel, Drehbuchautorin – Julia Grünewald, Dramaturgin – Elke Hauck, Drehbuchautorin, Regisseurin – Meike Hauck, Drehbuchautorin – Annette Hess, Drehbuchautorin, Vorstand Kontrakt’18, Pussiwrita Club – Vanessa Jopp, Regisseurin, PQF – Mika Kallwass, Drehbuchautorin, VDD, Kontrakt’18, PQF, Pussiwrita Club – Nicole Köstler, Drehbuchautorin, PQF Gewerksprecherin Drehbuch, Dramaturgie – Isabella Oliveira Parise Kröger, Drehbuchautorin, VDD – Petra Lüschow, Drehbuchautorin, Regisseurin – Catrin Lüth, Drehbuchautorin – Sylke Rene Meyer, Drehbuchautorin, Professorin, California State University LA, Verena Michl (ehem. Weese), System. Dramaturgin, VeDRA, PQF, transformstory – Barbara Miersch, Drehbuchautorin – Ulrike Molsen, Drehbuchautorin – Nana Neul, Drehbuchautorin, Regisseurin – Ruth Olshan, Drehbuchautorin, Regisseurin, Prof. ifs Köln, PQF – Christine Otto, Drehbuchautorin, Kontrakt’18, Pussiwrita Club – Dr. Carolin Otto, Drehbuchautorin, Regisseurin, Vice-President FSE – Julia Penner, Drehbuchautorin, Schreibkollektiv Q3 – Kerstin Polte, Drehbuchautorin, Regisseurin, VDD, BVR, PQF – Heike Quack, Rechtsanwältin, Künstlermanagement – Erzsebet Racz, Drehbuchautorin – Sabine Radelbold, Drehbuchautorin, Kontrakt’18, Pussiwrita Club – Maike Rasch, Drehbuchautorin, VDD, Kontrakt’18, Pussiwrita Club – Ruth Rehmet, Drehbuchautorin – Katharina Reschke, Drehbuch- und Buchautorin – Elke Rössler, Drehbuchautorin – Elena von Saucken, Drehbuchautorin – Gesa Scheibner, Drehbuchautorin, Schreibkollektiv Q3, Pussiwrita Club – Susanne Schneider, Drehbuchautorin – Dorothee Schön, Drehbuchautorin – Agnes Schruff, Drehbuchautorin – Astrid Schult, Drehbuchautorin – Silke Cecilia Schultz, Drehbuchautorin, PQF Gewerkspr Drehbuch.Dramaturgie, VDD, Kontrakt’18, Pussiwrita Club – Heide Schwochow, Drehbuchautorin – Eveline Stähelin, Drehbuchautorin, VDD, PQF, Kontrakt´18, Pussiwrita Club – Birgit Stauber, Drehbuchautorin – Ulrike Stephan, Drehbuchautorin – Belinde Ruth Stieve, Schauspielerin – Astrid Ströher, Drehbuchautorin – Lilli Tautfest, Drehbuchautorin, Regisseurin – Annika Tepelmann, Drehbuchautorin – Ruth Toma, Drehbuchautorin – Julia Urban, Drehbuchautorin – Melanie Waelde, Drehbuchautorin – Marianne Wendt, Drehbuchautorin, VDD, Kontrakt’18, Pussiwrita Club – Jasmina Wesolowski, Drehbuchautorin, Schreibkollektiv Q3 – Kathrin Wilkes, Drehbuchautorin, Dramaturgin – Ulla Ziemann, Drehbuchautorin – Katja Zimmermann, Drehbuchautorin – Pussiwrita Club – Kim Zimmermann, Drehbuchautorin
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Letter of British Female Writers February 2018
Dear UK TV drama commissioners,
In recent years, a new tradition has been established among us female television writers. It starts with one of the channels announcing their drama commissions for the coming season. A list of projects full of promise: some will become new favourites, some will be flops and some will mysteriously never quite make it to the screen. But, without fail, they will overwhelmingly be written by men.
And once again our irritation will boil over on to Twitter and Facebook and another day of writing will be lost to another collective social media howl of pain and frustration. We howled again when cultbox.co.uk proudly listed ‘Every drama series ITV has planned for 2018’. Of the nine new dramas listed, only one had a female lead writer. In fairness, the article was by no means definitive, as since it was published, ITV has announced two further dramas for 2018. Both by male writers. That suggests that less than 10% of new drama greenlit by ITV for this year will be written by women. Perhaps you can now understand our rage? Less than 10%. And the statistics are not much better when you start channel-hopping.
And so, we want to ask you, the commissioners, a very simple question. Why? Because we are at a loss.
Is it because there just aren’t enough female writers out there? No, it can’t be that. UK soap opera writing teams have plenty of women who write for the nation’s favourite characters on a daily basis. Women who are sharpening their skills and discipline on the most exacting shows on British television. Soaps are the boot camps of TV writing. They demand unrelenting creativity, consistency and a photographic memory for years of story and enormous casts of characters. And yet these talented and hard-working female writers remain an untapped resource. They do not seem to be ‘graduating’ onto next-level shows where they could develop their skills further and raise their profiles. Flagship shows like the BBC’s Silent Witness, which has employed only five female writers during its 20-year run. Or Doctor Who, which managed to go five series without an episode written by a woman.
So, maybe it’s about the ratings? Perhaps dramas written by women simply don’t put bums on seats? If anyone truly believes that, we have three words for you: Call The Midwife. This ratings behemoth has a female showrunner, the mighty Heidi Thomas, and a female writing team. For the past two years it has won the Christmas Day ratings battle, with 10 million viewers tuning in to have their hearts warmed by something other than postturkey heartburn. And that isn’t just a Christmas miracle. The show hit the ground running, with its first series averaging more than 10 million per episode and it has maintained that audience across another six series. Surely you commissioners pray for that kind of audience loyalty?
And those lovely nuns are not outliers. The second series of Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley attracted 1 million more viewers for its second series, averaging 9 million-plus. Her other award-wining BBC1 series, Last Tango In Halifax, averaged 7.5 million.
We know that there are plenty of female-led projects on your development slates. And yet very few of these shows are making it into production.
The gap between being commissioned and being produced seems disproportionately large when it comes to women’s work. And we’d really love to know why.
Once again, we are left desperately looking for a bright side. It is encouraging that many of the new ITV dramas have female characters front and centre. It is great to see that women’s stories are now being told. It’s just that we feel we might be better qualified to tell our own stories. And this goes double for our BAME colleagues, who also seem to be consistently conspicuous by their absence.
So, we pose the question again. Why are you not making drama by female writers?
Come on, tell us the truth. We can take it. We look forward to hearing from you.
Yours in confusion and anger
(76 initial signatories)
Sally Abbott – OD Aiyegbayo – Abby Ajayi – Carey Andrews – Henrietta Ashworth – Jessica Ashworth – Perrie Balthazar – Roanne Bardsley – Helen Blakeman – Tracy Brabin MP – Claire Bennett – Elly Brewer – Karen Brown – Lucy Catherine – Catrin Clarke – Suzanne Cowie – Kate Delin – Sonya Desai – Ann Marie Di Mambro – Samantha Doland De Vaux – Amanda Duke – Soulla Eriksen – Helen Farrall – Karen Featherstone – Lilie Ferrari – Hilary Frankland – Hannah George – Andrea Gibb – Lisa Gifford – Brenda Gilhooly – Wendy Granditer – Stacy Gregg – Janice Hallett – Kirsty Halton – Henrietta Hardy – Jay Harley – Sian Harries – Sarah-Louise Hawkins – Sarah Hehir – Olivia Hetreed – Jo Ho – Lisa Holdsworth – Alison Hume – Maggie Innes – Louise Ironside – Judith Johnson – Kelly Jones – Lauren Klee – Emma Ko – Line Langebek – Zoe Lister – Jane Marlow – Johanne McAndrew – Lisa McMullin – Loren McLaughlan – Caroline Mitchell – Debbie Moon – Chloe Moss – Alice Nutter – Janice Okoh – Anita Pandolfo – Jane Pearson – Sophie Petzal – Lyn Papadopoulos – Laura Poliakoff – Helen Raynor – Emma Reeves – Gail Renard – Gillian Richmond – Amy Roberts – Penelope Skinner – Emma Smithwick – Sarah Solemani – Sumerah Srivastav – Frog Stone – Kay Stonham – Sally Tatchell – Sue Teddern – Catherine Williams – Lindsay Williams – Dee Williamson – Charlotte Wise
Edel Brosnan – Melissa Bubnic – Rachel Dawson – Hope Dickson Leach – Dana Fainaru – Ruth Fowler – Taylor Glenn – Ella Greenhill – Anna-Lisa Jenaer – Charlotte Jones – Emma Kennedy – Dawn King – Jayne Lake – Jenny Lecoat – Kim Millar – Natalie Mitchell – Caitlin Moran – Regina Moriarty – Rachael New – Debbie Oates – Julie Parsons – Becky Prestwich – Georgia Pritchett – Sarah Quintrell – Heather Robson – Avril E. Russell – Naz Sadoughi – Ella Saltmarshe – Rachel Smith – Tina Walker – Katharine Way – Nicola Wilson – Alexis Zegerm
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