Spotlight on / Women Film-makers

SPOTLIGHT ON: Screenwriters

spotlight on screenwriters pic

Artwork by Chloe Leeson

‘Spotlight On’ is a new segment at Screenqueens. We want to highlight the efforts and achievements of women across a range of film roles, so each month, we’ll be choosing a department to praise, where SQ writers can talk about their faves. This month is screen-writers. 

FRAN WALSH

fran walsh

Fran Walsh is both Peter Jackson’s life partner and co-writer, writing scripts alongside him for every one of his films since 1989’s Meet the Feebles. His 1994 breakthrough Heavenly Creatures, which earned an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay, was conceived by Walsh. Walsh had been interested in the notorious New Zealand case since childhood. Several scenes in Jackson’s famed The Lord of the Rings trilogy are solely credited to Walsh. The most notable is Gollum’s conversation with his other self Sméagol in The Two Towers. Fran Walsh’s best friend Philippa Boyens is another female screenwriter behind The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Together, they wrote memorable scenes such as Sam’s beautiful monologue from The Two Towers and Galadriel’s opening monologue from The Fellowship of the Ring. Both women felt that Tolkien’s masterpiece was sorely lacking female voices and their writing sought to eradicate that problem. Walsh also wrote several songs for Tolkien’s films such as “Into the West” and “The Last Goodbye.” Her writing on “Into the West” earned her a third Oscar alongside the win for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture for The Return of the King. Walsh remains relatively private, refusing behind the scenes interviews and only occasionally contributing to audio commentaries. She felt that one of them should remain a private figure for their family, so one parent wouldn’t be mobbed by the public. It is unfortunate that such a phenomenal female voice has remained largely hidden and overshadowed by her famous male director partner, but of course that choice is hers to make. But what little interviews we have with Walsh reveals her incredible contributions and talent. She wrote some of my favorite moments in The Lord of the Rings and crafted engaging female characters in many of Jackson’s films. –Caroline Madden

MINDY KALING

mindy kaling

I devoured my friend’s copy of Mindy Kaling’s first book ‘Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?’. It’s an autobiographical and light-hearted book by the Indian-American writer and actress. It shocked me that Mindy was given the entrusted role of writer at the age of 24 on the American TV series The Office. But when I read her book, seeing her chart her interest and work in comedy, I recognised how hard Mindy has worked to get that role! The Office was such a big deal in American TV that and seeing Mindy Kaling’s name in the opening credits was always very noticeable. Even though The Office has a certain style of humour that all feels kind of samey, her episodes have been some of my favourite ones. Seeing Mindy succeed in The Office, in films and her own damn sitcom is ridiculously empowering. While I am hesitant to always categorise her success using her identity as a brown woman – that must be annoying for her – it is fantastic to see smart, funny and creative woman that looks like me and is praised for her talent by others too, not just me. With The Mindy Project, especially with it being her own creation, Mindy writes for her character – also called Mindy – and enables different storylines revolving around her love life and career. It works for  me because her imagination and ideas come to life and it’s almost like she is writing as a form of escapism, for her, as an actress, to read lines and act the way she has decided. Mindy Kaling is her own boss and that is why she is one of my favourite writers. Right now, The Mindy Project seems to be her main project. She released a second book last year entitled ‘Why Not Me’ and acted in the 2015 movie ‘Inside Out’. Next, I’d love to see her make her own feature movie – this feels long overdue! –Ameena

 DIABLO CODY

diablo cody

Juno is one of the most quotable films ever, period. This magic mix of hilarity, quip one-liners and heartfelt realism is all down to Diablo Cody, a film for which she won the Academy Award for best Original Screenplay in 2008. Her penchant for witty dialogue is likely to come from her sarcastic mannerisms and time spent working clubs as a stripper and dancer, her dialogue seems honest but quick and on the beat, so sassy that it instils serious jealously that I didn’t come up with the line ‘this is one doodle that can’t be undid homeskillet’. I have seen Juno well over 20 times, it never fails to impress me in every regard and is one of the finest coming-of-age films ever made.

 A proud feminist, Cody’s voice has always been a very women-orientated one. Out of all her written work, there isn’t one film/show with a central male character. She follows women of all walks of life; a pregnant teen in Juno, an older rocker chick in the shape of Meryl Streep in Ricki and The Flash, a lost 20-something in Young Adult and a women with multiple personality disorder in The United States of Tara. Her ability to jump seamlessly from story to story with women and women’s lives in mind, but still keeping a fresh take in each script is impressive. It’s comforting to know that there is a successful, critically respected and oscar-winning woman out there than hasn’t had to pander to a male-orientated story yet, when tales of women, and realistic ones at that, are few and far between.

Alongside writing, she is also a producer, lending her name to all of her feature film credits apart from Juno. In 2013, she tried her hand at directing with Paradise, but states that she never wants to do it again (it is her lowest rated contribution on IMDB) and prefers putting pen to paper. Her next project definitely sounds….interesting. Cody is penning the script for a live-action film about Barbie. The plastic, tanned leggy doll that feminists so often rave about and GCSE art students base projects on, Cody’s larger-than-life sarcasm and headstrong attitude will be a welcome and brave pairing with a controversial and iconic figure. –Chloe Leeson

JAY PRESSON ALLEN

Growing up, I never knew Jay Presson Allen was a woman. I knew I loved Cabaret and knew I had great respect for its screenwriter, but didn’t think to investigate further until recently. Often credited as simply ‘Jay Allen’, Jay Presson Allen was born Jacqueline Presson in 1922. She began her career adapting stage plays, and eventually got her start writing for the movies with Hitchcock’s Marnie. Looking over Jay Allen’s filmography, no immediate patterns emerge, and I think that’s a real testament to her writing ability. With Cabaret, we get the dynamic and emotionally vulnerable Sally Bowles. With The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, we get the unwavering and guarded Jean Brodie. Though as a devoted Barbra Streisand fan I’m morally obligated to prefer Funny Girl to its sequel, there’s a dark charm in Funny Lady that adds real complexity to the character and story of Fanny Brice. Out of all her writing work, Allen always said Sidney Lumet’s Prince of the City was her favorite. She said she liked bits and pieces of other films, but with Prince of the City she liked the whole thing. I’m fascinated by Allen’s ability to write convincing male characters, and even more impressed with her skill in writing couples. There’s a scene about three-fourths of the way into Cabaret between Sally and her sort-of boyfriend Brian. Sally visits Brian at a local library and something is clearly wrong. Brian, catching on, asks Sally what’s going on. She gives in, exasperated, and shouts, “Goddamnit, I’m going to have a baby!” I’ve seen Cabaret at least a dozen times and I’ve come to expect this part, but somehow I’m always taken off guard by the honesty and humor of that line and its delivery. In 1972, Jay Presson Allen was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for Cabaret, with another nomination to follow in 1981 for Prince of the City. In 1982, Allen was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award, an award which is given to an individual who has helped expand the role of women within the film industry. Jay Allen was dedicated to her writing, describing her process as follows: “I don’t do anything but write. I get up and I write and I write, until I have to go to sleep; then, I get up, eat something, then go back to work. I do a script very fast, because I don’t stop. All day. All night, until I’m too sleepy. Of course, I do a lot of rewriting. A tremendous amount of rewriting.” Near the end of her career, Jay Presson Allen was better known for her work as a script doctor, editing such films as A Star Is Born, Copycat, and The Verdict. With a screenwriting career spanning over four decades, Jay Allen’s impact on Hollywood is undeniable. -Juliette Faraone

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