Speculative Reasons Why Sales of Spec Scripts Penned by Women Are Lowest in Two Decades
I — love — screenwriting. I love it. And if you love it too, you’ve probably had dreams of selling a spec script to Hollywood and finally earning a living doing what you — love. And now might be a good time to start finishing up those drafts. Spec sales are on the rise — nearly doubling in the last two years. However, even though those numbers are up, the number of purchased female-written specs is down. In fact, a recent infographic shows that the percentage of sold spec scripts penned by women is the lowest it’s been in the last 2 decades.
First of all: what’s a spec script? You know all of those scripts you’ve been working on after work and on weekends, hoping that one day you’ll meet someone who knows someone who’s dating someone in the business that you can pitch it to? That’s, essentially, a spec script. Basically, it’s a non-commissioned speculative screenplay that you wish to sell on the open market.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way — spec script sales are on the rise, but not for women. Why? We’ve touched on the topic of women in the film industry before, and it’s one I love to open up for discussion, but maybe it’d help to first dig into a little bit of history as far as spec script sales go. Scott Myers and the team at Go Into the Story, the screenwriting blog of The Black List, has compiled an exhaustive collection of spec script sale data from 1991 -2012 and kindly put it in an easy-to-read infographic.
1991 saw a paltry 33 spec scripts sold. The number soured in 1995 to 226, marking the Age of the Spec Script of the mid-90s. However, the number of specs began to fall, and it wasn’t until the beginning of the millennium that the number began to rise again from 107 to 125. 2010 saw the lowest number of specs sold since 1992, at 72, but in the last two years, this figure has nearly doubled — and then all of the spec script writers rejoiced and were glad, because having a 0.5%-0.3% chance of writing one of the 127 spec scripts to be picked up out of 25,000-40,000 isn’t all that bad.
But, what if you’re a woman? That percentage drops to 0.04%-0.03% — which is about the same percentage of female college basketball players drafted into a pro career every year (2 of my childhood dreams — so out of reach.) The fact is, the percentage of female spec scripts sold is as low as it has been in the last 20 years. The infographic says that only 1 out of 8 spec scripts sold are written by women.
Now, these lists don’t account for scripts written under aliases or ones that simply aren’t accounted for for one reason or another. (The numbers of spec scripts sold each year on the sales list is lower than on the infographic, so perhaps the process of acquiring all of the data is still in progress.) Also, how are multiple screenwriters (groups of men and women, groups of men, groups of women) accounted for in the data? There also isn’t data that shows how many male/female-penned spec scripts are rejected.
I doubt, though, that more data would drag that 9% up to 50% (a girl can dream.) The question here is: why are female screenwriters being underrepresented? Is it sexism? Are women not writing what’s being bought? Are there just not very many female screenwriters?
In my experience, in both my Dramatic Screenwriting and Advanced Screenwriting classes there were far less women in the class than men. However, when I took an independent study course to write a feature, it was just me and another woman (technically 100% of the class was women.) Furthermore, the men in the class almost exclusively wrote cop dramas, action, and sci-fi/fantasy screenplays, while the women almost exclusively wrote female-centered dramas. I say “almost” because I was the weirdo who wrote one about an 8-year-old cannibal. (Don’t steal my idea, guys!) So, from my tiny pinpoint-sized piece of the universe, the numbers just weren’t there, and of those women who were there, their chosen genres generally aren’t the most sought after by studios.
The fact is, though I really do wish women took more than just a sliver of a piece of the screenwriting pie, I’m not so sure if sexism or discrimination carries as much of the blame as it does with other areas of the film industry. A good story is a good story, and I highly doubt that readers are paying a whole lot of attention to the gender specificity of the name under the title. (Please tell me if I’m wrong.) There’s not a whole lot left to prove once you have a finished product, anyway.
My screenwriting professor told my class at the end of Spring Term that a studio will rarely turn away from a great story if at all. It doesn’t matter the content, the genre, or how “girly” and Steal Magnolias-esque it is — if it’s good, someone will pay it some attention. Maybe that’s just me being naive, but if that’s what it takes to keep me writing, instead of being bogged down by the cold hard facts, then I’m totally fine standing at the base of an uphill battle — thinking it’s an escalator.
What do you think? What do you think the information in the infographic says about the future of women in screenwriting? Do you have any experiences that could shed light on the subject?
- Gender as represented in spec script sales — Go Into The Story
- The Definitive Spec Script Sales List — Go Into The Story