...but I have to.
In 2016 producer Ross Putnam had the sharp idea of noting sexist character introductions in scripts he read and then posted them on Twitter (under @femscriptintros).
By sexist I don't mean an intro reads like "JANE stands in the kitchen like the good house wife all women should aspire to be".
I mean they mention the physical beauty of any female character as a primary feature. Sometimes the only feature, as if beauty counts as personality somehow.
There's a great (Blog-distracting) Variety article about this here ---> VARIETY ARTICLE
Well, we all do it. Or have done it. Or could do it. I know I'm much more careful about character descriptions than I used to be, but it's a deliberate thing I actively do.
It's a thing that scriptwriters need to be conscious of otherwise it'll just be splurged out lazily with "JANE is a gorgeous blonde in fuck-me shoes" or "LARRY is a super-toned hunk with a smile that melts knickers".
I use character description to give the 'essence' of a character (to get all new-age on you) in order to give a flavour what they look like or seem.
Yeah, like "JANE looks like a punk-rock art teacher" or "JAMES is a clown in a dinner suit; uncomfortable and rare".
Okay, so those are fucking terrible examples, but you get the idea!
There are times when describing beauty is completely necessary in a character introduction, if their looks affect the scene or characters within in...
...but if you need your protagonist to have a "love at first sight" moment with someone (for example) you don't actually need to mention she's “as beautiful as a sunset orgasm”.
I think the reader can work that out themselves (and beauty is subjective).
I mean, the casting director isn't going to hire an "ugly person" (subjective!!!) because you didn't write the word "beautiful" in the script! You may've noticed that a couple of Hollywood films feature a somewhat heightened version of beauty in their lead characters…
Ross Putnam highlighting these careless and / or sexist introductions is not the first time horrible sexism has been pointed towards women in scripts / film.
Others have also been doing a fine job of shining a light on the truly repugnant casting calls / descriptions of females in this insane industry - but in relation to casting and not scriptwriting itself (I mean, if I went into how sexist the film / TV industry is in general I'd be writing forever...).
There's a number out there, but the ones I knew of (and Variety also mentioned) are:
Casting Call Woe - http://castingcallwoe.tumblr.com/
Terrible Casting - http://terriblecasting.tumblr.com/
Worth checking out.
Honestly, some of these would be hilarious if it wasn't so fucking tragic.
The other thing that infuriates me about character introductions are "unfilmables".
Take this intro from a Blacklist 2014 script:
JANE is a beautiful 17 year old ballet instructor and fights to get extra money. Super smart but super naive, she plans on going to the American Ballet Company and wants to marry Andy and have two and a half children.
How the hell can we know this from literally just seeing her?!
Does she have an "I'm a ballet instructor" badge on her chest and a baseball cap with her entire plan written on it in convenient bullet points?
Even the super smart and super naive statement is unfilmable at this stage. How can an actress act that? How can a viewer gain that from her literally walking into the scene?*
* Incidentally, we had previously seen Jane in the script… when she was beating the living shit out of another woman in a dirt field. Because that definitely suggests "intelligent and naive".
This kind of description is literally cheating and infuriating to some readers, me included.
I want to experience a script like you'd experience the final film if you watched it in the cinema; same pace, same emotional impact and same reveals.
This kind of character intro cheats us. The final audience will not know this information until later - or not at all! - so it's confusing as to why the reader should learn this at such an early stage.
It either shows a lack of confidence in providing this information within the action and dialogue or - worse - it's just plain lazy.
Okay, so I imagine you're now thinking "But this dude got on the fucking BLACKLIST with this script! That means I SHOULD write unfilmables and introduce all women as beautiful!".
No no no no no.
Your script is a calling card. His card has been called. He is being championed by producers or agents or managers. This may be his sixth professional script. This may be a rough draft smacked out early to attract a star.
Your script - more than likely - is wanting an audience. It wants to be read. It wants respect. It wants to be passed around. It wants someone to champion it.
Thing is, this unfilmable nonsense might turn off only one reader... but that reader might've been the gateway to production. It might be a producer who loathes that kind of thing. It might even be a director who finds that sort of detail patronizing and unprofessional. It might be a barrier to a career in screenwriting.
It also might not matter.
But I think it does.
Much like the atrocious and lazy descriptions of female characters in some screenplays ("JANE is in her 30's but surprisingly pretty"), the unfilmable character intro is equally repugnant.
Okay, so some intros can afford to have a smattering of unfilmability about them. For example:
"JANE is a thirty-something whirlwind of fun. Chaos unleashed and loving life"
This is fine unless she acts contrary to this, meandering solemnly into the room like a moribund sloth. She needs to live up to the description immediately otherwise it's cheating again. Or lying. Or just plain stupid.
TERMS AND CONDITIONS APPLY
I'm sure of it. I'm sure someone can pull out an example of a phenomenal script with a sexist and unfilmable introduction.
Probably a few. Probably award-winning ones by phenomenal writers I adore. Probably some of my favourite films ever. Probably some scripts written by me.
There will be exceptions. There always is.
But I'm still trying to bang down the door of an increasingly-tougher fortress. The portcullis is open, but I'm still battering the gate, hoping to be let in.
I want my scripts to have nothing that could stop an investor or a producer or a reader or a PERSON from reading it. I also don’t want to be sexist because… duh.
Sexism is bad, remember?
I think lessons can be learned from what Ross Putnam and co. have discovered and it's up to writers to address it. Because if we don’t, who will?
I'm off to meet my friend Jane (45), who is a beautiful mother-of-two who used to be a judo instructor and is now a firefighter in Thurrock. She is proper sexy, despite her age. And loves meerkats.