Saturday, 19 March 2011

Stereotypes & Scripts

I awoke today, did my regular ‘check my twitter feed in bed’, I know you do it too. Don’t even try arguing.

Turns out, an article by the Guardian was doing the rounds and it went something like this:
‘Women, gay and black people still shown as stereotypes in film, says study’ (

Bothersome but not surprised, right?

Very quickly the issue become ‘How are writers supposed to write non-stereotypical/original characters?’ 

Scripts seem to either bank on original characters in a done-to-death concept or original concepts with done-to-death characters. 
Very few film scripts I’ve read provide ‘original’ characters. I mean, what the heck do they mean by ‘original’? When did ‘original’ become a euphemism for ‘largely run-of-the-mill but with one or two quirks’?

Suffice to say, this is a circular topic (unfortunately). To break into the industry, a writer must construct a script that combines:
a) Giving the industry what it wants
b) Being original

Doesn’t that sound so familiar? Isn’t the ‘be unique yet universal’ rule one writers have heard constantly without fail for years now?
The reason I’m leading you down this path is, if writers need to be original to be noticed whilst being universal/run-of-the-mill, where are all the original characters? Can audiences even relate to original characters?
What I find alarming about the guardian study is the notion that, years later we’re still dealing with stereotype-orientated media (sadly). How do we change it? Surely, years ago a bunch of writers realised this too and set out to change it (by donning capes, wearing tights etc and writing brilliantly original scripts), what happened to them?

Perhaps the big guns in the industry are so rigid in their opinions of a ‘sellable script’ that we’ll always be stuck in these revolving doors. Anyone who has had the experience of being stuck in revolving doors will know, it is awful and on occasion, impossible to escape unscathed (a story for another time).

You see, ultimately, film is that awkward zeitgeist which is both a business and an art. The creative side becomes flooded with so many compromises to keep the script ‘sellable’, that ultimately, writers will need at least one derivative aspect in their projects to be able to sell/air it through the film/tv medium.

Teachers say one of two things: An original idea need be taught via derivative manners to make it understandable.
A boring/tired topic should be taught in an original manner.

This leads me to the conclusion that perhaps...just perhaps... It really is about compromise. It’s better to break the cycle from the inside than the outside, especially with film.
Having ranted about the dark side, allow me to give the optimists a chance and point out there will always be that film channel or that individual who wants to make a change/commission something controversial, so hey, we can count on those guys... Right?  
However, this reeks of ‘New writers are screwed, but writers who have made it can bring about the required change’.

My answer?

Um, no.

Why not? Very few of the ones who have ‘made it’ have done so by creating non-stereotypical characters/concepts. I think its up to the newbies to craft work that utilises compromise between commercial and original well enough to allow an agent or producer to then in turn, also compromise and say ‘The characters are so kooky, but the story is SO good!’ And then we can all live happily ever after...atleast until we realise selling one project doesn't mean we’ve made it, but baby steps.

Another interesting idea is the purpose of genres, do they act to reinforce a certain type of writing-isn't the 'certain type' in that phrase the very thing that leads to said stereotypes? 

Okay, ramble over. What do you guys think?