Interview with a Production Company Intern

I’ve been working on this theory about why women are so underrepresented on screen and behind the camera–there are too many dicks in the room. People prefer stories that are about them. Do we see so many movies about pathetic, loser artists saved by adorably quirky girls because these stories have artistic merit or because the writers, producers, agents, actors, etc. in the film industry identify with the pathetic, loser artist?

I met Jerome via one of the screenwriting sites I frequent. He was kind enough to help me with a few loglines–one of my most terrible weaknesses–so I don’t want to pick on him! But he made an offhand comment about how, as a man, he wasn’t particularly drawn to romantic comedies. And that idea interested me.

Is it possible we see so few romantic stories (other than the pathetic, loser artist dude stories (Her, Garden State, 500 Days of Summer, etc) ) because romantic movies don’t appeal to men? I know, personally, I have faced strong resistance at the drop of the term “romantic comedy.” People, especially in the male-heavy sites I frequent, are much more likely to use “derivative” or “formulaic” to explain a romantic comedy script THEY HAVEN’T EVEN READ than a by the numbers action or thriller script.

So I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to talk to a few people starting out in the film industry? These people–interns, assistants, readers–have the ability to pass or consider a script, and they are likely to be tomorrow’s future writers, directors, and executives (if they don’t run to law school first).

Without further editorializing, my interview with Jerome:

Why do you want to be a writer?

If I wanted to go back to my first real memory of me writing for fun, it was when I was 12. I wrote Fan Fiction in a little journal I had. It was mostly Star Wars and Lord of the Rings based. I still get excited thinking about the Star Wars Fan Fic. It was really dumb stuff about how Boba Fett was secretly a jedi undercover, working for Darth Vader so he could take him down from the inside. He had every sort of weapon in light saber form you could imagine. I wrote what I thought to be a super awesome fight scene between him and Luke, one that Return of the Jedi didn’t show, and since the notebook I wrote it in was lost to time let’s all assume for my sake that it was actually super awesome. Once that stopped, around 13 or 14, I didn’t write for fun until I took a creative writing class in high school for the assumed easy A. It actually turned out be an easy A, but more due to my enjoying all the assignments than the class being a gimme. From then on I started casually writing short stories for fun, then eventually I tried novels and screenplays.
 
I suppose I want to be a writer mostly because I don’t see myself doing anything else, at least happily. I’ll have random fantasies of being a hermit who lumberjacks during the day and writes at night while drinking whiskey, but I’ve decided that will be my reward if I ever get any success. I’m bit all over the place as far as what I want to write. I consider myself a dark comedy guy first and foremost but everything I’ve been doing lately has been kinda gritty and crime related. I want to eventually write something like Fargo which combines both of those things. God that’s such a good movie.

Can you tell me a little about your internship?

The company is MJZ, they’re best known for being a commercial production company. They’ve done a lot of cool commercials, like the Old Spice campaign that everyone loves, and they have a roster consisting of bunch great directors (Spike Jonze among them). The film portion of the company is relatively new and that’s the section I intern for. All I really do is script coverage, but lately I’ve been trying to be proactive and find material to read and review for my boss so she has more time for other stuff. 

How much does genre affect your decision to read a script?

It didn’t really affect anything at all until I started seeking out scripts to read. Everything before I became proactive was chosen by my boss. Now that I’m actively trying to find stuff, it definitely colors my choices as I know what genres we’re looking to produce. If my boss really wanted to produce a romantic comedy or a period drama I’d be reading as many as possible.

You told me you are not generally interested in romantic comedies. Can you expand on this? Are there any romantic comedies you like? Any you hate? Is there something about the genre that does not appeal to you?

That’s more or less true. I don’t really dislike them, it’s just that I find that particular genre restrictive when it comes to story possibilities. Everyone knows what’s going to happen in the majority of romcoms that come out. I find it frustrating to watch movies where the character development, humor and emotional outcome are apparent from the beginning. I don’t really learn anything. But they can be a lot of fun to watch, so they definitely have worth. How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days is a pretty great movie. So is Clueless (does that count? Or is it just a teen comedy?). Legally Blonde and The Proposal as well. Those are all predictable plotwise, but they shine in that they do a better job creating interesting characters. And really, if you’re not going to try and write romcoms with great plots then you HAVE to really make the characters sparkle and it seems like so many [romantic comedies] don’t. I guess the best way to sum up the way I feel is: when it comes to romantic comedies, there are a lot more opportunities to fail than to succeed in great storytelling. I am not saying they don’t have their place, or that it’s a bad genre. I’m saying it’s a TOUGH genre.

Fiona Fire’s note: I find this response funny, because I thought How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days was one of the worst movies I ever saw! This is not to pick on Jerome–almost every time someone tells me they dislike romantic comedies, they end up liking a bunch of romantic comedies I found awful/mediocre. Crazy, Stupid Love and Love, Actually are the biggest offenders.

Would you be more interested in a romantic comedy from a male point of view?

Actually. Maybe. Yeah. If it was done well. I think that could be a pretty interesting subversion of the typical tropes if it was approached in the right way. If you simply just swapped the genders and kept all the same typical plot points then no. I didn’t see it, but I could be wrong, but was that what “That Awkward Moment” was about? That seemed like a romcom for dudes. Speaking of Zac Efron, 17 Again was a damn fun movie and seemed like it was kind of a romantic comedy from a guy’s perspective.

Fiona Fire’s note: Once again, I don’t want to pick on Jerome, because I’ve seen this suggestion before, but this disturbs me. While I enjoy romantic comedies from the male perspective (assuming the men are interesting, active characters and not pathetic, loser artists), I don’t want men taking over romantic comedies. It’s one of the only genres women are “allowed to lead.” And, I will admit, this attitude annoys me personally, since I write romantic comedies from a female perspective.

Many people think romantic movies are movies for women. Do you agree? Do you think any genres are movies for men?

Depends on how you look at it. They’re certainly for women, but that doesn’t mean they’re not also for men. I’ve read enough confessional threads on reddit to know that tons of men secretly and not so secretly love “chick flicks.” I just think it’s a numbers game. At this point there are probably plenty of dudes that enjoy romance films, but there are most likely still more women that enjoy them. So it makes financial sense to continue marketing them toward women. I don’t see a change coming in that respect unless men started going to Nick Sparks  movies in droves. I think the same situation applies with low brow sex humor films. The stuff national lampoon makes and etc. Those are probably “for” men in the same sense that romance flicks are “for” women.

(Fiona Fire’s note: Nicholas Sparks movies are generally considered romantic dramas, not romantic comedies)

How do you feel about the representation of women in film and TV?

Well, as a guy who grew up watching a lot of Disney Channel, I feel like they’re not doing too poorly. I remember being a kid and getting absolutely frustrated whenever I would see a boy vs. girl competition during a sitcom because I knew the trend was 90% of the time the girl would win (note: that’s how it felt. I was a 9 year old with a strong boys against girls mentality at the time due to having sisters and it’s quite possible it could have been a 50/50 split). I think they’re doing even better today. There are a lot of shows that do a great job portraying women as multifaceted people (Parks and Rec, House of Cards, Veep, Orange is the New Black) and there are those that don’t (Two Broke Girls?) and the same goes for men and their characters. There’s probably still plenty of room for improvement, but I do think that we’re in a pretty good place these days as far as rich characters for both genders go.

What do you think about the relationship between media creation and social responsibility? For example, do you think screenwriters have an obligation to include under-represented people (women, people of color, LGBTQ, disabilities) in their work?
 
Obviously media has a lot of power when it comes to social perception of a group. I’m originally from the midwest and I actually was able to witness a few people I knew change their opinions on homosexuality because of Modern Family. It took a few seasons, but still. As far as obligations go, it’s tough to say. I would argue, as a writer, your obligation is to creating the best content you can. And the best content isn’t homogeneous. It’s varied with different stories of different people in different stages of life. If we’re all writing the same things then we’re doing everyone a disservice.
 
Have you ever felt uncomfortable watching a film or TV show (or reading a script) because it struck you as sexist/racist/homophobic/etc? What was the film or TV show (or script if you don’t mind saying)?
 
I’d say tired or bored is more what I feel when watching or reading anything sexist/racist. It’s hard not to roll your eyes at it now, cause when you see or read it you think “Jesus, how does this still exist?” As far as racist programming goes I mentioned Two Broke Girls earlier and I feel like it’s worth mentioning again. It’s pretty much nothing but stereotypes. At least it was in the five or six episodes of the first season that I watched. It didn’t make uncomfortable, just, I disappointed that people we’re watching and supporting these one dimensional characters.
 
Do you believe movies shape the way people think? Has a movie ever changed the way you thought or felt about something?
 
I definitely think they have the potential to sway people. I mean when I saw Brink as a kid I fell in love with inline skating, when I’d hated it before. I never got good at it, but I loved it for a few years. Not the most profound example, but yeah.

*I think, particularly, of Scriptshadow, where Carson reviews tons of romantic comedies about dumped loser guys and almost none staring ladies).

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