Works on Wattpad
There’s a long and short version of this blog post, I hope you’ll read them both, but a warning that the long version contains feminist references!
My screenplay, The Shadowkeeper, is now up on Wattpad. I’d love for you to read it and let me know if you think it would make a good film as it is, or if you think it the main character should be changed to a boy. (To find out why I’m asking that particular question, see the Long Version!) To help you decide whether you’d like to read it, here are some basics: The Shadowkeeper: Feature Screenplay Genre: Adventure Fantasy (Animated or Live action/CG)
Logline: A young girl arouses the wrath of an ancient Scottish water spirit and must beg help and prove herself to each of the totem animal spirits of Britain if she is to rescue her brother’s soul from The Shadowkeeper’s lair.
Pages: 97 Budget: 10M+ Competition progress (under my married name: D. B. Ruschena): Quarterfinalist Academy Nicholl Fellowship 2005 Quarterfinalist Page International 2005 Finalist ScriptP.I.M.P. Competition 2005
LONG STORY: “Wasted on a Girl”
Friends and family will remember that, back in 2005, my dear friend Jenny Seedsman and I went to Hollywood to attend an awards night for a screenplay competition, in which my feature screenplay “The Shadowkeeper” was a finalist. It was a thrilling trip, while we were there I received word that The Shadowkeeper had reached the quarterfinals of the two other competitions I had entered it in, and, the night before the awards, we wandered up to the Hollywood Bowl to find Etta James and Buddy Guy playing! Always a favourite song, “At Last” took on a whole new, heart-bursting depth, as I sat in the Bowl, the Hollywood sign on the Hill, the search lights crossed overhead, on the edge of my writing dreams coming true.
I didn’t win the top prizes at the awards, but they were just money, the event was the prize – a chance to meet and network with judges, agents, and managers who had already read the top ten scripts and wanted to talk to all of us. Over the evening, I spoke with two agents, and two managers, who said they were interested in me and gave me some feedback on The Shadowkeeper – and it was all basically the same: Love the story! Love your writing! We can’t consider it unless you make the protagonist a boy.
One manager put it in a way which burned into my mind:
“It’s such a great kid’s action character, it’s wasted on a girl.”
Apparently, there is a widely held belief in film industry that girls are happy to watch movies about boys, but boys won’t go to see movies about girls, so casting a girl in the lead of anything other than a romance immediately halves the potential audience. It was also suggested, by one of the managers, that if I adapt it to a novel and get it published, and it did well enough, then he’d be able to sell it – but that extra test of viability was only required if I “insisted” on keeping the protagonist as a girl.
Those of you who know me, will know that wasn’t going to sit well, but I took the advice politely and told myself that these were the first connections I’d made, and the other two competitions were still to be decided, and surely, if I took my time, I’d find some agent, or producer who didn’t think that way.
I was wrong. The script didn’t get any further in the other competitions, but they were high profile enough that, over the following six months, I received 164 requests from studios and agencies to read the script – some of them studios I had literally dreamed of showing interest in the script. Every one of the studios which sent me any feedback at all (which was less than 40, but included my “dream” studios) said the same thing. Contact us when you’ve changed Brigid to a boy.
I asked the advice of the agents and managers who had given me their details and said to keep in contact, and each was at pains to make sure I understood that it was a compliment, that it wasn’t my writing, or the story, but just “the way the real world works” and that I should change my protagonist to a male “to show that you can take notes”. The thing was, The Shadowkeeper had been professionally edited – thanks to a script scout who had seen the potential and paid a script editor to work with me on it, before the competitions – and I didn’t see “she’s not a boy” as “a note”, I saw it as institutionalized, self-sustaining sexism; after all, how can they know whether boys would come to see stories about girls if production companies refuse to make “great kids action characters” who were girls?
Almost ten years later, things are starting to change in the movie world. With “Brave” and “Frozen”, makers of family animated movies are now considering female protagonists as valid (still mostly princesses, but it’s getting better) and so I’m thinking about trying to shop the screenplay out again. However, resurrecting an already-rejected screenplay – even one which has had some critical approval – isn’t an easy task – virtually no-one will touch them and so I thought that before I start doing that, and while I am hard a work with my editor on As Long As She Lives, I would share The Shadowkeeper via the Wattpad community, and see what you, as a potential audience think of it.
Would you go to see it and/or take your kids to see it, whatever gender you, or your kids are?
Do you think that, at the very least that screenplays about girls and women should be given equal consideration for their content, rather than the gender of its protagonist?
I realize I’m taking a risk – it could utterly bomb, on Wattpad, not least because reading screenplays is a very different thing to novels, which is mostly what Wattpad is for, but if, over some months, Shadowkeeper slowly builds a decent number of reads, votes and comments then it might help when I go back to the agents, and managers who originally showed interest. Maybe – just maybe – that kind of support for a kids movie like this, with a female lead, could encourage them to consider other scripts in their piles with female protagonists more fairly, too and that would be a happy outcome to me, whether Shadowkeeper gets a new look, or not – after all, we are all in this together
I’m posting the same draft I entered into the competitions, back in ’05, so that you can read exactly what those who gave the “she’s not a boy” feedback read. Obviously, the limited formatting which Wattpad allows has meant that I’ve had to do some reformatting to make dialogue clearly defined from action, so I’ve made it rather like a play (dialogue is marked by a name on a new line, in capital letters etc,) but the words are the same.
Thank you for reading this rather long post, and if you do go on to read the screenplay and enjoy it, if you take the time to register to have your “reads” count, to vote or to comment on Wattpad – even if you just want to say that you didn’t particularly think The Shadowkeeper is up to par but you’d like to see movies similar to it, with girls in the lead – I will be most grateful.