Be Your Main Character
by Alexa Fitzpatrick, executive director
As the executive director of the Bechdel Group, you’d think that everything I write would be female driven, test passing, lady power, right? Not the case.
Last month three of us took over the show. We made a pact that we were going to have Bechdel approved scripts ready to go for the August reading. (August being a month that’s harder to get a crowd as people slowly get their heads back into go mode.)
I had an idea and I knew it was going to be great. All about this guy who has this kid who follows him around. Oh, the kid is a guy, too, but only fifteen. A boy. And then it’s also about the main guy’s interaction with his father, a guy, whose medical practice he’s taking over. And his brother is a super hot, world-class athlete. And then there’s his best friend, also a guy.
Are you noticing the Bechdelian problem?
It started innocently enough. I have this friend on whom I have always had a monster crush and I wanted to write something for him. But the sausage fest spun out of control and eventually my five primary characters were all male.
Yeah, even my blog about the script is about men and my crushing on one of them. Romance is a big part of our lives, but it’s not the only part and it shouldn’t be the only part in our scripts… even when that’s what our scripts are about… still, every time I sat down to write, for some reason my brain went blank on everything else.
I couldn’t see how to pull myself out of it, so I tried to write myself in. I threw in a couple of quirky and cool female side characters and awkwardly wedged in a scene about yoga. The women started talking about Ashtangas, but then those crafty lady characters started to go off about the hot yoga instructor, (still attractive, even with a man bun – no offense to my follicly gifted brothers). I cut them off.
“Stop betraying me,” I yelled at my computer screen. “I created you!”
I know that, as a woman, I talk about lots of other stuff. Why can’t I think of any of those other topics?!?
I struggled and tossed and turned and cast the play and printed the pages and showed up at the reading and hoped someone in the group could help me make sense of what I was going through.
The reading happened and all of the actors were great (especially the one who got handed the script at the last moment without even the warning that they were coming to act – Gib, I’m looking at you) and I got some great suggestions and some fun feedback, but nothing that jumped out at me in the moment.
Someone said it would be more interesting if the kid were a girl. Interesting, but then does that get creepy with a forty year old man being followed around by a fifteen year-old girl? I’m not trying to channel Nabokov.
Inside I was panicking. I’m a fake. I run a group that’s all about strong roles for women and I’m struggling to write them. Why is this so much harder than I thought.
Back to the feedback: what if the kid is female? Well, okay, then what if the main character is also female? That’s a start.
The ideas marinated and the characters got dressed and I sat down at the computer again. The only two things I kept from the original script were the idea of a kid following around and sabotaging the main character and a surprise 40th birthday party gone wrong. I started writing and it started to fall into place. Suddenly my script went from five strong male leads and five female support characters to four female leads and one male lead with potential for lots of other rotating male and female supporting roles.
Suddenly I was the main character in my story instead of a supporting character dancing around on the sidelines.
I went back through my past scripts and realized that, of the six screenplays I’ve completed, everyone single one has a male protagonist. I also noticed that every single one has a spunky female sidekick whom I would love to play because on some level or another she’s based on me (even my kung fu for hire script set in 16th century China, which is most likely the reason I got rewritten out of it). I’m also pretty sure that every one of those scripts would be more interesting if they were rewritten from that woman’s perspective.
Two other fun stats of the old versus the new:
37% of the lines were spoken by female characters in the first script; in the second script it was 87%. Which is especially interesting to me as it relates to the second fact.
Both complete scripts had casts (main to under-fives) that were split equally down the middle with five men and five women in the first and eight men and eight women in the second. I had an equal number of women there, I just wasn’t giving them anything to do.
Is it possible that all this time I was just waiting for permission to write about me and, when I finally got that permission through this group, I turned into the deer in headlights with no idea where to go? And what does it says about me psychologically that I am always writing myself as a supporting character instead of a lead?
These are the questions that we are trying to address with this group. Being women shouldn’t mean that we have to sit on the sidelines of our own stories and I, for one, am about to do some major POV rewrites. #beyourmaincharacter
The Bechdel Group
Working to challenge the portrayal of women in film and on stage.