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Posts tagged as “News”

The demographics of dialogue

Last week, an interesting study got posted on Polygraph from Hanah Anderson & Matt Daniels.

The pair scoured over 2,000 feature screenplays, using the written dialogue to break down the character demographics of these mainstream movies. Specifically, disparities in gender and age.

The study wasn’t completely scientific however, as they themselves pointed out:

We don’t need to follow a perfectly structured academic study because…
1) This is the Internet. Not academia.
2) We’re publishing on a .cool domain, not an MIT Journal

Their methodology basically centered around extracting dialogue from particular script drafts, and extrapolating that data into gender and age categories.

It quickly becomes obvious that this selective dataset may lead to multiple limitations:

For each screenplay, we mapped characters with at least 100 words of dialogue to a person’s IMDB page (which identifies people as an actor or actress). We did this because minor characters are poorly labeled on IMDB pages.

One of the most interesting aspect in looking at “how” they came to their outcome is to discover which scripts (and versions) the study worked on.

Take a look at their Google doc spreadsheet to find the 2,000 scripts and their relevant source.
You’ll notice a hefty amount of Academy Award drafts, and multiple older versions of scripts; undoubtedly linked to the (lack of) “public availability” of shooting drafts.

The draft for Pixels turns out to be the 2013 version leaked during the Sony Hacks.
The script version used for The Big Short does not include, among other things, the Margot Robbie bathtub scene. (Admittedly not the best representation of a woman character in a feature.)

This isn’t to undermine the study. Their FAQ already tackles a lot of similar objections to their findings.

Given the sheer volume of data extracted, and regardless of how updated those drafts were, I would still consider this a fair bird’s-eye view–and indictment–of representation in mainstream film dialogue.

Just look at this gradient breakdown of words given to men and women from the 2,000 screenplays:
male female dialogue words

You can search for individual films in the website’s dataset.
It’s quite interesting (read: damning) to see where some cinematic classics fall on.

One is pleased to learn that Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back is at a 54/46 split, thanks to Ash Ketchum and Meowth being voiced by ladies.

Frozen however, with its two woman leads, still ends up with a 57/43 breakdown for men. Place your bets on the non-stop talking sidekick character voiced by Josh Gad.
The same goes for Mulan, which gets a 75/25 split. (Damn it, Mushu!)

No word on any of the Mad Max movies.

The stats are equally as sobering when it comes to age:
39% of male dialogue written for men 42 to 65-year old.
38% of female dialogue written for women 22 to 31-year old.
The male/female curve-bells are actually the exact opposite. There are more male roles available the older actors get, while roles for women over 40 decrease dramatically.

So, where does this leave us?

Well, there is a critical limitation to this study that we need to address–
What we are talking about here is dialogue relating to specific drafts of specific screenplays.
And given the topic at hand, the natural follow-up question to that statement could be:
Is it a fair assessment of representation to reduce the entire issue only through the amount of words said by a character?

I would argue this approach limits the discourse (no pun intended).
Which is why we should be asking a different question to begin with–

What is an accurate gauge of representation?

Screen time? Number of characters? Nuanced portrayals?
Probably no unique correct answer among those. Nor should there be.

Fair representation is an ongoing dialogue with which our industry is still struggling.
As long as this discussion continues–with more findings, more light being shed on specific issues–the closer we will be to addressing the problems at hand.

Incidentally, there is another conversation going on currently about television representation and the writers’ relationship with their fandom. (The 100, Sleepy Hollow, casting/staffing diversity…)
I won’t address much (or any) of it here since this is a post (or many) on to their own.
For now, I’ll just direct you to read some of the tweets from the past two days by Terminator: The Sarah Connor ChroniclesJosh Friedman and Agent Carter‘s Jose Molina.

In fact, I don’t have a groundbreaking revelation to add right now, if only to remind people that “representation” is an amalgam of factors.
It isn’t just how much you say. It’s also what you say, how you say it, and why you say it.
Quantifying any of these values is pretty much impossible since they are mostly a matter of perspective, not objective data.
The one thing we can all do is be mindful of the current landscape, and continue to improve on it.

Write on.

Cord-cutting is not a myth

I’ve been watching television shows on my computer for most of my life.

No, I’m not 10 years old.

I started in 2001. Before 1080p MKVs and crappy AVIs.
Buffy Season Six was my first.

When I moved to the US, I continued watching TV on my laptop, and then my desktop. And in 2012, I finally bought an actual TV. Not because it was a TV, but because it was a screen. And an awesome one at that.

Earlier this week, a room full of executives gave a conference about the TV industry. Forbes published an article on the subject, entitling “Why cord-cutting is a myth“.

A myth? Isn’t that going a bit too far?

Hearst Ventures’ George Kliavkoff didn’t think so:

Cord-cutting is a great “story”, but I think it’s over-reported.

Amy Banse, managing director of Comcast Ventures concurred:

The volume of press around cord cutting doesn’t quite match reality.

The thing is, numbers don’t lie.

For the first time ever, Comcast now has more high-speed Internet customers than cable TV (22.55 million vs. 22.3 million).
The number of US households has been growing around 1 million a year, yet TV cable has been stagnating for a long time while Internet has skyrocketed (in addition to being a utility).


So where is all this denial coming from?

Let’s go back to that Forbes article–

Joe Marchese, president of advanced advertising products for Fox Networks Group, pointed out that Internet access still requires cord—in the form of a cable or a phone line.

Okay. Literally requiring a cord to use the Internet means you can’t be a cord-cutter.
That is, literally, the most literal argument I’ve ever read. Also, completely nonsensical.
People aren’t “cord-cutting” a physical apparatus, they are cutting ties with a specific content delivery method. Simple as that.

Which brings us to the main eyebrow-raising maneuver to reassure shareholders that, don’t worry guys, cord-cutting is totally not a thing.

As Kliavkoff explained:

What’s more likely to gain sizable traction is cord “shaving”. […] A la carte purchasing of channels—and not taking most of them—is a far more interesting area.

With HBO’s a-la-carte inevitable success, such a statement is undoubtedly true–except for the fact that subscribing to HBO Now or Showtime Anytime and cancelling Time Warner have substantially the same outcome.
In other words, the difference between customers changing behaviors and customers never having that behavior to begin with is irrelevant.

Playing word games to argue literal cord-cutting is “over-estimated” is a waste of everyone’s time. Cord-cutting isn’t a “myth” simply because it doesn’t fit a company’s very narrow definition. Worse, you are being disingenuous towards all your current, past, and potential customers by ignoring the motivation behind their actions.

I’ve never had to “cut the cord” because I’ve never wanted to pay $100/month for a cable TV package.
I guess I’m not a cord-cutter. I’m a “cord never(er)” (or “never-cord”).

People are finding newer, better alternatives than the old cord-a-roo.
Whether that means they’re doing it from the get-go or are realizing it years later leads to the same result…

Candle-making can’t stay profitable for long now that people are getting light from a series of tubes.

The deadlines are here!

May is here. Can you dig it?
I sure can’t. I’m too busy procrastinating by writing what I’m writing right now.
I need to be working on this draft of my pilot.
Oh oh.

This post is also a quick reminder for y’all of all the deadlines from the TV writing fellowships and other major teleplay contests. In case you forgot to put ’em in your calendar or something.
We have:

Tonight/tomorrow: CBS, Early Final Draft, Last Script Pipeline, Standard Launchpad
May 20th: Last AFF
May 31th: ABC, NBC, WB, Last Launchpad
June 16: Standard Final Draft
Already passed: Nickelodeon, TrackingB

Better start writing that Empire spec.