John William Tuohy lives in Washington DC

Because being a writer isn't difficult enough already................


Is Your Script Gender-Balanced? Try This Test
By Melena Ryzik
May 11, 2018

The stats are familiar to anyone who cares about the place of women on screen: year after year, they appear less often, say fewer words and generally don’t do as much in front of the camera. Numerous studies have corroborated the disparity between male and female characters in films, TV shows and ads.
But what if there was a way to analyze the gap before a movie hits the multiplex, when there is still time to address that persistent imbalance?
Now, a few Hollywood players have developed technology that aims to do that: new screenplay software that can automatically tell whether a script is equitable for men and women.
The idea came from Christina Hodson, a screenwriter who is involved with Time’s Up, the activist Hollywood organization addressing inequities in the industry. said Ms. Hodson, who specializes in female-driven action movies like the coming “Bumblebee” and a spinoff of Harley Quinn, starring Margot Robbie, “it made sense to me that we can do a lot ourselves, before they even leave our desk.”
She wondered if screenwriting software — which writers almost universally use to format scripts — could easily tabulate the number of male and female roles, for example, and how much each spoke. That way, writers could see and tackle the problem even before casting directors or producers had their say.
Ms. Hodson approached John August, a creator of the script software Highland, to see if he could make something of her brainstorm. In a word, yes. It was a snap: On Thursday, just weeks after that initial conversation, Highland 2, with the gender analysis tool that Ms. Hodson dreamed up, became available in the Apple app store as a free download.
 “I was immediately on board,” said Mr. August, a screenwriter himself whose credits include Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and the forthcoming live-action “Aladdin.”
“During the writing process, you’re not always aware of how little your female characters are interacting or speaking,” he said, “because you’re only looking at a scene at a time, a page at a time. It’s not a good overview.”
Highland 2 provides a real-time snapshot of the overall gender balance. The results are sometimes surprising. With her heroine-centered movies, “I expected all of my scripts would be over 50 percent” female, Ms. Hodson said, “and they weren’t.”
That knowledge provides an opportunity to rethink some of the storytelling. “It’s a tool for people to self-police and look at unconscious bias in their own work,” she said.
In conceiving the interface, Mr. August was careful about how the data was presented. “In no way did I want this to feel like scolding,” he said. “I wanted this to feel approachable, and invite you to make changes.”
Madeline Di Nonno, chief executive officer of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary’s University, which has done extensive research into representation on screen, welcomed any innovation to push Hollywood into a more balanced direction.
“It’s about systemic change,” she said, “and it’s about what are the touchpoints along the way where critical decisions are being made, and how can we provide an intervention at the very beginning.”
In 2016, the institute, along with its partners at the University of Southern California and Google, announced a software tool that used video and audio recognition and algorithms to decode gender and other details of characters on screen. Late last year, the group also developed a script-level gender assessment — what Ms. Di Nonno called “a spell-check for gender bias” — which has been quietly used by some studios and ad agencies in the last few months, she said. (It’s not available commercially.)
The big hurdle in the industry will be buy-in. In response to questions from The New York Times about its products, Final Draft, maker of a leading screenplay software, said in a statement on Thursday that its next iteration, Final Draft 11, due out within the year, will offer “enhancements” that allow writers “to analyze many different aspects of the script, including gender representation.” (The company has long offered a free add-on called Tagger that lets writers tag attributes, including gender and race, for characters. The new version will make this a bigger standard feature.)
Even before Highland 2 hit the marketplace, it was making waves. In April, Ms. Hodson and Mr. August released a podcast about their collaboration and their hopes for it. Guy Goldstein, the founder of WriterDuet Inc., another screenplay software product, was listening, and inspired. His team immediately got to work.
The podcast “made us know that it was something that we really needed to do,” Mr. Goldstein said. “We didn’t realize the impact we could have until then. I think it’s our responsibility as software developers to offer tools that help build awareness.”
The WriterDuet tool, available online now, also includes an automated Bechdel test — which measures how many female characters there are and whether they discuss something other than a man — and even a reverse Bechdel test, which looks at men the same way. The tool also noted how many times the test was passed, using a minimum of seven lines of dialogue to qualify.
An examination of the last 10 Oscar winners for original screenplay offered dismal, if not surprising, results: Only one screenplay, Spike Jonze’s “Her,” passed WriterDuet’s Bechdel test, Mr. Goldstein said in an email, when the unseen digital assistant, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, has one conversation with a little girl. “In contrast, every single script passes our reverse Bechdel test multiple times (as many as 40 times, in ‘Spotlight’),” he said.
Ms. Hodson and the software makers say they expect their tools will be expanded to address other issues of representation, like race and ethnicity, although that is more complicated, because those details are not always mentioned in scripts.
But in general, “This is all pretty easy,” Mr. Goldstein said. “Technology can do this, and technology should be doing this.”
Ms. Hodson envisioned these analytics being applied to projects already in development. “We can’t enforce anything, but my hope is that people will be more invested in doing this as this conversation becomes more important,” she said. “Why wouldn’t you?”

A writer is..........

Dear Reader: You Misunderstood My Story. Signed, Truman Capote.

By James Barron
May 13, 2018

Writers can get grumpy when they get letters from clueless readers. When Susan Akers discovered an irritated reply from Truman Capote among some papers she was going through, what surprised her was the identity of one clueless reader who had sent Capote a note after his first published story appeared in Mademoiselle magazine.
That clueless reader was her mother, a junior in college at the time — which was mid-1945.
Ms. Akers discovered the letter among papers her father had set aside after her mother’s death at 91 in 2014. The letter was a brush with not-yet greatness: Capote was 20 when he tapped it out on a typewriter in his mother’s apartment on Park Avenue. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was 13 years in the future, “In Cold Blood,” 20. The story in Mademoiselle, “Miriam,” would win an O. Henry Prize the following year.
Ms. Akers’s mother was Katherine Warner then, but Capote began the letter “Dear Miss Warren.” There is no way to know whether he misread her name or mistyped the right letters in the wrong order, but there is no question that it was Capote at the keyboard. A secretary would not have sent the letter looking the way it did: Three words were marked out with X’s, the way fumble-fingered typists fixed mistakes when they did not bother to retype an entire page.
Just as prehistoric was the typewriter’s inability to correct misspellings. Capote had to write in a missing letter here or a missing word there — “understand” needed an s, “experienced” needed a d and a sentence needed a “was.”
Ms. Akers did not picture her mother as someone who would fire off a letter to an author. “Mother always painted a portrait of herself as a wallflower,” Ms. Akers said, “but it turns out she was quite a social butterfly. She had more confidence than she confessed to me. Who thinks to write an author and say, ‘I don’t get your story, explain it to me’?”
“Miriam” was about Mrs. H. T. Miller, a widow who, Capote wrote in the opening line, “lived alone in a pleasant apartment (two rooms with a kitchenette) in a remodeled brownstone near the East River.” There is a second character, a girl with strange-looking hair — “a demon child,” as Capote described her in the letter to Miss Warner.
“I take it you do not understand Miriam’s relation to Mrs. Miller,” Capote wrote in the letter. “Well, Miriam IS Mrs. Miller, or rather that evil element in her (as there is some degree of evil in all humans) that has never had a chance to expand, or flower as it were. In other words, Miriam is a projection.” Capote said there were clinical terms for what was actually wrong with Mrs. Miller. He mentioned schizophrenia.
Puzzled as to why her mother had not figured out “Miriam” on her own — or why, after Capote became famous, she did not say much about her letter and his answer — Ms. Akers sought clues.
Her mother’s stored-away belongings yielded evidence that Miss Warner might not have been the sharpest reader at Wellesley College. In the spring semester of 1945, just before she wrote to Capote, she received B’s in every subject except one, English. She got a C-minus, according to an entry in her mother’s diary. (The C-minus made Ms. Akers laugh. “My mother used to edit all of our papers before we handed them in,” she said. “She prided herself on English, but we didn’t know about this.”)
Miss Warner had all but predicted that she would have trouble with literature. In a short autobiography written when she was a freshman, Miss Warner declared: “I know myself to lack the feeling for serious high-toned writing which I consider to hold the place of honor in college.” (Grammarians would say she also lacked the feeling for punctuation and would probably put a comma before “which.”)
Ms. Akers’s conclusion? “Maybe ‘Miriam’ was not her cup of tea,” she said.
In the wider world, however, “Miriam” caused “something of a sensation,” the Capote biographer Gerald Clarke said in an interview, and got Capote’s career going.
“In those days, the best fiction in America was published in women’s magazines,” Mr. Clarke said. “Mademoiselle and Harper’s Bazaar, those were the magazines. They had published Virginia Woolf, really avant-garde stuff, whereas The New Yorker was publishing suburban manicured stuff.” Capote, who had been a copy boy at The New Yorker, had been rejected by that magazine. “Part of it was he was trying to imitate The New Yorker style, which he couldn’t do very well,” Mr. Clarke said.
Ms. Akers sent him a scan of Capote’s letter, seeking advice on its significance. “It doesn’t change anything in the interpretation” of “Miriam,” Mr. Clarke said, but it is important because it was contemporaneous, “not something he’s remembering 30 years later.”
“This sounded like him, but I didn’t know him when he was 20 years old, which makes it interesting,” Mr. Clarke said. “I knew him starting in his early 40s. There’s a difference. When he wrote this letter, he was not a famous person. I think it’s charming that he sat down to write the letter. I’m not sure how many fiction writers would do that. Fiction writers don’t like to explain their stories. They like to think people can interpret them, and if they have to explain them, it’s a bit much.”
Ms. Akers decided to donate the letter to the New York Public Library, which has Capote’s papers but will keep the letter separate, as it does with material acquired from sources other than Capote’s estate. Thomas Lannon, the library’s assistant director for manuscripts, archives and rare books, said the library accepted the letter because “there’s not much correspondence” from Capote.
“He didn’t keep copies” of letters he sent, Mr. Lannon said. “To find other Truman Capote letters, you don’t go to the Truman Capote papers, you go to other people’s papers.”
In a folder from the papers of Diana Vreeland were postcards Capote had sent her — one from Leningrad in 1956, another from somewhere in Greece in 1958. From a folder of the papers of Irving Berlin, Mr. Lannon pulled a letter Capote had written to the composer of “God Bless America” in 1948. That is the year he wrote the novel “Other Voices, Other Rooms,” and he told Berlin it was one of four accomplishments that year.
But Ms. Akers’s letter was striking, he said: “The Capote of that letter is so young.”
Ms. Akers’s mother was young herself — she was 10 months older than Capote.