Last week I interviewed two US-based scriptwriters, Kentucky’s PJ Woodside and New York’s Juli S. Kobayashi. This week I travel virtually to the UK to tell you about Anne-Cecile Ville, a determined and focused screenwriter whose Dating Up script is in the top six in The Black List category for romance as of May 2015. Her efforts and persistence to learn the craft and to advance her skills is evident even without me having read her work (yet). I spoke to Anne-Cecile via Skype to get her perspective on being a scriptwriter.
Anne-Cecile’s experience and education in this industry to date is as a writer, script supervisor, continuity supervisor, production assistant, and actress. It was as an actress, living in a suburb of Los Angeles that she first gave writing a serious try. What was your path to becoming a scriptwriter?
I was acting in a play in LA and someone suggested I write something. I told them I can’t write…but before I left [the US] I entered a script into a contest and it got into the quarter final. I thought maybe I can do this. So I went back to the UK and studied at university for three years.
Did you hone your skills on short films?
Yes, you’re hands on and get to work closely with producers and the director, everyone on the set. Making short films makes you think about budgets.
I have also been a script supervisor on short films and I recommend it when you are learning to be a screenwriter. When you listen to how actors perform the words, even when it’s not your words, it helps you understand your own writing, what works and what doesn’t.
Being there, listening to the actors do a table read, you wonder if they are going to get your jokes or lines. It’s brilliant when they do, and when they don’t, they make suggestions about the kinds of things, such as body language, that can be included in the script to make more of an impact.
What advice would you give to a new UK screenwriter?
Have a go. Write it down on the page. Study at university. Befriend other screenwriters. I think Twitter is the best forum for this. Go to the London Screenwriters’ Festival. Fellow writers, people in the industry, start with a log line. Enter competitions, BBC Writers Room, and other tv competitions. Keep writing.
The Business of Women in Pictures
Anne-Cecile belongs to the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. She joined after her first professional writing job convinced her of its value, that she needed to set ground rules and have a contract in place, things that the Writers’ Guild helped her with. Now you have experience is it easier for you to be more confident in your business dealings?
I think women are too nice, too forgiving. It’s a business contract; you have to take the emotion out of it. And yes you deserve it. It’s OK if they don’t like it [your writing], especially if you have that contract in place. When more women start behaving this way, we’ll get more respect in the industry.
What are your thoughts about the need for more women in film?
Three years ago I discovered the Bechdel test. Until then I’d not really thought about the representation of women in films. I put two scripts I’d written to the test, thinking, surely they’ll pass with flying colours. They didn’t.
I started to think more deeply about it. Why didn’t I want to write about women? I realised I was also proud that no one could guess who wrote my scripts, that it could’ve been written by a man, that is how good a writer I was. I kept questioning myself and acknowledged I had low self esteem.
Now I’m more careful. The last script had a female protagonist, and the one I am writing now also has a female protagonist, although this script has more interactions between women. I think I’m writing stronger and stronger female characters, but it’s been a difficult personal journey.
In your experience so far, do you think that it is more difficult for new female scriptwriters than for men?
No, I don’t think so. It could be different with bigger productions, but in the pool of writers I work with, and the people I surround myself with, we realise it’s a difficult business no matter what. We support each other.
I decided writing is not necessarily a competition. Everyone writes differently and yes, women have a different perspective, but there is something [a place] for everyone. You should write what you feel and add your own twist.
Allowing Women’s Voices to Be Heard
What kinds of stories do you like to tell?
I like writing comedies; it’s similar to who I am as a person. In my Dating Up script [the one on The Black List] the main character is trying to be someone she isn’t, hanging with the right people to appear successful. It is a twist on a regular romantic comedy. People recognise the story but it’s a bit different.
The next script is darker, a thriller, but I want to write something that is both entertaining and educational. Did you know that two women a week in the UK die at the hands of their husband or partner? The story is fiction, a race against time, and she comes out on top at the end. This is how women’s voices come through [in the writing].
Do you think women are being better represented on film/in TV as more women get involved in writing, directing and producing shows? For example, Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) Lena Dunham (Girls), Jenji Kohan (OITNB, Weeds), Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project).
I think these women are supportive. I try to do this, to not pay attention to what is going on around me, to do my work. Surround yourself with the right people. Genuine and positive people.
There are many men who want to increase the female perspective in films. I have stopped worrying. Money talks. Shonda [Rhymes], Jenji, all these women are opening doors for other women.
There is a corporate entity that runs the market. Money talks. They are listening.
Indeed they are Anne-Cecile. And you are going to help make us heard.
This interview is part of a series, currently related to my own script and a required research course. I have had such positive response to my request for interviews that I plan to keep going well after the project deadline of June 19.
Update July 1, 2015
The industry analysis is published: Why are there fewer female scriptwriters in the film industry? and Erica Tremblay’s interview.