Women’s Stories Matter – and Earn Awards

Women’s Stories Matter – and Earn Awards

Sian Heder reminded us how hard it is to be both a writer/artist AND a Mom – but we do it anyway — So do it anyway.

AND she won 2 major awards for a film about a young woman chasing a dream. That has happened only 3 other times in Oscar history (for Gigi, West Side Story, My Fair Lady – all musicals). Don’t let them tell you female stories aren’t powerful enough to earn awards – or audiences.

Women’s Stories Matter – and Earn Awards

A TED Talk Worth Watching – “Saving the World Vs Kissing the Girl” by Lindsay Doran

I am quite a fan of TED Talks – for their content and the spiffy way they illustrate a talk should go in a quick 20 minutes or so.  I often show students one of my favorites – Chimamanda Adiche’s “The Danger of a Single Story” and show my friend, Art Benjamin’s TED Talks in some of my humanities courses.  I was deeply pleased to be asked to give my own TED Talk, “A Female Voice In The Room”,  when CalPolyPomona hosted their own TED@CPP event a few years ago.  So when I find a new one worth sharing – I share it. 

The latest TED Talk to catch my attention was given by film producer Lindsay Doran in 2012.  “Saving the World Vs Kissing the Girl” is a fascinating look at how ‘action’ movies end on the announcement of the success to someone the protagonist is in a relationship with, making the culmination of the relationship more important than the ‘saving the world’ part. 

For instance, at the end of Rocky he doesn’t say “Yo, Adrian, I won” because he doesn’t win the fight.  He only survived it. The movie ends with Rocky and Adrian struggling to get to each other in the crowd. When they reach each other, they clutch each other saying, “I love you” over and over again. THAT’s the win.

A TED Talk Worth Watching -  “Saving the World Vs Kissing the Girl” by Lindsay Doran

Using Dirty Dancing, Karate Kid, and The King’s Speech she explains how positive relationships are more important than positive accomplishments in films.  They always end with the healing of a primary relationship. Heroes who don’t win their fight (Rocky in Rocky, George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life, Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird) are so inspirational because they win their relationships. 

Then she says that women don’t need to learn that relationships are more important than accomplishments in life – men do.  So perhaps these action films are women’s way of teaching that lesson that no man is a failure who has friends.

I LOVE that idea!

Mike Flannagan and “Midnight Mass”: 11 years in the making

Midnight mass

If you haven’t seen this short 3 minute ‘featurette’ where Mike Flannagan explains the impetus for writing the show “Midnight Mass”, it’s worth your time. 

Most importantly, he discusses how he started writing the script in 2010 (so it took 11 years to become what it became); that he thought it would be a movie first until he realized how deep the story should be; and that it came from a scary “what if” question he had in his own life. 

This short conversation is a great look into the mind of a writer (even if you haven’t watched the show and might not even intend to because horror scares you….the lessons are all still evident in this conversation).

On The Writers of Casablanca

On The Writers of Casablanca

While it is fun to look back at this review of Casablanca from when it was released – before anyone knew it would become the classic it is and be voted one of the greatest screenplays of all times – it’s also a reminder of my pet peeve. The reviewer never once names the screenwriters – twins Julius Epstein and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch – in the whole review.

On The Writers of Casablanca

Howard koch

He mentions the producer and the director in the first paragraph. Yet he writes: “through these people, the story of Casablanca is told with expert intensity.” And about the love story, he says: “the triangle is intelligently developed.” And in praise of the director, he notes “the wealth of contributing material that was placed at his disposal” without ever acknowledging the writers who did all of that.

As a final coup de grace he names each of the heads of departments and their “long list of technical achievements”… but never once mentions the writers who envisioned it all – Julius and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch. So I am mentioning them many times in this rant. Jacob and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch created the Casablanca we still watch, love, and teach 80 years after it was written by Jacob and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch.

Read ‘Casablanca’: THR’s 1942 Review from the Hollywood Reporter

William Blinn, Brian’s Song, Purple Rain, and Screenwriting

William Blinn, Screenwriting, Brian's Song, and Purple Rain

Sometimes I love the way the internet lets you drill down layer after layer of research when you only had one small question – but you learn things you forgot you wanted to know.  When I saw a question on Quora’s Ask a Screenwriter forum about the best “Based on a True Story” films the one that came immediately to mind was Brian’s Song so first I found the trailer:

Naturally then, I wanted to know who wrote it, which brought me to the film’s Wikipedia page, which brought me to William Blinn’s Wikipedia page

There I came to find that not only did he win an Emmy for writing that TV film but also one for writing on the original Roots.  Here he receives the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television for “a WGA guild member who has advanced the literature of television and made outstanding contributions to the profession of the television writer.”

His advice to young writers is to “get off you’re a** and do the work” and to “Tell the truth in an interesting way.”

(If you listen to nothing else in this blog post – listen to that speech!).

Blinn was nominated 3 times for episodes of Fame. And he won Humanitas and Peabody Awards along the way.   Blinn also produced Starsky and Hutch (both the TV show and the 2004 movie!). Finally, he co-wrote Purple Rain

THAT is a career –  and you probably have never heard of him. 

Finally, I came to remember how much I had resisted watching “a football movie”  but I kept hearing how much other people loved it so when it re-ran on the 11:30pm film one night I snuck out of bed in the childhood home I shared with my grandparents and watched the film – finding myself sobbing as it ended.  I had never seen a film about such a strong male friendship – and I have rarely seen on as strong since.

Yay for the internet – and Yay for William Blinn.

“Let us simply celebrate good television” and Bridgerton [Opinion]

“Let us simply celebrate good television” and Bridgerton [Opinion] by Dr. Rosanne Welch

Leave it to NPR to get it right, which is why I’m posting this piece they did on Bridgerton (Netflix), the new show executive produced by Shonda Rhimes and created for television by Chris Van Dusen from the romance book series by Julia Quinn.

See ‘Bridgerton’ Is A Delicious, Raunchy Tale Of One Very Hot Family

Far beyond explaining the show’s popularity, this article interested me because it understood instantly that what works best and most binge-ably about this show is that

“Let us simply celebrate good television, made by a shop run by a woman who loves good television and written by people who are experienced in television.”

Bridgerton and

In fact, I found one of the cleanest, clearest descriptions of the difference between movie screenplays and television screenplays while listening to this.

“Writing television requires writing to the rhythm of the episode, not just the season. An episode must have its own shape, its own rise and fall… Obviously, in a serialized story, one episode will not be complete on its own when it comes to plot, but it should work on its own structurally. It should have a beginning, middle, and end.”

You could spend a whole semester in a writing class and not yet be able to define it so cleanly – or create a piece that demonstrates having digested that delightfully delectable tidbit. 

I also appreciated the note about how we may think streaming services invented binge-watching but

“Remember, binge-watching really came of age with DVDs, which didn’t have the Netflixian boosts of the auto-play and the credits-skipping and the part where they almost bodily shove you from one episode to the next episode. If you watched 10 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy on DVD, it was because you affirmatively said yes, over and over.”

I would go so far as to say TV in general invented that because before streaming it had to make characters and stories so compelling you would remember to be in front of the TV set at the same time every week in order to keep up.

That’s quite a lot of television writing (and history) information to glean out of one short public radio piece. Kudos to NPR pop culture correspondent Linda Holmes. And because we learn so much from any writer’s origin story – don’t miss her story at the end of the online post:

“She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living-room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.

Holmes was a writer and editor at Television Without Pity, where she recapped several hundred hours of programming — including both High School Musical movies, for which she did not receive hazard pay. Her first novel, Evvie Drake Starts Over, will be published in the summer of 2019.”


Rosanne Welch serves as Executive Director of the Stephens College MFA in TV and Screenwriting. Television credits include Beverly Hills 90210, Picket Fences, Nightline and Touched by an Angel. Award-winning publications include When Women Wrote Hollywood, runner up for the Susan Koppelman Award for best edited book in feminist studies and Women in American History, named Outstanding Reference Source and added to the list of 2017’s Best Historical Materials, by the ALA.

Show Business: How to Pitch to Netflix, According to Christopher Mack, Streamer’s Creative Talent Director via Variety

How to Pitch to Netflix, According to Christopher Mack, Streamer’s Creative Talent Director via Variety

At Netflix, character is often more important than plot, said the company’s creative talent director Christopher Mack at CineGouna Bridge, the industry section of Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival, on Monday during his “Pitch Realization Masterclass by Netflix.” But it’s not about making him or her likeable, as their transformation is key to the storytelling experience.

“This change is driving people to watch our content. Your job is to make it interesting and engaging. Think about Walter White,” said Mack, explaining how to successfully pitch new concepts to Netflix. “Viewers develop a relationship with the characters, their engagement depends on whether they relate to them or not. Otherwise they won’t care.”

Read How to Pitch to Netflix, According to Christopher Mack, Streamer’s Creative Talent Director via Variety

With Hannah Gadsby’s new special “Douglas”!

If you have Netflix, watch Hannah Gadsby’s new special “Douglas” (that’s her dog’s name) for the writing, the laughter, the catharsis – and the Louis CK joke.

When I was a kid, the general idea was ‘women weren’t funny and/or powerful enough to dominate an audience’ or they could only be funny if they made fun of their looks (Phyllis Diller) – which is something Gadsby tackled in her first show, Nanette. 

Words matter. Writing matters. Women writers matter.

With Hannah Gadsby's new special

“Name Screenwriters” says Dr. Rosanne Welch in Letter to Los Angeles Times

Because I believe that you can’t change things unless you challenge them, whenever I see a newspaper article about a film where the writer uses the director’s possessive (as in “Spielberg’s Lincoln) and never mention the writer (which in that case was Pulitzer Prize-winning Tony Kushner – Spielberg has never won a Pulitzer Prize), I try to write a letter to the editor explaining the mistake. 

Often they print them. Once my letter appeared alongside a letter with a similar point, written by the author of one of our History of Screenwriting textbooks (who has come to speak to our students during Workshop – Tom Stempel).

This morning the LA Times published this letter. — Rosanne

To the editor: Your editorial elevated “compelling storytelling” as a quality that makes a movie great, but when listing examples of noteworthy films — “Lawrence of Arabia,” “The Shining” and “Vertigo” — you used the director’s possessive to identify the films, not once mentioning the writers (both novelists and screenwriters).

“Lawrence of Arabia” came to screens thanks to the book by T.E. Lawrence, which was adapted by screenwriters Robert Bolt and the blacklisted Michael Wilson. “The Shining” came from the mind of prolific novelist Stephen King, whose book was adapted by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson, with Kubric directing. “Vertigo” is based on the novel “D’entre les morts” by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, which was adapted by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor.

I’ve never understood why newspaper writers forget to name screenwriters when discussing movies. It seems an absurd example of internalized artistic oppression.

How can I be able to teach up-and-coming screenwriters their own value if journalists keep naming films as the property of the directors?

Rosanne Welch, Van Nuys

The writer is executive director of Stephens College’s master of fine arts program in TV and screenwriting.

Why Don’t We Know Their Names? Whooping Cough Killed 6,000 Kids a Year Before These Ex-Teachers Created a Vaccine

Research for the book I’m in the middle of brought me to learn that the Whooping Cough was invented by two female former teachers.

Much as I love all Jonas Salk did for the world (and gave his patent away for free to help children), WHY wasn’t I ever taught about these women??? — Rosanne

Whooping Cough Killed 6,000 Kids a Year Before These Ex-Teachers Created a Vaccine

Whooping Cough Killed 6,000 Kids a Year Before These Ex-Teachers Created a Vaccine

As the Great Depression raged, scientists Pearl Kendrick and Grace Eldering developed the first effective pertussis vaccine on a shoestring budget.

After a long day in the laboratory in 1932, Pearl Kendrick and Grace Eldering walked out into the chilly Michigan evening with specially prepared petri dishes, called cough plates, in tow. The two scientists were on a mission to collect bacteria in the wild: one by one, they visited families ravaged by whooping cough, the deadliest childhood disease of their time. By the dim light of kerosene lamps they asked sick children to cough onto each plate, dimpling the agar gel with tiny specks of the bacteria Bordetella pertussis.

Read the entire article at the History Channel