What Does a Writer Look Like?

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So you’re sitting in the waiting room of a production company and in walks a writer. But how do you know they’re a writer, one might ask. Perhaps a few things might tip you off…

Maybe it’s the casual shirt, especially the ironic graphic tee worn underneath a button down. Maybe it’s the beard, with the optional hat. Dodgers hat or fedora? Or is it the Vans slip-ons that have started to wear thin around the soles? The jeans — you’re not sure what color they were meant to be when originally purchased, but that fade is definitely all natural.

So you’ve concluded they’re a writer. Writers may not all dress this way, but those who do more often than not seem to successfully fit the description. What they all have in common beyond their “I found this in a pile in the corner of my dorm room” sense of style, they’re all male.

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We would hire more women if they were as nerdy about the medium as some of their male counterparts.

About a month ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who is an independent producer based in the UK. We were discussing an initiative meant to encourage talent reps and studios to promote and hire more female writers and directors. My friend was in attendance when it was a woman working for one of the production companies who actually made the most controversial statement of the evening. She said, matter of fact, we would hire more women if they were as nerdy about the medium as some of their male counterparts.

Shocking, I know. However, she vocalized what a lot of people truly believe. It is assumed more often than not that men tend to be more interested in the sort fare that is voraciously consumed by nerds to the tune of hundreds of millions in box office. Males are assumed to be auteurs, whereas women are rarely if ever associated with that term. Male writers are seen as sensitive, brooding, intellectual — women are not often discussed in that way.

Of course, anyone who has spent any considerable time with female writers and directors knows this isn’t true. Last night, I helped out with NY Women in Film and TV (NYWIFT) to host a reading of several scripts apart of Meryl Streep’s Women Over 40 writers lab. The writers were a diverse group of women, on top of their game. Many had placed highly in contests, others have already produced work. All scripts were diverse in subject matter, and genre; including action and science fiction (both genres typically seen as the male domain).

Let’s go back to that writer who’s just walked into the production company…

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They created the writers uniform.

What does it say about our assumptions of what a creative must look like? The young white guy, who casually struts into a major production company for a pitch meeting in an un-ironed shirt and worn shoes — the ultimate nerd of the medium. It really is a statement of confidence to walk into an establishment dressed like you haven’t washed your clothes in three weeks. It shouts that this person is comfortable in their creativity, confident. They’re not worried about how they’re dressed, they’re a creative, their work will speak for itself. As a white guy, they will never be judged as harshly for their appearance. They created the writers uniform.

Now, I still think it’s important to dress to impress, male or female. However, there is this attitude by many male creatives that the casual crumple is apart of their very essence. It informs a certain subconscious bias when we think about “what does a director look like” or “what does a writer look like.” We think of a young white guy in a ball cap, or dressed in a faded tee over worn jeans. They are the nerds that woman from the UK speaks of when she thinks of who to give a green-light.

Why are you so dressed up?

Sitting in a major production company the other day, one such man walked in wearing an X-Men tee with faded jeans over old boots. He was immediately followed by his writing partner, dressed business casual. “Why are you so dressed up” the casual male asked his friend. The man replied that he was at a funeral. Shortly thereafter, an assistant came out and escorted them in, she too was surprised by the suit.

I was sort of dumbfounded by that statement, sitting in a form-fitting summery blouse, tight capris and designer shoes — I even had on jewelry. I too am a writer, and yet I often get made for a publicist or producers assistant. The women who attended the reading the other night, they also were impeccably dressed. That’s because despite wishing we were more nerdy, women aren’t  permitted to dress like those men. It’s not feminine. It’s not our uniform, even if I would rather wear my Led Zeppelin tee and walk around in my adidas shells, or Vans slip-ons — because hey I own those too!

Ultimately this is a very subtle but important observation. Subconscious bias is a huge reason for gender disparity in the industry. While the work should speak for itself, the way you dress for those meetings is essentially important. It is a small but essential component of how you work that room. When you can’t wear the uniform, or are judged differently for when you do, it’s essential points lost in that pitch.

So next time you spot that writer-type, ask yourself  What does a writer look like… and consider why it is you arrive at the description. Chances are, you’ve just uncovered a subconscious bias within yourself.

 

 

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