A group of six ambitious Chicago transplants now working in LA gathered for more shop talk over breakfast at Kitchen 24 in West Hollywood last week.
They were screenwriters Dante Bacani and Ron Maede; standup comedian/producer Lindsey Luck; agency-turned-TV and comedy writer Parde Bridgett and actress and newly published children’s book author, Kelli McNeil and myself, a screenwriter and former agency creative.
COLIN COSTELLO: The country is facing a lot of issues regarding race, race violence and gender equality. Nowhere was this seen more starkly than when #Oscarsowhite launched before the awards, and a study soon followed revealing the wide gap between male and female artists with regards to lines, salaries and positions of power.
LINDSEY LUCK: Look who runs Hollywood. Men don’t want to hear women speak.
RON MAEDE: What did you say? (Laughs)
LUCK: See? Imagine giving us more dialogue. They want us to look sexy and pretty and shut the fuck up.
COSTELLO: Well “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” did have two female leads.
LUCK: Yeah. And Rey (actress Daisy Ridley) didn’t speak for like the first twenty minutes!
DANTE BACANI: And Carrie Fisher couldn’t move her face from all the Botox and plastic surgery.
KELLI McNEIL: It’s basically up to us (writers) to create the roles, not just for women but for Blacks, Asians and Hispanics as well. We need to represent the world better.
LUCK: That’s easier said than done when you’re not in positions of power.
MAEDE: Exactly! You can write as many diverse roles as you want, but if you’re not a decision-maker, they’re just nice lines written on paper.
MCNEIL: The challenge is getting decision-makers to realize that just because a woman is a lead character doesn’t mean the movie’s a “chick flick.”
PARDE BRIDGETT: Right now, I’m creating an all-female “Cheers” project. If you can do an all-female “Ghostbusters,” why can’t you have a bunch of female drunks?
COSTELLO: Are you going to set it in the advertising world?
BRIDGETT: Of course! Where else do you find a bunch of drunks? Seriously, as Blacks we’re not asking to have obligatory nominations at the awards, we just want to be a part of the conversation.
Ten possible films can be nominated in the Oscars, yet only eight were named. How could “Straight Outta Compton” come up empty. We want consideration. Fair consideration.
MAEDE: Old. White. Men.
COSTELLO: It’s true that anything “Black” is looked at differently. Something like “Barbershop 3” is given $20 million, which sounds decent, but the salaries ate up so much of that 20 million, they were forced to shoot in Atlanta while pretending it’s Chicago.
DANTE BACANI: I still adhere to the belief that if we want to see ourselves in film or on TV, it begins with writing those roles. TV is doing a vastly superior job at showing diversity than in films.
BRIDGETT: I guarantee you, the Emmys will have more diverse noms. You have to go beyond the studio system and help them realize that we can be colorblind about certain characters. Look at all the talk about Idris Elba possibly playing James Bond.
LUCK: I would take off my clothes for him.
MAEDE: Me, too.
MCNEIL: Just because a different gender or skin color is the lead doesn’t mean the audience should change. “Wonder Woman” will still be geared at teen boys and it should be.
COSTELLO: And angry trolls living in their mother’s basement.
LUCK: I thought you moved, Colin. But we have to move away from the way women are described in scripts. I hate when I get a script and the role is described as “sassy.”
McNEIL: What is sassy anyway? One show I really hate is “Broad City.” They’re sassy! I thought it was going to be a female “Key and Peele” and all it is women discussing the same issues – dating. Like all we do is date and talk about dating.
LUCK: We also get judged on the jokes we tell. You put Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer on the same stage. Each tells a dick joke. Seth is funny. Amy is… wow, she is so rude.
BRIDGETT: Bottom line, if Hollywood doesn’t let some new voices in, specifically from Hyde Park, they are missing out on huge opportunities. And it shows at the box office. How many big flops this year?
BACANI: “Warcraft,” “X-Men,” “TMNT,” “Gods of Egypt,” “Tarzan.”
COSTELLO: Let’s talk projects. What’s going on in your worlds?
BACANI: Right now, I’m still getting settled into LA. I started working with Jeff Gordon over at Writers’ Boot Camp in sales and marketing. And I’m still acting president of the Chicago Screenwriters Network.
LUCK: The short film I just produced was a learning experience and now I’m applying it to my other projects.
BRIDGETT: My children’s book, “Catch,” was recently published by a division of Simon & Schuster. I’m working on adapting it into a pilot for a children’s series. Pre-existing material is what Hollywood wants. A built-in audience.
McNEIL: My first script, “The Baltimore School of Charm” was a semifinalist in the Screencraft Fellowship Contest. And my children’s book, “Sleepy Toes” comes out in 2017 from Scholastic.
MAEDE: Big things are afoot. I’m making progress in the NBC fellowship as well as I am in talks for a writing assignment with an actor attached.
Colin Costello, who still calls Chicago, “home,” is a working screenwriter whose credits include the 2016 family film, “Traveling Without Moving.” He can be reached at email@example.com.