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The Jane Test - #Feminist Script Doctoring via #Twitter @femscriptintros

When I started writing screenplays, one of the first rules I learned about was the Bechdel test. It's not something you have to follow if your screenplay is going to work, structurally speaking, but if you have any interest in making your female characters as strong and compelling as everyone else, it should be taken into account. Basically, it's framed around these two questions:

Are there at least two female characters in your script?

Do at least two of them have at least one conversation that isn't about a man?

If the answer to both of those is yes, you're golden. Sometimes it's not applicable, your film might only have 4 characters and they might all be male, say because it's set in a prison and never leaves the confines of a single cell, but in many cases there's no excusing it. It can be applied to mediums other than film, but film tends to receive the most scrutiny for poorly formed gender politics. You'd be surprised how many films don't pass, even in this day and age. The latest Coen brothers film, Hail, Caesar!, for instance, does not pass, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, despite having a female protagonist, only just scraped through.
Is it essential to make sure all fiction has equal representation? No. Is it important to break out of old, outdated patterns? Yes. Which is why the Bechdel test has a new sibling - the Jane test, and for this one, Twitter is the proving ground. It's hard to say how many screenwriters actually apply the Bechdel test on their work, but through the @femscriptintros Twitter, writers are being encouraged to apply the Jane test during the drafting process, and it's catching on big time.
It works like this - take a female character's intro sequence and compare it against the ones that are posted on @femscriptintros. All the ones they post are from real screenplays, all the names are changed to Jane and each intro is metered out in 140 character chunks. It's run by producer Ross Putman, who obviously has access to a huge litany of scripts. The results are rather alarming - they are nearly always appearance focused and within the 20-30 age range. What this reflects, above and beyond all else, is that a lot of scripts are written with either casting, sex appeal or both at the forefront of the consideration, consciously or otherwise. That is not OK.

The page has caught the attention of a number of Hollywood screenwriters, some of whom have pledged to rethink the way they write women and girls as a result, having been through their old scripts and realised that they weren't up to snuff. Gary Whitta, for instance, was critical of his character writing for The Book of Eli and After Earth, but optimistic about his more recent work, which bodes well for Rogue One, the Star Wars spinoff he's currently working on.
Reading through the feed, the most important thing to take away is this: character traits are the thing writers should be establishing early on. With film, what they look like might not necessarily truly come into play until later, during casting and development, unless it's an adaptation, in which case you already know, so there's no need to lean on it. For male characters, this is often a given, so there's no reason it shouldn't be the same story when there's no Y chromosome involved.

This isn't the first time a social media page has been used to highlight the prejudices in modern cinema. Last year, Welcome to Nightvale's Dylan Marron started a YouTube and Tumblr channel devoted to editing down Hollywood films so that the only dialogue left was spoken by people of colour. The results were shocking, Titanic clocks in at 54 seconds, American Hustle lasts 42, Midnight in Paris goes for 10 seconds and Noah and Into the Woods shoot straight from title to end credits.

Should people be cast purely based on increasing diversity? No, but the general standard of casting in Hollywood in particular is unfairly weighted toward white men (and white women, so long as they're pretty). Somebody has to do something to buck that trend, and the best way to gain momentum is to make these criticisms public.

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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The Jane Test - #Feminist Script Doctoring via #Twitter @femscriptintros Reviewed by Unknown on Sunday, February 21, 2016 Rating: 5
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