Despite comprising 51 percent of the population, women filled just 17 percent of off-screen film industry positions—directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers—on Hollywood’s top 250 domestic grossing films of 2014. That’s why Meryl Streep has funded an intensive training program for eight women screenwriters over 40, to be run by New York Women in Film and Television and IRIS, a collective of women filmmakers. The actress is a longtime supporter of NYWIFT. According to the group, Streep donated significant amount to fully fund the initiative, dubbed the Writer’s Lab.
Inspired by the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab, run by Streep’s Out of Africa co-star Robert Redford, this lab will also be held at a resort, the Wiawaka Center for Women on Lake George, NY, from September 18-20, 2015. Mentors will meet with screenwriters individually as well as lead group events intended to inspire the writers. The scheduled mentors include Jessica Bendinger (“Bring It On,” “Aquamarine”), Caroline Kaplan (“Time Out of Mind,” “Personal Velocity”), Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Secret Life of Bees,” “Beyond the Lights”), Mary Jane Skalski (“Win Win,” “The Station Agent”), and Kirsten Smith (“Legally Blond,” “Ten Things I Hate About You”).
The screenplay development program will accept applications from May 1 through June 1. Writers must have been born on or before June 1, 1975. Submissions must be full-length narrative screenplays in English in PDF format. Screenplays from any fiction genre can be submitted. Even screenplays written by more than one writer will be considered, although all of the writers must be women, and only one will be allowed to attend the lab. Scripts will be evaluated based on subject matter, vision, craft and ultimately viability: Is this a story that an audience will want to see? The lab intends this workshop to be a “springboard to production,” not an academic exercise. Candidates will be evaluated on the quality of their work alone, “regardless of professional film experience.” Besides the $55 application fee ($25 for NYWIFT members) and paying transportation costs to New York City, attending the lab, including local travel, food and accommodations, will be completely free. The winners will be announced August 1. Apply here.
The lack of women behind the camera is reflected in the stories told on screen. In 2014, women comprised 12 percent of protagonists, 29 percent of major characters, and just 30 percent of all speaking characters in the top 100 grossing films of 2014. The situation is worse for older female characters, a point not lost on the 65-year-old Streep. She has had a stellar career, or as Jared Leto put it while presenting the Oscar for best supporting actress at the 2015 Academy Awards, “The nominees are four women plus—in accordance with California state law—Meryl Streep."
A Vassar graduate, Streep honed her craft at Yale Drama School. She has been nominated for an Academy Award an astounding 19 times, winning the Oscar three times. A stage actress as well, she has a history of giving to theatrical causes, including $1 million in 2011 for a renovation of New York’s Public Theater.
New York Women in Film and Television presents the annual Muse Awards and the Designing Women honors. It supports female leadership in film, TV and digital media. IRIS was founded by a trio of women to champion the female voice in narrative film. If you’re a woman screenwriter who has been struggling to get your work before an audience, take advantage of this opportunity to see your vision realized.