Stay Open

screenwriting, storytelling

I like looking through bins of old photos at garage sales and flea markets. I buy pictures that make me feel something.

This morning I was idly flipping through pictures — searching for feeling, meaning — and from somewhere Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” started playing —

— and suddenly I was 16 years old, camping out down by the river behind my parents’ log cabin in the North Georgia mountains (where they still live) with the boy I had a huge crush on beside a crackling campfire, listening to Bob Dylan for the first time and letting him teach me to smoke pot for the first time ever —

— and my eyes filled with tears — not because I’m sad, but because I’m human —

— because this town is constantly trying to push us toward feeling less, toward being less connected, less human, trying to thicken our skins and build our callouses and make us more cynical and more skeptical and more cruel and less trusting — like we’re naked gladiators in the arena ripping each other’s throats out with our teeth and scything each others’ breasts off and tearing arms out of the sockets till the blood gushes rivers in the sand and they’re lounging in their boxes, turning around to complain about why the figs aren’t riper —

And our jobs are not to fucking let them.

Our jobs are to lay down the swords. Stop fighting. Stop wounding each other. Most of all, stop wounding ourselves.

Stay open.

Stay open.

Stay open.

And what’s most ironic is — that’s what they want from us. The best ones know it too. They know they are simultaneously brutalizing us and then begging us to stay open. Stay soft. Stay connected.

That is the job.

I’ve tried to make my new movie as personal as possible. I’ve infused it with my own memories, hopes, desires, fears — and those of the executive I’m working with — which I’ve been extracting and infusing into this movie. Or maybe he’s been infusing his guts into it — as aware as I am of how important it is to make this movie real and vital and personal, about the shit we’re really dwelling on. It’s a big movie about extraordinary people in dramatic circumstances — which we are obviously not — but at its heart it’s about people kinda similar to us, who maybe have big, stressful stuff going on in their lives — who feel like they’re doing battle on a daily basis — and then suddenly something happens and they’re instantly by that campfire behind my parents’ log cabin when I was 16 —

I feel like part of what filmmaking is is an internal process of what I was doing at the flea market this morning — flipping through the old photos of your life — constantly scanning for what makes you feel something — then putting that in.

That’s what this executive and I have been doing for months. The more personal the better, I say. Even for a big budget action thriller. Stay open. Stay connected. Stay soft. That’s the job.


Future Predictions


My life has changed a lot since the last time I posted here.

Then — I was in the middle of writing an impossibly difficult movie. I was crying a lot. I was under a tremendous amount of pressure, which I’ll write about another time. I felt very alone, and I was very alone. Cooped up in my apartment, trying to rein in my focus and race against the clock to write a movie that would be ambitious for a screenwriter at any experience level, much less a first-time screenwriter.

Now — I have agents, managers, a lawyer. I spend my days talking to executives, or emailing with executives. I regret that I’m not marinating in ideas as much as I used to. But at least I’m not alone as fucking much.

So an executive mentioned that he looked up my twitter for some future predictions — cuz that’s my schtick. I tell everyone — I’m really good at predicting the future. I was the first screenwriter to pitch WIKILEAKS, before it was a big story. Most of my ideas become big studio movies or TV projects eventually. I know what’s coming. Instead of future predictions he just found a bunch of tweets about how crazy my life has been lately. So I wrote him some future predictions, and I thought I may as well share them here:


— neural networks (multi-layered computer networks that mimic the behavior of the human brain) will grow more sophisticated

–math-based currencies (i.e. Bitcoin etc) will grow more stable and widely used

— nanotechnology (and its risks) will continue to expand
–transhumanism (bionic adjustments to improve performance and health) will be available to more and more regular people
–the majority of crime will be cybercrime in some way
–drones will take over every area of everyday life
–manufacturing will take place in the cloud
–the internet of things (i.e. your toaster and your fridge will be networked the way my blog and twitter are connected)
–molar caps that conduct sound (instead of earbuds)
–3D printers will be in every home
–you will interact with your screens without using your hands
–as even the poor have tablets, the rich will have hand-built, custom-designed, artisanal technology
–Rapid Growth Markets like Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Turkey are where the action’s at
Watch this space for more future predictions ….


What If You Can’t Save The Person Who Saved You


“Do you know what it’s like to be 57 and starting over?”

My stepdad lost his job. But it’s more complicated than that – he lost his job, then fought really hard to get a new appointment. When he didn’t get the appointment, for various political reasons – it was devastating for all of us. It was like losing his job all over again.

And he is such a good man. Such a loving, kind, honest, humble, decent human.

When I was home for Christmas this year, we stopped by Wal-mart one night. A 14-year-old girl approached him in the parking lot and gave him a huge hug and told him how much his involvement in her life had meant to her (before he lost his job). She had been a participant in the drug court he had started on his own time working on weekends, fighting impossible bureaucratic and financial battles, inspiring his team to spend their own money to travel to attend training … I could go on. There are so many stories of my stepdad tirelessly, quietly working on behalf of his community.

Once at a fundraiser, he was parking cars. One person asked him if he did anything else besides park cars: “Yeah. I’m a judge.”

He was continuously finding solutions to keep families together, keep kids out of jail.

He loved his job, and he was good at it.

Worst of all – the batshit crazy guy who cost him his job was himself removed from office soon afterwards for pulling out a gun in the courtroom.

It’s hard for me to make sense of this. It hits me in a place in my gut that’s raw – where injustice lives.

I feel like everything I write comes from this place.

It’s full of rage.

And fear –

And sadness –

And helplessness –

I feel like the people who get ahead are the ones who cheat. Who connive. Who manipulate. And my stepdad is just not that guy. He’s just an honest, straight-shooter – a real salt of the earth person – probably too honest for some – with a salty wit that sometimes rubs people the wrong way, especially in rural Georgia where some people have real sticks up their asses but the vast majority don’t and are about the coolest, funniest, most wonderful people you’ll ever meet –

And I love him so much it hurts. Like, it’s painful to love someone this much. Because what if I lose him? I have way too many eggs in this one basket. I’ve got it all riding on black 21.

My stepdad saved my life when I was a child. While my real father was manipulative and cruel, distant, empty and selfish, my stepdad was nurturing, loving and attached. He has always believed in and supported my artistic ambitions.

There was a moment when I was at home at my parents’ log cabin in rural Georgia and I had just seen a novelist I went to college with on the Today Show. And it was upsetting for me. I walked out onto the front porch, where my stepdad was having a cigarette with the dogs looking out over the foggy morning woods. I told him what happened and how it made me feel and I started crying. I said “why do you keep believing in me?”

He said “Are you kidding? I’m just doing this for my Ferarri.” And that made me laugh and love him so much. And I hugged him.

And now hearing him sound so down – his voice sound so on edge – I wish I could do the same for him. But I don’t know how I can. It makes me feel so trapped that I can’t.

I sat in my car just now – parked in my carport – tears streaming down my cheeks –  hearing him say the words above – and said – “I wish I could rescue you.”



Piracy: Free Advertising and The Best Defense Against Obscurity

Hollywood, publishing

Guys, I’m giving you permission to pirate stuff.

This isn’t gonna stand up in a court of law. You can still be arrested or sued or fined or whatever the fuck they do.

But I’m giving you moral permission. And this from someone who derives her entire income from the shit you wanna pirate: T.V. and movies.

Here’s why this is still a good deal for me: the enemy for anyone who makes stuff, and who pays her rent and buys sunflower seed butter at Trader Joe’s off of making stuff, is obscurity.

The less obscure the stuff I make — or the stuff I receive residual checks for — the better.

Put another way — the more people who have heard of the crazy sex scene at the end of Sons of Anarchy Episode 306 — the more people talking about it, passing it around, trading it peer-to-peer, telling their friends some of whom don’t know how to pirate, or who have so much money it’s not worth the hassle, or have a moral compunction against it and find legal ways of obtaining the show they’ve heard so much about, partly from friends who may have heard about it from friends who watched it for free – the more of those wonderful god-sent green envelopes full of money turn up in my mailbox.

Piracy is good for me, not bad.

A lot of people I work with in Hollywood don’t realize this yet. They will soon.

I think it’s easier for me to see this because I started in books.

As a novelist, I know that the more exposure a book gets, the better for the book. People keep making the argument that those who “steal” (pirate) materials will never buy those same materials — that’s a sale that’s lost forever. That’s not true. Sometimes people download something because they want to make sure they’re going to like it, then go to see it in the theatre to get the full experience. Sometimes people get started on a TV series via piracy, then love it, and wind up buying the full series. Or in the most likely scenario — the pirate likes or dislikes what they saw and talks to their friends about it on their twitter and their tumblr and their facebook and their blog. Isn’t this the holy grail? How much are studios currently paying to achieve this? Considering it can cost as much as $100 million to market a movie nowadays — and this is free — why not try this?

50 SHADES OF GREY is a good example of this strategy succeeding. First the manuscript was traded freely between friends who knew each other on a Twilight fansite. Then the author E.L. James self-published it — and it was still traded freely between friends and via piracy. Then E.L. James sold 50 SHADES OF GREY to Vintage — and it was still traded freely and pirated. In the first six weeks after that sale, the book has sold over 10 million copies. Did piracy hurt sales of 50 SHADES OF GREY? No.

American TV shows spend literally 10 times as much on marketing, advertising and promotion as they do to make the actual show (at least the ones I’ve worked on do). I want to get my work in front of as many eyeballs as possible. So word can trickle up through the culture, the way it has for 50 SHADES OF GREY.

This is how much I believe in the power of piracy as free advertising: when I have movies or TV shows coming out, I will personally upload them to bittorrent sites myself.

This is a time of technological change. Whenever consumer behaviors change because of new technologies, there’s always upset and market correction.

Steven Spielberg was outraged about VCRs. That seems loony now, right? And turns out VCRs only made him and all of Hollywood even more money.

Video on Demand (VOD) is already here, and already the desired means of consuming media for most people. Why Hollywood is resisting the ways their own customers want to consume their products feels like companies that are way too big for their own good thinking they can stop change from happening and control the future.

Piracy is a free focus group to instruct corporations on consumer behavior. A huge waving banner saying “THIS RIGHT HERE – this is how we want to watch your movie and T.V. shows — instantly, whevever and whenever we want, without a lot of hassle. Give us a way.”

This WSJ article comparing the early days of digital music to the early days of ebooks finds that “actually selling things to early adopters is wise”. Music and publishing both proved that consumers behave how we want. No amount of finger-wagging or lawsuits or criminal charges will stop people from doing what feels good in the moment. You can’t stop progress because your business hasn’t changed with the times. What inevitably happens is the times change, consumer behavior changes — and your business either dries up or smart new upstarts scramble to give the consumers what they want, then you realize you have to change and copy them.

Don’t be dumb. Don’t stand around arguing about morality while the dinosaurs go extinct.

This book influenced my thoughts about price, piracy and the possibility of giving stuff away and still making money. “FREE: The Future of a Radical Price” by Chris Anderson

Every Artist Deserves Hope (and Everyone Is An Artist)


I had a really interesting conversation the other day with a guy who said: “Everyone is an artist.”

I had a twitter conversation last night with a lit manager that started cuz I was trying to warn newer writers away from paying for notes. Especially paying outrageous sums like $600 and up – which is a scam plain and simple. Like another twitter friend (hi Hisel!) pointed out: “Literally no one’s opinion is worth $600.”

Yes notes can be valuable, especially when you’re starting out. But the feedback you get from each other and from mentors who are a few steps ahead of you in the process are far more valuable than anything you could get by paying for it.

Where do you meet people who can give you notes? Everywhere. Coffee shops where writers hang out. If you live in a place where there aren’t a lot of writers, meet them online. On twitter, on forums and in the comments sections of blogs and video sites where writers hang. I live in the middle of Los Angeles, writer central, and I still meet most of my friends online. Maybe that’s due to my, er, personality.

Once you’ve figured your voice out, notes become less valuable and can even become counter-productive. Don’t get me wrong – notes are always part of the process in a professional setting, and I am grateful for sharp notes. But an experienced notes-giver will know how to give you feedback that heightens your intention, your voice, without diluting you. This is very hard to do. If you find a person who gives you these kinds of notes, stick to them like the ALIEN.

So in the twitter conversation last night, my lit manager friend’s point was that he doesn’t like the scammy notes-givers cuz he thinks they give people false hope. His business is deluged with bad material, and they don’t need to be encouraged by these one-man operations.

My point was: every artist deserves hope. And what all the reps and execs don’t realize is – they get their hands on artists after they’ve spent their entire lives developing their instruments. But if they had met them even a few years before that point, they would have dismissed them as another of the unwashed masses, with scorn and ridicule, the way I see them do.

And that is wrong.

Because while we are all born with talent (everyone is an artist) – no one is born knowing how to use that talent –

All artists deserve to be encouraged and nurtured. They deserve to be safe doing so. They deserve to not be preyed on, by the likes of bloggers trying to charge them $600 for their bullshit notes, the equivalent of which they could get from anyone they meet in the comments section on the same sites. Most of all they deserve to be protected and safe, not ridiculed by the very people making their living off them after they have devoted their entire lives to developing their instruments.

All artists deserve hope. Every great artist you can think of looked talentless to someone at some point. They just weren’t successfully dissuaded from continuing.

And by the way, the second part of this idea – that everyone is an artist? My friend’s point was that no matter what your vocation – you can practice it with art – with love – with intention.

You deserve to make art. And you deserve to be protected and safe so that you can continue.


How to Break Out of a Creative Rut
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Los Angeles: the new Silicon Valley


I’m pretty good at predicting the future.

I bought my bowler hat two and a half years ago. Come on.

There was a joke on 30 Rock recently where Liz goes something like “what’s NBC gonna be? I don’t know, a website selling office supplies?”

I think the powers that be know that very soon they’re all gonna be websites of one kind or another.

This is very exciting to me. Because the old model was unsustainable, built on some pretty shitty business models, pretty sexist and racist and country clubby. (Think New York publishing, but out here in the desert, that’s how old Hollywood worked, and still works mostly today, on a handful of people’s gut instincts.) The new model is more diverse, more focused on testing, audience response, results. (Think the relentless focus on testing that Facebook does to drive growth, which definitely has its own concerns – but at least it’s not controlled by gut opinions aka bias.) What I love about the internet future is there’s room for everyone who wants to make art to make some and put it out there.

This interactive map shows a lot of the startups, accelerators, incubators and investors who have set up shop in Los Angeles. Fantastic.

Hollywood’s Scarcity Thinking Will Be Transformed By The Internet’s Abundance Thinking


This is an idea I’ve been thinking about for a while (witness my last two posts), but I found it put really nicely in this New Yorker piece about YouTube:

Kyncl’s relationships in Hollywood would help in securing premium content; and, more important, he understood entertainment culture. He brought “the skill set of being able to bridge Silicon Valley and Hollywood—an information culture and an entertainment culture,” he told me. The crucial difference is that one culture is founded on abundance and the other on scarcity. He added, “Silicon Valley builds its bridges on abundance. Abundant bits of information floating out there, writing great programs to process it, then giving people a lot of useful tools to use it. Entertainment works by withholding content with the purpose of increasing its value. And, when you think about it, those two are just vastly different approaches, but they can be bridged.

”In TV, airtime is a scarce resource, and quality programming is scarcer still, and expensive to create. Writers spend months or years developing an idea, which they then pitch to network and cable executives, who make decisions based, at least in part, on their “gut.” The majority of the ideas never get produced. If a project is green-lighted, the networks or cable channels buy it and fund its production, and the creators have to give up some or all of their control over the material.

But on YouTube “airtime” is infinite, content costs almost nothing for YouTube to produce, and quantity, not quality, is the bottom line. “YouTube green-lights everything,” as Tim Shey, the director of the site’s division for coaching content creators, YouTube Next Lab, told me. It’s up to the audience, not the executive gut, to decide what’s worth watching. “I’ve worked in TV, and I’ve been the one green-lighting projects,” Shey went on. “Believe me, the YouTube way works much better.” Kyncl told me that at Google it makes no sense to bring “a gut-based decision-making process to a culture that is based on numerically quantifying everything. Ultimately, that kind of decision-making gets rejected, as if it were a foreign body.”

via Will Robert Kyncl and YouTube Revolutionize Television? : The New Yorker.

Why Hollywood Is So Dumb About Piracy (Part 2)

advice, Hollywood

Hollywood © by Cynthia_x

A few people seemed confused by my last post on why Hollywood is wrong about piracy, so I wanted to clarify a bit.

I’m not suggesting anyone get rid of distribution. I am suggesting that piracy is not the threat Hollywood is making it out to be.

It’s best practices in many industries to give away a certain number of copies of your books or songs or images for free – because the more eyeballs that see it (or ears that hear it) – the more money it makes in the long run. This might appear counterintuitive to the kind of corporate executive who manages intellectual properties like commodities – who believes that media should be sold and managed like the goods on the shelves at Walmart. Reduce shrinkage. Prosecute shoplifters. Spend a fortune on traditional advertising, but show no one the actual product til they buy.

However, selling TV and movies is very different from selling a 24-pack of toilet paper. People are going to talk only so much about consumer goods like toilet paper – in person or online – no matter how good your marketing is. But people want to talk about culture. That’s one of the main things we talk about – we identify with what we like, we reference culture to signal we’re part of the gang who likes Bon Iver and Game of Thrones and Annie Hall, we use stories we saw in movies, TV or books to help us make sense of the chaotic mess that surrounds us in our own lives – we enjoy telling each other about what we’ve seen. It’s part of the fun of being human.

And Hollywood wants us talking about their shit. Because out of ten people – if two of them are talking about a movie they saw, the chances are far greater that the other eight may go buy a ticket. Or pay somewhere else down the revenue stream.

But to get more people talking about it, you have to seed the storm cloud a bit. They’re starting to catch on – like when they put Portlandia’s season premiere online before it aired and ratings in key demos jumped 81%. But that kind of thinking needs to extend across the entire industry, not just TV, which is used to giving its shit away for free.

Piracy achieves the same effect, though less formally. If Hollywood were to formalize the practice – legitimize piracy, make downloading titles fast and easy and inexpensive, none of this would be a problem. And yeah, certain distribution arms might have to change to accommodate this, but distribution always has to change to accommodate new technology. Outdated industry models will wither and die in the face of new technology and new consumer preferences. This is what market pricing is all about – letting consumer demand set prices. And if that’s readjusting prices downward, resetting what could be seen as a speculative bubble so that inflated movie budgets have to go away and huge marketing campaigns are replaced by good word-of-mouth buzz, then so be it. The industry will be healthier for it.

Why Hollywood Is So Dumb About Piracy

advice, Hollywood

Fireman Trying to Turn Off Broken Hydrant Under the Hollywood Sign, LA, 2006 © by exposo

Hollywood is always behind the times – whether being the last to know “oh no you didn’t” is not funny or the loudest objectors to new technologies (which they always say is going to decrease their profit, even though it always increases it) .

Most hilarious, though, is the way Hollywood is always first to pat themselves on the back for being cool, forward-looking, innovative, young (that just means they’re quick to hire young sociopath-douchebags with no track record then throw up their hands when they have no idea why the stuff they produce is such shit) –

But the fact remains, Hollywood is one of the oldest, whitest, crankiest-old-man businesses around.

The huge studios (which are all owned by enormous multinational corporations) are up in arms about piracy because they see themselves as the “authors” of their films and TV shows and think that anyone “stealing” their films and TV shows by downloading them illegally represents a dangerous threat to their bottom line. Or at least to the capitalist law and order system that has allowed their parent companies to rape and pillage our economies and natural resources for hundreds of years.

The biggest flaw in this logic is the idea that *money* is the greatest resource an audience can trade to the author of a film in exchange for the privilege of seeing that film. (That a corporation can be the “author” of a film is a debate for another day.)

Attention is a far more valuable commodity – one that Hollywood sometimes spends more money to acquire than they reap in money in return.

Which would you rather have:

– A movie that cost you $5 million to make and grossed $10 million, but that no one heard of, no one talked about, no one cared about, or –

– A movie that cost you $5 million to make and grossed $5 million, but that everyone heard of, everyone’s talking about, everyone cares about?

I would rather the second. Because in the former case, you have a commodity with a limited afterlife. In the latter case, you have a commodity with a far greater afterlife, both financially and culturally. Benefits accrue to the studio and the creative professionals involved in the film that are not measured in money but rather in terms of how much impact a project has – how many people saw it?

During awards season, important people (people who might be voting in the big awards) receive free screeners of anything that stands a chance of getting an award. Studios want to make sure the important people – the tastemakers – have seen their stuff. Considering it costs nothing to allow important people to download video for free – why not let the important people’s families also have access? They probably have a lot of important friends who vote too. And they probably spend a lot of time talking about this stuff at boring holiday parties. And if we’re expanding the circle of who is important, why not make it certain zip codes, because I think we can all agree that most taste is made in a few central taste zones in Brooklyn and Los Feliz.

My point is this: everyone is important. Everyone is a tastemaker. Do I want some kid in a village in India to be able to watch my movie for free because he downloaded it illegally? Fuck yeah. Because that kid is important. And getting my movie in the hands of that kid is more important than the pennies I/we could make off him. Pennies we no doubt would never make because he would have never made it to the theatre.

A huge part of a movie or TV show’s budget – sometimes WAY more than the costs of production – is marketing and advertising. Imagine there was a system where the youngest, most independent-minded, most hooked-in online could access and see movies and TV (sometimes before they’re even released) and spread word early whether something needs to be seen to be part of the conversation or not. We have that system in place and that’s piracy – and it’s the fairness at its heart – the fact that Hollywood can’t just throw a ton of plastic Happy Meal toys in our landfills to make us see their stupid movies – that they hate. It means quality stands on its own, and that getting firehosed in the face with marketing campaigns won’t blind us to the shitstorm you just made.

The bottom line is this: Hollywood spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on marketing to get people to see their stuff, trying to get them to talk about it – when the best marketing is and always has been – make something great and put it where people can see it.

Right now there is tension in the market between the way consumers want to consume their movies and T.V. – in my living room, with my twitter friends – and the way Hollywood wants us to consume it – in theaters, on the day and time they specify, on approved devices. However, it doesn’t serve them to continue resisting their own customers’ preferences. Just as the music industry no longer found piracy to be a major problem once digital downloads were widely available at the right price, so will Hollywood find this “problem” will go away once they get their heads out of their asses and wake up to the world we now live in.

Hypocrisy in Hollywood
Created by: Paralegal

Things Are Bad For Women, And Getting Worse


Releitura - Cindy Sherman © by BrunoEddy

Women are the bitch of society – and it’s getting worse and worse –

Between inequality in the workplace – TV shows starring domestic abusers – a political climate focused on diminishing women’s rights –

My question is – why aren’t we outraged?

Why aren’t women everywhere getting loud, and angry about this?

Why, in this moment where our rights and our respect are vanishing faster than boyfriend tees at a sample sale, are we more invested than ever in cutesy, girlish stuff  – our Pinterest boards and our eyeframes without lenses and our Etsy hair accessories and our Young Adult novels – the kinds of clothes, hobbies, conversation topics, professions that are sure to never, ever make erections disappear –

Here’s why I think.

I think we have a strong interest in pleasing those who are in power.

And I think we have an instinct not to do anything that feels threatening, aggressive, masculine. We have been strongly warned (culturally, inter-personally, professionally) that getting assertive, threatening dicks in any way, will sideline us, turn us into laughing stocks, leave us the single spinster alone with her handmade cat blankets and her angry diatribes. If we speak the truth – if we even say the same thing a man might say – we risk being marginalized socially or even losing jobs, as we make ourselves vulnerable to looking ridiculous by going against the tide.

And we risk love, being loved, if we seem up in arms, angry, embattled. Standing behind lines drawn in the sand.

So I do see why this is happening – and why we’re letting it.

But I don’t think those are the only two choices.

I know for a fact it’s possible to be both assertive and feminine – to both stand up for the rights and respect of women and still value and hold the respect of men. I think if change is going to happen anywhere – it’s going to be with the 51% of Americans who are women, who have to be watching what is happening with some dismay, and who need to know they can still be loved, still be part of the great club we call society, even if they speak out and stand up against these trends.

We are powerful. But we have to stop undercutting our power with every sartorial and conversational choice we make. If we’re afraid of being sidelined, marginalized, ridiculed, we have to know that over there where we’re going to be is where the cool people hang out – the adults. The ones who don’t put up with this sick psychosexual infantilizing game where one gender is on top, one is on the bottom, and both work hard to keep it that way.


This is a great breakdown of the current and most recent numbers of women of all the different jobs in Hollywood. All the numbers are flat around or (way) below 25%. This is obviously my area of interest in terms of employment – but it also affects us all because this is our culture, what we see on TV, what we see in movies. The piece mentions that studies show that the more women involved with a project, the more likely it is to have a woman character.