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A Focus on International Women Screenwriters

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What began as a discussion about the gap in literature on screenwriters from different parts of the world – especially women screenwriters – evolved into a massive, five-year project for Jule Selbo, professor of radio-TV-film and Jill Nelmes of the University of East London.

Just published is “Women Screenwriters: An International Guide,” a comprehensive, 1,000-plus-page volume illuminates the work of more than 300 female writers from 60 nations, from the first filmed narratives produced in 1896 to present day. The work provides an overview of the female screenwriters’ histories and backgrounds and includes everal in-depth entries illuminate the work of many of the most influential women screenwriters across the globe.

One of the challenges faced by Selbo and Nelmes was accessing information that was only available in languages neither of them spoke. To provide the scope and range the project required, Selbo and Nelmes identified contributors from other nations – scholars who could research and provide a perspective on the opportunities for women in the early eras of filmmaking, as well as in the contemporary industry.

“Now that it’s complete, I’m really proud of it,” Selbo said. “I am glad to have been able to work with film scholars from so many different places, including Australia,  Africa, India, Denmark, Jamaica, Mexico, the U.S.A. – the list goes on and on.”

“Women Screenwriters” also gave Selbo the opportunity to invite recent Cal State Fullerton M.F.A. screenwriting alumni to contribute to the book : Sam Lively ’12, ’14 (B.A. radio-TV-film), Warren Lewis ’14 and Megan Reilly ’13.

A discussion with Selbo, below, offers additional personal and professional perspectives.

Why were you interested in getting this book into the world?  

Film history is very rich and there are many approaches to use for a fuller understanding of it.  Looking at it from the perspective of female screenwriters across the globe from 1896 to today – the challenges, obstacles and opportunities they experienced in relation to their specific nations’ heritage and social mores – is fascinating. There are so many issues to consider such as censorship, gender biases, political dictates, financial concerns and religious issues, as well as issues concerning traditional and deeply-held social expectations.

Looking at the film industry’s growth in individual nations as it affected women and was affected by women was also a fascinating and illuminating study. It also was a chance to interact with film scholars from around the world. The introductory overviews on the national film industries and then the in-depth investigations of the female screenwriters in each nation are eye-opening.

Why is this important?

It’s important from a historical and international perspective because not only does it represent the work of many film scholars from across the globe, but also helps us understand particular film histories – for example, why female screenwriters did not have a viable presence in countries like Spain until the late 1960s due to particular political regimes. Or why in Africa, many women’s films focus on gender equality and women’s rights, and why in the US, female screenwriters were well-represented in the early film industry but their lot changed when “Hollywood” became recognized as a viable money-making endeavor.

What do you hope readers will gain from the work?

As a screenwriter in Hollywood for more than 20 years, I always understood the number of men and women working screenwriters was extremely unbalanced. What this book makes clear is that this was not always the case in the United States. Knowing more about the history of the craft can, I think, inspire female screenwriters to take inspiration from the women who have gone before them.

As I moved deeper into investigating the history of screenwriting, which has become one of the more popular areas in cinema studies, I gained new respect for the women who forged paths “way back when.” As a result of the work on this book, I came to a new determination to try to help change the status of female screenwriters today.

A member of the campus since 2005, Selbo spent nearly 20 years in the professional film industry and worked with such filmmakers as George Lucas, Roland Joffe, Mike Newell and Aaron Spelling. She has worked in feature film, television, animated film and television and graphic novels. Selbo also has written plays produced in Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Louisville and at the Last Frontier Theatre Festival in Alaska, and she has taught screenwriting seminars around the U.S.A., Europe and Russia.