I thought it might be encouraging to hear from a woman who succeeded in Hollywood. Hollywood is a tough, tough place to work. It is very male dominated and many capable women have been harassed or refused entry. The money to be made is huge and there are lots of people fighting for it. The chances of success are infinitesimal. Aline Brosh McKenna is one of those rare birds who did succeed, even rarer because she is a screenwriter.
She describes her road to success:
“My first years in Hollywood, in my 20s, I worked on assignments for movie studios and wrote and produced television pilots. I learned my craft, sure, but it was also an apprenticeship in the ways and language of the older people who ran the business. These were overwhelmingly male people. I’m an opinionated person by nature, but I quickly learned that women — and especially, female screenwriters — do best by getting their opinions across in other ways. One way is to learn to speak Man. Luckily, I was already proficient in this language, as the doted-on daughter of a brainy father with whom I spent hours in conversation. I’m also quite proficient in Apple Polishing, a hard-won talent earned through years of trying to get good grades.
Even with the ability to speak in these codes, it was not easy sometimes being the only lady in the room. Over time, though, I developed a carapace. I learned to shrug off the comments, swallow my upset and say something suitably un-confrontational.” – by Aline Brosh McKenna, N Y Times.
If you are a professional woman who works in a male-dominated field, it’s useful to learn from someone who has succeeded in the darkest and deepest of trenches. Aline Brosh McKenna’s first major success, which came 15 years after working on smaller things in Hollywood, was her adaption of The Devil Wears Prada. Nine years later she scored another major success when she and comedian and singer Rachel Bloom, created the musical TV series, My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. If success in any workplace takes patience, self-confidence, and a thick skin, Hollywood is the epicenter.
The Two Keys to Her Success
There are several things that pop out of the piece she wrote for the New York Times: that she spoke “man” and that she knew how to “apple polish”. Those two traits are, sadly, often necessary for survival in no-women’s land, where outspoken women are labeled difficult and where women who ask for a turn are called pushy.
Screenwriting is a collaborative process. Many people have a hand in the finished script. Sometimes the script is taken from the original writer and sometimes the writer stays with the process, collaborating with directors, producers, actors, other writers. To stay with a script through its final shooting version requires many abilities, speaking man and apple polishing among them. It also takes a thick skin, self-confidence, and sheer willingness to be pushed around. It’s amazing that she was able to succeed in that bruising Hollywood process.
It is also interesting to note that her two breakout works were about difficult women working in male-dominated industries. And she made these women interesting and appealing. I wonder if a male writer would have felt compelled to do so. Perhaps a male writer might have said: “They are nasty and damaged, so let’s punish them and take pleasure or find laughs in that”? Instead Brosh McKenna explores why they are difficult and offers them a chance to heal and even redeem themselves. Also, overall, both Prada and Ex-Girlfriend are funny, warm and engaging, not nasty, bitchy or cold.
If you are fighting for recognition and equal treatment in a man’s world, watch Brosh McKenna’s work. It’s wonderful to know that at the heart of the #MeToo movement there was a place where one extremely talented woman could flourish. The Devil Wears Prada is available for rent on YouTube, AmazonPrime, and iTunes. My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is streaming on Netflix.
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