Shaping the Craft of Screenwriting: Women Screen Writers in Silent Era Hollywood
In a 1921 Picturegoer article, Jeanie Macpherson advised prospective writers not to worry about submitting scenarios with scene by scene outlines; instead they should send in a synopsis of 3000 words and a scenario staff would reshape the material for shooting. She warned her audience: “Do not have the camera in mind as you write.” 1 In contrast, by 1926 Francis Marion in Photoplay was advising those interested in adaptations to go beyond plot, to translate the original story “into screen language.” 2 Their different perspectives on how to write for the screen reflected the rapid changes in the craft during Hollywood’s silent period. Women, like Macpherson and Marion, were very much a part of these changes. As Wendy Holliday points out, about 50% of the scenarios were written by women; although, the exact percentage is unknown due in part to inconsistent crediting. 3 In fact women’s presence was felt in multiple areas of the American film industry including writing, directing, producing, and editing, as the industry initially welcomed, even sought out, their contribution. Women wrote both original and adapted scenarios. In addition, they contributed story ideas, served as story editors and continuity writers, and wrote titles. As department and unit heads, they further impacted the stories being told. Women were everywhere as the craft of screen writing took shape.
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