Austin Film Festival 2015: X, Y, and Why — Writing Gender and Sexuality

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Moderator Bethany Johnson, left, with Jack Burditt, Kathy Greenberg and Rodrigo Garcia — Dale Roe, Austin American-Statesman

X, Y, and Why — Writing Gender and Sexuality
10:45 a.m. Saturday, The Omni Hotel, Capital Ballroom

Panelists: Jack Burditt, creator of “Last Man Standing”; writer/executive producer of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “The Mindy Project” and “30 Rock”; writer/co-producer of “Frasier.” Kathy Greenberg, co-creator of “The L Word”; writer of “Ratatouille” and “Gnomeo & Juliet.” Rodrigo Garcia, writer/director of “Last Days in the Desert,” “Mother and Child,” “Nine Lives”; director of “Albert Nobbs”; executive producer of “In Treatment.”

Moderator: Bethany Johnson

In short: The panelists discussed their experiences writing for characters of different genders and sexual identities. They talked about their influences, boundary-pushing, dealing with criticism, and their current/next projects.

Highlights: Panelists’ influences ranged from the films of Akira Kurosawa to “Get Smart.” They noted that there is not a lot of boundary pushing in network television, with Burrito noting that “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” his Netflix series, was written for NBC and the outlet shift was not made until the final episode was filming. This led to a discussion with co-creator Tina Fey about whether or not to push more boundaries in the upcoming second season with the ultimate decision that the tone should stay largely the same.

Garcia noted that, working in cable, he’d rarely run into efforts to censor his work. In fact, cable encourages creators to push boundaries.

In terms of difficulties writing for characters of different genders, ethnicities and sexual identity, it was noted that having a diverse staff helps. There is a line between relying on (and poking fun at) stereotypes and avoiding them, Greenberg says she tries to write the truth according to the character and to be honest about it.

Panelists discussed how they deal with criticism. “I cry a lot before bedtime,” Garcia said. Greenberg admitted that “The L Word” got heat for not representing everybody, but explained that the show was about a subculture of a subculture. “You can’t be everything to everybody and we had to own that,” she said. Burditt noted that “Kimmy Schmidt” was criticized for not exploring the dating life of gay character Titus Andronicus. He said the first season was always meant to explore the journey of the lead character, Kimmy, and that plans were to expand the other characters in subsequent seasons. he seemed perturbed that online complainers would think the upcoming focus on the Titus character was a result of those complaints.

Garcia said that he has written domestic servant and imprisoned characters that are Hispanic.

“I live in LA,” he explained. “I go to prisons and practically everyone in there is Latino or black. The housekeepers are Latina. I think what’s offensive is to think that all housekeepers are the same, but not if you imbue that person with her own qualities. I think it would be offensive to not admit that most domestic workers in LA are Latina.

Quotes: “I write a lot of female characters. I’m not a woman, so I have no idea what women are really like, but I have a sense in my own imagination of what the women I write might be like. How could she be like me? The fact that she’s a woman could not make her completely unlike me. I know when writing that eventually an actress will read it, so I know I will have to eventually pass that bar, especially with the sexual stuff. I call it ‘leave your (expletive) at the door writing.’ ” — Garcia

“Guys are just basically dumb and stupid, which is why I write female characters.” — Burditt

“Writing women takes me somewhere. Going into the heads of female characters is very exotic. It takes me super far away.” — Garcia


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