Culture

Margot Robbie’s Screenwriting Lab Is Helping Women Break Into Filmmaking

It’s been a troubling year for the film industry. A global pandemic has carried waves of restrictions and lockdown orders that have hampered even the most powerful studios. Hollywood’s sat static, with tentpole releases being pushed back, shooting schedules grinding to a halt, and promising movies and TV shows shelved or scrapped in the interim. And yet, if you’re a fan of Margot Robbie, this year has somehow also managed to deliver a slew of buzzy projects that are reframing how the industry operates in the post TimesUp era.

Of course, the catch is, a lot of those projects won’t see Robbie in front of the camera. Instead, the actress has used this turbulent year to don a producing hat – one she hangs up at her company LuckyChap Entertainment – and affect real change in a still-predominately-male field.

Actors launching their own producing outfits isn’t anything new. The Clooneys, the Pitts, and the Cruises have been doing it for decades. But it was remarkably rare for an actress to add that credit to her resume before the Witherspoons and the Therons and the Davises decided to capitalize on their awards clout and marketability to tell the stories they were interested in. These stories tend to skew female, trading in traditional male protagonists with straight-forward redemption arcs for messy, complicated women audiences can actually relate to. What’s more, female-led movies often end up hiring a diverse crew, giving women and minorities opportunities in front of, and behind, the camera that might have been inaccessible before.

Robbie’s done that too – leveled the playing field by pursuing passion projects that she funds with bigger roles in Quentin Tarantino flicks and Martin Scorsese dramas. But what’s remarkable about the year the actress has had is how it’s reshaping Hollywood from the ground-up, during a time when the status-quo model is in desperate need of reinvention and when women directors seem to be making huge gains.

Earlier this year, Variety announced that Robbie, along with in-demand screenwriter Christina Hodson, had formed her own screenwriting lab, The Lucky Exports Pitch Program. The month-long workshop kicked off in November 2019 and its goal was simple: to give female creators a space to develop and refine their ideas with the help of other women creatives. More specifically, Robbie wanted the inaugural writer’s room to help women break into film’s action and franchise boy-club. Together with Hodson, she chose six women planning bold interpretations and reinventions of those genres.

They were writers whose work had already made it in primetime TV shows, series like Marvel’s Agent Carter and Apple TV+’s Jason Momoa-starring See, but during a time when issues of equality and gatekeeping continue to plague the industry, they probably would’ve had difficulty selling their scripts to the bigger studios.

That’s where Robbie and Hodson’s lab came in, recruiting mentors and experienced professionals to help the women not only build-out their original ideas, but package, pitch, and market them to Hollywood executives. The result? All six writers — Sue Chung, Charmaine DeGraté, Eileen Jones, Faith Liu, Dagny Looper, and Maria Sten – sold their projects to companies that included Universal Pictures, Blumhouse, Sony, and New Line. These were gritty action-thrillers with immigration bents, lethal spy dramas, adrenaline-packed Westerns reimagining the California Gold Rush, and teen slashers about college-aged biohackers – the kinds of stories women rarely get to tell, let alone conceive of and control … at least not in this business.

But for Robbie, the lab is just the latest success story amidst a track record filled with perception-shifting wins when it comes to female autonomy in film. Long past the days when she could be pigeon-holed as the “next-door it-girl,” Robbie has spent the last decade quietly toppling some of the more insidious patriarchal structures that make it so difficult for women to succeed in the industry. She did it with I, Tonya, where she used the miraculous rise and tragic fall of figure skating icon Tonya Harding to question Hollywood’s idealization of beauty and talent, and its condemnation of poverty and female ambition. She did it with Birds of Prey, keeping the dream of a superhero girl squad alive by both producing the Warner Brothers hit and advocating for its woman-led crew, including DC’s first female Asian director, Cathy Yan. And she did it with the upcoming release of Promising Young Woman, a rape-revenge fantasy she helped bring to life, written and directed by Killing Eve showrunner Emerald Fennell.

Those are the movies that have probably landed on your radar. The ones that haven’t – neo-noir thrillers like Terminal, Bonnie & Clyde period dramas like Dreamland, and the Kat Dennings Hulu comedy Dollface – are compelling works that challenge genre staples and examine classic tropes from interesting new angles. And there are still more down the pipeline, from Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, which Robbie will star in, to a retelling of Robin Hood from Maid Marian’s point of view, to a Tank Girl revival. All films that center on women and champion female creatives.

In a year that brought doubt about the industry’s future, and worries that the pandemic might reverse any progress made when it comes to diversity and inclusion behind the camera, Robbie eschewed focusing on her own acting career to give other women a launching platform in a space where their voices are often stifled, if not completely snuffed out.

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