Get up and ‘GLOW’: Sascha Rothchild on her career and the landscape for women in Hollywood
Sascha Rothchild with the cast of ‘GLOW’.
It took 10 years for Sascha Rothchild to become an overnight success.
After studying playwriting at Boston College, Rothchild moved to LA at 21 with the clear goal of writing half hour TV comedy. After writing a few spec scripts, she quickly managed to get an agent and thought, at least temporarily, that she’d made it. However, she’d go out to meetings but never get staffed in rooms. Frustrated, she turned her focus instead to features. Those scripts got more attention, yet nothing sold.
The whole time Rothchild was waitressing and doing odd jobs to make ends meet.
She kept trying and trying to crack it as a writer, but in the meantime seven or eight years had gone by.
Around that time, she kept getting parking tickets and was wondering if she could even afford to live in LA. It seemed like even if she was only 10 seconds over the meter, an inspector appeared to fine her. Frustrated, she wrote a sarcastic article about how parking inspectors should be superheroes – as in they are always in the right place at the right time – and submitted it to the LA Times. They published it.
“I thought, ‘Oh my god, my voice, my humour and my personality came across in this article’. It got published immediately and I felt this huge sense of not only success, but also relief that what I have to say is worthwhile,” Rothchild tells IF.
So she kept writing articles. One day she came across an ad in the back of the LA Weekly calling out for writers and submitted some examples.
In 2008, when she was 31, her story ‘How To Get Divorced by 30’ – about the collapse of her first marriage – was published on the cover. Within a week, she had a book deal with Penguin, and a movie deal with Universal.
“I had the 10 years of work that didn’t quite get there, and then all of a sudden in a week everything came together.”
Rothchild spent the next few years selling feature scripts. Then with best friend and fellow writer Randi Barnes, she sold comedy pitch My Best Friend is a Lesbo to NBC. It never went to series, but the experience convinced Rothchild that she wanted to concentrate on TV development.
In 2013 she was staffed on CW’s The Carrie Diaries, and every year since Rothchild has also developed shows – she wrote a half hour dark comedy inspired by her family for HBO, and half hour comedy about the women who started Juicy Couture for Freeform.
Then around two and half years ago, she was tapped for Netflix’s female-driven ’80s wrestling comedy GLOW, which stars Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin. Executive producer Jenji Kohan (Orange is the New Black, Weeds) and showrunners Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch had apparently liked Rothchild’s HBO pilot.
“They were looking for women who could come in and explore this crazy voice of ’80s female wrestling. My pilot was so specific and sort of strange, because my family is very specific and strange, and I think that’s the kind of writers that they wanted – people that could really make a team of women, each woman so different and clear.”
GLOW’s third season is about to get underway, and Rothchild, who is both co-executive producer and writer, will discuss working on the show at Screen Producers Australia’s Screen Forever conference next week.
GLOW remains somewhat of an anomaly in Hollywood in that the majority of the cast, crew, writers and showrunners are women.
“It brings out, I think, better material for the writers and the actors because it’s a safe place to bring up feelings about different things. It feels really amazing to know that many women can work together and succeed,” Rothchild says. “It really feels like there’s room for everybody.”
A constant topic of discussion in the writers room is the male gaze versus the female gaze, says Rothchild.
“These women are wearing these small leotards, but when we’re looking at them, we’re not looking at them to try and make them sexy. We’re looking at them as athletes or as being awkward, or as being angry. Starting from that point is so different. When you see women characters that are built by men – when you see women superheroes in the past that wear teeny little sexy outfits and women in battlefield wearing teeny little armour that would never actually help them at all win a battle – it’s such a different perspective.
“Even when we’re clearly showing these women are beautiful, it’s shot in a way that isn’t about objectifying them. It’s about just telling the stories about these people. That’s the biggest difference from day one, and that kind of encompasses all the stories we tell. Do we know somebody who would really act like that? As women, would we say this or do this? What are the implications of that?”
GLOW has been a great success for Netflix, garnering 10 Emmy award nominations and winning two, and Rothchild herself was nominated for an Emmy and a Writers Guild of America Award. However, she’s frustrated when people still seem shocked that audiences watch female-driven content.
“I would like to get to a point where when there are movies about women or TV shows with a lot of women, there’s no longer that conversation of how surprised we need to be that women actually watch things, that men are interested in watching things about women, and that women can make things that men like. Everyone just assumes men can make things that everyone likes.”
Ditto the fact that when shows and films are made by women, they garner such attention for that fact alone. “Wonder Women was directed by a woman; that’s incredible. But it was such a conversation, which shows how far we need to go – for enough women to be directing that it’s not a huge story.”
This year, GLOW’s stunt co-ordinator Shauna Duggins was the first woman to ever win an Emmy for stunt coordination. “I didn’t know that a woman had never won. It was very emotional to be part of a first.” And one of the things that excites Rothchild about GLOW is that so many of its directors are women – including Aussie Kate Dennis.
“That’s a big push now, that women who are in a place to hire other women actually hire women directors,” she says.
“It’s not that there aren’t women who want to be directors, it’s just that they’re not often hired. That’s been a big shift this year in Hollywood, and I think that ties into the #MeToo movement in a way; everyone working together to say ‘Alright, we’re done with the old system.”
In the second season of GLOW, there is a storyline in which Ruth, played by Alison Brie, is sexually harassed by a TV executive. It was written before the Weinstein scandal broke; the writing team had heard the horror stories of such men in the industry. “We wanted to tell that story, and then to have it actually all break publicly was extraordinary and nauseating at the same time,” Rothchild says.
“Because it’s [set] in the 80s, we think ‘Oh my God, it was so long ago’. Then we realise, ‘Oh no it’s still happening today’.”
However, she feels the #MeToo movement has allowed women to feel empowered to stand up to abhorrent behaviour.
“Women are being listened to in this moment in time. It’s from top to bottom, everywhere in Hollywood; everyone really is trying to address when people are uncomfortable. It’s a touchy, strange time but it’s something that’s really necessary and exciting that it’s happening.”
Reflecting on her beginnings, Rothchild now feels that two decades ago, LA wasn’t really ready for her. Back then, there weren’t the outlets for her voice and sense of humour – but there are now.
“I feel like there are so many shows with strong women which have room for emotion and comedy. There weren’t quite as many 20 years ago,” she says, attributing that shift in part to the rise of cable television and streaming services, which have demonstrated there is room for edgier material that serves niche audiences.
Rothchild is also co-executive producer on another Netflix show, the upcoming Huge In France, which follows famous French comedian Gad Elmaleh (playing a version of himself) as he grapples with his lack of celebrity in The States. Rothchild describes as more of hard comedy than GLOW; there’s more laugh out loud comedy and less drama.
The writer also has a development deal with CBS Studios. Her dream project remains a show about her family – she says she is always working on potential angles in her mind.
As for the projects she’s written that haven’t gone into production, she says it can be frustrating when they’re put the shelf, but it’s all part of a larger plan.
“Everyone out here that’s very successful has 30 things that didn’t get put into production or didn’t get made. If you let yourself get too frustrated, you’re not going to make it because it’s a marathon and not a sprint. A lot of people end up making a living on things that other people never see and that’s part of the business.”
Rothchild’s advice to emerging writers is simple: write. “It’s your job if you want to be a writer to just keep producing material. Eventually something will break and something will happen. That’s what you have to do. And it does take time… for the most part it takes a solid decade to get your foot in the door and understand what you’re doing and meet enough people. So my advice is actually write, and don’t give up when it’s really hard.”
Sascha Rothchild is among the keynote speakers at this year’s Screen Forever. This article originally appeared in IF Magazine #185.