This article examines flipped-reality screenwriting, particularly in comedy form, and its ability to destabilise the ‘norms’ and ‘universals’ of mainstream film. Flipped-reality is one particular type of fictional alternative reality; a world where existing privilege, bias or behaviour is reversed. It can be used as a strategic invitation to consider alternative perspectives by recasting its subjects. In particular, this article will focus on gender flipped-reality. For example, in the case of an upturned gender hierarchy, putting male characters into women’s proverbial shoes. In this article, television, film, comedy sketches and internet videos will be examined as examples of flipped-reality texts. Whilst the funny, female perspective is often marginalised, the flipped-reality device facilitates a perspective by which one can both conceive of oneself and relate with the other. However, such cases of flipped-reality whilst destabilising the gender hierarchies, simultaneously may serve to reinforce gender binaries. Screenwriting as a practice itself is often built upon an assumption of a ‘universal’ perspective which in reality belongs to straight white males, thus limiting screenwriting itself’s ability to challenge hegemonic ideals. As such, it is significant to consider flipped-reality screenwriting and challenge ‘normal’ screenwriting techniques.

A vision in brown robes that caress his shapely curves, OBI WAN strides toward LUKE1

When, in 2016, American film producer Ross Putman established a Twitter identity (@femscriptintros) to expose the gendered (and sexist) ways female characters are introduced in screenplays, there was a swift and lively response from media commentators interested in gender and screen. One such response was an online piece taking popular examples of male characters from film and television, and writing them hypothetical screenplay introductions inspired by the ways in which women are written into scripts. The results, as demonstrated by the Star Wars (1977) reference quoted above, were intentionally ludicrous. The piece is an example of strategic invitations to consider alternate perspectives on gender by recasting the subject.

I propose that the narrative device I am calling “flipped-reality” is another such strategy, and is increasingly employed by writers and commentators to create, for their audience, fictional worlds in which hierarchical binaries are reversed. The intention might be to identify and demonstrate double standards in mainstream (Western) culture, and/or to create a lens through which audiences can identify with perspectives that are not usually their own. This article is particularly interested in the ways the device is used in comedy screenwriting to challenge gender norms, and how this practice also serves to highlight similarly gendered assumptions that serve to marginalise the funny, female perspective. With much of the analytical discourse and scholarship around comedy centring upon a norm, and a departure from that norm, it might be useful to ask what happens to female comic perspectives when women are already defined as a cultural departure from the default norm that is man. If, as Chris Beasley suggests, the alternate view (where women are seen as the starting point) is just as possible,2 then perhaps it is this possibility that is inspiring screenwriters, especially screenwriters interested in marginalised perspectives, to employ the flipped-reality device.

I will review the various strategic uses of this particular type of alternate reality narrative – especially in screenworks3 – before discussing how the strategies employed by this device intersect with elements of screenwriting practice, specifically those pertaining to narrative perspective, an area that this article argues is worthy of further examination. Agreeing that there is “a growing concern among filmmakers to find new ways to represent the perspectives and journeys of women,” 4 I will argue that this notion of narrative perspective in screenplays is especially useful when considering the female perspective in comedies. Firstly, though, I will define what I am calling the “flipped-reality” narrative device.


When I refer to flipped-reality, my aim is to define one particular type of fictional alternative reality; a world where existing privilege, bias or behaviour is reversed. I believe it is useful to apply singular definitions to these different kinds of narrative tools, hence my suggestion that the flipped-reality be considered a discrete category. I am not suggesting these definitions be categorised hierarchically (in ways that suggest one device is more or less effective than another in achieving its intended aims), rather that they be understood as distinct from one another. From this may come opportunities to more clearly analyse the use of these devices in screenwriting practice, an exercise that may facilitate deeper understandings of how such narrative devices function, and to what end.

In other words, I choose to situate flipped-reality outside of other aligned but quite different devices, including body swap, role reversal and gender inversion. I argue it functions differently in that these narratives do not invert the world as we know it, instead depicting the (usually temporary) lived experience of one or two lead characters destined to learn lessons about gender, race, class or age through their ordeals.5 Thus the default world remains the same, with all of its entrenched cultural, social and political norms still intact. A narrative that hinges upon a protagonist who temporarily occupies the lived experience of another race or gender (whether it be by wish, curse or costume) has different mechanics from a narrative that asks us to imagine a world with new rules. It is true that the notion of role-reversal in a narrative facilitates an experience for the character of viewing the world through new eyes, but I argue that the flipped-reality device functions differently. The first suggests the protagonist may have a transformation, cued by a shift in perspective. The second shifts the perspective for us all.

I am far from claiming that flipped-reality is new – indeed, my list of examples of its use in screenwriting and beyond is growing daily. But I have yet to uncover an existing definition beyond my own – in screenwriting discourse, certainly – that distinguishes it as a singular device, distinct from those aforementioned role reversals or body swaps. Therefore, by extension, there would appear to be no-one in screenwriting practice interrogating the practical application of this device beyond the broader terms that might encompass it, perhaps because these kinds of narrative are not usually demarcated in clear ways within screenwriting discourse.

Screenwriting author Blake Snyder, known for his own regimented approach to the mainstream three-act structure and penchant for classification, made a convincing argument for there being ten story types to all screenplays conform.6 In his first publication he classified both the notions of alternate realities and body swap narratives within his “Out of the Bottle Story Type”, claiming all of these would fit either the wish-fulfilment or comeuppance version of the category.7 In his second book, however, he broke this category into five subsets, of which “Body Switch” and “Surreal” are two, with the topsy-turvy worlds to which I refer fitting most easily into the latter.8 Otherwise, narratives such as flipped-reality tend to be subsumed within generalised groupings, including “the fantasy/magic category”9,“magical wish fulfilment”10 and “The consequences of one magical or surreal element.”11 Film comedy scholar Andrew Horton usefully outlines a series of Comic Plots – of which the last category was one – and delineates these from the more specifically applied Comic Plot Devices,12 one of which is the notion of “Inversion: Turn most things or situations upside down or inside out, and through inversion, you have laughs.”13 Although inversion would seem a useful concept to consider when examining this notion of flipped-reality, his final example suggests this might have too wide an application: “Gender-bending stories from Some Like It Hot (1959) to Tootsie (1982) and beyond thrive on the laughter generated when men are forced to ‘become’ women.”14 Thus it might be argued that this particular device reinforces, rather than undermines, established gender hierarchies. Horton’s use of the verb “forced” is key here: the comedy comes from the male character’s presumed diminished status, and is a device that, for that reason, is arguably less effective (at least, comedically) when it is a woman doing the cross-dressing. It is a comic, narrative device trading on, as comedy scholar Brett Mills reminds us, comedy’s “deviancy from accepted norms” which then raises the question, “how can a woman be funny if femininity is in and of itself seen as deviant?”15

Noted author in the fields of film and feminisms, Mary Russo, likewise discusses the potentially limiting consequences of inversion, suggesting, “In the social dramas of transition and ‘rituals of status reversal’ [is] evidence of the reinforcement of social structure, hierarchy, and order through inversion.”16 Instead, as feminist film scholar Yvonne Tasker writes, it is more useful to consider that, “Cultural production involves the work of characterization and performance, the retelling and reworking of stories, the inflections and reproductions of generic conventions, even a process of making them strange.”17 It is this sense of “making strange” that flipped-reality offers alternative perspectives.

With flipped-reality narratives, the making strange I am exploring is that which asks the reader or viewer to see the world from another point-of-view, facilitated by the notion of travesty: a strategically distorted representation. In her book Pretty/Funny (2014), which examines the gendered cultural double standards at play in traditions of comedy, noted gender and sexuality scholar Linda Mizejewski writes of a routine performed by comedian Wanda Sykes, “describing how she does a number on white men in fancy cars who pull up beside her in traffic. She’ll stare at a guy until he looks back, she says, and then she locks the door. ‘How you like it?’ she asks him.”18 In the most basic terms, flipped-reality could be described as the how-you-like-it? device, from Sykes, whereby reversing the apparently usual circumstances suggests these would be unacceptable were the tables turned. At the very least, they might be exposed as ludicrous.

Queer theorist J. Jack Halberstam has written of how, teaching at a university, she changed the focus of an Introduction to Gender and Sexuality course to instead be a study of heterosexuality:

Using clips from Desperate Housewives [2004-12], The Sopranos [1999-2007], The Bachelor [2002-], and other TV shows, I would act like an anthropologist visiting a strange group of people engaged in odd sexual rituals, showing the class what heterosexuality looked like from the outside.19

Halberstam describes one benefit of this approach being that it “forces the very students who are deeply invested in norms, their own and other people’s” to recognise and examine “their own investments, their own issues, their own struggles with what is supposed to come naturally.”20 Comedian Margaret Cho similarly skews reality in a routine from her show, I’m the One That I Want (2000), as transcribed by Mizejewski: “Do you know anybody who’s straight anyway? It’s so weird; it’s so subversive to be straight. If I’m talking to a boy who’s cute and straight and single, I’m like, are you a unicorn?”21 Of the same routine, another article suggests that, in the hands of Cho, “the queer becomes normalized and the straight becomes ‘subversive’.” 22 This act of strategic reality flip is an impulse shared by screenwriters who create fictional, flipped-reality worlds within which to set their screenplays.

Who’s Flipping the Script?

In her memoir My Story (2014), former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard takes a piece from the Australian Financial Review about her relationship with partner Tim Mathieson, and rewrites it as if the subject were not herself, but rather another former prime minister, John Howard, and his wife Janette. She then reveals the true context of the article for the reader, and notes, “It is unthinkable that a piece oozing such calculated disrespect for Janette and the relationship between the Howards would have been published.”23 She makes brief, but pointed use, of the flipped-reality device, evoking a world in which it is powerful men whose relationships fall under microscopic scrutiny rather than powerful women.

As pointed out earlier, there are countless examples in contemporary media (including Gillard’s) where flipped-realities are employed, or, at least implied, to invite fresh perspectives on gender, race and sexuality. For now, I will limit my explorations to those instances where, in accordance with the focus of this article, it is screenworks that are set in such alternate – flipped – realities. I will first give an overview of how this device is used to forefront other marginalised perspectives before focusing my attentions on the gendered perspectives – especially in the comedy context – at the centre of this query.

In terms of queer perspectives, the feature film drama Love Is All You Need? (2016), written and directed by Kim Rocco Shields, tells “a classic love story in an upside-down world where same-sex couples are the norm and heterosexual couples are bullied.”24 Likewise, the web series Gaytown (2008–), written by and starring Owen Benjamin, uses flipped-reality to explore similar themes by portraying the lone, straight lead character as a minority, praised by online fans as doing, for example, “a wonderful job of showing up prejudices for the ignorant concoctions they are by removing them from the expected contexts and inverting them.”25 Almost Normal (2005) is a comedy feature using the same flipped-reality strategy to reverse the binary hierarchy of ‘gay’ and ‘straight’, but in a way that (through the catalyst of a car accident) travels from the default world, to the alternate reality, and back again.

Female perspectives comedy

Almost Normal (2005)

The Indigenous perspective is fore-fronted by Geoffrey Atherden, who employs a flipped-reality for his screenplay Babakiueria (1986), directed for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation by Don Featherstone, and set in a world where white actors play Indigenous Australians at the mercy of oblivious Aboriginal colonisers. The feature film White Man’s Burden (1995) casts the USA through the same racially overturned lens.

The earliest screenplay example of gendered flipped-reality I have discovered to date is the 1920 comedy short Her First Flame. Though referenced briefly in a chapter by gender and comedy scholar Kristen Anderson Wagner,26 I have (as yet) uncovered very little about this Bruno C. Becker directed film. According to an anonymous contributor to the Internet Movie Database website (IMDb), the story is set in “the year 1950 [when] women have taken over men’s jobs and have become the aggressors in romantic situations.”27 The lone user comment on the listing describes the narrative device as a “sex inversion premise.” 28 It is an example of alternate reality narratives more broadly that make use of the futuristic, or incorporate time travel. However, this is only sometimes the conceit by which a narrative justifies a flipped reality.

More recent examples of flipped-reality screenworks interested in gender are the short film Oppressed Majority (Éléonore Pourriat, 2010) and the feature Jacky in the Kingdom of Women (Riad Sattouf, 2014), both of which depict a gender-reverse world as if it were status quo (without the justifying conventions of magic, wish making or time travel) and grimly portray an underclass of men suffering daily sexism.

Female perspectives comedy

Jacky in the Kingdom of Women (Riad Sattouf, 2014)

An example of the gendered, comedy flipped-realities that this article most keenly seeks to explore is the Australian web series She’s the Minister for Men (2015). Casting Gretel Killeen in the role of a newly appointed female minister for men within a predominantly female parliament, and launched as part of the annual All About Women event at the Sydney Opera House, the four-part online series responds explicitly to the 2013 self-appointment of then Prime Minister Tony Abbott as the Minister for Women.

In her sketch show Inside Amy Schumer (2013–), the comedian of the title is perhaps most strongly associated with comedic premises challenging gender expectations. She and her writing team employ the flipped-reality device in the sketch “Lunch at O’Nutters” (2013), set in a restaurant reminiscent of the international franchise Hooters, famous for its skimpily clad female servers. The fictional O’Nutters is instead aimed at (straight) women, with male servers dressed in uniforms designed to accentuate their testicles. In the sketch, two female characters openly gape at their server’s groin as encouraged by his rhetoric and the very premise of the restaurant. This is all to the wary chagrin of their male companion who embraces the restaurant’s theme only after being persuaded to jump into a “wet nuts contest” and dance on the bar.

“Being a Man in the Workplace” (2016), a comedy sketch distributed by behemoth online media producer Buzzfeed (via its BuzzfeedYellow YouTube channel), uses the “knock to the head” device to transport a man to a flipped reality world where women hold a subtle balance of power, in a workplace apparently producing similar content to Buzzfeed itself. The character finds himself excluded from interesting assignments and decision-making, and suffers at the hands female colleagues and superiors who unite to undermine his attempts to elevate his own status, or those of the male characters in the work they all create.

What these last three examples have in common is that aside from the intended messages and themes carried by the flipped-realities, intrinsic to their scripted mechanics is the knowledge that comedy and perspective are already inherently linked, in terms of the question “who sees?” As respected comedy consultant and author Steve Kaplan writes, “Comedy exists in the eye – the rods and cones – of your character. What they see and what they know.”29 From a screenwriting standpoint, especially comedy screenwriting practice, it might be useful to further explore where these strategies intersect.


Strategies shared by flipped-realities and comedy/screenwriting practice

Comedy is a way of looking at the universe […] That is, comedy is a perspective.30

As previously noted, the flipped-reality device trades in notions of perspective; which is itself an important but perhaps under-examined element of screenwriting practice.

Historically, as eminent cinema scholar David Bordwell has uncovered, there existed a theory that in literature there are “two narrational methods31: the pictorial, which represents the action in the mirror of a character’s consciousness; and the dramatic which neutrally presents [the action].”32 We might expect to explore a screenplay’s narrative perspective with the former (given its stakes in the character’s consciousness), but for the fact there also exists the assumption that “in film the narrative ‘voice’ usually tends to be impersonal.”33, it has been concluded, in an analogous fashion, that narrative perspective is not a structural feature of film either.”34

Because a “neutral presentation” of narrative will never, of course, be neutral, this all has extra ramifications for protagonists who sit outside of the heterosexual, white, cis male referent occupying a so-called “universal” subjectivity. This might be compounded by the fact that a script development process,

usually occurs within pre-set parameters of norms, orthodoxies and institutions, and is subject to social and cultural conditions of production, including the exercise of individual power and of collaborative behaviour. 35

So while screenwriting books might tell us “the audience needs to walk each step with this protagonist, in their shoes,”36 these guides have arguably neglected the impact of collaborative script development processes. In other words, because this notion of perspective rarely receives the same explicit and in depth consideration as other more familiar elements of screenwriting practice, it is possible that marginalised perspectives – which, as I will argue, the funny, female perspective is one – may be vulnerable to the centripetal force that is the default, so-called universal perspective.

Like the specific requirements of the flipped-reality narrative device, screenwriting paradigms more broadly depend on the establishment (or prior assumption) of a “normality”, for the purposes of inciting a disruption. Plot sequencing theorist Paul Gulino suggests that the more a screenwriter can establish a sense of the protagonist’s normality, “the bigger the impact of the destabilizing events that intrude to make the story happen.”37 Moreover, when specifically examining comedy screenwriting, it is useful to consider that “comedy tends to involve departures […] from what are considered to be the “normal” routines of life of the social group in question.”38

Film comedy scholar Geoff King suggests that, “In order to be marked out as comic, the events represented ­– or the mode of representation – tend to be different in characteristic ways from what is usually expected in the non-comic world”39 In other words, comedy requires a unity of expectation from which to deviate. King’s “non-comic” world, then, is the world we live in, one we all experience differently from within our own subjectivities. This is something a comedy screenwriter must reconcile when seeking “to surprise the audience by taking their expectations of truth (their own experiences) and giving them something entirely different.”40 As writer and comedian Tim Ferguson puts it, “To create out-loud laughter, writers must create a surprise which accords with the audience’s perception of truth.”41 I suggest, then, that without defining the protagonist’s perspective, a reader and eventual audience will not know from whose “usually expected” events – from whose “truth” – we experience those comedic departures. In the event of ambiguity, as I have suggested previously, this position likely defaults to a so-called “universal” subjectivity, deriving from “the Western platonic philosophical tradition which takes man as its term of reference and simply poses woman as everything that is other, as non-man.”42

So in considering the previous references to “She’s the Minister For Men” (2015), “Lunch at O’Nutters” (2013) and “Being a Man in the Workplace” (2016), it might follow that comedy, screenwriting and feminisms may intersect in projects interested in exposing how power “habitually passes itself off as embodied in the normal as opposed to superior.”43 This might explain the appeal of the flipped-reality device in a practice that may not necessarily so easily facilitate a sense of perspective – especially female perspective.

Writing (funny, female) perspectives

It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss in-depth commercial screenwriting orthodoxy, but the conventions traditionally unavailable to the screenwriter (either by the dictums of discourse or industry standard) include simile, metaphor and scene text commentary (in terms of what characters might be thinking or feeling). “If the choice and sequence of image content, camera angle, position and movement feature dominantly in the scene text,” Sternberg writes, “they clearly reflect a screenwriter’s aesthetic conception for the narrative perspective.”44 But as screenwriting scholar Ann Ingelstrom reminds us, “most screenwriting manuals and how-to books especially advise against the use of camera directions,”45 even though ambiguity can be avoided with “information given about what camera should be used and from whose perspective the scene is to be visualised.46 Much has been written about how voice-over is also traditionally discouraged. In other words, the obstacles for writing perspective into screenplays start adding up. It may stand to reason, then, that female perspectives in screenplays more generally are compromised by “commercial cinema’s assumption of this universal subjectivity.”47

British film scholar, Lucy Bolton, writing about the welcome and rare portrayals of female subjectivity in film, clarifies, “When using the term ‘subjectivity’ I refer to the individual, mental perspective of a character, which can be represented by a point-of-view shot that is either literal or subjective.”48 As already noted, this kind of visual specificity is not always welcome in screenplays, thus leaving the point-of-view vulnerable to a default (male) perspective which may be assumed, given the possible pitfalls of the dominant models – especially the three-act structure, that “through its omniscient consciousness, which seeks to efface the presence of a specific narrator […] normalises female passivity.”49 Eminent screenwriting author, Christopher Vogler, likewise acknowledges of his own best-selling The Writer’s Journey, “There may be some masculine bias built into the description of the hero cycle since many of its theoreticians have been male”50 Both related and additional to this question of different perspectives, is the potential resistance to their explorations, whereby the high “status of masculine discourse in our culture means that it is easier to alienate the male section of the audience than the female.”51 In other words, the reluctance “to tell women’s stories [is based on] the assumption that while women can identify with both female and male characters, men can only identify with other men.”52

So while a screenwork might be interested in “the foregrounding of the inner life of the female characters […], the positioning of the female point-of-view and the invitation to share it,”53 this project can be challenging for a screenplay. The appeal of the flipped-reality narrative then, would seem to have something to do with the invitation to share a perspective, within a form (screenwriting) where the orthodoxy may seem to resist such an endeavour. For instance, of the previously mentioned Love Is All You Need a review points out that “flipping the sexuality norm [means] the heterosexual audience is now watching themselves.”54 Using the flipped-reality is how the screenwriter ‘positioned’ a marginalised point-of-view.

As discussed previously, considering analyses by Kaplan and Horton in particular, notions of perspective and understandings of comedy are already intertwined. Therefore it may follow that the funny, female perspective is a particularly marginalised one, given the variables. When considering what Kaplan’s calls the comic non-hero, it is notable that one important aspect to their character is that, “The more they ‘don’t know’ the more vulnerable they are, and therefore more comic.”55 With binary post-Enlightenment thinking (from which Western mainstream cultural thought derives) already attributing unknowing and vulnerability to women, such behaviour may not necessarily be recognised or received as a departure.

Conclusion – Potential and Pitfalls of flipped-reality

It might be useful to briefly consider the flipped-reality device in the context of the Bakhtinian notion of the unruly body – particularly the embracing of lower body (as opposed to upper body) humour. “Lunch at O’Nutters”, for instance, provides a somewhat literal example of the cartwheel idea of the grotesque, reversing high and low sensibilities. We might say the device is figuratively inflected by carnivalesque traditions, which “celebrated temporary liberation from the prevailing truth and from the established order; [the carnival] marked the suspension of all hierarchical rank, privileges, norms.”56 Noted for his work on comedy, U.S. cinema and popular culture, scholar Frank Krutnik elaborates, “The liberation from order may have been temporary, but it nonetheless articulated alternative modes of social consciousness and popular imagining.”57 These alternative modes of social consciousness are perhaps what a screenwriter might attempt to harness when trying to commit alternative perspectives to the page.

What the use of a device such as flipped-reality has already built into its narrative, as discussed, is the implicit request to consider a particular view of the world. For example, in the case of an upturned gender hierarchy, putting male characters into women’s proverbial shoes. This serves to address the fact that “in a sexist society both presences and absences may not be immediately discernible to the ordinary spectator, if only because certain representation appear to be quite ordinary and obvious,” and contribute to ways to make “visible the invisible”58 through creative practice. But this device is not without its limitations. Writing about the “Lunch at O’Nutters” sketch in 2014, IndieWire commentator Arielle Bernstein wrote, “One of the biggest problems with this and other similarly minded ‘gender swaps’ is their suggestion that, in order to level the playing field, we should allow women the opportunity to demean and objectify men.”59 In the same piece she also asked, “Is revenge a meaningful reaction to the pervasiveness of misogyny in popular culture?”60 One could argue that Schumer and her writing team are not so much otherising men as subscribing to King’s suggestion that, “Comedy has the potential to be subversive, questioning the norms from which it departs.”61 However, it might be worth considering the purchase these narratives have in essentialist and binary notions of gender. Curiously, they have something in common with mainstream romantic comedies in that they trade in ideas of what women and men are “like”. As with any narrative proposition, at the heart of gendered flipped-reality narratives is the question, what if? But while on the one hand we have Gloria Steinem’s essay which asks ‘what if men could menstruate?’62, we do on the other have any amount of online offerings which, while in and of themselves are perfectly legitimate contributions to the internet, do not necessarily question the values of the norms from which, for comedic purposes, they depart. The aforementioned BuzzFeedYellow YouTube channel features such uploads as “If Geek Girls Acted Like Geek Guys,” “If Music Geek Girls Acted Like Music Geek Guys,” and “If Gamer Girls Acted Like Gamer Guys.” Also on YouTube, and elsewhere, can be found web series such as The Flip Side, created by Jay Diaz, Role Reversal by JustKiddingFilms (which carries the logline “dudes are afraid of bugs and flirt their way out of trouble”) and other stand-alone takes on gendered flipped-realities. As outlined earlier, defining and analysing such devices in screenwriting practice may facilitate deeper understandings of their mechanics. This might include identifying useful “what if?” questions. For instance, “what if the world was run by women?,” or “what if women’s privilege was the unquestioned norm?” are two very different questions, and there are many others. They all make for a very different story world.

Bolton suggests of film (although she does not reference screenwriting in particular or by name) that the key to making visible the erstwhile invisible female perspective might lie in finding ways to portray her interiority, perhaps through a feminisation of the language and space of the films ­– also through the acknowledgement of a woman’s history, so that the life of a woman is more fully represented, rather than as a sketch or an abstraction. In this mode of film it appears that the spectator is privy to the interiority of the female characters.63

She proposes taking inspiration for this depiction of interiority (which, as discussed, is not available to screenwriters in the same way it might be for novelists, for instance) from the strategies of Luce Irigaray, who “calls into question what it means to speak as a woman, and indeed to think as a woman – to conceive of oneself and to relate with the other.”64 I suggest that the flipped-reality device facilitates a perspective by which one can both conceive of oneself and relate with the other, and might be a starting point from which to experiment with different ways of setting perspective to the page and, ultimately, the screen. It is a device that has intersecting strategies with comedy, whereby as Mizejewski suggests, “the very process of laughter shakes viewers, listeners, readers out of complacency and passivity about what passes for the norm.”65

As award-winning actor Meryl Streep explains to a reporter, “It’s very hard for [men] to put themselves in the shoes of a female protagonist. And this is known to the studios. They know it’s the toughest suit of clothes to wear.”66 What the flipped-reality device offers screenwriters is the opportunity to, “set up a different viewing experience for the spectator (female and male), and offer the possibility of an engagement with a female character’s point-of-view within a narrative.”67 The flipped-reality narrative device has demonstrated potential to offer this engagement with screenplay content. The next step might be to examine how this can be achieved within the screenplay form.

This article has been peer reviewed.



  1. Christina Cauterucci, ‘If Male Characters Were Introduced in Scripts Like Women, Slate, 10 Feburary 2016, www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2016/02/10/if_male_characters_were_introduced_in_scripts_like_women.html
  2. Chris Beasley, What Is Feminism Anyway?: Understanding Contemporary Feminist Thought (St Leonards: Allen & Unwin, 1999), p. 7
  3. For the purposes of this article (in order to avoid cumbersome phrases such as “works of film or television”), I borrow the term ‘screenwork’ to refer “to any moving image narrative, be it film, television, game, animation and so on, that has been realised and exists on screen in some form”, from Ian W. Macdonald, Screenwriting Poetics and the Screen Idea, (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p. 10. For simplicity, I use the term “screenplay” to apply to any screenwork, whether those screenworks be, for instance, feature films, webisodes or comedy sketches for television.
  4. Lucy Bolton, Film and Female Consciousness: Irigaray, Cinema and Thinking Women (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), p. 7.
  5. Examples include All of Me (1984), Big (1988), Dating the Enemy (1996), Freaky Friday (1976) and (2003), Switch (1991), Trading Places (1983) and Watermelon Man (1970).
  6. Blake Snyder, Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need (Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions, 2005), pp. 24–5.
  7. Ibid., pp. 29–31.
  8. Blake Snyder, Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies: The Screenwriter’s Guide to Every Story Ever Told (Michael Wiese Productions: California, 2007).
  9. Keith Giglio, Writing the Comedy Blockbuster: The Inappropriate Goal (Studio City, CA: Michael Weise Productions, 2012), p. 21.
  10. Geoff King, Film Comedy (London, UK: Wallflower Press, 2002).
  11. Andrew Horton, Laughing out Loud: Writing the Comedy-Centered Screenplay (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), p. 25.
  12. Ibid., p. 25–8.
  13. Ibid., 26.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Brett Mills, Television Sitcom (London: British Film Institute, 2005, p. 25).
  16. Mary J. Russo, The Female Grotesque: Risk, Excess, and Modernity (New York: Routledge, 1995), p. 58.
  17. Yvonne Tasker, Working Girls: Gender and Sexuality in Popular Cinema (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), p. 204.
  18. Linda Mizejewski, Pretty/Funny (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014), p. 174.
  19. J. Jack Halberstam, Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal (Boston: Beacon Press, 2012), p. 11.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Mizejewski, p. 124.
  22. Brian Lewis, “Redefining ‘Queer’ through Blue Humour: Margaret Cho’s Performance of Queer Sexualities,” Philament: An Online Journal of the Arts and Culture 2 (2004), https://philamentjournal.wordpress.com/issue2lewis/.
  23. Julia Gillard, My Story, (North Sydney: Knopf, 2014), p. 97.
  24. Kelly Petryszyn, “CIFF: ‘Love Is All You Need?’ Flips Our World To Confront Prejudice”, Cleveland Magazine, 11 April 2016, http://clevelandmagazine.blogspot.com.au/2016/04/ciff-love-is-all-you-need-flips-our.html
  25. Aussiemoose, “Crackle Me a TV Show! GAY TOWN,” SparklyPrettyBriiiight.com, 28 May 2011, www.sparklyprettybriiiight.com/crackle-me-a-tv-show-gay-town/
  26. Kristen Anderson Wagner, “Pie Queens and Virtuous Tramps: The Funny Women of the Silent Screen” in A Companion to Film Comedy, eds. Andrew Horton and Joanna E. Rapf (Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2013, p. 51-2).
  27. Anonymous, IMDb.com. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0248081/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ov_pl
  28. Mozjoukine, “Early Comedy Short,” IMDb.com, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0248081/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1
  29. Steve Kaplan, The Hidden Tools of Comedy: The Serious Business of Being Funny (Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions, 2013), p. 106
  30. Horton, Laughing out Loud, p. 5 (original emphasis).
  31. Bordwell credits this theory to Percy Lubbock and discusses it in the context of other, equally contestable, propositions.
  32. David Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film (London: Routledge, 1985), p. 8 (emphasis added)
  33. Carolyn Lee Reitz, The Narrative Capabilities of Prose and Film (Ann Abor: University of Texas, 1978), p. 187. Noted screenwriting scholar Claudia Sternberg explains, “As narrative agents are usually absent from [the dramatic
  34. Claudia Sternberg, Written for the Screen: The American Motion-Picture Screenplay as Text, eds. Lothar Hönnighausen and Christoph Irmscher (Tübingen: Stauffenburg Verlag, 1997), p. 131.
  35. Macdonald, Screenwriting Poetics and the Screen Idea, p. 5.
  36. Linda Aronson, The 21st-Century Screenplay: A Comprehensive Guide to Writing Tomorrow’s Films (Los Angeles: Silman-James Press, 2010), p. 55
  37. Paul Joseph Gulino, Screenwriting: The Sequencing Approach (New York and London: Continuum, 2004), p. 14
  38. King, Film Comedy, p. 5.
  39. Ibid.
  40. Stephen V. Duncan, Genre Screenwriting: How to Write Popular Screenplays That Sell (New York: New York : Continuum, 2008), p. 149.
  41. Tim Ferguson, “The Inescapable Conclusion: Taking Comedy Seriously,” Island, 138 (5 September 2014).
  42. Teresa de Lauretis, “Now and Nowhere: Roeg’s Bad Timing” in Re-Vision: Essays in Feminist Film Criticism, eds. Mary Ann Doane, Patricia Mellencamp, and Linda Williams (Los Angeles: The American Film Institute, 1984), p. 160.
  43. Richard Dyer, The Matter of Images: Essays on Representation (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), p. 142.
  44. Sternberg, p. 158.
  45. Ann Ingelstrom, “Narrating Voices in the Screenplay Text: How the Writer Can Direct the Reader’s Visualisations of the Potential Film” in Screenwriters and Screenwriting: Putting Practice into Context, ed. Craig Batty (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2014), p. 37.
  46. Ibid., 36. (emphasis added)
  47. Larissa Sexton-Finck, “Be(Com)Ing Reel Independent Woman: An Autoethnographic Journey through Female Subjectivity and Agency in Contemporary Cinema with Particular Reference to Independent Scriptwriting Practice” (Practice-based PhD Thesis, Murdoch University, 2009), p. 65.
  48. Bolton, p. 3.
  49. Sexton-Finck, p. 65
  50. Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd ed. (Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions, 2007), p. xxi.
  51. Myra Macdonald, Representing Women: Myths of Femininity in the Popular Media (London: Arnold, 1995), p. 59.
  52. Rob Moran, “Meryl Streep: ‘I Wanted to Be Tom Sawyer, Not Becky,’” Daily Life, 24 April 2015, http://www.dailylife.com.au/dl-people/dl-entertainment/meryl-streep-i-wanted-to-be-tom-sawyer-not-becky-20150423-1ms7gr.html
  53. Bolton, p. 6.
  54. Petryszyn, “CIFF: ‘Love Is All You Need?’
  55. Kaplan, p. 94.
  56. M. M. Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1984), p. 10.
  57. Frank Krutnik, “Carnivalesque Comedy and the Marx Brothers” in A Companion to Film Comedy, eds. Andrew Horton and Joanna E. Rapf (Chichester, West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2013), p. 89.
  58. Annette Kuhn, Women’s Pictures: Feminism and Cinema, revised ed. (London and New York: Verso, 1994), p. 71.
  59. Arielle Bernstein, “The Gender Swap as a Feminist Revenge Fantasy,” IndieWire, 5 May 2014, http://blogs.indiewire.com/pressplay/arielle-bernstein-the-gender-swap-as-a-feminist-revenge-fantasy
  60. Ibid.
  61. King, p. 8
  62. Gloria Steinem, “If Men Could Menstruate (Humorous Reflections, with Serious Intent, by Gloria Steinem),” Ms. Magazine 12.2 (1978), reprinted at http://ww3.haverford.edu/psychology/ddavis/p109g/steinem.menstruate.html
  63. Bolton, p. 3.
  64. Ibid., p. 4.
  65. Mizejewski, p. 214.
  66. Moran, “Meryl Streep.”
  67. Bolton, p. 13.

About The Author

Dr Stayci Taylor is an Industry Fellow with the Media program in RMIT University’s School of Media and Communication. She is co-editor of the Journal of Screenwriting’s special issue on Script Development, and is further published in such journals as Celebrity Studies, New Writing and TEXT. Stayci teaches screenwriting at RMIT and continues to work as a screenwriter and script consultant in film and television.

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