I began my film career at the William Morris Agency in 1983 the same day as the now famous head of the Creative Artists Agency, Bryan Lourd. He was lovely, with bright blonde hair that swept seductively over one eye, and as we sat together in the personnel office I remember thinking the film business was going to chew this beautiful man child up and spit him out like garbage. I was going to be the one to make it, and I was going to get there writing screenplays about strong women who did remarkable things.
But I was an outsider, and Hollywood wasn’t interested in female driven leads. Worse yet, writing was an extremely painful experience for me. I knew what I wanted to say, I just didn’t know how to say it. I hated pitch meetings too, which didn’t really help. I would practice for them weeks in advance, and if someone interrupted my carefully rehearsed monologue, I would break out in a sweat, lose my place, and never recover. I remember one executive at Disney in particular who, after telling me how exciting it was to meet a young screenwriter at the beginning of her career, gently tried to help me finish my pitch while my producer stared a hole in the floor and prayed for the meeting to end. I never heard from either one of them again.
The film business was like an addiction for me, and, like any addiction, I came dangerously close to letting it destroy me. I thought that if I tried harder, or met the right person, if I had an agent, or wrote every genre under the sun something might eventually stick. When that didn’t work, I decided to quit the film business, and move to Utah to pursue a career as an artist. I am still the top selling gourd artist in the nation, with the sales of several $20,000 gourds to my credit, and when the economy shifted, I became a painter and a handbag designer as well. But then the economy tanked, and it took my career, my savings, and my dignity right along with it.
To survive, I took four minimum wage jobs to keep from losing my house; one full time job and three part time jobs as an inbound sales agent for Guthy Renker, a virtual assistant for a New York based chef, a reservations agent for a whitewater rafting company and nights spent offering high school kids academic scholarships to a local university over the phone.
Then, I broke my ankle. To be precise, I broke every bone in my ankle, and if I didn’t have skin, I wouldn’t currently have a foot. For three months, I laid in bed watching every episode of THE GILMORE GIRLS I could find, hunting down things on ebay I didn’t need and couldn’t afford, and blogging about my experiences online. One day, after a conversation on facebook with a friend of mine about a project I’d always loved, I dug out a script I had written about the Women’s Air Service Pilots and did a page one rewrite. A short time later, a treatment I wrote about the first African American woman to be inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame was chosen for a screenwriting scholarship at the New York Film Academy.
I crammed as much writing I possibly could into the next eight weeks; I went to Meet-Ups on writing, attended the Writers Guild of America’s “From First Draft to Feature Film” seminar, signed up for webinars on how to get an agent, talked movies and the film business with old friends who had “made it” over dinner, or cocktails, and worked to complete my script. I was in heaven, because I finally learned how to say what I always wanted to and saying it was no longer the intense struggle it had once been.
Whenever I talk about my journey back to the film business, I always tell people this was the dream that wouldn’t die. I know the odds are stacked against me. I am over forty, pitching to the kids that run the studios these days, still determined to write strong roles about remarkable women. Most of what I write are period pieces, not because I don’t think women today don’t have stories worth telling, but because I am reminded of something I once heard about the devastating effect denying a part of history can have on each new generation of women. If young women today enter the workforce without knowing about all the remarkable women who came before them, how can they be on a level playing field when they are busy re-stacking the very building blocks their male contemporaries take for granted?
So I write screenplays about movies I want to see, and the women who have inspired me to reach for the stars. Women like Bessie Stringfield, who traveled the lower 48 on a motorcycle by herself in 1930, or Pearl Hart, the only known female stagecoach robber in American history.
It hasn’t been easy, this dream of mine. I still fight the tendency to take the rejections personally. There is so much about the film business I don’t understand, like why everyone says it’s all about the writing when it seems to be all about making it next to impossible to get the writing seen, or why so many actresses say they are desperate for good material when a query letter is deemed “unsolicited material” and thrown in the trash.
The sisterhood of the film business and all the bright, beautiful young women out there with dreams of their own give me the courage to keep going and hope that one day, in the not too distant future, the goal I set for myself almost thirty years ago will become a reality. And at the end of the day, what could be sweeter than that?