Don’t Tell Me No. Seriously. Just Don’t Do It.

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I started my film career in 1983, a few months after graduating from college.  I knew exactly two people: a woman I had met through the mail who worked for Michael Douglas, and, coincidentally enough, his brother Joel, who was the unit production manager on “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest”.  I met Joel when I was 15.   We were reading “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest” in my psychology class in high school, so I decided to call the production office one day and ask if anyone would mind speaking to us about the film.  Joel Douglas showed up a few days later, and after class, invited me to visit the set any time.

They were filming at the Oregon Mental Hospital where the severely deranged were housed on the third floor.  The first two floors were no longer in use.  I showed up day after day to watch filming, until one afternoon, Joel tried to have sex with me in his office on a pile of coats in one corner of the room.  It makes for a funny story now, that my first real kiss was in an insane asylum, but the truth is, I was fifteen, and I thought there was something wrong with me because I didn’t want to “show my appreciation” on floor of his office.  I even sent HIM a card to apologize for refusing him, and never went back to the set again.

I was 23 when I got a job with Judy Scott-Fox, a literary agent, at the William Morris Agency. I honestly thought I could get to the top through hard work and determination, but Hollywood isn’t built that way. I was not and never have been the “fuck my way to the top” kind of girl , and besides, I was living with another assistant at the agency so I was “off the market” anyhow.  Even if I had entertained the idea of becoming an agent trainee at the time, the men who ran the agency thought it was “cute” that girls wanted to do jobs that were clearly meant for the sons of their friends.  Some women did become agents of course, but most became “D” girls (development girls) and that was the end of that.

I started writing screenplays as a way to get ahead, but I wrote about women, and no one wanted to take me on as a client.  Actresses, back then, were easier to get to, and I had enough contacts in the industry at the time to get my work in front of Demi Moore,  Molly Ringwald and Meg Ryan, but I also wrote a lot of ensemble pieces, and actresses (back then, anyway for the most part) didn’t want to share the screen with another woman.

After 12 years in “the film business” I shifted gears and became an artist.  My medium of choice were gourds, and I was told right off the bat that I clearly had talent as an artist, “but why on EARTH gourds?”  I’m sure the feeling was that I went out of my way to pick the hardest thing in the world to do, but I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing. I had myself to answer to at the end of the day, and that was what mattered to me. It made for some rough years and more than my share of self doubt AND self abuse along the way, but telling me no is a surefire way to get me to do what people feel can’t be done.

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I became the top selling gourd artist in the nation within the first five years, and eventually sold a single piece of gourd art for $22,500.  My work was in books and magazines, on TV and in museums, and when the economy started to turn, I switched gears to become a wildlife artist and then a handbag designer.  I auditioned for “Project Accessory”, and even though I didn’t make it through the first interview, let alone the first round, I went on to sell my one of a kind handbags for up to $2500.

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Then the economy bottomed out, and I took every job I could get my hands on just to survive.  The dream of a career in film was further away than ever, and my passion for art all but died along the way.

I went back to writing screenplays without much hope it would ever amount to much.  By then I was “too old”, I lived in a fly over state, my “connections” in the film industry ran things now, but I couldn’t get a single person on the phone.  And then, I won an eight week screenwriting scholarship at the New York Film Academy, and even though I was the oldest person in class by a long shot, I finally felt as though I had matured enough as a writer and a person to be able to write the way I always wanted to.

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I still wrote scripts about women, but I did it with conviction.  I also “grew a set” and backed away from a shopping agreement with a huge producer because he wasn’t that interested in the script I’d sent him, and his director of development didn’t have any real power to make it happen.  I recently told the head of a motion picture literary department who has been stringing me along for months and who made it clear he would never promote my passion project even if he did sign me as a client because he has a “competing project” of his own, that I was going to look elsewhere for representation.  And then, I got a movie made thanks to Nini Le Huynh and Robin Wright.

I am not where I want to be yet professionally. Not by a long shot.   I work a 60 hour week at another business and write when I can, sometimes on the way to and from my job, or late at night when the house is quiet.  I don’t have an agent, or a manager, but I’ll be goddamned if anyone is going to tell me I can’t do something.

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This is my life.  And I am going to lead it the way that I please.  So go ahead and tell me no. Because proving people wrong is what I do.

 

 

 

 

The Dark of Night

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I’ve never been very good at taking no for an answer.

As a screenwriter, I wrote about women way before  it was a thing, back when Jodie Foster and Michelle Pfeiffer and Demi Moore were box office draws and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences struggled to find enough actresses to nominate for Best Actress year after year. I wrote period pieces about women in the mistaken belief that if women knew what women had done, as a gender we wouldn’t waste so goddamned much time reinventing history with each successive generation.  Instead of young women fighting their way up the corporate ladder, we would start with the same building blocks men take for granted.  We have been  inventors, scientists, astronauts, pilots, doctors, mathematicians, welders, loggers, musicians, and firefighters, but most girls grow up thinking Kim Kardashian is the most they can hope to aspire to.

I am too old to be a screenwriter, I don’t live in Los Angeles, I don’t have an agent, a manager, or a publicist, and I was recently told that a script I wrote about the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots had two strikes against it; 1) “No one cares about the WASP.  It’s old news” and b) Exactly ONE film will be made about women pilots.  Unlike the hundreds of movies about the male experience in World War Two there is room for just one film about women, and its isn’t mine.  I still encounter people, some close friends, who tell me to give up writing period pieces because no one makes them anymore (fifty percent of all Academy Award nominated films are period pieces and close to forty percent of TV series are period pieces, but what do I know?).  And while I am at it, it might be a good idea to quit writing about women all together.

Two years ago, after my 10,00th draft of LUCKY 13, I signed up for a short film competition just for something to do.  I was given a genre, a character and a setting, and eight days to write a twelve page script.  I wrote the first draft of THE DARK OF NIGHT in an hour and a half.   Two days ago, that script became a short film directed by a woman whose work I have admired as much, if not more, than Meryl Streep.  She is easily as good an actress (in my opinion at least) and now, I know she is not only an amazing director, she is a remarkable woman and one I am grateful to know.

Robin Wright agreed to direct my short film after an angel named Nini Le Huynh brought it to her attention after Beau Gordon brought it to Nini’s, and Denise Hewitt brought it to Beau’s.  Nini is an outstanding actress and one of the most generous people I have ever met.  Together these wildly talented women brought my script to life with the crew of House of Cards (who volunteered their time) and a cast I could have only ever dreamed of. Leslie Bibb, Sam Rockwell, Callie Thorne, Michael Godere and Nini Le Huynh star in THE DARK OF NIGHT.  And that is how THE DARK OF NIGHT came to be.

Stick around for more.  Because this is not the last you will hear about THE DARK OF NIGHT.