The Ugly Truth…

For the past twenty five years I have been obsessed with the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots. A lot of people have tried getting a story about these pioneering women made into a film or TV series; Kathleen Kennedy, Stacey Sherr, Bo Derek, Michael Sugar. A script I wrote about the WASP, LUCKY 13, has been through at least a hundred drafts and at least as many screenwriting competitions as more information about the story and the remarkable girls who trained at the only all female airbase in American history became available.

Along the way, I began to collect WASP memorabilia. It’s harder than hell to find anything original because less than 1100 WASP made it through the program. I have two pairs of wings, an original Fifinella pin, original badges, some paper dolls and a zoot suit.

Three years ago, I found a treasure trove of handwritten letters on ebay written by a WASP, some on WASP stationary, and spent a small fortune buying the letters with the help of an incredibly generous friend. And then, I spent months putting them together in chronological order.

The story that unfolded was amazing. What was even more amazing, is that I took a novel writing class through the Great Smokies Writing Program at UNCA to figure out what to do with them, and on the first night of class, one of the other participants said her great aunt was a WASP.

At the break, I asked what her great aunt’s name was.

I know this sounds crazy, but her great aunt wrote the letters I’d bought on ebay.

It sent a chill through the room, and did, for weeks afterward. The coincidence was just too great for anyone to wrap their heads around.

I started researching the story in earnest, and posting what I’d learned on a blog about the letters and the people in them. I became obsessed with learning everything I could about the woman and her fiancee until my husband said to me at one point “I know you are excited about this, but can you talk about ANYTHING else? At least for a while?”

Six months later, I flew across country to meet the daughter of this WASP. We had plans to sort through her mother’s things, to match my letters with photographs,keepsakes and scrapbooks to tell the story of her mother’s life she’d never heard before and had no knowledge of.

It felt strange, telling this woman about her mother’s life as a WASP. The likelihood of buying those letters, walking into a class where a relative of the woman who wrote them just so happened to be, then meeting her daughter and finding everything this WASP ever wrote about in neat stacks on a dining room table was mind blowing.

And then it all went to hell.

The daughter’s new fiancee told her I had to go, or he was ending their engagement. He didn’t like me, and he sure as hell didn’t like the fact that I might be opening her world up when he’d managed to contain it so neatly, even to the point of cutting her off from her own daughter.

So she threw me out in the middle of the night.

I cried for weeks afterward, and I didn’t look at the letters again for years.

I got a text from the daughter out of nowhere a few months ago, demanding copies of the letters. When I told her no, she wrote back and forbade me from using anything in the letters to write about her mother. She has no right to do that. Her mother is a public figure, so in accordance with copyright laws, I can write anything about her mother that I want to.

According to those same copyright laws, she actually holds the copyright on the letters I own. I can write about her mother, but I can’t use the contents of the letters to tell her mother’s story.

And then I found out that a woman who has been trying to get a story made about the WASP almost as long as I have, found the blogs I wrote about this WASP and contacted the daughter for an interview. Now she owns the rights to a story no one would have never known anything about if it hadn’t been for me.

I am currently investigating my options with respect to protecting my research and copyright on the blogs. But in the end, my take away from this is that serendipity continues to be my guide with with respect to learning why the daughter reached out, what a backstabbing snake the woman is who is pursuing her own story about the WASP at my expense, and that everything having to do with what should have been epic and inspiring true story has destroyed something in me that I can’t quite put my finger on.

I still write about the WASP. In fact, I am halfway through yet another rewrite on the script that has been my passion for close to half my life. I am writing the script I always wanted to write, before everyone said it couldn’t be done, that no one would ever make a movie about pilots in war time who never flew in combat. This one is for me. And for all the WASPS I have grown to know and love over the past few years.

Maybe I will be the one to see my story made, and maybe I won’t. All I care about in the end is that someone celebrates the lives of these women, whether its me or not.

I only hope they do it without ripping my heart to shreds again.

Advertisements

Being a screenwriter is like being a fish; sometimes you make it upstream to spawn and sometimes you wind up in the bouillabaisse.

school of fish

I would imagine most people who chase after careers in the film business think of their success or failure in the same way most people hope to win the lottery. I think a career in film is more like being a fish. Fish travel in schools. Sometimes the green fish is ahead and sometimes the green fish is behind, but the pack moves together in unison toward the shared goal of making it big in the movies. Every once in awhile, someone from the school gets plucked out of the water, or eaten by a shark, but the school itself just keeps moving forward in the dogged pursuit of whatever comes next.

Six weeks ago, I attended the Cannes Film Festival for the red carpet premiere of my short film, THE DARK OF NIGHT. It was a once in a lifetime experience that it made me realize just how few people ever make it in the film business. For every actor who enjoys a hit right out of the starting gate and who remains an A list actor all their working lives, there are hundreds of thousands of people who never get past security. The ones who do find themselves part of a smaller group of fish, the ones who have had some degree of success, who are always one step ahead of, or behind, one another.

the dark of night poster

Ten days ago, I was in California for the Palm Springs Short Film Festival, a seminar at Amazon Studios sponsored by the Athena Film Festival, and a pitch meeting with Mark Gordon Studios. I realized once I got there that over half the people I met were people who had competed against me in a screenwriting competition I had won, or people I had lost a competition to at some point in the past year or two.

Brandi Ford was an Athena List Finalist the year I was an Athena List Winner. This year Brandi was selected as an HBO Access Fellow, one of eleven fellows out of over 3500 submissions, one of which was mine. Pearse Lehane has won the Atlanta Film Festival Screenplay competition twice, and this year he was also the winner of the Emerging Screenwriters competition. I won the Atlanta Film Festival Screenwriting Competition as well, but came in ninth in the Emerging Screenwriters Contest. Dee Chilton was selected by the Black List for a weekend long workshop at the Athena Film Festival and has since landed an agent, her first short film is in the can, and the script that landed her as a semi-finalist for the Nicholl Fellowship has been optioned, whereas I have never made it past the top fifteen percent of writers who submit to the Nicholl Fellowship, the number one screenwriting competition in Hollywood.

pearse lehanedee chiltonbrandi ford

In less than a week, I take my place again at the front of the pack with an eight day mentorship as part of the New York Stage and Filmmakers Powerhouse Season at Vassar College. This was an invitation only opportunity and both the mentors and my fellow mentees have such impressive credentials that I half wonder how I had the incredible good fortune to be asked to apply in the first place, let alone be selected to participate in such an amazing program.

For point of reference, the NY Stage and Film organization workshops plays every summer at the Powerhouse Theater to get them ready for Broadway. A little play called “Hamilton” got its start at the Powerhouse Theater a few years back, about the time the film part of the organization decided to work their same magic with film and TV writers. Only a handful of writers are chosen. I think I may be one of the few with a measly bachelors degree; most have masters degrees in film from places like Harvard, Yale and Columbia University. Some have produced feature length films, others have won major screenwriting contests, and one secured a spot with the Writers Lab, the Meryl Streep funded workshop for female writers over 40 in 2016.

I am curious to see where all this goes. I used to think that winning a screenwriting contest meant instant success. But I know now that we are all swimming together in this small school of silver fish, and while our collective opportunities to avoid becoming bait are higher than most people’s, we are all just a school fish waiting to see what happens next.

fish