A year ago I was frantically shopping for clothes to make my first appearance on the red carpet in Cannes with Robin Wright, Nini Le Huynh and Alfonso Carrion for THE DARK OF NIGHT. Anyone who knows me well knows I am anything but a fashion plate. I needed…everything…Spanx, bras, shoes, an evening gown, underpants. I hadn’t had a manicure or pedicure in years, Diana Ferguson sent me a gorgeous pair of earrings she’d made because I didn’t have any jewelry worth mentioning, plus I spent a fortune getting what good clothes I had dry cleaned, crammed everything in a suitcase you could have transported a body in and headed to the airport.
The Cannes Film Festival put us up at the Hotel Martinez, which was the host hotel for the event, so I had a front row seat to everything that happened, from celebrity departures opening night, to the scores of paparazzi surrounding the hotel every day waiting to photograph every move anyone made, to breakfast with Robin and Nini each morning of our stay, to the anniversary dinner honoring the 70th edition of the film festival with everyone from Monica Belluci to Julianne Moore in attendance.
Before I left I had nightmares I would return to the job I had at the time, fixing toilets in RV’s with my husband, Michael, instead of a career in film we had both worked so hard for. Despite having gotten into a number of other films festivals, having our film selected by the LA Femme International Film Festival as Best Short, and recently winning a Gold Award from the L.A. Neo Noir Film Festival, it was back to the RV business with a vengeance.
I told myself when I got back there were five screenwriting competitions or fellowships I would submit to last year and if I got into any one of them, I would know I was on the right track. I won a coveted fellowship with the New York Stage and Filmmakers Workshop at Vassar, but I didn’t make the cut for any of the five competitions I’d set for myself as a yardstick, and it was through the New York Stage and Filmmakers Workshop that I did begin meeting people who HAD succeeded where I had failed, including Academy Award winning producers, actors, TV executives and directors.
Despite having had major success at the box office, and sometimes an Oscar to show for it, they are no better off, or farther along than I am.
And that’s when the reality of the business I am hit me like a ton of bricks.
Hollywood is worst business model on the planet. And a huge part of why the business model is so successful, is the way in which it encourages massive insecurity and complete lack of access all while lamenting the inability to find and foster qualified talent. No other business would a market a product that made investors millions and then refuse to make any other product like it because the last one was an “anomaly,” and yet that is the way Hollywood works and does business on a daily basis.
I wrote a script called RIDE THE WIND, about motorcycle legend, Bessie Stringfield four years ago. The script is under option with Jay Ellis, who stars in INSECURE and he told me not long ago that while every executive who’s read it, loves it, they just can’t imagine a market for a period piece about a black woman. HIDDEN FIGURES made $252 million domestically on a $25 million dollar budget, but NO ONE CAN FIGURE OUT HOW A MOVIE WITH A BLACK FEMALE LEAD COULD POSSIBLY MAKE A DIME, so there the script sits, with no one attached to direct or star even though an article in the New York Times came out a few weeks ago about Bessie Stringfield that everyone read and everyone forwarded to me, and I swear to God, I can hear at least a dozen people frantically writing scripts about her as I type this, because the story is that good and 20 MILLION people on Facebook watched a Timeline video about her, and if that’s not enough to convince you there is a market for this then I don’t know what is. But no one in Hollywood can even begin to imagine how a script about a black woman with a remarkable, unsung life, could POSSIBLY make any money at the box office.
Someone will make this movie someday, and I fear it won’t be me, and that, in some kind of nutshell, is what this business is all about. I belong to a group of women writers who are so close to that goddamned brass ring it has all but smacked them in the face, and many are at the point where they have started to wonder what THEY are doing wrong and what THEY can do to change a system that has its own ever-changing set of rules. Other businesses make sense. Why the hell doesn’t this one?
I think it’s because there are people who get handed the Golden Ticket to the Show early in life, and never look back. That doesn’t mean everything else in their lives comes as easily, but it leaves the rest of us thinking, what did they do that I didn’t, and how I can do that same thing, and for me, after nearly three months of the worst depression I have ever encountered in my entire life, I finally decided that the idea that you have to give 150% just to get passed over, doesn’t work for me anymore.
I will be 59 years old this year. I don’t have the time or the patience to spend countless years of my life chasing after something I don’t understand, that seems as random as getting cancer, or winning the lottery, or being chosen as a Nicholls Fellow. I set out to become the best writer I could be, and after winning several script competitions and advancing, twice now, to the second round of Sundance writing labs, walking the red carpet at Cannes, and working to hone my craft, I have come to the conclusion that if Hollywood wants me, they are going to have to come to me. I want to work on my house, and take the trips I’ve been holding off on thinking someday the career I’d always dreamed of would be a reality and I would have the resources I needed to do the things I want to. I have started painting again, and when I start to write again, I will write what fills my soul, and if I ever make it to Cannes again, it will be with Michael, either on the red carpet, or not.
And here’s the thing…
For the first time in my life, a literary agency reached out to me, just last week, asking to represent me. They are a boutique agency based out of Montreal with connections to the European market where the kinds of independent films and TV series I write are coveted. This could finally be my time, and, it could not.
But either way I have made peace with the idea that this is either meant to happen, or it’s not. My job is to be an amazing writer. The rest is out of my hands.