Failure is Overrated and Other Myths About Rejection as a Path to Your Dreams

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I was born prepared to conquer the world.  I come from working class roots and am the second person in my extended family to go to college.  I’m not sure where I got the idea that I was meant for greatness or how I determined early on that I was going to make my own way in the world given how I started,  but I was willing and eager to pay my dues in the steadfast belief that one miraculous day upon surviving a sufficient number of rejections with grace and dignity, I would emerge from the ashes of my past failures into the glorious realization that my greatest dreams had come true.

We’ve elevated rejection in the West as a precursor to success to such an extent that when I googled “rejection is overrated” I found hundreds of quotes about the significance of rejection as more essential to success than success itself.   Rejection proves we’ve tried, it makes us stronger and more prepared to handle success once it comes, it shows us what we’re made of, it’s proof we are on the right path because the wrong path rejected our attempts to be someplace we didn’t belong.  People who openly admit they are giving up are seen as failures and Americans are terrified of failure as though its some kind of contagious disease.

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Rejection has served a purpose in my life more times than I can count,  and even though I no longer cry myself sick in the back of the closet when I get my thanks but no thanks email, it’s still death by a thousand cuts.  It will always hurt that people who once believed in me more than I believed in myself express shock and surprise that I’ve “stuck with it after all these years,” and it will always be a knife in my heart that people who experienced rejection for two or three years before finding success now consider themselves experts in the art of “never giving up.”

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I am tired of  people like Lady Gaga saying “If you have a dream, fight for it,” when she had her first hit record at 21 and an Oscar at 33.  The Beatles were turned down by every record company except Capitol Records.  The band formed in 1960 and they had their first hit in 1962.  U2 formed in 1976 and had two hit singles in 1983.   Oprah Winfrey was a co-anchor on the evening news at 19.   The road to get there wasn’t easy.  No road is and everyone experiences rejection.  But everywhere you turn there are examples of people who experienced heartbreak and rejection but found success within a few short years, and no shortage of people who are terrified to think that hard work and persistence don’t always lead to success when the plain and simple fact is, it doesn’t.

I was smart, beautiful, and funny as a young woman.  I can write, paint, cook, and sew, and I had more power tools than most men I knew at one point in time (and knew how to use them).  I was constantly in search of opportunities and I wasn’t afraid to act on them.  I moved from Oregon to California by myself, went to Europe for the first time alone,  bought a house in North Carolina where I knew exactly two other people, spent three months every year at an art show in Arizona and drove as many back roads and two lane highways through the middle of nowhere across 2500 miles that I could find to get there and back.  I talked my way into art galleries, sent portfolios to magazines and TV shows, and when the economy crashed I held down four jobs to keep from losing everything I had before my husband and I started a mobile RV repair  business from scratch.  I wrote screenplays in the front seat of a service van in between business calls, taught myself how to create pitch decks, chased down any agent, manager or producer who would read my work then fostered those relationships however and whenever I could.   I ask for what I want even when people tell me what I want isn’t possible,  and if I see an opportunity that isn’t right for me, I find someone it is right for.

I have been extremely fortunate to have had some incredible experiences in my life and I know that.  But  I find myself wondering if I am delusional for refusing to recognize that the dreams I’ve  had since I was ten are as far away as they were fifty years ago. It doesn’t take a genius to realize you can have all the passion and talent and drive in the world and if you are still at it decades later then maybe it was never meant to be.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have grown to appreciate all the times something I desperately wanted didn’t work out, or how something I didn’t want turned out to be exactly what I needed.  I’ve chased after men I had no business being with and discovered talents I never knew I had because I had to do something I didn’t want to.

But I wonder if Lady Gaga would be an eager proponent of  persistence and the benefits of rejection in the fight for her dreams if she found herself at 60 singing karaoke on the weekends after her day job at the supermarket when her goal at 20 was to become a major star. Her dreams came true and I am glad they did.  Mine however are getting farther and farther away and the stigma of not being able to speak my truth about the reality of what it feels like to know I’ve failed at achieving them is often harder than watching the dream itself die.  “Don’t give up,” people say.  “You’re so close.  I can feel it.”  But I am seven months away from turning sixty and if it was hard to make it in the film business at 20 because a) I was a woman and b) I wrote about women, imagine what its like to be going on sixty really no closer to seeing this dream become a reality than it ever was and  now I have even less of a chance because I am “too old.”

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Yayoi Kusama is the most successful female artist in history. She was 64 when her work was discovered in  poorly lit banquet hall in Japan after decades spent in New York where everyone from Joseph Cornell to Andy Warhol stole liberally from her.  The constant rejections drove her to enter a mental hospital where she continues to live by choice, and when I watched the documentary about her I felt as though I understood more than most that rejection is part of life, but constant failure is debilitating when you’ve done the hard work and your only chance at redemption is the fading hope that “someone out there” will step up to champion you to the right people.  Kusama creates art now out of necessity and I write and paint for the same reasons but I no longer agree that never giving up, or giving in, that never conceding the fight is a goal worth achieving.  I may have failed, but I am not a failure for calling rejection out for what it is.

Janis Joplin said in a letter to her parents just before she died, “No one wants me to win more than I do.” I did the work.  For four long decades, I did the work and gave everything I had to the pursuit of a dream.  I didn’t get married.  I didn’t have kids.  I devoted myself to learning my craft,  to challenging the status quo and then,  perfecting the art of pulling myself up by my bootstraps to formulate a new plan, a new approach,  to foster new relationships, to ask for what I wanted knowing I might not get it, to believing with all my heart that one day the call would come that made forty years of heartbreak worth it.

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There comes a time when you have to tell yourself, this dream is not coming true and there is no shame in publicly stating I am done. I have a good life and I am learning to be happy without goals and with pursuing smaller dreams.  I tell myself I could be a mother who lost a child to gun violence or a wife trying to raise children alone after my husband died in Afghanistan or Iraq.  Try as I may,  I will never understand why God gave me these talents and the drive to do something with them if I was never meant to discover what I am supposed to do with my life.

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At the end of the day, rejection has taught me a lot.  And what it has taught me is that rejection as a path to my dreams is insanely overrated.   And I’m okay with giving up.  What I’m not okay with is beating my head against this wall anymore for the sake of it.

Because failure IS an option.  And like the man once said…”It’s important to be good at something.”

 

 

 

 

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Rejection, Faith and Persistence, Or How to Survive the Hollywood No.

rejectionI woke up this morning to what seems like my eight hundredth rejection letter, this time from Imagine Impact.  To be fair, they received 4000 submissions for 20 spots and the opportunity of a lifetime, but so far this year I have been turned down by the Writer’s Lab, Sundance Episodic, American Zoetrope, the Atlanta Film Festival, the Page Awards, Script Pipeline, the Launch Pad, We Screenplay, Shore Scripts Screenwriting Contest, Stowe Story Labs, and the Screencraft Screenwriting Fellowship, just to name a few.

u2 rejectionI am no longer as devastated as I once was by rejection letters, having been on the receiving end of the “thanks but no thanks” email more often than not this year.

I feel I am in good company.  I met several Academy Award winners last year who said pitching their first project after bringing home an Oscar was no easier and no more guaranteed than pitching projects before winning an Oscar.  I met writers who’d won nearly every single major screenwriting competition they’d entered, and they were no farther along than I was.  People expect to pay their dues in every profession because at some point, the experience  you’ve gained along the way will advance you to the next level.  In the film business, you can work your ass off and never make a lateral move much less climb the ladder no matter how hard you try, who you know or how many awards you have under your belt.  A producer I know who works for an Academy Award winning actress told me not long ago, “if its this hard for us to get anywhere in this business, how much harder is it for people who don’t have the connections we do?”

The problem I have with the constant rejection is that every time I feel as though I am about the reach the top of the wall, out of nowhere, a two hundred foot addition to the wall appears and I am no farther along than when I started.

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I used to tell God that if he would just get out of my way, I would have gotten where I wanted to be a long time ago.  And while I am old enough now to recognize that there are a great many things I wanted that its a good thing I didn’t get,  I also have to recognize that I set this impossible goal for myself.  I want to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and I want to make enough money so we can quit working on RV toilets, and I want that to happen now.

Not winning a spot with Imagine Impact, Sundance Episodic or the Writers Lab stings. But the goal was always to make movies and screenwriting competitions seemed like a good path toward reaching that goal.

It’s like a friend of mine used to say  when I was the top selling gourd artist in the world and I still couldn’t get into art galleries.  He said being an artist was hard, that my chances of getting to the top were slim to none, and used Dale Chihuly as an example of how few artists make it all the top.  But if Dale Chihuly could get to the top, then why couldn’t I?

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I figure its time for me to stop waiting for Sundance, or Austin or Nicholls or even Ron Howard and Brian Grazer to give me the thumbs up.  I’m just gonna go ahead and make my own dreams come true.  I don’t need anyone permission but my own. And with this new script I have been working on, I’m going to get there.   After all, if Dale Chihuly or Bono Hewson,  or Stan Lee  can do it, so can I.

 

 

The red carpet, the Cannes Film Festival and coming home to my day job.

Two weeks ago, I discovered that the short film I wrote, the one that is already remarkable for the fact that one of the biggest actresses in Hollywood, Robin Wright directed it, the crew from the Emmy award-winning House of Cards volunteered their time and resources to breathe life into it, and Sam Rockwell, Leslie Bibb, Callie Thorne, Michael Godere and Nini Le Huynh agreed to star in it, would make its red carpet debut during the 70th Anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival.

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No matter how many times you may have rehearsed your Academy Awards acceptance speech in your pajamas, nothing prepares you for a moment like this. I spent my formative years in Hollywood, so red carpet premieres in and of themselves are not a big deal bearing in mind I’ve been the one who made sure celebrities like Michel LeGrand and Jerry Weintraub made it to the festival venue, the green room, and the after party. Michel LeGrand still owes me for the bow tie he wore to the Palm Springs Film Festival, not that anyone is asking, and Jerry Weintraub may never have found his way to the men’s room at the Palm Springs Museum of Art if it weren’t for me.

The truth is, I was on the fence about going. The ticket from Asheville to Nice was $1700, and frankly, I am at the point in my “career” where I have spent more money pursuing the dream of becoming a writer than I have actually ever made AS a writer. I’ve had exactly one paying writing assignment for low-budget indie producer, Larry Levinson, and that was years ago. But my husband knew, even if I didn’t at the time, that this was an experience I would regret not having taken part in, so he bought the ticket, and I had the panic attack.

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I haven’t gone clothes shopping in years and I needed everything. I found an evening gown on Rent The Runway, then had a panic attack about getting it back to the US before the deadline. They charge $50 a day for every day its late, not including the additional daily rental charge. So I found the dress I wanted on ebay, a floor length Badgely Mischka that might cover up the fact that I no longer have much of a waistline to speak of, a pair of spanx that ran from my neck to my thighs, and a pair of flat sparkly shoes so if I fell off them I wouldn’t have far to go.

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I made arrangements to stay at an Airbnb a “bus ride away” from the Croisette, bought my first set of grown up luggage, installed a global plan on my phone, and boarded a plane for Charlotte, destination, Nice, France.

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When I got to Heathrow Airport, I received a text from Nini Le Huynh; The Festival de Cannes was putting us up at the Grand Hyatt Martinez from Tuesday to Friday, so I let my Airbnb host know and headed to the Martinez, which, as it turns out, was the host hotel for the festival. Everybody stayed there; Jessica Chastain, Will Smith, Elle Fanning, Julianne Moore, Marion Cotillard, Pedro Aldomovar, Fan Bingbing, Victoria Abril, Sara Sampio, Monica Bellucci and Robin Wright. I had a front row seat to all the insanity, from the crowd of paparazzi and fans gathered behind barricades outside the front door, to the entrances and exits the stars made, to sitting down to breakfast with Robin like it was an every day occurrence.

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Wednesday afternoon, I got another text from Nini. We had been invited to attend the seventieth anniversary dinner for the festival in the Grand Ballroom of the Martinez. The stars sat together at a long table in the middle of the room; the other tables fanned out from there. The room was cavernous, and it was hard to hear anything, but the experience of being there was unforgettable. Especially after Robin introduced me to Harvey Weinstein, who was kind enough to engage me in conversation for a few minutes.

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The next morning, I accompanied Robin and Nini to the Variety/Kering Women in Motion interview at the Hotel Majestic where the main focus of the conversation was the upcoming season of House of Cards and Wonder Woman. When she was asked about our film, she introduced both Nini and myself to the room, then made sure to mention all the people from House of Cards who volunteered their time to work on the movie. We ended up having over 125 crew members involved in the film, not the least of which was a young editor named Alfonso Carrion, who spent hours and hours making sure the film was perfect.

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We left for the Palais at 6:15 and were delivered directly to the red carpet. Two lines of people with invitations to the opening night film feed into the red carpet from either side, and risers packed with reporters in tuxedos line either side of the red carpet. Behind us, more reporters on step ladders, to get the best possible vantage point, and more security than you could shake a stick at.

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Robin was announced, and all four of us (Robin, Nini, Alfonso and myself) stepped onto the red carpet. Everyone started screaming her name. We made three stops on the red carpet, since its not very long, and there are reporters on both sides. We turned to face one set of photographers, then on a signal from a man in a tuxedo on the carpet itself, we turned and faced the other set of photographers. We repeated that move two additional times, them made our way up the steps of the Palais where we were greeted by Thierry Fremaux, the head of the festival, who ushered us upstairs to a private cocktail lounge where we drank champagne and waited for the film to begin.

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A short time later, we took our seats in the Salle Bunuel Theater where Thierry introduced each of us before inviting Robin on stage to talk about the film. She was so complimentary about the film and gave Nini, Alfonso and I credit for the roles we played in making the film possible.

And then it was showtime.

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The film looked marvelous on-screen. People reacted the way we had hoped they would in all the right places, and when the final scene cut to black, the woman beside me, an agent from CAA, said to herself,  “God that was GREAT’.

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We went to dinner afterward, just the six of us at a little seaside restaurant. It was lovely, just sitting around a table, watching the sunset over the ocean and sharing a bottle of wine. It was definitely a night for the record book.

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I am back in North Carolina now, back to my day job, trying to make sense of the events of the past week, and how to move forward. The film was accepted into the Palm Springs Short Film Festival in June, which is an Academy qualifying film festival with a short film market (the only one of its kind in the nation). I’ve been invited to an event hosted by the Athena Film Festival, who arranged pitch meetings for Athena List winners with Amazon  as well, and hope to set up some meetings with agents and managers while I am there.

In the meantime, I am working with a TV producer for a series based on the short film, and a new project about an award-winning screenwriter who returns from a red carpet event and goes back to work fixing toilets and refrigerators in the RV repair business she owns with her husband.  Because there’s nothing like hearing the sound of God’s laughter after telling him your plans.

How My Short Film Made it to the Cannes Film Festival

The Dark of NightI found out four days ago that the short film I wrote, THE DARK OF NIGHT (directed by Robin Wright and starring Leslie Bibb, Sam Rockwell, Callie Thorne, Michael Godere and Nini Le Huynh) will be opening the Cannes Classics film block on the seventieth anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival. We premiere on May 18, just prior to the digitally restored version of “All That Jazz”, which won the Palme d’Or in 1980, and the director of the festival, Thierry Fremaux will introduce us.

How in the hell do you wrap your head around that? How do you buy a dress, and some shoes, iron clothes you haven’t worn in years, pack a bag (you just bought by the way, because the last time you went to Europe, you wore a backpack and stayed in youth hostels), then fly off to Cannes to spend two days with the woman who directed your film, a woman who is still one of the hottest actresses in Hollywood, a woman you have admired since the first time you saw her on screen, and act like its all no big deal?

I’ll tell you how.

You launch yourself at this adventure like you have nothing to lose, because at the end of the day, you don’t. And how many times in my life am I ever going to get to say I had this kind of experience? I am 57 years old and I work hard. Harder than most people I have ever meet in my life. I don’t give up and I don’t take no for an answer. I didn’t get here by myself, but I sure as hell didn’t wait around for someone to hand it to me either.

And now here I am, on the precipice of an adventure most people can only dream of. 80 people from the TV series, House of Cards, volunteered their time, their resources and their shared love of film to breath life into THE DARK OF NIGHT. I can’t believe that a goal I set for myself when I was fresh out of college turned into a ten minute film with this kind of pedigree. The director of photography, Dave Dunlap,the costume designer, Jessica Wenger McPhail, the editor, Alphonso Carrion, the set decorators, the sound guys, the stand ins, the production assistants, the first AD (Todd Halvern), the UPM (Sharif Salama), and the caterers – everything about this production was beyond anything I could have ever comprehended.

And what’s crazy is that every single person who worked on this film took the time to thank me, and the man who really made it happen, Michael Witt (an executive producer on the film as well), for the chance to work on this movie. I feel like I didn’t do anything, that I wrote as few words on a page, and a bunch of really talented people swooped in and made MY dream a reality.

I owe every one of them a debt of gratitude. Movies are a collaborative medium and too often you hear horror stories about prima donas on a film set, but the crew from House of Cards, the amazing cast and most of all, Nini Le Huynh and Robin Wright, turned the dream I’d waited so long for, into the most remarkable experience of my life.

And now I get to take in the spectacle that is Cannes. The funny thing is? I feel like I was born for this moment. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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.

Screenwriting 101 Or Why Writing a Screenplay is Much Harder Than It Looks

typewriterWhen I was fresh out of college and eager to make a name for myself, I did what hundreds of thousands of people have done over the years.  I packed my Volkswagen bug to the gills and set out for Los Angeles from Salem, Oregon, intent on becoming Hollywood’s next “It Girl”.

A  woman I’d met, who worked for Michael Douglas at the time, said she should could help me find work in the film business, but only if I moved to L.A.   I started as a “floater” at the William Morris Agency the same day as Bryan Lourd began his career as an agent trainee, and I remember thinking, as we sat together in the personnel director’s office that first day, that this beautiful, sweet young man was going to be eaten alive by Hollywood.  I had the chance to tell Bryan that story a few years ago when I saw him at the British Film Academy tribute to the great film director, John Schlesinger, and as he so deliciously pointed out, things wound up working out pretty well for him.

Things however,  didn’t work out so well for me.  I spent twelve long years in the film business getting absolutely nowhere.  I worked for a succession of producers, including Tamara Asseyev (who produced NORMA RAE) and David Manson (an executive producer on HOUSE OF CARDS), I worked for several different film companies, most of whom are now defunct, as a story analyst, and I wrote screenplays in my spare time.    I wrote PEARL HART, THE BANDIT GIRL, about the only known female stagecoach robber in American history.  I wrote LUCKY 13, about the Women’s Air Service Pilots.  I wrote  HOW TO; A LOVE STORY, about a couple who find love through self help books.   Along the way, I had a few free options on my scripts, and offers to write screenplays for free, and, on occasion, I even managed to get a few pitch meetings with producers and development executives.

I thoroughly sucked at both.  I got so incredibly nervous during a pitch meeting at Disney that I’d rehearsed for weeks, that I broke out in a sweat, lost my place in the story, and watched helplessly as the producer who brought me in, and the executive who was his friend, try salvaging the idea on my behalf.  Another time, an executive at Paramount asked me what movies I liked, and I couldn’t think of the name of a single movie I had ever seen in my entire life, including TOP GUN, which was on the wall behind the executive’s desk.  Not surprisingly, people stopped taking my calls after that.

It didn’t help that I wrote period films about women.  Period movies have a slightly higher chance of getting made than movies with female leads, which is like saying Joseph Goebbels was only slightly more popular than Adolph Hilter.   So after a dozen years in the film business, and too many nights spent crying my eyes out in the back of the closet over my failed non-career, I packed up and moved to Utah.

There, my career as the number one gourd artist in the nation flourished.  But then the economy turned sour, and not surprisingly, so did my finances.  I quit the art business to concentrate on keeping my house,  then after breaking my ankle in a fall in my own backyard, I did a complete overhaul of LUCKY 13 to help pass the time.  It made the rounds of several screenwriting competitions, eventually landing in the top twenty percent out of close to 7300 screenplays submitted to the Nicholls Fellowships,  but when I got my “thanks, but no thanks” email from a writing competition for women, by women writers, with stories focusing exclusively on women, I got pissed.  I applied for a screenwriting scholarship competition at the New York Film Academy on a lark,  and out of three hundred submissions, my story, about the first African American woman to be inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, was chosen along with seven other entrants for the scholarship opportunity.

Classes started on March 3, and this marks the eighth and final week of school.   In the past two months, I have reconnected with old friends in the film business over dinner, drinks or basketball games, sat in on every seminar and lecture I could find, been to screenwriting mixers,  panel discussions, and teleconferences on how to get an agent or manager, sent a “reading basket” to a management company along with copy of one of my scripts,  posted LUCKY 13 on The Black List,  read SAVE THE CAT, and  SCREENWRITING DOWN TO THE ATOMS, watched movies for homework, and wrote 70 pages of the new screenplay with Lupita Nyong’o in mind.

Over the next few months, I plan to share the details of this journey and what I have learned about screenwriting, the film business, screenwriting competitions and the L.A. Clippers in more detail.  It’s been an incredible experience so far.  And there is still so much more to come…..