Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Why do I do what I do?

You could say that I started attending AIVF (Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, now IFA) with the goal of finding an indie filmmaker to produce my screenplay. But what I found were indie filmmakers anxious to produce their own scripts, so I helped develop them.  Meanwhile, I saw a need for more advanced training for Tucson Filmmakers, so I organized workshops. I got caught up in helping our film community grow.

Now here’s the part that drives people crazy… It wasn't about the money. In order to provide workshops that were affordable enough for Tucson filmmakers, I couldn't pay myself. Did all this “networking” lead to paid jobs? No. I spent hours, then years, promoting films with my reviews, organizing film contests and networking events. I didn't make any money, but it was rewarding.

In this capitalistic society it seems the only thing people value anymore is the pursuit of money. I know how blessed I was to be a stay at home mom while developing my art. But it is really heartbreaking when your own children are disappointed in you because you’re not more “successful” by society’s standards. They don’t seem to  value my role as a mother. One question I hear a lot is, why aren't there more successful women filmmakers?  I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me some things are more important than money:  living a full, balanced life, raising creative children, building a film community, empowering filmmakers to make meaningful films, and writing (and sometimes directing) my love projects.

How come I never succeeded in getting my screenplays produced? Perhaps, between being a mom and pursuing my other passions, I didn't have the single-minded ambition needed to sell my script. Or perhaps it was because I wasn't willing to write something more commercial. All the stories I chose to write were love projects.  I never could wrap my mind around writing high concept movies for money.

One of my first love projects was, “Walking with Grace,” about a sweet elderly couple I had taken care of while attending grad school. When Grace’s husband couldn't deal with her mind deteriorating from Alzheimers, I moved in full-time to allow them to spend their last days together in their home. This story was very dear to my heart.

I spent an embarrassingly long time working on it. One reason was that people thought my story was depressing.  I workshopped it at the Frederick Douglas Creative Writing Center in New York City; writing draft after draft, trying to make it more upbeat. But what it came down to was that people couldn't understand why a young woman would sacrifice her life to take care of “strangers.” What was so hard to understand? I loved them!  I finally did a major rewrite changing my character into their granddaughter.

And I did shop it around. For years. I researched possible actors and production companies.  I pitched it at screenwriting conferences. I made phone calls.  I sent off query letters. Even got a hand-written letter from Hume Cronyn explaining how the story was too depressing because it hit so close to home. People suggested that I put it away and work on something more commercial. They said that once I had a big hit, I could parley that into the power to get my love project done.  I pitched it to the perfect producer - the producer of the family drama “Christy.” He made a special effort to encourage me. He said that it was good writing, but that no one would do a film about old people. (I still cringe at my lack of determination as I watch numerous Alzheimer movies flash across the screen: “Away From Her,” “Savages,” “Amour,” my favorite, “The Notebook," and the recent, “Still Alice.” It’s practically become a genre!)

At least I had the rare opportunity to see my screenplay performed as part of the staged-reading series at DamesRocket Theater. I watched, in the sold-out theater, as professional actors gave full-out emotional performances. A 50 year-old man was moved to tears because it reminded him of his father. That experience was so satisfying that I was finally able to put the script away and start concentrating on something new. Someone suggested that I might have a better chance selling the script if I adapted it into a novel (they were onto something there), but artistically it was time to move on.

I critiqued my mom’s (Lorna Kerin Beall) historical fiction book, “Model-T Biscuits,” and helped her draft a cover letter to market it. I even pitched it at local writers’ conferences when she couldn't afford to attend. Eventually, I was inspired to adapt this cherished family story to the screen. It was really a love project working with my mother and staying true to her vision. I think people could feel the love as they read it. We ended up winning first place at the Santa Clarita Family Film Festival and the Moondance Film Festival.

My mom, Lorna Beall, and me
 When Julianne Moore won an Oscar for her portrayal of an Alzheimers patient in, “Still Alice,” my boys asked why don't I sell, “Walking with Grace.” I just shook my head and smiled. I think Best Foreign Film winner, “Amour,” and, “Still Alice,” have it covered. But in this day when paying for defense is favored over healthcare or housing, when big business trumps the environment, we need more movies with themes of giving and responsibility. Maybe there’s hope for “Grace,” yet.

So I continue to write my love projects and encourage others to do the same.  Because, like the Dali Lama said, “The planet does not need more ‘successful people.’ The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.”

Go ahead. Ask me why I do it.

One word...Love.

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