Interview by Isabelle B. Price and Magali Lehane on March 16, 2009 for Univers-L.com
Can you tell us about your career ? (studies, training, previous movies…)
I began writing for my high school newspaper “The Eagle” in my senior year at Cairo American College. I would make up stories and entertain the student body. So, it was my then narrow-minded understanding of journalism that prompted me to want to major in journalism so that I can write entertaining stories for a living. However, once I was in college, I quickly understood what journalism entailed, and I had no interest in pursuing it any longer. One day in December of 1997, I saw one of my favorite films and was automatically inspired to write scripts. I felt that I found the medium that I can succeed and flourish in, and be excited about. I majored in Mass Communications at Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana. I then was on a mission to become a successful screenwriter. I read books upon books by other screenwriters all on my own. I read scripts. I wrote scripts. I watched movies. I read the scripts to those movies that I watched. And I studied the format and I continued and continued to write as many scripts as I could, while being in college full time with a husband and a newborn baby. I even sent query letters to literary agents, only to receive several rejections. However, I was on a mission.
I started writing screenplays about 12 years ago. I faced over 400 rejections from producers, literary agents, directors, and anyone else that you can think of during this time. But I started writing stage plays as well for our church. Not as much fun as writing movies, but it allowed me to write, direct, and produce my own work in front of an audience. I did that for a couple of years. My husband has always been a producer on all of the projects. He’s the great business man behind the scenes, helping to move everything forward.
I also started working on other peoples independent film projects as a writer, associate producer, and script supervisor. But I learned so much. In fact, I learned so much that it gave me the confidence in January 2006 to want to executive produce the 5th of 8 scripts [at the time] that I had written. My fifth screenplay was Running On Empty, now known as Running On Empty Dreams. I had to seek out investors. I got rejected several times. I then met up with my mentor and he advised me to create a movie trailer before I shoot the entire film so that I can show investors what the final product would look like. So, I took all the money and credit cards we had, and created a film trailer for my movie, based on excerpts from the script. We went into some big debt, but it was all because I believed that we could get our money back and that the film would be financed. This was based on my knowledge of the demographic we were aiming towards. We ended up winning 2 Telly Awards on our trailer and teaser. Shortly thereafter, we got the funding for the film and filmed it in November-December of 2007.
You are the scriptwriter on that movie. How did you get the idea ? How many time did you need to write it ?
I got the idea for the movie easily because it was based on a situation that occurred between my husband and myself. I fell in love with another woman while I was married, and I was faced with having to deal with my sexuality and my religious beliefs. The majority of the film is factual, although I took my creative license to add to the plot for the sake of storytelling. It was a story I felt that I wanted to tell, even though it didn’t put me in the best of light. Furthermore, even though the situation had ended, I felt like there was something else on the inside of me that needed to complete this part of my life through writing a script for it and getting it produced. I began writing the script in August of 2002. I completed the first draft in the Spring of 2003. This script then underwent 40-45 revisions between April 2003 – October 2007. The actors and I even made minor changes with dialogue during production just because we took the time to play around with the different ways that lines could be delivered.
Is the movie, now it has been shot, really different from what you wrote first ?
The movie that will soon be available to view and the original screenplay that I had written are quite different. I originally wrote the script to have the main character end up with her husband at the end. I won’t spoil the ending for those who have not watched the movie yet, but readers and directors of those earlier drafts of the script did not like Sydney returning to her husband Corey. I stepped back and took a critical look at the script, and I agreed with them. So, I started revising and revising, and created the ending that is actually used in the movie. In several of my revisions, I also added Corey’s sub plot because it was a direct link to Sydney’s story. Some may mistake the Gulf War flashbacks as a war subplot, but if audiences pay attention to the dialogue carefully in those scenes, those flashbacks are about Corey’s need to be a hero, not only in war, but a hero to his family. Audiences need to understand Corey’s back story so that they understand his motivation for wanting to keep his family together. If that was not added to the script, Corey’s character would be flat and one-dimensional. Within the final script, he was a fully developed character that had a reason to be in the story.
From the beginning of this venture, from the moment you started to wrote the script, did you want to directed yourself the film ?
I did not want to originally direct this film myself because my focus has always been to create and write stories; in other words, my focus has mostly been on screenwriting. I didn’t want to be distracted from that goal, so I continued to write screenplays and approach Hollywood directors, producers, literary agents, etc. with the script in hand. I began to get frustrated because so many people were not interested in the script. So, I decided to narrow those whom I would approach down to a specific demographic. I decided to approach lesbian directors and producers, hoping they would be interested in the script. I got quite a few lesbian directors/producers to read it and they really enjoyed it, but no one would move forward with actually producing it. Again, I felt frustrated and made the bold decision in January of 2006 to direct and produce the film myself. I had already gained the courage to produce from having worked on other independent film projects and from directing and producing my stage plays. I had arrived at the conclusion that directing, like writing, is simply telling a story. However, now I’m forced to bring that story to life as a director.
You are the « ROE » scriptwriter, director and producer. That’s a lot for just a person. Would you do it again ? How did you handle all these roles ? Which one did you prefer ?
I did have three major roles on this project– the writer, the director, and the producer. I even had a fourth role as executive producer, where I helped to get the funding for the film. My absolute favorite part of the process is writing and my second favorite is directing. I love the solitude that I get as a writer because I’m able to “be alone” with the characters and almost “let them” tell the story. I enjoy writing because it allows me to experience “being” different characters and to take part in the world that I’ve created for them. Directing is enjoyable because I’ve always directed my own work. I’ve done this a total of five times now; three times with stage plays, once with the Running On Empty trailer, and finally with directing Running On Empty Dreams, the movie. Directing is also enjoyable because I’m telling a story by bringing it to life off of the page. It involves directing the movement of the actors and the effective delivery of the lines to get the desired result, and when this comes together all at once, it’s rather exhilarating. Producing is probably the hardest role on a project because you have to make things happen, financially, logistically, diplomatically, and so forth. As a producer, you serve as a liaison and you ensure that the film gets done no matter what. It’s a tough a job. Would I take on these four roles again? Absolutely, because I know that in doing so, the film will get done the way I would envision it. I mostly focused on directing when it came to rehearsing with my actors and communicating with department heads. My role as producer was mainly focused on fine tuning contracts between cast, crew, personnel and our attorney. I acted in the role of a producer all of the time, except when we were in production (filming the movie). While we were filming, the only role I played was that of a director.