I always get this question: How’d you land your first feature? I’m one of the few women feature film directors who didn’t come at this from acting, and or singing and dancing. Who’s out there? Jodie Foster, no rx Barbara Streisand, see Drew Barrymore, Diane Keaton, Betty Thomas, Sophia Coppola, Anne Fletcher, Penny Marshall, Julie Taymor, Madonna, Cher, Mary Harron, Helen Hunt. Well, on and on. They all came to it that way.
The rest of us have come at it through film school and writing. Some of us made documentaries (the directing category most open to women). But writing is really the stronghold. If someone wants your script, they’ll even put up with a woman director to get it made—-if you’re tough enough to hang on. Remember the old adage: “If you can write, hold on tight.”
I actually wrote my way through film school, so by the time I got my MFA I had already sold three feature scripts and had done numerous doctoring jobs. I had one original script no one had seen, so when my thesis short film won all the top prizes at school, I had that script in hand when I met agents.
A movie star read the script and went crazy for it. He liked it so much, he said: “If we don’t get this financed, I’ll finance it myself.” As for me, I was so excited to shoot a feature, I was willing to do it on Polaroids. I guess today that’s like shooting on your cell phone (which I’ve done).
So this star took me to about three dozen meetings all over town—L.A. and London. Everyone said, “Yes, but not with her directing!” I have to hand it to this movie star: he was pretty gentlemanly to hang in there with me. Finally, back in L.A., he introduced me to a huge studio producer.
I’m not sure the guy cared much for the script, but he liked me—a lot. He took me out to dinner and gave me another writing job. He tried to get into bed with me—all 350 pounds of him. I couldn’t. Was he serious? Hollywood cliché? I didn’t say no. I didn’t say yes. I demurred. The mogul found financing for my film. For better or worse, I didn’t hear anymore from him. He’d moved on to bigger projects.
But for me, it was the best year of my life—directing my own movie. I’d earned it. I’d read every published screenplay I could ever find, every book on film criticism and production. I’d spent five years in film school, and I wrote my way in to the profession.
Maybe you didn’t have to sell your soul to the devil to get a movie made.
After the movie screened at the Cannes Film Festival, the producer called and told me he looked forward to seeing me when I got back to L.A. He said he’d heard I’d done a really good job. He’d known I would. “Thanks,” I said.
Back in L.A. we screened the movie again at his studio. It got a nice applause. After the usual compliments, the producer came up to me. I thought to myself, like Claude Rains in Casablanca: “The beginning a beautiful friendship? Would he discuss another project?”
Instead, it was: “Are you coming with me?” I hesitated, unsure, and then he added as if to tip things, “I’ve got a masseuse at my place.” I looked around for a familiar face, “I can’t tonight.” His face reddened.
“I’ll call you,” I said.
He looked at me hard. “Tell you what,” he said, “If you call me, call me at home.”