GIRLS LIKE US-- Looking for Amy Pascal & Elizabeth Cantillon

It was one of @melsil's tweets, there at the side of her Women & Hollywood page. This is what it said: "Another project about women at Sony. We should track these. Girls Like Us is looking for a writer http://bit.ly/9rFqGW".

OH, I thought: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon-- Then, "I can do this. And I want to."

First, I wrote to one beloved US contact "How would I try for this? Is it crazy even to consider? I guess I believe I could do this wonderfully, partly because I'm the same age as these women. Am I too far away, too inexperienced, too un-agented?"

"No clue,"she responded. "But if you can pursue it, pursue it."

Then, I jumped on the Sony Pictures Entertainment website to find the producers, Amy Pascal and Elizabeth Cantillon. Sent an email to the address on SPE's Employment Opportunities page. Figured out Amy Pascal's address and emailed her. Neither email bounced back. (No response though. Yet.)

And then I saw @TonyBesson's tweet saying "20,000+ followers & not a single question, are you guys #awake out there?" So I tweeted him: @TonyBesson Here's a Q then: How to let Amy Pascal know I'm avail in Wellywood, to write terrific GIRLS LIKE US script: http://bit.ly/9rFqGW? And emailed another US contact. (No response from either yet).

And hurried off to an excellent pitching workshop, then to the library for GIRLS LIKE US. And clasping the book, leafing through it in the bus, I admired Sheila Weller's work, could think of so many ways to turn it into a film.

Why am I so keen? Is it because I've just seen The Runaways? Is it the music? Joni Mitchell's paintings? Or, as I wrote to my mate, is it because they're  are the same age as I am, more or less, and we share some aspects of our stories?
Or, is it because I've been concentrating on Development's production and need a change? Because it's a little warmer and spring's coming (got my heirloom tomato seeds out)? Because Ken Duncum emailed me his stunning Great Gatsby script, and I was suddenly, desperately, homesick for Final Draft?

Or because I LOVE writing complex multi-protagonist scripts about women and how they fit in the world (& don't fit), and for audiences that love stories about women?

Anyway, knowing that I don't know who reads this blog, though there was someone in Beirut today, and lots of Aussies (that sequel's on its way) here's a wee appeal. If you know anyone at Sony, please tell them that I'm interested. Very very interested. And that I'd write a terrific script.

17 August

And then. I rang Sony. I wasn’t sure how to pronounce ‘Pascal’ or ‘Cantillon’ for America. Tried one, then the other, and when the automatic phone service couldn’t understand me, I tried ‘Operator’. Did you say ‘Operator’? YES. Quick connection after that, to Elizabeth Cantillon’s office. A lovely woman said “Oh—Interesting. We have a director but no writer yet. Ring the producer, Erik Howsam." So I did. Another lovely woman. Erik wasn’t available (no surprise). With some difficulty and a shared giggle or two we negotiated our way through the various vowels involved in my contact details. (American women often have a warmth and graciousness that I really really like.)

Another kind response from an American contact (nothing from @TonyBesson to date):
Wow Marian. It’s a tall order for me to figure out how to get an (unsolicited) script to someone I don’t know. You need an agent or someone who knows Amy Pascal. I don’t know her, so sorry. An American would have the same problem. There is no one from Sony you know? That might help…
(I must have explained badly: I don’t want to send an unsolicited script, I want them to commission me to write a script.) And some encouragement comes from beloved other contact: “You did good. Keep at it. Keep pushing the river. You have talent, skill and passion. Terrific.”

So I dive back into the book.

And intrepid Kyna trawls through her databases. She finds that Katie Jacobs of Heel & Toe is attached as director/producer. Their contact number doesn’t work. I call Erik Howsam’s office again, get a guy this time. “Send me an email for Erik”, he says. “Write what you’d say to him.” So I do, and send a similar email to Katie Jacobs’ agent.

Then Kyna sends a response from a couple of her mates who have years of experience in Hollywood:
Your friend should try to get her writing samples to the development executive at the studio overseeing the project with Elizabeth. Amy doesn't have time dealing with new writers, so your friend needs to get her material read by the creative executives or director of development. They are the ones looking for new talent and will help champion a new writer. The studios are going to look to the top agencies for a writer to adapt the material or use one of their proven writers they've used in the past. But in general, she should target all the creative executives/directors of development at all the studios if she wants to be considered for open writing assignments.
OK. I need a champion over there. I think about this as I gather more material. A collection of short pieces about Woodstock from people who were there or tried to be (Carly, Carole & Joni weren’t). The music. A biography of James Taylor, noticing that the library has very few biographies about women musicians in comparison with those about men. And then I work on another task, a piece about a Herstory poster created not far from here in 1977, an image of six women and two motorbikes. And I decide. Here I am. I don’t have career aspirations in the States, don’t want to search for an agent. It’s just this one story that’s tugged at me. Why?

Some of it has to do with memory. I’ve interviewed most of the women in the Herstory poster and they remember very little of the day they posed for the photograph. And I, who lived nearby then, didn’t know them, and don’t remember much of 1977 either. I know it was the year I made my first art work. I know I went to Last Tango in Paris and who I went with, but only because I wrote about it at the time (…the joker at my periphery, laughing his way to my heart while my mind’s elsewhere). What gets remembered, what gets forgotten, or ignored? Why did Sheila Weller focus on the facts and themes she chose to highlight? Was it something in her own life? Over the last few years I’ve become much more aware of how my subconscious/unconscious affect what I focus on. But maybe Sheila Waller works differently.

One of the CDs I get from the library is called Amchitka: the 1970 concert that launched Greenpeace. I lie in bed and listen. Find a little booklet tucked in among the two discs. O my goodness. I knew about the French nuclear tests in the Pacific and how the French bombed Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior in Auckland in 1985, before she could sail to Mururoa in Tahiti to protest. But Amchitka Island? No. Barbara Stowe was at the Vancouver concert aged fourteen and tells the fascinating story in the booklet, worth getting the CD just to read about it.

Amchitka’s a little island in the Aleutian Island group. It lies between the Bering Sea and the Pacific, in one of the most seismically volatile regions on the planet. Start in Tahiti and sail north and slightly west. Hawaii’s about halfway between Tahiti and Amchitka.

In 1969 Amchitka was a dedicated wildlife preserve where seas otters—hunted to near extinction by the early twentieth century—had begun to recover. And the United States Atomic Energy Commission was drilling deep into the island, preparing for a series of nuclear weapons tests; test blasts (before the nuclear tests) sea otters were washing up dead on Amchitka’s shores, their eardrums shattered.

Barbara Stowe’s father, Irving Stowe, a Quaker who belonged to the “Don’t Make A Wave” (DMAW) activist group, organised the concert to raise money to send a protest ship to Amchitka. Onstage at the beginning of the concert he said
By coming here tonight you are making possible a trip for life and for peace. You are supporting the first Greenpeace project: sending a ship to Amchitka Island to try to stop the testing of hydrogen bombs there or anywhere.
The concert raised about $18,000 “just enough to charter the fishing boat of Captain John Cormack, the only man brave enough, crazy enough, and—rumor had it—financially desperate enough to sail to Amchitka”. The group renamed his boat the Greenpeace. Following international protests, the test was delayed. And fifteen days after the Greenpeace left Vancouver for Amchitka, the United States coastguard arrested the crew. Support was now so high for DMAW that it was able to charter another ship, Edgewater Fortune. But the US Supreme Court then ruled 4:3 in the test’s favor, and the bomb exploded before the Edgewater Fortune could reach Amchitka. Three months later the Atomic Energy Commission cancelled the series “for political and other reasons”. Eight test cavities had been drilled on Amchitka Island. Only three of them were ever used.

I listened to Joni Mitchell as she sang. It’s a lovely set. Then James Taylor joined her on Mr Tambourine Man and I cried. Liked this so much more than the Bob Dylan version I love and am most familiar with. No wonder those three women loved to sing with him. Loved him. Opened the James Taylor biography, at a random page: the account of his wedding to Carly Simon. And I thought about my own wedding, in 1969. My mother didn’t come. Instead she sent a cake “mixed with her tears” (I was pregnant). And I thought about Sheila Weller’s account of Joni Mitchell’s relationship with her mother, which reminded me of mine with my mother. And then wondered why Sheila Weller didn’t write about the Amchitka concert. Or did she? It’s not in the index. Will have to look again.

And from all this—I’m SO slow—I suddenly realised AAAAAH. I’m drawn to Girls Like Us not just because in some ways they were girls like me. But because Girls Like Us, like Development, is about how women get to tell their stories to the world. And about the stories we choose to tell.

Amchitka concert website

Comments

  1. Way to grab it by the short & curlies, Marian! GO FOR IT!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  2. Thanks Kyna. Who knows if anything at all will happen from this. So many degrees of separation between my bit of Wellywood and Hollywood. But in the meantime I'm enjoying the book, and intensely interested to know which audience & storylines they'd want to go for and why. Joni Mitchell would be so much better grouped with Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson or, best of all, on her own with a director who'd make something like Todd Haynes did with Bob Dylan (only different!!!)

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  3. Mmm, yes, it's a major undertaking to tackle the story of these three giants. It's gotta have a larger showing than just a bicoastal release and a spattering of "flyover zone" shows, a la Haynes' I'm Not There, so I think they'll go with a big-name director, likely female, with some arts/music-based background, like a Susan Seidelman, Penelope Spheeris or Catherine Hardwicke, and go for a bigger release. Yeah, would love a film for each of these singer-songwriters -- sounds right up Christine Vachon's alley but not so art-house as I'm Not There.

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  4. I hadn't thought about directors. I've nearly finished reading it, & have struggled with the elephant in the text, on every page, James Taylor. It isn't a Bechdel Test story. Alongside the music there are men and men and men; it's as much a portrait of men of that generation as of the women who wrote songs about them. So a guy could write & direct it. Or anyone from Nora Ephron to Diablo Cody cd write it, & Nora direct. Some humour wd really go a long way among a lot of grief. But because those stories, like every good story, are about love and death, maybe someone like Jane Campion could write and direct something very very beautiful: she's so good with sound, too.

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  5. Just caught up with the outcome: John Sayles will write the script: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/blogs/risky-business/john-sayles-adapt-girls-sony-74516

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