I’ve been around a bit in this business. I came up through
the ranks of production and then moved into post, all the while writing
and working towards helming a film of my own to make my life complete. Or so I
thought. On April 13, 2011, the thing that would truly make my life complete
presented itself in the form of a phone call. “I’m sorry,” the voice on the
other end of the phone said to me. “We were all pulling for you.”
At 38 years old, I had breast cancer.
When the news broke that I might have cancer, people were surprised that I chose to go into a busy post-production office knowing “The Call” was coming. Others knew very well why I’d chosen to do just that.
As a woman in Hollywood, I’ve experienced the once over, the
twice over, the comparisons, judgments and misbehavior that unfortunately seem
to go hand in hand with making making a movie. I’ve also experienced
the commitment, drive, loyalty and refusal to quit that shines through when Hollywood’s
best show up to get something done. It was the latter that brought me into the
office that day, and it was the latter that got me through the fight of my life.
Three days into the news, there I was, holding 11 books and
binders full of information that I needed to understand how the enormous tumor
in my breast was going to turn my life upside down. So I did what any totally
overwhelmed girl would do: I went to Netflix for the movie version. I wanted an
overview before I sat down with the materials. The search left me in shock.
There were loads of personal stories, quite a few scientific documentaries, but
no Cancer 101. Nothing existed that would answer my questions. In that moment,
there was no question in my mind: I needed to make a movie. I put the word out
on the street and that was it. Everybody showed up.
Through a mastectomy, two reconstructive
surgeries, four-and-a-half months of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation, Hollywood
was more present than it ever had been for me. I loved going to work every day.
It was my cancer, but we were all fighting it.
Old friends showed up. New friends introduced themselves.
People came from all over the business to support my film, What the F@#- is Cancer and Why Does Everybody Have It?, and embrace what
they could do to fight cancer with the talents they had. Our music consultant,
Kaylin Frank, said it best the first time I met her. She said, “Allison, we can’t fight cancer like the doctors, but we can fight it
with what we do best.” In one short sentence, she
was able to articulate how personal it was and how big it was for everyone involved.
I am not the first to say that this town is rough and that if
you don’t want to make movies just as much as you want to wake up in the
morning and breathe, then you probably shouldn’t be here. That said, making a
movie is a walk in the park compared to fighting cancer.
People sometimes ask me how I made this
film while I was going through treatment. The reality is, I’m not sure I could
have made it through treatment nearly as well if I hadn’t been making this
movie. The camaraderie, the knowledge and the stories people shared all led to
wonderful talks that were incredibly helpful to me physically and
emotionally, both as a filmmaker and as a cancer fighter. To see a massive crew
of people naked in their souls and 150 percent dedicated to making a movie for
free brought tears to my eyes nearly every day. If anyone out there is looking
for proof of profound love in Hollywood, all they need to do
is take a look at the WTF cast and
So, Hollywood and breasts, green light. Hollywood and
cancer, absolutely! We didn’t even need an official green light because
everyone just showed up with what they had and we did it. Our community donated
their time and resources to make this documentary with not a dollar spent. We
made our own green light for all the right reasons.
As a woman in Hollywood guest-writing a column about
women and issues related to entertainment, I’d like to give a standing ovation
and celebrate all of the amazing men and women this town has to offer. We’ve
got glitz. We’ve got glamour. We’ve got crazy and we’ve got drama. We’ve also
got talent, integrity, drive and now a movie that so many of us made together
without being paid a dime because we felt it was the right thing to do. We have
each other, and every once in a while it’s spectacular to sit back and marvel
at just how amazing that is.
Allison W. Gryphon is a novelist, filmmaker and breast-cancer
fighter. What the F@#- is Cancer and Why Does Everybody Have It? is her
directorial debut. What the F@#- is
Cancer and Why Does Everybody Have It? is available on iTunes worldwide
January 7th. To learn more about the movie, visit our cancer education
website at www.thewhyfoundation.org.
Watch the What the F@#- trailer: