I’ve been a nonfiction writer
all my life. I write books and humor essays. I never envisioned becoming a
screenwriter. But at age 60, I seem to have rewritten my obituary. I am a
screenwriter now, with a comedy-drama feature film about to premiere at a film
festival. A female character-driven indie called Lies I Told My Little Sister.
I first confessed to the lies
I told my little sister in a humor essay for Seventeen in my twenties. You know the drill: she was born with a tail,
we bought her at the baby store in the clearance bin — all the stuff you dump
on younger siblings just because you can. Those patterns of childhood are tough
to break, even into adulthood. It’s a subject relatively unexplored in film,
and certainly not well mined from a strong female point of view.
But I also wanted to tell a
story about losing my older sister, and how family members have to re-jigger their
relationships after that hole in the heart. I wanted to tell it so that the sadness
didn’t overwhelm the humor, because even after great loss, life is still funny,
if you let it. And I wanted a female voice unencumbered by stereotype, because frankly,
that’s how I’ve always envisioned my own.
The son of my tormented
little sister ended up going to NYU Tisch film school. That kid, Jonathan
Weisbrod, said, “You’re a writer. Write a screenplay,” then got me free
screenwriting software and began giving input on my first drafts. It was thrilling, actually, to write
a script about a family with a little kid in it, and have that actual little
kid, then in college, helping you write that script.
Reinventing your life into
screen fiction is tricky. The themes remain essentially the same, but the plot
needs major revision. Eventually
it became a story about the two leftover sisters on a trip to Cape Cod, packing
all the family baggage, replete with recriminations, revelations, a very
strange shopkeeper and an old romance. It stars a young breakout actress from
Steve McQueen’s Shame, Lucy Walters.
She walked into the audition and we knew immediately. Perfect combination of
sexy and powerful and vulnerable and broken.
With a budget of
$125,000 and armed with NYU training, Jonathan found equity investors, got SAG on
board, recruited the best director and crew just out of NYU (with whom he’d
already been making award-winning short films), and produced it himself. At
first I stood on the sidelines in awe, but ended up co-producing, learning on
the job, putting out fires every day.
though, was a guy. William J. Stribling was a 21-year-old emerging talent. William
and I talked about this being a film through women’s eyes, and he understood my
initial hesitations about a male director — he had them himself. But it was
obvious that William got it. He understood that, although the film
was “female-driven,” extremely personal, and emotionally raw, this
was essentially a story about universal feelings that made sense to him both
intellectually and emotionally. He had immediately wanted to make it, to
explore how to integrate childhood into adulthood, and grief into living. And
he was gifted in his touch with actors of both sexes.
We need more men like
Stribling who have that George Cukor touch. It’s not just about needing more
female directors, though we most certainly do. We also need to take risks on male
directors who see past gender stereotypes and aren’t afraid of female leads. Then we’d
have more films with strong and real woman characters, in stories that resonate,
no matter who owns the heart.
Judy White is the former editor-in-chief
of a Time Warner website, author of several award-winning books (including the
encyclopedia Taylors Guide to Orchids), a photographer at GardenPhotos.com with thousands of photocredits in magazines, books and advertising, and a past
president of the Black Bear Film Festival.
Lies I Told My Little Sister will have its world premiere at the Gasparilla International Film Festival in Tampa on March 22, 2014. It will then go to the Sarasota Film Festival, where it will screen twice, first as part of a fundraiser for the United Nations, in Through Women’s Eyes on April 5, then again on April 8.
Watch the teaser trailer below: