“I have some horrible, ugly truths to share,” says Jill Soloway at the beginning of her keynote address at this year’s Film Independent Forum. The Transparent creator promises a “motivatey and inspirey” speech, but not before sharing her “rock-bottom” experiences three years ago, when she was in such dire financial straits that she planned to leave Hollywood and move to Northern California.
Soloway reveals that her stints as a staff writer on HBO’s Six Feet Under and the showrunner of Showtime’s United States of Tara gave her no advantage when it came to seeking employment in other writers’ rooms. “The word out there is you’re difficult,” her agent told her.
Filmmaking became Soloway’s road back to TV. She followed the path that Lena Dunham forged by proving her voice with Tiny Furniture and using her independent film as a kind of portfolio. Soloway followed suit with Afternoon Delight, about a bored housewife (Kathryn Hahn) who invites a temporarily homeless stripper to live with her and her family. The indie garnered Soloway a Best Directing Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
“If you liked the movie,” Soloway told Amazon, “I can make a pilot that feels very similar. I have the cinematographer and editor and the hair and makeup person and the wardrobe chick to make it look the way that movie looked. I have a technique that I can use with actors that allows me to get the kinds of performances you saw in that film. Most of the people who come in to see you with a script can’t guarantee much by the time a director and a producer gets involved. The tone can evaporate right before your eyes. As writer, director and producer, I am now able to tell you I can guarantee the tone.”
She praised Amazon for the company’s confidence in her vision. “At the networks there are people who believe they can make things better by changing the rhythm of a sentence, about a joke not being funny,” she recalls. “They have 20 people involved in every page of the content. Now I just have Joe [Lewis, Head of Comedy at Amazon Studios].” She noted that a sign in Lewis’ office reads, “More creative freedom equals better quality equals more audiences equals more money equals more creative freedom.”
She also shares what she brought to Transparent after her feature-film experience. “Filmmaking is really like throwing a great party,” she says. “It’s artmaking, it’s play. We have plenty of time, we have plenty of money, and there is light everywhere.”
Watch Soloway’s 45-minute speech below: