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Guest Post: Tales From a First-Time Director at the Oscars by Sara Nesson

Guest Post: Tales From a First-Time Director at the Oscars by Sara Nesson

The last time you heard from me (which was also the first) was after the Oscar Nominees Luncheon when I got to revel in my new friendship with Geoffrey Rush. Now, two weeks post Academy Awards, I am finally returning home to Brooklyn, NY. I find myself happily trading the little gold man for what seems to be a promising future for Poster Girl and my career, although I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little crushed when my film didn’t win. A good cry and many hugs from my family and the “foxy posse” later and I am back to my balls-to-the-wall self.

Getting your film recognized at this level is huge. Poster Girl was in every sense of the word, a labor of love. No budget, no crew, no one guiding me how to do it. What I did have was an amazing subject, camera techniques I learned from my filmmaker father, a trusty DVX100B, some passion and a credit card. When my producer, Mitchell Block and later HBO came on board, it was like waiting for the butter to get soft enough so it could spread smoothly onto a piece of toast. Everything just melted right into place.

After three and a half years living mostly on the road following Robynn Murray and other Iraq War vets around the country and managing somehow to keep myself sane, I arrived — dressed in a glamorous New York sample sale find, vintage shoes from Italy, and $23K diamond earrings loaned from LA jewelry designer, Susan Foster — in a stretch limo as an Oscar nominated director. By my side was my adoring mother and step-father, Robynn, her boyfriend, Bill, my producer, Mitchell Block, his lovely wife Joan and their 14-yr old twins. As we were being led through the heavily secured barricades, we came across guards wielding what looked like M16’s. Fortunately for us, we had an experienced gunner in the limo who told us “those were M4’s and you can tell the difference because of their shortened barrels and collapsible butt stock.” This striking woman now walking the red carpet was magically transformed from high school cheerleader, civil air patrol cadet, sergeant and machine gunner in the Iraq War, and anti-war activist struggling for attention, to “the girl with the red carpet tattoos” – as she became known in the fashion blogs. Although Robynn is still driving a piece-of-crap car and chopping her own wood for heat in her cabin-like home in upstate NY, this is as close to a Cinderella story as they come.

Perhaps the highlight of the whole experience wasn’t even the Oscars, but seeing Robynn look so happy. She is not the person I met three years ago.

In the past week since the Oscars, Robynn and I have toured Southern California, screening Poster Girl and talking to students at both community colleges and packed theaters in well-to-do communities. When we received a standing ovation at the IDA’s Docu-Day screening two days before the Oscars, we thought, this must be from all the Oscar fervor. But when it happened again at Santa Barbara’s 450 seat Lobero Theater, we were stunned. We thought: is our country this emotionally starved? Could we possibly be filling an overloaded, maxed out, repressed, human manufactured void? It wasn’t just the Vietnam vets or the mothers of vets or students who were coming up to us in tears after screenings, but it was grown men as well. In Q&A’s after every screening, the reception has been the same — What can we do? How can we help? How can I support my friend just back from war? What do I need to know when talking to a recruiter? How come I didn’t know we have an epidemic of 18 veterans committing suicide every day? Why isn’t the VA doing more?

We had a student who is also a Vet approach Robynn after a screening and said she didn’t realize how much she was hurting inside. She had been repressing everything…until now. It really felt like Robynn and I were on to something amazing. Robynn was inspiring others to come out from their isolation and share their pain.

Poster Girl will air on HBO in the fall and Robynn and I will continue to tour with the film to interested communities.. In the last two days, we’ve had meetings with major studio heads to develop a Hollywood adaptation of the film. Our first step is to find the perfect writer to write the screenplay.

Now at home I will unpack my overstuffed suitcase which I have been living out of the last three weeks, get my Oscar dress cleaned and prepared to be sold on ebay since I need to pay my rent next month, catch up on the hundreds of emails and requests for DVDs I haven’t had time to respond to, and prepare for my pitch meetings when I return to LA next month. Oh, and I almost forgot, have dinner with my good friend Geoffrey before he ends his run of “Diary of a Madman” and returns home to Australia. Per Geoffrey’s request, I will create a role for him in the Hollywood production of Poster Girl. My supervising producer at HBO, Sara Bernstein and I thought he would make the perfect Vietnam Vet who helps Robynn navigate the VA, but for all the talent Mr. Rush possesses, apparently he cannot fake an American accent.

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