Shelly Gitlow found everything wasn’t fine when she tried to get her female-centric script turned into a movie.
Many years ago, my debut novel Dispatches from Paradise started life as a film script. My goal was to make a film that would get strong, funny, smart women up on the screen and reflect what I saw and experienced in the rapidly changing world around me. There seemed to be a lag in between what was actually happening and what was going on in movies. This was the late 90s, and films mostly showed women in relation to men.
Actually that hasn’t changed all that much. There’s something called the Bechdel Test that rates movies on whether they meet three criteria: 1. It has 2 named female characters, 2. Those characters talk to each other for at least 60 seconds, and 3. Their conversation isn’t about a man. Could the bar be any lower? Amazingly, only a very small proportion of films pass this test. Maybe that’s because female directors account for only 9% of directors in the US and 15% of the screenwriters.
I wrote the script, which at that time was called Everything’s Fine and decided to find a director for it. I found a book that listed directors and their contacts, and picked Susan Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan, Sex and The City) whom I greatly admired. I called her business manager figuring that he might be more inclined to talk to me than her William Morris agent, and luckily, he was great. He told me to send the script and that he would pass it along to Susan.
A week later, I had a message on my answering machine from Susan saying that she really liked the script and wanted to speak with me. Long story short, she tried to get it made by Showtime which was doing original movies at the time, but that didn’t happen. This might sound discouraging, but actually, it was encouraging. At least I felt I had a viable product.
Next, a start-up company optioned the script. Unfortunately the company disbanded before the film got made. So when the rights reverted back to me, I decided to try and produce it as a low-budget indie film. As you may or may not know, this is a monumental task, one that I was both excited and terrified about.
At about the same time, something incredible happened. Susan Seidelman contacted me out of the blue. She was putting together a film set in South Florida about widows and divorcees getting back into the dating game and wanted to know if I’d be interested in writing it with her.
Well, that was something I couldn’t turn down so I put aside my film and went on to have a fantastic experience working on the film Boynton Beach Club. And after Boynton Beach Club, Susan and I adapted the novel User i.d. by Jenefer Shute, which we’re still trying to get funding for.
But Everything’s Fine was always in the back of my mind. The characters and the story were still something that I wanted to see on the screen. Since so many movies were being adapted from books, I decided to re-purpose it as a novel. And when I made that decision, I knew that I wanted to try and write it from the three different characters’ points of view.
Writing in three voices was a challenge. But something very interesting happened. I had heard writers talk about their books coming through them – “if you just get out of the way, it will happen.” Frankly, I always thought that was a bunch of baloney. But writing this book turned out to be that kind of experience for me. As I wrote each chapter, I literally tried to inhabit that character and understand her motivation and reactions. My husband would come home and ask, “Who am I dealing with today?”
In any event, I finally had a finished product that I was ready to unleash on the world. From what I had read about publishing, it seemed that getting a novel published would be somewhat easier than getting a movie made. That was before the publishing world was turned upside down. So I started sending the book out to agents and publishers and racking up lots of rejection letters, just like I had with my screenplays.
You have to really love the writing itself because the rewards are so few and far between. You get to the point where a positive rejection letter is enough to keep you going. I’d like to share with you my favorite rejection letter. This was from the publisher of a small imprint:
“Sorry, but your novel did not make our final cut. Having said that, I personally admire your writing skills and your ability to put together a strong snappy scene and build memorable characters. In truth, it was the theme and tone that pushed us away from your book. Not that there isn’t a place and market for over-the-top, high-energy erotic comedy, it’s just not us.”
Thank goodness Mitchell Kaplan didn’t feel that way. I’m thrilled that B&B Press has published my book, and I hope that people will find it a fun sexy read that also has something to say about family relationships. And who knows, maybe my three gals will make it to the screen after all.
Dispatches From Paradise leaps on to the family battlefield of three generations of women living together in Miami – where DD cups abound, octogenarians recite erotic poetry and an S&M Fitness class is not for the faint-hearted. On Liz’s 39th birthday she kicks out her cheating husband, ditches her soul-sucking job and declares her life a do-over. Then her mother and daughter move in with her and all hell breaks loose. But as the women tear through the city’s racy clubs and wild art scene, Liz, Claudette and Darcy change, grow and reconnect on new terms, letting go of past betrayals, misunderstandings and disappointments.
Miami-based author Shelly Gitlow is the co-writer of the feature film Boynton Beach Club and the author of the novel Dispatches From Paradise. In her former life, she was a family therapist and wrote several books on quality management. She divides her time between New York City and Miami.