Thursday, February 26, 2009

"Blocked" on the Rock

A little irregular of me - posting in the middle of the week. But I happen to be a little irregular today. Creatively speaking, that is. The cramping is most definitely of the cranial sort, but it puts me out of sorts all the same. Thought I'd try and get things moving by pinching off a little blog. Oh! So sorry -

Here's what I really wanted to say:

It occurs to me that I'm lucky to have been born with bushy eyebrows. When I was growing up, the biggest aesthetic thorn in my side, the bane of my physical existence was my eyebrows. They were thicker and darker than a proper girl's eyebrows should be.  And they were forever threatening to join forces on the bridge of my nose at night while I slept. Every single day of my adolescence, I cursed those tenacious, virulent brows and took to them with tweezers - the only weapon I had that could keep them at bay.

Turns out, plucking eyebrows can be very meditative - once you build up a little resistance to the eye-watering pain. You even kind of feel you're accomplishing something. It's a lot like weeding.  

Now when I'm faced by that blinking, taunting cursor - I reach for the tweezers and pluck til I get carpal tunnel - and miraculously I still have lots of eyebrow left at the end of the day! It is thus that I have learned to appreciate, even love these prolific, invincible brows.  

Okay, that's all I wanted to say. I'm starting to feel much better.  A steady infusion of Rickie Lee Jones', Flying Cowboys is also working a little magic.

Thanks for letting me write!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Blogging from the Rock

I am in exile.

It's self-imposed, but it's exile nonetheless.

Despite the fact that we are right this minute racing to put our Telefilm submission together for March 27 - i.e. nailing down a distributor (a deal which, I am thrilled to say, we're in the final stages of closing!), casting for our principal roles, finding our co-pro prairie partner - the script is still, and always will be, the thing.

So although I've been off dabbling in Dolly for a while, turns out there's no escaping the basics. While Telefilm and SODEC are looking for the overall production-readiness of a given submission, they won't look very far if the script is weak (at least that's the official line).

Aware of all this, my producer Barbara arranged a session with Ms. Katrina Best, a top-notch script analyst. Armed with all the goods she gave us, I then pulled the plug on my life last Wednesday. I have been holed-up in a bare naked apartment at the foot of Mont-Royal ever since. Writing. Just writing. I can be very masculine like that - doing only one thing at a time.

But while polishing my screenplay in relative isolation is an all-consuming pursuit for me right now, it makes for some pretty boring blogging.

So, enough about me. I want to talk about you...

As I mentioned in my last post, making a movie is so much about relationships and community. Our own community has been building slowly but surely over time - one interested, and interesting, person at a time.

If you're reading this right now, you're one of them. And you've probably already read about other very key people who've helped me get this far. But there's still others - people who are starting to feed the project in their own creative and stimulating ways. It's some of these people I wanted to shine a little light on... 

There's Erica Ehm (of MuchMusic VJ fame) who, along with broadcasting, writing books, writing plays, running a hugely popular website (, also writes and composes award-winning songs. Inspired by what she read right here, Erica sent me one of her original tunes. When I heard it, I got goosebumps. It's like the song was written for my protagonist, Elizabeth.

There's the visual artist, Paul Richmond whose work and personal story have been greatly influenced by "a certain be-wigged, sparkly songbird" (his own fabulous words). He's been following the blog and wrote to let me know.  Along with offering valuable words of encouragement, he also invited me to see his work. If you check out his website:, don't miss pieces like "Hello Dolly" and "The Dollypop Guild". Along with their accompanying stories, they intersect nicely with main elements in our film.

There's Peter Pan - who likely needs no introduction seeing as he practically invented social networking decades before Facebook ever showed it's - face.  Peter is a close friend from high school and it seems like he's always known more people than God. Nothing makes Peter happier than helping the people he knows, know the people he knows. Not only has he already hooked me up to a Very Interesting Person for my film, whom I hope to discuss here very soon, he has also recruited a bunch of industry people out West to join our Facebook Fan Page. So, if you haven't joined yet, just click the link in the sidebar to the right and start networking. For Pete's sake.

There's still more people I want to bring into the light, but better get back to the script.

In the spirit of Facebook and all the creative spirits feeding the project, I'll close by listing some of the music and movies that are presently keeping me company in exile...

"Loving Cup", Rolling Stones (featuring Jack White), from Shine the Light soundtrack 
All the Bach Cello Suites, Mstislav Rostropovich, Bach: Cello Suites
"Holly Holy", Neil Diamond, Gold

Also, I watched Alan Ball's Towelhead last night. The film's protagonist is a young girl who's coming of age and inadvertently challenging some archaic social mores.  It took a long time to warm up to it, but somewhere near the middle, the film started growing on me. Been thinking about it today...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Still in Pieces

Call me naive, but I thought that with Dolly Parton's generous blessing in hand, the remaining pieces required to make my movie would more or less just fall into place.

Granted, there were still a lot of pieces outstanding. We needed a Canadian distributor, principal casting, key crew and a few compelling locations to complete our request for funding.  And we had less than two weeks to secure the whole lot. But I felt entirely convinced that anything was possible now. And I guess that faith was contagious because once we drained our celebratory champagne glasses, Barbara and I jumped down off our bar stools - both equally ready to go full tilt to the deadline.

The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom will be Barbara's fifth feature film, but the first she will produce in English. Her substantive industry relationships and experience are very much rooted in the French side of Canadian cinema and, as we were about to learn, not always directly translatable to the English side. And although I've been more exposed to English Canadian cinema throughout my directing career, this will be my first feature film. 

Ultimately, we're both new to this particular scene - and thus, relatively unattached. Which is a real challenge, because regardless of whether you're doing it in English, French or Urdu, the business of moviemaking is pretty much all about relationships. And relationships take time to build. 

Unfortunately, time was the one thing we were critically short on.  So a week before the funding deadlines when we were still riding the Dolly high, we hit a very harsh wall. We weren't going to be ready.  Not this time. Since you only get three shots at Telefilm per project, you can't afford to submit unless you're hands-down sure you have a shit-hot package the first time out.  

So we took a deep collective breath, let our heart-rates settle down to a modest 100 beats per minute, re-set our internal alarm clocks for the next deadline - end of March 2009 - and turned on the charm. 

We had a lot of relationships to build between now and then....

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Bomb

IT had come - unheralded and humble - on recycled paper through the half-forgotten fax machine. 

Barbara stood in the middle of the office, holding IT in her hands, looking at me with her eyes bugging out and saying quietly, "We just got a letter from Dolly Parton."

Time stopped. The world stood still. If Barbara had said, "We just got a live bomb," my brain and body would have reacted exactly the same way. 

I couldn't move. I just stared at her. She stared back at me. Neither of us blinked. The pit of my stomach got cold, and the saliva that had been in my mouth drained straight down into my knees.  I was instantly aching to know what that letter in her hands said and just as instantly I didn't want to know.  I suddenly wanted to stay a little longer in the state of being unanswered, of being blissfully ignorant, where all possibility still existed.  

Because as long as Dolly hadn't yet said no, she could still say yes....

If it WAS no, though - my entire jig would be up. Right there. Right that second. There would be nothing left to do but pack up my computer, say thanks to Barbara and go home. There would be no re-writing this particular story. There would be no re-naming it, "The Year Tina Turner Was My Mom".  It was Dolly Parton or it was nothing.

I swallowed.

"I'll read it," Barbara said.  That got me moving. In a flash I was out of my chair, across the room and snatching the letter out of her hands. Call it some weird sort of maternal instinct but it was my baby - I needed to be the first one to see it.  I had to love it and accept it as mine, no matter what it looked like.

It looked fat.  

When I saw that the whole page was crammed with words, my heart started to sink like a stone. Everything I've learned and heard about Dolly Parton has led me to believe that she is a truly generous and compassionate soul. So when I saw all that writing, I was dead sure she had gone out of her way to be kind - to let me down easy. 

My eyes stung. My hands shook. I forced myself to read:

Dear Tara,

Well, I spent the weekend reading your wonderful script, -

SHE spent the WEEKEND reading my WONDERFUL script...?!  I couldn't breathe. Dolly Parton had actually brought my script on tour and spent her weekend reading it? And thought it was wonderful?!    

"And?! Andandandand???" Barbara was losing her mind.

Still fearing a big bad "but", I almost stopped reading right there. Almost.

...Needless to say, I was and am very flattered that you would choose me as your subject for a movie. I think it is written really well and I could see where it could make for a fine and meaningful film....

So far, so unbelievably good.... Then, it came:

... I would be proud to allow you to use my name, likeness and music...

I read those words again. And again. Then I skimmed the rest of the letter, checking even the very sweet "P.S." she'd written me at the bottom.  Apart from an entirely reasonable request for approval of her images and an eye to respecting the causes she supports, Dolly Parton did not write any "buts" whatsoever...!

In fact, she said that she would be proud to be part of the project in every single way I had requested - and more.

It was then that my face started leaking pure joy - for about two days straight actually. In fact, I spent the next week or so after that just feeling goofy with gratitude and goodwill toward all humankind.  Most especially towards Dolly Parton. But also towards the mysterious Miss X who was instrumental in ensuring my proposal was seen and carefully considered by Ms. Parton in the first place.  I am very grateful for all she did and continues to do.

So, if I thought Dolly Parton was something special before all of this, I am now quite simply overflowing with admiration and respect for her and the people with whom she surrounds herself. 

And so the time had come to do us ALL justice and get this baby made!  After the twists and turns and time I had travelled, there was exactly 13 days left before the funding applications had to be submitted. But hey, I now held the most important and wondrous piece of the puzzle in my hand - a big fat Yes! from Dolly Parton herself. 

What could possibly stop me now?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Tick Tock

My proposal package for Dolly Parton went out to Nashville as planned. 

We all three (Theresapedia, Barbara and I) kissed the sweat-stained envelope and surrendered our cinematic fates to the FedEx guy. If he did his job right, Dolly Parton's point person (let's call her Miss X) would have our proposal on her desk the next morning - one month to the day before we had to submit our production funding application. And before we could submit that application, we needed Dolly Parton's approval of the use of her name in the title, her permission to use her likeness and "celebrity" as well as her agreement to perform in the film.  

Once we had all that (dear god, let us get all that!), then we could finally approach a distributor - another necessary piece of the funding puzzle - and from there casting could start. 

We had one single month.

And by my calculations, the proposal package would be in Nashville for all of 9 days before Dolly was scheduled to go out on an extensive US tour.  I could only hope that Miss X would be willing and able to pass the proposal on to Dolly before she left. Otherwise, she probably wouldn't even see it until after Thanksgiving, when the tour ended and she came back to Nashville. And that would put us about three weeks past our deadline. 

Even though so many planets had to align in such a narrow window of time, I remained wildly optimistic for the first few days after we sent out the package. My heart would leap into my throat every time I heard the fax machine ring.  Because Brad (the fabulous and entirely non-flaky guy who got me this connection in the first place) told me that Dolly and her administrators would often correspond with him via fax, I couldn't help but think it was HER every time that damn fax would ring.  And for some reason it rang an inordinate amount of time (considering the times) those first few days. 

It never was her though. And after a while, I stopped hearing it ring.

I let almost a week go by before I called down to Nashville to "follow up" on the package (I didn't want to pressure too hard or too soon for an answer and end up getting a No just to make me go away). Once again, I'd written myself out a little phone script and once again, the woman I needed to talk to answered the phone.  Only this time, I actually mispronounced Dolly Parton's name when I asked if she had received the package!  If she noticed though, Miss X didn't let on.  She just told me drily that, yes the package had arrived at the office but, no Ms. Parton had not had time to read it yet. Flustered, I thanked her and hung up. 

I was cooked. Dolly Parton was leaving on her tour the next day and she hadn't even seen my proposal.  

After that, the mood at the production office started to change.  We all valiantly continued on, each one of us making as much headway on the funding requirements as we possibly could, even though the biggest piece of the puzzle was still missing. But as each additional day went by without any news, hope began to fade.

I started tracking Dolly Parton's tour schedule - trying to figure out how I could get to Georgia or Kentucky, then get into one of the shows, somehow get to meet her and ... And what? Read the script out loud to her on the way back to the dressing room? Tape pages of the proposal documents to the tour bus windows? Even if I could somehow get access to Dolly Parton in the middle of her tour, when would she even have time to look at my humble package anyway? 

Meanwhile, hours kept turning into days which were magically transforming into weeks and the funding deadline was bearing down fast. I remember literally having my head buried in my hands one dim afternoon when Barbara noticed some crooked piece of paper that had come through on the fax machine. She peered at it and picked it up. Holding it out in front of her with both hands, she turned toward me in what seemed like slow motion and said in a quiet, almost robotic voice, "Tara. We just got a letter from Dolly Parton."