It has been eight years since I first started figuring out how to put That's What She Said on film. Back in 2004, Kellie Overbey handed me her play Girl Talk to read. I fell in love with her brutally delicious humor and the fearlessly deft way in which she drew her characters. They jumped off the page and begged me to give them a space in which to stomp around. I didn't have a choice but to mount the production ("mount" being the right word for something that would eventually be called That's What She Said...). I put Marcia DeBonis in that production of Girl Talk, and her performance was so gorgeous and heart-breaking and funny and rare that I felt compelled to capture her and everything that she represents on camera.
Due to the lack of imagination in the world of casting, I knew nobody in Hollywood would do it, so I made it my mission to give that woman the lead in a film. I just needed to figure out how to do it. My production company, Daisy 3 Pictures, had already done two successful micro-budget features, but this project would require a little more. So I taught myself how to write a business plan and went about the daunting task of getting people to invest in the film.
In preparation to write this article, I looked back on my pitch notes from that time, and I came across this:
Four compelling reasons this movie should be made, and why I'm the one to do it:
- It's hilarious and hugely entertaining.
- It's about women, written by a woman, directed by a woman and shows a singular insight into the conversations and preoccupations of women and their friendships with each other.
- It's an antidote to the majority of movies targeted towards pubescent boys, grown up boys, and boys in general. However, gay boys will LOVE it.
- I have an understanding of how women relate to each other, since I am one. I can talk to actors, since I am one. I have a clear idea in my head how the picture should look and be shot. I have directed the play version of the movie, so I know the characters inside and out. And I am very good at comedy.
In retrospect, I guess these four "truths" really went a long way towards making the film happen. One thing I've realized in my life as creative person is that you have to whole-heartedly believe in whatever make-believe you are trying to create, and somehow that belief is what propels you to work your ass off to try and make it good. And I definitely believed in creating a female centric comedy that challenged the traditional Hollywood model.
With Daisy 3 Pictures, we say we make "gay films you can take your Mother to, and women's films with a 'broad' appeal." Obviously, That's What She Said falls into the latter category. I figured women have been literally and metaphorically watching men grab their crotches on screen since the beginning of the talkies, so it was about time to watch women metaphorically and literally do it too. Tit for tat, so to speak. I was very interested in knocking women down off the pedestal and messing them up a bit.
That's What She Said is not Hollywood's standard picture of women: preternaturally gorgeous, wedding obsessed, boy crazy, fashion focused, sexed up "girl" women. These are real women, comically portrayed, who are trying to wrestle with the very expectations of womanhood that Hollywood movies set up. Even though there are now Bridesmaids and Bachelorettes running around in the world, most of Hollywood's comedic heroines still must be basically happy even when they are unlucky in love, skinny even when they say they aren't, successful even when they are struggling and always a little bit "oops, I'm clumsy and adorkable" and thereby acceptable and attractive to the audience. The heroines in That's What She Said are flawed, messy, damaged, hilarious and culpable and not really concerned about being acceptable to the audience in any traditional sense, which for me is what makes them all the more gorgeous. And the fearless truth of that is what makes it funny.
We women often gauge our own self-worth by the quality of our interactions with our lovers. And often these interactions are interpreted for, described for, processed by our women friends. Relationships are the conduits through which flows our connection with each other. So in many ways, the endless analysis and bottomless need to understand our romantic relationships are really about our friendship with each other. And sisterhood becomes the true measure of self-esteem. Kellie's screenplay took that idea and fleshed it out through pure, beautifully studied and wildly colorful conversation. And Anne Heche, Marcia DeBonis and Alia Shawkat breathed life into their characters in astonishing and delightful ways. Our cast and crew, many of whom were women, came together to support our vision of a "chick flick that's not for pussies," which is what I like to call it. And like the characters in the film, we fostered our own wo-mance and were accepted not by men or anyone's concept of what a woman should be. We were accepted by each other.