BALLS OF STEEL: The Passion of a Huston

If you have the name “Huston,” any door in the film industry will fly open… or will it?

I’m sure you’ve heard the myth a million times: It’s not what you know; it’s who you know. Pull up a bar stool while I blast that myth out of the water.

Meet Allegra Huston. She wrote and produced her first short film, Good Luck, Mr. Gorski, via crowdfunding. Yes, you read that correctly. The daughter of legendary writer/director John Huston, and sister of Anjelica, pimped her heart out to get her script produced, despite being in an Oscar-winning family of three generations.

How could this be? That’s what she said.

I had the delight of being introduced to Allegra by my Slavery by Another Name writing partner, Douglas A. Blackmon (insert shameless plug here). Doug called me after meeting her at the 2010 Savannah Book Festival, excited about her project, yet incredulous that a Huston was using PayPal to fund it.

Whenever a person does something unexpected, I’m all over it. I googled, read her script, and before I knew it, I was clicking “donate.”

But her name wasn’t what made me click; it was her passion for the project.

That, my fellow screenwriters, is the secret to success. Not who you are, not who you know, but how passionate you are about what you write.

Recently, I spoke with Allegra about the journey of Good Luck, Mr. Gorski.

The story was inspired by Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon and his legendary declaration, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” But as any comedian will tell you, rumors started spreading as to what else he might have said on his 2.5 hour strut on the moon’s surface, including, “Good luck, Mr. Gorski.”

Being a writer, Allegra pondered who Gorski would have been and why he’d have a connection to Armstrong. The question, “What happened?” occupied her mind, until one afternoon, she sat and wrote a 15-page short, discovering a story of recaptured love.

She explains what her imagination created: “Turns out Mr. Gorski was Armstrong’s neighbor as a kid. One day, the young Armstong overheard an argument between the Gorski’s in their bedroom. ‘I’m not going to do THAT until the day the kid next door walks on the moon.’”

Fast forward to the grown Armstrong walking on the moon, and giving a nod to his old neighbor. One small step for man, ends up being a giant step in rekindling romance for the Gorskis (note: if you’re curious what “THAT” is, you’ll have to read the script or see the short).

Allegra has written half-a-dozen feature-length scripts, so I was curious if the short film was part of a strategic career move, but she assures it wasn’t.

“I didn’t set out to make this a calling card. I think if I had, I wouldn’t have had so much success because that intent would have come through when I talked about the project. I really did this for the love of the story. Because I loved it, people wanted to see the story come to life. Now, it’s not sitting in the drawer anymore.”

The script was written some 15 years ago and seen both light and darkness on it’s path to production. But it was when Allegra switched her mindset that real action started.

“You can’t wait for someone to come in and save you. Get out there with whatever means are at your disposal. I have tried in the past to get to those places that finance short films, but they are few and far between. I almost had it financed, and then it fell through. I decided if there was no other way to get funded, I just needed to raise it myself. Sometimes, you just have to throw your heart over the fence.”

Enter crowdfunding.

Her goal was to get 2,000 people to donate $20 each – the price of a nice lunch.

“The decision wasn’t how I was going to ask people for $20, but instead the decision became I am going to do this! Then you try to figure it out from there. When you do that, and give off that vibe, people want to help.”

Taking the reins requires “balls of steel,” but Allegra quickly disputed that this fearless behavior wasn’t her norm. She was so far out of her comfort zone but pushed through by embracing the fact some people would say “no.”

“I was completely okay taking ‘no’ for an answer, which made it easier for me to ask. Most people are afraid to ask for something simply because they are afraid of rejection.”

However, she got to the point where she felt like the annoying Amway salesman. She pounded the pavement asking people to buy raffle tickets and even sold cupcakes. She accosted every person she ran into. She raised funds at book signings for her memoir, Love Child, and put together creative raffles and auctions, giving donated gift certificates to local establishments.  She tirelessly worked Twitter and Facebook. I even tweeted a storm of support, rallying contributors as far as Indonesia. By the way, don’t underestimate the power of social media in your writing career.

Possibly the most vulnerable thing she did was post her script online for all to read. Really, that takes balls. Her baby was out there.

One by one, the supporters came, starting with Mission Control, her pet name for the original six women who encouraged her from inception to completion. In total, she collected 956 backers who she refers to as the Launch Crew.

“It feels like a giant vote of confidence and also a huge responsibility. They’re my primary audience and the people I care most about pleasing with the final product.”

While her efforts were Herculean, Allegra is quick to sing the praises of her cast and crew. Her love and respect for them radiated from her voice.

“The best decision I made was pulling this team together. Director Arron Shriver added an idea before filming that has become the heart of the film. This is such a wonderful example of the collaborative process.”

Shiver led the way, pulling in actors Gary Houston and Fran Martone to play the Gorskis. Her Director of Photography and fellow producer, David Jean Schweitzer, far exceeded Allegra’s expectations. “I never dreamed we’d have such a beautiful and professional film. I may have gotten things started, but David turned this film into what it is.”

The team included Visual Effects Supervisor, Anthony Riazzi, who worked on The Matrix sequels and X-Men, production designers Erin Eagleton and Johnny Long, who did the impossible with very little time and even less budget, and costume designer Tatyana de Pavloff. Editor, Stephen Boucher pulled everyone’s efforts together to craft a final product she is deeply proud of.

When I asked Allegra if she wished the Huston name had pushed the doors open, she humbly responded, “I don’t expect people to do anything for me. If I find myself feeling that, I try to correct it. I don’t believe I’m owed anything. I have to make it happen myself. I could walk around saying this is my favorite thing I’ve ever written, but I was the one who had to stand behind it and do something about it.”

The name “Huston” may not have opened a Hollywood door, but this Huston will take you to the moon.

Look for Good Luck, Mr. Gorski on the festival circuit.

To learn more about Allegra Huston’s work, visit her site or sign up for her writing class at The Daily OM.

12 thoughts on “BALLS OF STEEL: The Passion of a Huston

  1. Jodi

    With all due respect to Mr. Armstrong, why do I have a feeling that Allegra’s story is probably a lot more fun than anything he could’ve dreamed up 🙂

    Loving these tales of chutzpah. One of these days I’ll be a recovering insecuraholic myself!

  2. How-to Reader

    A lovely article but I couldn’t help wondering whether one of the problems Allegra had getting financing wasn’t due to the fact that the line “Good luck, Mr. Gorski” (along with the reason Armstrong said it) has already been used in an Oscar-winning film. I think the line was delivered by Tom Hanks in “Apollo 13”, or else by someone else in “The Right Stuff”? It was very funny, in any case, which is why it stuck in my mind all these years.

    I would’ve also been curious to know whether any of those half-dozen scripts Allegra has also written have been produced?

  3. Captain

    Dear Janice,
    I certainly have had much to say in one blog, but your words compel me to scribble one more time.Thinking exceptionally to the norm is not a disability for a writer and neither is writing slow. The ghost of past great scribes bear this truth.Join a writing group like Hal Croasmuns Proseries and you may die writing because Hal will “Writing Assignment” you to death.
    Captain

  4. Sharon

    I liked Allegra’s script. She is probably fortunate (in the long run) that her name had no influence. It sounds like she has made great contacts and likely learned more than she than she would have otherwise. It’s always better to work hard for something than to have it handed to you. Building toward a goal and growing as a person is the secret of living. Success is great, but really, the process is the product.

  5. janice

    After reading all the comments it has made me think how true. I am a first time trying to write a script. These comments have made me want to really work harder. I have a learning disability but it will not be my crutch. I still struggle with disability and it takes me twice as long to write anything. However, so glad to be encouraged after reading these posts. I may never make the big time or I will die trying to accomplish my dreams.

  6. Captain

    Dear Jeanne.
    I have time to comment now. I am encouraged by your friend Allegra as I have written scripts but would have been terrified to try and produce them myself even though noone did. I am also excited about Dave Gist comments. I see that hope springs eternal. To mr. Hern, I heard the comment from Armstrong live. He did say “A man” He said, That’s a big step for a Man.”He wasn’t announcing he was commenting, because he almost fell. The room was packed because there weren’t so many TV’s. Everybody in the room imediately responded to him with, “You sure are right about that buddy.” We took it for MANKIND whether he mean’t it or not. To Jeanne. Hi again.

  7. Dave Gist

    Most people don’t know my family name but having written 98 scripts of which I was paid on 93 of them, people in the biz invariably look me up and see that my father was a bigshot TV director and one of my moms was nominated for an Oscar for Citizen Kane not to mention a few other nominations. They always assume doors open for me, not knowing that I spent 3 years living in my car while I wrote my first script by hand, in a corner booth at Jack in the Box late at night, and paid a typist to whip it into presentable shape. Doors don’t just fly open. Ask Chad McQueen, John Clark Gable, or any one of the Altman boys. Living in the shadow of parents who are stars rarely helps. Kudos to you Allegra! You turned your craft into an art and it’s because of who YOU are, and what YOU have accomplished through hard work, and not because of some letters typed on a driver’s license that uninformed people believe are magical. Keep on truckin’.

  8. Dave Gist

    Most people don’t know my family name but having written 98 scripts of which I was paid on 93 of them, people in the biz invariably look me up and see that my father was a bigshot TV director and one of my moms was nominated for an Oscar for Citizen Kane not to mention a few other nominations. They always assume doors open for me, not knowing that I spent 3 years living in my car while I wrote my first script by hand, in a corner booth at Jack in the Box late at night, and paid a typist to whip it into presentable shape. Doors don’t just fly open. Ask Chad McQueen, John Clark Gable, or any one of the Altman boys. Living in the shadow of parents who are stars rarely helps. Kudos to you Allegra! You turned your craft into an art and it’s because of who YOU are, and what YOU have accomplished through hard work, and not because of some letters typed on a driver’s license that uniformed people believe are magical. Keep on truckin’.

  9. A.L. Hern

    Too bad Neil Armstrong ACTUALLY said “That’s one small step for A man; one giant leap for mankind” (scientific analysis of the original Apollo 11 audio recordings revealed that there IS a blip in the original audio transmission from the Moon right at the point where Armstrong says “a”).

    “One small step for Man” makes no sense in the context of what Armstrong was trying to convey as he took his momentous first step off the Lunar Module Eagle’s landing pad. Armstrong has always maintained that he said “a man,” and not merely “Man,” and the tape analysis confirms his version.

    Is it too late to change the text, Allegra?

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