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.”
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.
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.