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ScreenTalk is proud to present...

an exclusive interview with
screenwriter Pamela Gray, who shared a "getting-it-made"
experience with producer
Robin Rea

After winning the Goldwyn Award in 1992
( past winners include Francis Ford Coppola),
Pamela Gray’s  spec script "The Blouse Man"
was a hot ticket in Hollywood.

So why did it take five years to get on film,
and finally wrap this past summer
in the Laurentian Mountains, north of Montreal?

I spoke to her recently about the saga of an independent film,
from its genesis in UCLA film school through
the roller-coaster terrain of development...

Your agency releases the spec script in June, and you have eighty meetings that first summer.
You must have felt like the prom queen...

What I didn’t know then is the big difference between people “oohing” and “aahing” over a script and actually taking the risk of hiring a new writer.

At the time I was so hot because of the script, it seemed like

there were seven or eight parties who were very high on it

and wanted to option it, but when it came down to putting

money on the table, there were no offers.

So you arrange an “unofficial” option with a producer and cross your fingers?

He was the only one at the time who seemed willing to stick

with it and try to market it but I wound up, in a way, screwing

myself, because there was a perception in the industry that

this producer owned it.

Wasn’t Susan Seidelman attached for a while?

She was attached with Ellen Barkin as lead, but we couldn’t

get it set up anywhere with that package. The studios didn’t

feel that was enough to make a movie that was perceived

as “small and soft”.

Is there some surprise on your part that it’s going on almost two years now and there’s still no option or money?

The message out there, in film school and seminars, is that

if you write a great spec script, it will sell. My biggest surprise

is finding out that isn’t necessarily so.

What should the message be?

I think it should be, if you write a great spec script, eventually

it will serve you, if not in the way you like. Talent will be

recognized in the industry. However, how quickly it is

rewarded depends on whether that talent is perceived as

being commercially viable.

I think it is true that if you write a great action adventure

spec or a great spec with a male lead, it will sell. But it is not

true that a great spec about a woman written by a woman

is going to make you a million dollars.

Tony Goldwyn enters the scene in 1994
as producer and star along with David Seltzer as director. This is something to write home about.

This was Tony’s first project as producer and David Seltzer,

whose career started with "Lucas", a small character-driven

movie, felt that with his success he had become a studio

writer and that "The Blouse Man" was a project that would

take him back to his roots. But he was not going to officially

attach until I did some rewriting, so in the course of the

next year, I probably did about five more drafts.

What were they looking for in the drafts?

They wanted better development of the two male characters,

and my position on that had been and continues to be, I’m

happy to do that as long as everybody knows this is Pearl’s

story. There were producers in earlier meetings who said to

me if you make the husband the lead, we’ll be interested in

optioning the material. But Tony and David knew it was

Pearl’s story, and they knew it would be better for her

character if the men were more developed.

So you’re finally ready to package the project, as they say, and David Seltzer jumps ship for another project?

It was very disappointing to lose him, but as Tony
reminded me, we got his vision on the page.

I sense a turning point.

Finally, in April 1996, Tony asks me how I’d feel about him directing.
There was no one else in the world besides me who knew and loved
the script as much as Tony Goldwyn. So, I had to weigh his passion,
commitment and brilliance around the script versus his inexperience
as a director, and I decided the first stuff was more important.

So Tony, wearing the director hat, wants rewrites on the David Seltzer draft?

An amazing number of rewrites and part of it was fueled by

Tony’s belief that the way to get the movie made was to try

to sell it as a two and a half million dollar movie, which

meant a shorter script with condensed scenes. I did at least

another five drafts for Tony from April through September '96.

Are we feeling pain yet?

The things I had to change in the script to fit a less expensive

budget, there was nothing fun about that. Not that I ever

wrote a 30-million dollar movie, but when I was telling the

story, I wasn’t thinking about things like whether we could

afford a traveling shot of the George Washington bridge.

But the one experience I had with this script up through production
was that I was always happy to be working on it
that when I went back in, it was like coming home.

Little did you know you were just warming up...
for the Murray Schisgal/Dustin Hoffman rewrites.

In September 96, the script wound up with Murray Schisgal,
who is creative director for Dustin Hoffman’s Punch Productions,
and he said they wanted to do the movie with a little bit of rewriting.

How many drafts?

Two drafts for Murray before there was a script sent out

for casting. Then Dustin, who’s now executive producer of

the project, wanted changes. I did a draft meeting Dustin’s

needs, and then the actors started having notes. I would say

I was working on rewrites from October 96 until June 97.

Silly of me to ask, but have we seen any money yet?

I had gotten option money twice from Tony, not a lot. And
none for any of the rewriting. You’re supposed to be paid on
the first day of principal photography,
but I actually didn’t get paid until the second day.

Let’s mention the cast, because you got some first-rate people.

Viggo Mortensen, Diane Lane and Lieb Schrieber in the leads,
with Anna Paquin and Tovah Feldshuh in supporting roles.

During the rehearsal period, the actors requested some changes. Did you agree with them?

Some of them I did, some of them I didn’t. It was often very

helpful to hear them explain why things needed to be

different. They had a very different internal experience of

the characters.

The hardest thing for me was actors wanting to change

things that had made it through all those drafts, a prop

here, a moment there. It was really hard to lose things

that I had fought for and had won during the writing


Where you there for the entire shoot?

Both Tony and I requested it.
Since we had had a collaboration for three years,
it didn’t make sense, just at the moment
we’ve all been waiting for, to have me on the sidelines.

What did you learn, as a writer, being on set?

You have to pick your battles. Being there on location, where

inside of myself I wanted to control everything, I had to

consider what’s worth bothering Tony about. I really tried

to keep my distance until I couldn’t stand it anymore.

One thing I learned as a screenwriter on the set is

that I was really the only one there who had the entire

script in mind at all times. I knew a line dropped in

a scene on page twenty-five was going to affect something

that got said on page one hundred and six. I mean, the

actors were in the moment. Tony had the broader vision,

but when he was really involved in directing a scene, he

couldn’t always keep in touch with that vision.

I also learned that the language of film is not always the

same as the language of a screenplay. There were things

on the page that did not work in the flesh, and there were

moments on film that would not have seemed right in the


Having a different perspective on your work, were you able to notice and suggest changes?

Yes, for example, there was a scene where Pearl goes back
to the blouse man after breaking it off.
It was so intense between them, and having gotten to know
these characters and see them in the flesh, I realized what a
big deal it was that she went back to him after spending the
weekend with her husband. I knew then that there was a
missing scene
between her and her husband.

In other words, for that to be happening,
something more had to have happened before.

And is that “missing” scene in the film now?

Yes, it was added to the schedule and shot.

How would you describe your position on set?

I was in a rare and privileged position. It was an independent

film and I was the sole writer. It was my baby from start to


I was the one who knew this world. Tony Goldwyn did not

know the world of Jews in the Catskill Mountains. So, if I said

these extras don’t look right or that building needs this or

those hairdos are wrong, he believed me.

Current title?

The title has been a subject of controversy for months, and

I’m going to be very sorry to lose The Blouse Man.

The bottom line is the domestic distributor gets to name the

film, and we don’t have one yet.

Are there going to be any pre-screenings at festivals?

We’re going to try to get it into Sundance or wait for Cannes.
I assume it will be in one of those two.

Has a release date been set?

Spring has been discussed, as has next fall.

Have you seen the final cut?

I saw dailies every night, but haven’t seen the “rough

assemblage” yet. This is the biggest letting go point. I’m

not there; this is Tony’s baby now.

How does that feel?

I’m sad and scared, because I know the movie is too long.
I’m going to have to hold onto the satisfaction of
having seen everything shot that I wanted to see shot,
and know that I will probably never see some of those scenes again.

Any well-earned advice for writers?

Don’t give up! I never gave up on this script. There were

periods I didn’t want to be a screenwriter anymore, but I

still believed the The Blouse Man would be made.

Don’t let people stop you at the creativity level. Don’t listen

to all the messages -- the story’s too soft, too small, too

uncommercial. You have to find that inner sense of belief.

Do you feel stronger now?

I do feel stronger, and if I ever have the privilege of being
on a set again, I will exercise that strength in a positive way

Screenwriter Graham Yost ("Speed") aptly pointed out, after he saw his movie substantially rewritten and retooled, that seeing his name in lights was: "the big dream... but not the big, Big Dream." It happens to the best of us.