And we’re back with Darlene Craviotto and her interview. If you missed her professional resume and bio, please read “Oh Crap She’s Famous!”
Please visit Darlene at her blog: “Can You All Hear Me in the Back?” where you will enjoy her unique voice.
And here’s Darlene!
Darlene, how did you break into screenwriting?
I had a car accident. Actually, I talk about this in the book so I don’t want to give too much away. But I originally moved to Hollywood to be an actress. I worked at Universal Studios as a tour guide during the day and at night I performed in a repertory theater on Hollywood Blvd. seven nights of the week. It took me seven years to finally get into the Screen Actors Guild, which is the professional union actors and actresses have to get into to be hired for film and television work. Without a union card, you can’t even go out for auditions. So after seven years of doing repertory, I co-starred opposite Don Knotts in a brand new play, and it was a great role – I played a blind girl who meets and falls in love with Don Knott’s character. The play was very successful and a big Hollywood agent saw me in it and signed me. I was immediately cast in a television episode, got into the union, and I was hired to co-star in a big film, I Never Promised You A Rose Garden. All of my Hollywood dreams were coming true. But one week before we were supposed to re-shoot the ending of the film (with me in it) I had a car accident and my face went through the windshield of my 1967 Chevy Malibu. My face eventually healed, but I developed agoraphobia after the accident. I couldn’t really go to auditions, so I had to stop acting. But the good news was I picked up a pen and started writing. I had to do something with all that time sitting at home, so I wrote. I chose a genre that I had worked in as an actress – screenplays. If I couldn’t actually go to auditions and act these characters, I thought to myself – Why not at least write them?
What movies did you write a screenplay for?
Although it had taken me seven years to get work as an actress, I started working right away as a screenwriter. I wrote a spec script – just to teach myself how to write a screenplay – and a friend of mine showed it to a new agent. She signed me and started sending out my script around town. I got one job and that led to another, and then, another. Before I knew it I was making a living as a screenwriter. The wonderful thing about being a screenwriter is that you can do your work at home and then, send it into the studio or production companies. You only need to take a meeting every few months, and I would just pull my courage together on those days I’d have to go in for meetings. I was a wreck emotionally during those meetings, but because I’d been trained to be an actress, I could just pretend to be okay until I’d go home where I could fall apart. No one ever knew what I was going through, and when I finally admitted my agoraphobia to my agent, she said: “Keep that to yourself or you might not get hired.”
My first professional job led to me being hired to write an episode for a new CBS series Married: The First Year. The producer liked my writing so much he hired me to be the Story Editor. I was a nervous wreck taking that job. In fact, I turned it down. My agent told me I was crazy (she wasn’t far from the truth), and she talked me into doing it. The series only lasted for six episodes and that was fine as far as I was concerned – I was able to go home and not have to travel to an office every day. But the creator/producer (who was my boss) was the man who had created “Dallas” (David Jacobs) and the next thing I knew I was writing an episode of “Dallas,” and David asked me to be the Executive Story Editor to his new series, “Knott’s Landing.” By that time, I realized that if I stayed in television I’d have to go to an office every day, and my nervous system would not be able to handle that. So I decided to just write movies – which took much longer to write and you didn’t have to leave your house to do it –and I said no to the “Knott’s Landing” job (and probably making millions of dollars along with it!)
Turning next to long form projects, I was hired to write the NBC television film, Angel Dusted where I once again acted (I was so nervous I had to hire a good friend to drive me to the set every morning and make sure I showed up!), this time co-starring with Jean Stapleton, and Helen Hunt. I gave up acting after that last role – it just took too much out of me emotionally to have to show up on a set, looking cool and together. Screenwriting at home was much less taxing. I went on to co-write Sentimental Journey, the CBS television film that starred Jacklyn Smith, and Maureen Stapleton.
Next followed Love Is Never Silent for the Hallmark Hall of Fame on NBC, which won numerous awards including an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Special, and also garnered me an Emmy nomination for outstanding writing. Other awards for the movie included the Amade Unesco Award, and the Christopher Award for best television film writing, as well as Humanitas and WGA nominations for outstanding writing.
My first feature film, Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale, was released by the Walt Disney Studios and won a Movieguide Teddy Award when it was selected as one of the “Ten Best Family Films” of the year.
But in addition to these screenplays that were produced and filmed, I was also hired to write many more scripts over my 25 years in the film industry. The majority of screenplays that are commissioned by studios never end up being filmed, but screenwriters are paid a lot of money to write them anyway. I was one of the lucky ones and managed to make a very nice living as a professional screenwriter for over twenty years.
Can you share a bit about your recovery from agoraphobia, and what helped you move forward?
Recently, I had to think long and hard about that question because I wrote a post at my website entitled, “10 Things That Helped Me Get Over Agoraphobia.” I realized in thinking about that article that I had learned over the years how to live with my agoraphobia. I don’t think the condition ever totally goes away, but I’ve learned to find coping strategies over the years – through therapy, and by trial and error. My post goes into it in detail, and if anyone is struggling with agoraphobia, I recommend they read that post. Never giving up or totally giving in to agoraphobia is a big part of getting your life back again. I’m doing much better now than that period of time I wrote about in my book – that year that I was writing “Peter Pan” for Disney and Michael Jackson.
What was your motivation for writing about working with Michael Jackson in An Agoraphobic’s Guide to Hollywood: How Michael Jackson Got Me Out of the House?”
Writers write for many reasons. But in my case, I think I write to better understand myself, or to come to terms with something deep inside of me: a fear, an anger, a confusion. I certainly had all of those feelings after working with Michael, and having finished the “Peter Pan” project for Disney and Steven Spielberg. I think writing the book helped me come to terms with a time in my life that had made me feel like a failure. It’s funny because having written the book I now realize that I didn’t fail. Realizing that – through the writing of the book – has made me much stronger as a person, and it’s helped healed me in so many ways.
What are you working on now?
I have a documentary I’ve been working on for seven years (No Girls Allowed), and this year I finally finished it. It’ll be released in 2013 as a DVD. I’m also doing an e-book of my play (Pizza Man) which has been produced all over the world, and it will also be coming out in 2013. I have two other e-books I’ve been working on, and I hope to also have those available sometime next year. In the meantime, my website is keeping me busy (http://darlenecraviotto.com). I call it “a guided tour of life’s little stories by screenwriter and author Darlene Craviotto.”
What was your inspiration for the “No Girls Allowed?”
Seven years ago I went back to college to finish my degree. One day, as I was sitting in a crowded lecture hall at UCSB, I listened while a professor reminisced about being one of the first female students to attend an all-male public high school in Philadelphia. The school had practiced single sex education (for males only) for 147 years until 1983 when a court in Pennsylvania ordered the mandatory co-education of Central High School. I was used to seeing students during lecture text messaging, checking email on their laptops, or dozing during most lectures. But as the professor spoke openly and honestly about her first-year experiences (sometimes difficult) at Central High, the two hundred students around me sat in stunned and respectful silence. They were riveted by what she was telling them.
After the lecture, I went up to the professor and asked her if any books had ever been written about the gender integration of Central High. Public high schools are known to be coed, and yet, Central had avoided going coed until it was legally required as late as 1983. She confessed to me that nothing had ever been written about the case, or the women who were the first to attend Central. That’s when I realized that I had stumbled upon a fascinating story, and the best way to tell it was through documentary film making That began a seven year adventure for me as I had to learn all the aspects of film making not just the screenwriting part of it, but filming, directing, editing, and post production.
What advice would you share, industry related or not, with people? A piece of wisdom.
Never give up – even when you’re afraid. Fear can stop you from going forward, but if you stand up and face it, you can use its force to propel you forward. All of my professional (and personal) accomplishments have come out of some kind of fear: fear that I’m not good enough or strong enough to complete the task, fear that I will fail, fear that I’ll embarrass myself or look like a fool. It’s easy to go through life being complacent when nothing is challenging you or threatening to hold you back. But complacency doesn’t get you anywhere, or help you accomplish anything. It’s why the best stories have a villain, a nemesis, a force in direct conflict with the protagonist. Where there is conflict, there can always be the promise of a victory.
You can visit Amazon to purchase Darlene’s books and movies.
Darlene, I can’t thank you enough for sharing with us. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, you are my real life hero. With all that you have overcome, you inspire me to become a better and stronger woman. Thank you.
Until Next Time…